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ISSUE: Creating an "Honesty-in-Politics" Law -- an Effective System to Penalize Election Candidates, Politicians and Government Officials Who Mislead the Public

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  |  Background Information  |  The Opportunity for Change  |
The Message to Send to Politicians  |  Addresses for Politicians  |


Election candidates, politicians, their staff, appointees and government officials across Canada have lied to the public many times, far too many times, in the past.

Whether making "bait-and-switch" promises during elections, or trying to cover-up wrongdoing or to push their agenda through misleading statements, these lies undermine good government in every way.

How are voters supposed to vote when they don't know what they will get after the election because all the candidates are lying?  How are voters supposed to hold governments accountable if it is legal for politicians and government officials to lie?

Dishonesty in politics is the #1 reason why Canadians don't vote according to polls conducted by Elections Caanda.

Incredibly, during federal election campaigns, and during elections in every province and territory except Quebec and New Brunswick, it is illegal for anyone to lie about a candidate, but it is only illegal in B.C. for a candidate to lie about what they promise to do or what they have done.

The B.C. law is a good first step, but it requires voters to file a costly court application if they believe that a candidate has lied during an election, and there is no effective penalty even if the candidate did lie.

In complete contrast, if any Canadian corporation lies in its advertising, only 6 Canadians need to sign and send a letter to the Competition Bureau and the Bureau must investigate and determine whether the corporation lied, and what corrective measures are required, and the Bureau has the power to penalize a corporation that lies in its ads.  For example, the Competition Bureau ruled that Sears Canada was guilty of lying in its advertising in 2005, and Sears was fined millions of dollars.

And if any corporation or corporate executive lies to their shareholders, the shareholders have the right to go to court and seek compensation for the damage done by the lies.  Thousands of shareholders have received compensation for losses caused by the lies of corporate executives in the past decade in North America.

Similarly, politicians have passed laws requiring taxpayers, immigrants, welfare applicants, witnesses in court cases, lawyers and other professionals to all tell the truth, with strong penalties for those who lie.

Why?  Because politicians have recognized that if these people and companies are allowed to lie, society will be undermined as many other people are abused and hurt by the lies.

However, politicians continue to protect themselves and others involved in politics by refusing to pass a law requiring them all to tell the truth.

Every poll taken in the past decade in Canada shows that voters are sick of the ongoing lying by election candidates, politicians and government officials, and that they want it stopped.

Every government in Canada needs to pass an "honesty in politics" law that bans lying, gives voters an easy way to complain to an independent watchdog agency, and gives the watchdog agency full powers to investigate, rule and penalize the political "misleader" with a high fine (equal to at least 2 years' salary).

To see more details, go to Democracy Watch's January 2010 op-ed on the need for an honesty-in-politics law.


The pressure is increasing on the federal government and provincial governments (especially Ontario) to pass an honesty-in-politics law.

The federal Conservatives broke many of their 2006 federal election promises, including in the area of strengthening government accountability, and the Ontario Liberals also broke many of the election promises they made in the 2004 provincial election.

Incredibly, the federal Conservatives removed (through Bill C-2, the so-called "Federal Accountability Act") the one rule in federal ethics rules that requires Cabinet ministers, their staff, and senior government officials to "act with honesty."  To see details, click here.

The federal New Democratic Party (NDP) pledged in the 2006 federal election to push for the creation of a Parliamentary Commissioner who would take complaints and audit the federal government in terms of promises made and promises kept or broken.  Unfortunately, the NDP's proposal would not cover all federal politicians and government officials, just politicians in the ruling party.

So while the pressure is increasing for an "honesty-in-politics" law, politicians need to hear from you before they will act.

To see a summary of why such a law is needed, click here.


Write Prime Minister and Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper, Interim Liberal Party Leader Bob Rae, the NDP, and your own MP (See addresses below).  Please send a copy of your letter and any response to Democracy Watch.

In your letter urge the federal government to pass an honesty-in-politics law that includes the following key measures (For more details, go to Democracy Watch's Honesty in Politics Campaign campaign page):

  • any statement made by any federal nomination race candidate, election candidate, politician or government official at any time must be covered by the law;
  • all Canadians must be allowed to file a complaint about dishonesty;
  • complaints about false or fraudulent advertising or statements during elections should be reviewed by the federal Commissioner of Elections, who must have the power to penalize violators (as in B.C., and similar to the existing right to complain about false advertising or fraud by businesses);
  • complaints about false or fraudulent advertising or statements in between elections should be reviewed by the federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner);
  • the Ethics Commissioner must only be able to excuse a broken election promise if there is an emergency situation or a complete change of situation since the election that forced the government to break the promise;
  • the Ethics Commissioner must have full investigative powers, and full power to fine political "misleaders";
  • the fine must be equal to at least 2 years' salary of the candidate, politician or government official, and if the candidate or politician is in a leadership position in a political party (e.g. party leader, Cabinet minister, opposition critic), their party should also be required to pay a similar amount as a fine;
and the law must also contain a specific section covering party-switching by federal politicians, including the following key measures that will give politicians a clear (and important) right to defy their party leader and caucus, but only for justifiable reasons, not just because they have career ambitions:
  • politicians should only be allowed to switch between elections if they can prove clearly that their party has broken election promises, or switched directions on significant policies, or if their party leader does not resign after being found guilty of ethical or other legal violations;
  • in all other cases, the politician would have to resign and run in a by-election or (if a general election is called before the by-election is held) in a general election;
  • politicians expelled from a party's caucus would not have to resign because expulsion is not the politician's decision -- however, to respect voter rights any politician expelled should be required to consult with voters in his or her riding about whether they should sit as an independent or join another party;
  • to ensure that justifiable reasons for a politician's switching decision are not abused as a convenient excuse (as they often have been in the past), Democracy Watch also proposes that the federal government's Ethics Commissioner be given the power to decide whether the switching is valid, and;
  • if the reason a politician has been expelled from caucus is that politician has been found guilty of unethical or illegal behaviour, then the Ethics Commissioner should be given the power to penalize the politician with suspension or removal from Parliament


SEND YOUR LETTER BY MAIL calling for passage of a federal "honesty in politics" law to:
Prime Minister and Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper, Interim Liberal Party Leader Bob Rae, the NDP, the Green Party, key MPs, and your own MP 
all at the following address (NO POSTAGE NEEDED):

House of Commons
Ottawa, Canada
K1A 0A6
(To find your MP using your postal code, click here)

OR send your letter by email to all the federal party leaders at:
pm@pm.gc.ca, harper.s@parl.gc.ca, bob.rae@parl.gc.ca, rae.b0@parl.gc.ca, ndpadmin@fed.ndp.ca, thomas.mulcair@parl.gc.ca, may.e@parl.gc.ca, may.e0@parl.gc.ca, leader@greenparty.ca, dwatch@web.net, oggo@parl.gc.ca, ethi@parl.gc.ca, proc@parl.gc.ca, just@parl.gc.ca, leg-jur@sen.parl.gc.ca

OR send your letter by fax or email individually to:
Prime Minister and Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper
Fax: 613-941-6900
Email: <pm@pm.gc.ca>
Email: <harper.s@parl.gc.ca>

Interim Liberal Party Leader Bob Rae
Fax: 613-947-0310
Email: <bob.rae@parl.gc.ca>, <rae.b0@parl.gc.ca>

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair
Fax: 613-230-9950
Email: <thomas.mulcair@parl.gc.ca>
Email: <ndpadmin@fed.ndp.ca>

AND, finally, please send a copy of your letter by email to Democracy Watch at: <dwatch@web.net>

Thank you for participating in our DemocratizACTION Network

Democracy Watch's Honesty in Politics Campaign

Sign-up for Email Action Alert List

Updated April 17, 2012

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