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ISSUE: Democratizing Canada's Government Appointments, Decision-making, Waste-Prevention and Voting Processes

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


Does government represent you and use your money effectively and efficiently?

In its Voter Rights Campaign, Democracy Watch is tackling these two PR issues, parliamentary reform to increase citizen participation and government accountability for spending the public's money, and proportional representation to increase the representativeness of the federal Parliament.

Parliamentary Reform
Currently, the federal government is dysfunctional because the Cabinet cannot be held accountable effectively by accountability watchdog agencies and parliamentarians.  All of the accountability watchdog agencies (the Ethics Commissioner, the Registrar of Lobbyists, the Auditor General, the Information Commissioner, the Public Service Commission, the Public Service Integrity Officer, and the Commissioner of the RCMP) lack independence from Cabinet and the powers to enforce ethics, spending, access-to-information, public service hiring rules.

Several ethics, spending, secrecy and hiring scandals over the past few years have revealed just how ineffective the current system is to ensure that rules are followed, and that those who break rules are held accountable.

In addition, surveys conducted over the past decade by Ekos Research Associates Inc., on behalf of the federal government, have consistently found that:

  • over 80% of Canadians feel that politicians and business leaders have taken care of themselves and their friends while average Canadians have suffered badly;
  • over 70% believe that governments have lost sight of needs of average Canadians;
  • over 65% feel that the ethical standards of the federal government have slipped badly in the past decade;
  • over 40% have lost all confidence in our current system of government;
  • over 40% believe that government is doing a poor job consulting with citizens, and;
  • over 80% believe that government must place more emphasis on consulting citizens.
Voting System Reform
In addition, Canada has an electoral system that consistently misrepresents the Canadian public and denies Canadians the right to have their vote count! The system at the federal level, and in all the provinces, is based on the British model known as first past the post (FPTP).

Under this system Canada is divided into a number of single-member voting districts (also known as "ridings"). At the federal level, there are currently 301 seats in the House of Commons (the elected house of Parliament), and various numbers of seats in each provincial legislature.

In an election, the candidate who gets the largest number of votes in each of these districts wins the election, and a seat in either Parliament (at the federal level) or in the provincial legislature.

Unfortunately, this system can lead to some very surprising, and fundamentally undemocratic, results! The main criticism of the FPTP voting system is that a candidate does not necessarily need to win a majority of the votes to win the seat, and usually, if there are 3 or more candidates in the district, the winning candidate does not win a majority of the votes. As a result, often political parties in Canada win a majority of seats in an election and form the government and have all the power (because the party controls a majority of seats in the legislature), even though the party only won the support of a minority of voters.

Other common criticisms of the FPTP voting system are that it effectively denies smaller parties fair representation in the legislature, it exaggerates the support of larger parties, and it exaggerates the support of parties that have support only in one province or region of Canada.

In addition, it often forces voters to vote for their 2nd choice candidate in order to ensure that a candidate they definitely don't like loses. For example, imagine if a voter has 3 candidates to choose from in his/her district in an election, from political parties A, B, and C, and the voter wants to vote for the candidate from party A. If the promises and platforms of parties A and B are more similar than then platform of party C, then voters that vote for the candidates from parties A and B may split the vote (for example, 31% for the party A candidate, 33% for party B), allowing the candidate for party C to win the election with support from only 36% of the voters. The voter can only help prevent party C from winning by voting for his/her 2nd choice, the candidate from party B.

A study by the Institute for Research on Public Policy released in July 2000 found that 49% of Canadians find the current voting system unacceptable, compared to 23% who favour the current system.

A survey conducted in late 2001 by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada found that 37% of eligible voters who did not vote in the November 2000 federal election did not vote because they felt that their vote would have no effect and they did not like the choices of candidates and parties.

As an appointed body, the federal Senate of Canada of course presents a different problem for Canadian voters. Unelected, unaccountable, and sometimes simply unworthy of the appointment, Senators have more policy-making power than they usually acknowledge, and are less representative than they usually claim.

When the federal government finally tackles the key issue of changing our voting system to ensure a more accurate representation of the popular vote and regional interests in the federal Parliament, turning the Senate into an elected body (or abolishing it altogether) is one of the key changes to be made.


The pressure is increasing on the federal government to clean-up the ethics, spending, access-to-information, and hiring systems to prevent more scandalous behaviour by politicians, public servants and lobbyists.

The pressure is also increasing on Canadian governments to change Canada's voting system, and at the federal level either to change the Senate from an appointed body into an elected body, or to abolish the Senate.

In B.C., the now-ruling Liberal Party held a consultation process on changing the voting system, and held a referendum on the issue in May 2005 (the same time as the provincial election).  In Ontario, the now ruling Liberal Party held a similar consultation process and referendum on changing the voting system.  The governments of Québec and Prince Edward Island have also undertaken reviews of their voting systems.

As with many other policy innovations in the history of Canada, change to a democratic voting system will likely occur in a province or several provinces first, before the federal government finally responds to the widespread call for change.

Concerning public consultation by the federal government, the federal House of Commons Industry Committee recommended in a June 2001 report that the government should create a well-publicized website that contains all key information about all current, past, and planned consultations.  The federal government has drafted guidelines for all federal institutions that would essentially require meaningful consultation with citizens whenever government changes a law, regulation, policy, guideline or program.  The government is currently considering how to implement and enforce the guidelines.

As a result, the pressure is also increasing on governments to consult with citizens in a meaningful way, especially on issues of broad public concern.

During the 2006 election campaign, the Conservatives promised that if they won they would pass an "Accountability Act" containing 52 measures to clean up the federal government's accountability system, as well as implement 5 other democratic reforms.  When the Act was introduced, however, it only contained 30 measures and weakened key ethics rules (To see details about the 30 measures, click here, -- To see details about the Conservatives' broken promises, click here).


Write your 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 government to make government accountability watchdogs more effective, and make government more responsive and representative of the public, by enacting the following measures:

  • governments must facilitate the creation of broad-based, citizen-funded, member-driven groups to watch over key government and corporate institutions, to balance policy-making processes currently dominated by corporate lobbyists, using a method that has worked well in the U.S. (For details about the method, go to Democracy Watch's Citizen Association Campaign);
  • put in place an open, arms-length and merit-based process for government appointments (by setting up the Public Appointments Commission that was established in the Federal Accountability Act), and for the awarding of contracts (by making the Procurement Ombudsman independent of Cabinet and empowering the Ombudsman to order a new contracting process if their investigation finds unfairness);
  • all government consultation processes should provide meaningful opportunities for citizen participation, especially concerning decisions that affect the lives of all Canadians.(as proposed in a June 2001 federal Industry Committee report, and as set out in the October 2002 Code of Good Practice on Policy Dialogue established under the 2001 Accord Between the Government of Canada and the Voluntary Sector);
  • ensure MPs represent voters not party leaders by prohibiting party leaders from appointing candidates (with only a few justifiable exceptions), prohibiting party headquarters from making large donations or loans to candidates and riding associations (instead give riding associations a fair portion of the annual $1.95 or so per vote party financing), and ensuring a separation of riding vs. national campaign spending;
  • create a right to refuse to cast a ballot or vote "none of the above", and require election commissions to report how many Canadians do so (so voters can, if they want to, send a clear message that they do not support any of the candidates or political parties);
  • reduce voter identification requirements, and extend voting to two days, in order to increase voter turnout;
  • prohibit every telecommunications company of any kind that provides phone-calling services during an election to confirm the identity of anyone or any organization booking a call before allowing any call to be made;
  • empower Elections Canada to make merit-based decisions about the participation of political party leaders in election debates, and require broadcasters to air the debates;
  • all government accountability watchdogs (for ethics, spending, access to information, hiring public servants) must be fully independent, and fully empowered and required to conduct audits of parties and politicians and appointees and candidates and their staff, to investigate all alleged violations of rules, to penalize violators, and to order a correction of any wrongdoing (and must be required to rule publicly on every complaint and situation in which there is evidence of wrongdoing);
  • pass a law fixing federal election dates, given that the Conservatives bill passed in May 2007 was not detailed enough to restrict the Prime Minister's power to call snap elections (To see details, click here);
  • restrict government advertising leading up to an election, except in emergencies or for administrative reasons (as in Saskatchewan and Manitoba), and give the Auditor General the power to prohibit advertising if it only promotes the ruling party;
  • the pay, perks and pensions for federal politician's should be reduced significantly as they are at levels that put politicians at the top 2% income level in Canada, putting politicians out of touch with the day-to-day concerns of most voters;
  • everyone in the government must be required to submit the actual, detailed receipt (showing the number of people at the event, what was purchased, by whom, and at what price) for all expenses claimed to help prevent unjustified expense claims;
  • the Auditor General must have the power to audit the expense reports of everyone in the government to help prevent dishonest expense claims;
  • change the rules of Parliament so that MPs choose members of House of Commons committees, and Senators choose members of Senate committees (instead of party leaders choosing the committee members);
  • in the long term, abolish the Senate and, as the easiest, most effective way to ensure regional representation increase the number of ridings in every province except Ontario and Quebec to a level that ensures a majority government cannot be formed in Parliament without winning ridings outside of Ontario and Quebec;
  • change the voting system, and federal Senate structure, to provide a more accurate representation of the popular vote and regional interests in the House of Commons, the Senate, and provincial legislatures (as in many other countries) while ensuring that all elected officials are supported by, and are accountable to, a majority of voters in each riding/constituency;
  • pass a law that allows for petitions leading to referendums, as detailed in the article by Democracy Watch Coordinator Duff Conacher;
  • also change the voting system to require that at least 65% of voters must vote in any election, by-election or referendum, and;
  • require the media to report equally all survey numbers, especially undecided voters, to end the misleading hype of polls often seen during election campaigns.


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 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>

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Updated April 17, 2012

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