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Federal Conservatives' accountability and democratic reform record gets an F

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Six years after Federal Accountability Act became law, dishonesty, conflicts of interest, excessive secrecy, unlimited donations and patronage all still legal

Another, stronger Accountability Act needed to close 100 remaining loopholes and flaws

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch marked the sixth anniversary of the passage of the federal Conservatives’ so-called “Federal Accountability Act” (FAA), and the recent annual International Anti-Corruption Day, by issuing its Sixth Good Government Report Card on the FAA and the Conservatives’ overall accountability and democratic reform record.

The Report Card gives the Conservatives an overall “F” grade because they have only partially increased accountability in the federal government while taking many key steps backwards.  If the Conservatives had kept all of their 2006 election promises, they would have received an overall “B-” grade (as their promises covered about two-thirds of the loopholes and undemocratic flaws in the government’s accountability and decision-making system).

“The many federal Conservative dishonesty, secret unethical lobbying, excessive secrecy, conflict of interest, and donations scandals in 2012, and the broken promises and inaction detailed in the Report Card, make it clear that another Accountability Act is needed to close dozens of loopholes and clean up the federal government,” said Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.

“The corruption, ethics and spending scandals that have occurred in the federal government and almost every province and territory in the past year are likely the tip of a large iceberg of wrongdoing in government in Canada, and yet Canadian politicians continue to refuse to close loopholes in rules and to strengthen enforcement and penalties,” said Sommers

“Overall, the federal government’s democracy and accountability enforcement system is the scandal because, among many other highly questionable activities, it is still effectively legal for a lobbyist to do what Karlheinz Schreiber did — to fundraise for and make secret donations to nomination race and party leadership candidates, to lobby in secret, to make secret, fixed deals with Cabinet ministers, their staff, handpicked Cabinet patronage appointees and government employees, and for everyone involved to be dishonest about their secret, unethical relationships,” said Sommers. (To see details about how lobbyists are effectively allowed to work for, and to fundraise for, federal politicians and parties, click here)

“Incredibly, it is much more likely Canadians will be caught and punished for parking illegally than a politician will be caught and punished taking money from a lobbyist,” said Duff Conacher, Board member of Democracy Watch.  “Hopefully, all federal political parties will soon make the changes needed to closing dozens of the loopholes that allow for unethical, secretive and undemocratic federal political activities.”

The federal Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act and Conflict of Interest Act are past their legally required review periods, and related MP and Senate ethics rules are also being reviewed (archive website link), and Democracy Watch and its coalitions have been pushing for key changes for years to prohibit conflicts of interest and to make whistleblower protection effective.  Opposition MPs and the Information Commissioner and Democracy Watch’s Open Government Coalition have been pushing to strengthen the Access to Information Act for several years.  The Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (archive website link) must also be strengthened to comply with the 2004 United Nations Convention Against Corruption.  The Canada Elections Act must be strengthened to close loopholes that allow for secret, unlimited donations and loans, to restore the per-vote public financing (archive website) of parties which is being phased out over the next four years, and to require Elections Canada to publicly report on how it handles every complaint it receives.  The Financial Administration Act must be strengthened to tighten up rules on sole-source contracting.  And related Treasury Board codes, policies and rules in all of the above areas must also be strengthened (To see more details, click here (archive website link)).

The federal Conservatives have also not responded to the May 2010 Oliphant Commission report (archive website link) which made four recommendations to close ethics rule loopholes, and 14 recommendations to increase federal government ethics enforcement.  Dozens of other loopholes and weak enforcement practices undermine the federal good government system.

The question is, will the Conservatives finally keep the 38 election promises from 2006 that they broke, and also make more than 60 other changes needed to clean up and democratize the federal government and prevent corruption?

Highly questionable activities that are still effectively legal include the following (To see a summary of many of the highly questionable activities in Canadian federal politics in the past 15 years, click here (archive website)):

1) dishonesty in politics is still legal;

2)excessive secrecy is still legal;

3) governments are still not required to consult with the public in a meaningful way even when making important, society-changing decisions;

4) there are still no effective checks on the power of Cabinet ministers to appoint party supporters to law enforcement positions such as judges and the heads of watchdog agencies, boards, commissions and tribunals;

5) Cabinet ministers, their staff, and senior government employees are still allowed to be involved in policy-making processes that affect their own personal financial interests;

6) large gifts worth up to $10,000 to politicians are still effectively legal because of lack of auditing of politicians’ financial statements (and scientific studies have shown that even small gifts have influence (For more details about gifts and the science of influence, click here (archive website));

7) many politicians, their staff, and senior government employees are still allowed to become lobbyists too soon after they leave their government positions;

8) many people who blow-the-whistle on government wrongdoing are still not effectively protected from retaliation;

9) MPs can switch parties between elections in return for a promotion;

10) the voting system does not ensure that each candidate has the overall support of a majority of voters in their riding to be elected, and;

11) the federal Senate is still unaccountable in every way.

    Among many other highly questionable activities by the Conservatives in 2012 are the following: failing to adopt strong rules to prevent secret lobbying; failing to require Elections Canada to publish details to prove it is enforcing the Canada Elections Act properly and effectively; failing to uphold their own resolution to introduce legislation to prevent election fraud robocalls; failing to ensure big bank profits are not based on gouging and ignoring job-creating businesses through comprehensive audits; failing to penalize Conservative minister Christian Paradis for violating the federal Conflict of Interest Act (archive website link); failing to fulfill its Open Government Partnership membership requirements; failing to empower watchdogs; failing to initiate review of the federal whistleblower protection law and ethics law by the legal deadlines; Prime Minister Harper’s Chief of Staff Nigel Wright being lobbied by companies where he has a financial or personal interest; Prime Minister Harper ignoring his own ethics rules in the spending scandal involving Conservative MP Paul Calandra; Cabinet ministers Jim Flaherty and Peter MacKay violating federal budget rules by hiding the actual cost of the F-35 fighter jets; introducing abusive omnibus bills, and; Conservative Cabinet minister Peter Penashue’s donation and conflict of interest scandal.

    As well, the federal Conservatives have failed to respond to the recommendations in the May 2010 Oliphant Commission report (archive website link) on the Mulroney-Schreiber affair, and have failed to empower MPs as promised.

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