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10 reasons Canadians should be concerned about the review of federal ethics rules

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OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch and the Government Ethics Coalition set out 10 reasons Canadians should be concerned about the current review of federal ethics rules by the House of Commons Ethics Committee, and proposed 30 key changes to the rules, enforcement and penalties needed to have ethical federal politics.

The 10 reasons are as follows (and there are 200 cases total that reveal serious flaws):

1. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty could own bank stock and push to keep bank interest rates, and profits, up (in fact, he already has pushed to keep mortgage rates up), because of a huge loophole in federal ethics rules that allows ministers, their staff, appointees and government officials to profit from their decisions as long as their decision is of “general application” (the cases of Nigel Wright and Andrew Cash also show clearly that this huge loophole must be closed because the loophole means federal ethics rules do not apply to 99% of decisions and actions by policy-makers – a new rule prohibiting even being in an appearance of a conflict of interest must be passed;

2. Everything unethical that former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney did with arms lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber is still legal (the federal Conservatives haven’t even responded to the recommendations made in the May 2010 report of the Oliphant Commission);

3. A federal politician, staff person, appointee or senior government official could blatantly lie to the public every day, and even though the Prime Minister’s own guide says that is wrong, no one can file a complaint that will result in a ruling and penalty for being a misleader;

4. At least 50 federal Cabinet ministers have been let off the hook in the past 20 years, along with dozens of MPs, senators, political staff, Cabinet appointees and government officials, for doing things that any reasonable person would say were unethical, and the federal Ethics Commissioner is a czar whose rulings, no matter how flawed, cannot be challenged in court;

5. More than 100 federal Cabinet ministers, Cabinet staff, and senior government officials have left their positions since 2008 and federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson and Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd have no idea what they are doing or if they are complying with the five-year ban on being a registered lobbyist (because there is no requirement in the rules to report to the commissioners during the five-year period);

6. Any member of the public could give federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson clear evidence of Prime Minister Harper making a decision that helps his wife, and Commissioner Dawson doesn’t have to investigate (she is only required to investigate when an MP or senator files a complaint);

7. Christian Paradis, Jim Flaherty, Lloyd Sullivan, Colin Carrie and Eve Adams were found guilty of violating federal law -- the Conflict of Interest Act -- and none of them has paid any penalty of any kind;

8. Federal Ethics Commissioner Dawson has made 80 secret rulings since 2007 -- some of which are likely hiding serious violations of the Act, MPs code or Senate Code;

9. Bruce Carson, Rahim Jaffer, and more than 80 others have been caught but have not been prosecuted for failing to register as lobbyists, and there are likely many more, and;

10. Many federal lobbyists know other people who are lobbying illegally, but the Commissioner of Lobbying doesn’t do audits of Cabinet ministers’ communications with stakeholders and so has no chance of catching these illegal lobbyists.

“Canadians are justifiably outraged that politicians across Canada for the past 145 years have failed to pass strong, clear, transparent ethics rules that are well-enforced with mandatory high penalties, and that this failure has allowed dozens of politicians and public officials to be let off the hook when they have clearly violated the rules or done something that most people find unethical, including at least 50 federal Cabinet ministers in the past 20 years, and many other politicians just in the past month,” said Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch. “The committee reviewing federal ethics rules must, finally, take a much-needed step forward and set a new national standard with strong reports calling for changes to close loopholes, clear up rules, strengthen transparency and enforcement, and increase penalties.”

“Dishonesty, unethical fundraising and unethical decision-making in politics are all legal across Canada, and Canadians are more likely to get caught parking their car illegally than politicians are likely to get caught violating key ethics rules, and the penalties for illegal parking are often higher than for being an unethical politician or government official,” said Duff Conacher, board member of Democracy Watch. “This dangerously undemocratic fiasco must finally be stopped with clear, strong rules and enforcement and penalties.”

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