Sunday, 29 October 2006 20:00 Democracy Watch Editorial Dept - Free Speech
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Liberal Senators Propose to Strengthen Bill C-2 (the so-called "Federal Accountability Act") in many keys ways, and to weaken it in three key ways - Will Conservative and Liberal Senators and MPs support the changes?

Today, Democracy Watch called on senators and MPs to accept all but three of the amendments proposed mainly, and often only, by Liberal senators on the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs which reviewed Bill C-2 (the so-called "Federal Accountability Act" (FAA)).

"A Senate Committee, mainly with the support only of Liberal senators, has proposed many changes that strengthen the draft Federal Accountability Act in the areas of ethics enforcement, whistleblower protection, access-to-information, and spending accountability, and all senators and MPs should approve these changes," said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Government Ethics Coalition and the Money in Politics Coalition. "However, the Committee's proposal to increase the limit on political donations by individuals to $2,000 and to delay the new limits for one year are undemocratic moves that should be rejected because they help the Liberal Party only."

 


The third key way in which the Committee proposed to weaken Bill C-2 is their rejection of Bill C-2's measure that combines the current Ethics Commissioner and Senate Ethics Officer into a new Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. However, more important than whether the ethics officers are combined into one officer is the fact that, under the current Conflict of Interest Code for Senators, the Senate Ethics Officer is a complete lapdog as bad as the former federal Ethics Counsellor. The Senate Ethics Officer has the following fatal flaws (among many others) under the Code:

* the Officer is under the direction of a committee of senators (subsection 39(2));
* the Officer cannot launch an inquiry without the committee's approval (subsections 44(8) and (13)) or release an inquiry report (subsection 45(1));
* the committee (not the Officer) designs the conflict of interest forms for senators (subsection 39(1)) and sets the annual form filing date (subsection 29(2));
* the Officer cannot issue interpretation bulletins of the Code's rules unless the committee gives its approval (subsection 8(6) and section 9), and;
* the committee is the appeal body if a senator disagrees with the Officer (subsection 39(4)).

As a result, the new Commissioner will be an independent watchdog when enforcing ethics rules for Cabinet ministers, ministerial staff and senior public servants and appointees, but will be a Senate-committee-controlled lapdog when enforcing Senate ethics rules.

"By trying to keep complete control over their ineffective lapdog ethics officer, senators have once again chosen to protect themselves instead of protecting the public interest," said Conacher. "As a result, senators will continue to be let off the hook when they act unethically."

Although the Senate Committee has proposed to weaken Bill C-2 (the FAA) in these two key ways, the Committee has also strengthened Bill C-2 in the following significant ways (including adding X full or partial measures that the Conservatives promised but failed to include in the bill):

Ethics rules and enforcement proposed strengthening changes
* extending the coverage of the ethics rules to all ministerial appointees approved by Cabinet (in part forcing the Conservatives to keep their election promise to "Make part-time or non-remunerated ministerial advisers subject to the Ethics Code");
* extending the coverage of the ethics rules to "potential" and "apparent" conflicts of interest (Bill C-2 only covered actual conflicts of interest, violating Conservatives' promise to include all the existing rules in the proposed new ethics law);
* restricting the acceptance by public office holders of gifts or other benefits to "close personal friends" (instead of "friends");
* requiring disclosure by public office holders of all gifts or other benefits received each year (Bill C-2 exempted gifts from relatives and friends from disclosure);
* requiring the proposed new Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to make public any exemptions from the ethics rules the
Commissioner grants to public office holders;
* allowing review by the courts of any exemption granted by the Commissioner (Bill C-2 restricted court review of exemptions);
* requiring the Commissioner to make public reports about public office holders who have violated ethics rules (Bill C-2 allowed the Prime Minister to receive some reports in secret from the Commissioner);

Political donations strengthening changes
* clarifying that fees for annual, biennial or leadership conventions of registered parties are donations to the party;

Lobbying law and enforcement strengthening changes
* requiring the proposed new Commissioner of Lobbyists to file a public report if a former public office holder refuses to provide the Commissioner with needed information to determine the lobbying activities of the public office holder;
* extending the five-year ban on lobbying to individuals who worked on contract with the government, or worked for organizations on government contracts;
* making it a violation punishable by a fine of up to $50,000 for failing to comply with a prohibition on lobbying order by the
Commissioner;

Parliamentary Budget Officer strengthening changes
* ensuring government and opposition party leaders in the House and Senate, along with the Parliamentary Librarian, make up the committee that will select the top 3 nominees for the Officer position;

Director of Public Prosecutions strengthening changes
* ensuring all government and party leaders in the House and Senate have positions on the committee that selects the top 3 nominees for the Director position, and removing the Attorney General from any role in selecting nominees;

Access to Information Act strengthening changes
* making "draft internal audits" subject to disclosure under the Act (Bill C-2 proposed to exempt such audit papers from disclosure requirements);
* giving heads of government institutions the power to release information (except concerning national security) if the public interest outweighs the loss or harm that may result from the release;

Whistleblower protection strengthening changes
* extending whistleblower coverage to include the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Canadian Security Establishment;
* extending the definition of "reprisal" against a whistleblower to include any measure that directly or indirectly adversely affects the public servant blowing the whistle, or any threatened measure;
* requiring the person who takes action against a whistleblower to prove that the action was justified, if the action takes place within one year after the whistle-blowing event;
* extending the period to one year after the whistle-blowing event during which a whistleblower can file a complaint about a reprisal (Bill C-2 allowed only 60 days);
* extending the maximum amount of compensation for legal services for a whistleblower to $25,000 (Bill C-2 proposed a maximum of $1,500);

Procurement Auditor strengthening changes
* requiring Cabinet to appoint a Procurement Auditor (Bill C-2 only proposed allowing Cabinet to appoint such an Auditor);

(NOTE: the Committee also proposed many other minor and/or technical changes to Bill C-2, changes which are not listed above):

Unfortunately, the Senate Committee failed to propose changes to close the following huge loopholes that will continue to fatally undermine the federal government's accountability system: etc . . .

To see the last part of this release, and relevant links, on the following webpage: http://www.dwatch.ca/camp/RelsOct3006.html



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