I have been waiting for Duff Conacher at Democracy Watch to send out a news release highlighting how the Stephen Harper government has failed to keep all of its promises to enhance accountability.
For some strange reason, national media and columnists often tout the Federal Accountability Act as a Harper government achievement.
According to Democracy Watch, an Ottawa-based citizens' watchdog group, the Conservative government failed to close numerous loopholes that would enhance the accountability of the political process and restore Canadians' faith in the integrity of government.
Here's a list taken from a Democracy Watch news release, which was released today:
* Candidates are allowed to lie to voters with no penalty (perversely, it is illegal to make a false statement about a candidate, but legal for candidates to make false statements).
* Party leaders are still allowed to dictate who their local candidate will be (even though the federal Conservatives promised in the last election to prohibit such appointments), and as a result some MPs are controlled by party leaders, instead of by voters.
* It inclear (because of negligent ethics rules enforcement, and an ongoing court case appeal) whether it is legal for lobbyists to help candidate and party campaigns.
* Voters still do not have a clear, well-promoted right to vote for "none of the above" if there is no candidate in their riding that they support.
* A cartel of broadcasting companies, who rent the airwaves that are owned by the public, decides on arbitrary grounds which party leaders are allowed to participate in the debates and when they will be held (instead of Elections Canada making merit-based decisions).
* Unlimited, secret donations of money, property and services are still legal to nomination race candidates (as long as they don’t use the donations for their campaign).
* Unlimited loans to candidates and parties are still legal, and loans and donations do not have to be disclosed until several months after voting day (violating the right of voters to know who is bankrolling candidates and parties before they vote).
* Donations of volunteer labour are not required to be tracked or disclosed (which makes it very easy for corporations and other organizations to pay their employees to “volunteer” for parties and candidates).
* Parties are allowed to provide all the money their local candidates need to run their campaigns (which results in MPs with no local support who owe party headquarters).
* It is unclear (because an ongoing court case has not been completed) how party headquarters and local candidates can split or share their spending on advertising.
* The media are not required to disclose all survey numbers (and, as a result, the key percentage of undecided voters is usually not reported).
* The voting system does not produce a Parliament that accurately reflects the voter support each party has received.
* Governments are still not required to consult with the public in a meaningful way even when making important, society-changing decisions.
* 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.
* The federal Senate is still unaccountable in every way.
* Politicians and their staff do not have to keep personal information voters share with them confidential, and can share it with anyone including their political party.
* Politicians, their staff, appointees and government employees are still allowed to lie to the public, including MPs switching parties between elections only to advance their career.
* Keeping information secret that the public has a clear right to know is still legal because loopholes in disclosure rules and lack of enforcement powers for watchdog agencies.
* Secret lobbying is still legal, especially by corporate lobbyists.
* 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.
* There are still no effective penalties for politicians, political staff and government employees who violate key ethics rules.
* Many politicians, their staff, and senior government employees are still allowed to become lobbyists too soon after they leave their government positions.
* Many people who blow-the-whistle on government wrongdoing are still not effectively protected from retaliation.
* Federal politicians, staff, appointees and government employees do not have to disclose assets that are worth less than $10,000, and their bank accounts are not tracked, making it very easy to give them a corrupting gift worth up to $10,000 or even more.
* Contracts can still be handed out without a bidding competition.
* Politicians and their staff can still hide the details of their expense accounts, and so are able to wine and dine supporters and lobbyists with the public picking up the bill.
* The pay and perks for politicians are still too high above the salary of average Canadians.