Democracy watchdog files complaints against Harper government

By CBC News
Last Updated: Thursday, May 25, 2006 | 1:36 PM ET

An Ottawa-based democracy watchdog group filed a formal complaint on Thursday against the federal Conservative government for breaking a “baker’s dozen” promises to tighten ethics and accountability policies.

Democracy Watch filed the complaint with ethics commissioner Bernard Shapiro against Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Treasury Board President John Baird and Harper’s director of communications Sandra Buckler.

The group’s letter of complaint also repeats its call for ethics commissioner Shapiro to resign for failing to vigorously enforce ethics rules.

“Canadians have a right to be disappointed,” Democracy Watch coordinator Duff Conacher said at a news conference in Ottawa on Thursday.

“Prime Minister Harper has broken promises that guaranteed a clean-up of the federal government and effective measures to ensure that public officials act honestly, ethically, openly and prevent waste.”

Conacher said the Conservative government has tried to skate around its failure to include all measures promised during and after January’s federal election in its federal Accountability Act.

The group says that on his first day as prime minister, Harper broke the first of five election promises when he released his new conflict of interest policy for public office holders.

The five promises were all contained in the Conservative Party’s election platform, including pledges to extend to five years the period during which former ministers, ministerial staffers and senior public servants are banned from lobbying government.

Democracy Watch says this pledge has been watered down so that it applies only to certain designated staffers and public officials who would only be constrained by a one-year cooling off period.

The Conservative platform also promised to close the loopholes that allow ministers to vote on matters connected with their business interests as well as to allow members of the public — not just politicians — to make complaints to the ethics commissioner.

Democracy Watch is challenging how these promises are being implemented. It says the list of broken promises also included pledges it says the government made to require ministers to record all contacts with lobbyists, to protect all whistleblowers and to promptly disclose whistleblower complaints.

Conacher says the new Accountability Act also deletes from the ethics code a clause requiring politicians, their staff and senior public servants to “act with honesty.”

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Reality Check: Federal Accountability Act
Democracy Watch complaints

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