Citizen Action Monitor

Elizabeth May’s response to letter re Canada’s federal lobbying law

“Stephen Harper is the most secretive Prime Minister in history, with the most tightly controlled top-down control of government.”

No 413 Posted by fw, February 19, 2012

In a recent post, I passed along a message from Democracy Watch asking Canadians to tell federal politicians from all parties to change the federal lobbying law. Recipients were asked to respond. Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, was the first to reply — her email arrived the next day. Here’s is Ms May’s excellent, thoughtful letter:

Dear  Frank,

Thank you for your letter asking to help make Canada’s government more open and ethical. I support any and all efforts to make our government more fair, just and transparent.

Canadians have become cynical about politicians. Scandal, broken promises and atmospheres of hyper-partisanship have caused Canadians to lose trust in government. People are also disillusioned with MPs’ allegiance to parties instead of constituents, government inefficiency and wasteful spending, and the failure of government to address critical issues like the climate crisis. On top of this, we have an outdated voting system where the popular vote is not translated into seats, leaving many voters unrepresented. Many citizens, especially youth, are so frustrated that they don’t even bother to vote.

When government is at its best, it functions to advance the common good. Our parliament should be a model of statesmanship and cooperation, working for the good of all Canadians. It should deal creatively and constructively with issues by seeking political consensus. MPs should be elected through a fair voting system that ensures parties get a share of seats in parliament that is equal to their share of the popular vote. Canadians should be proud of their government and trust that it is acting in their best interests.

Stephen Harper is the most secretive Prime Minister in history, with the most tightly controlled top-down control of government. The ironically named Accountability Act has twelve new blanket exemptions and exclusions preventing certain kinds of government documents from being released, and provides for the possibility that wrongdoing exposed by whistle-blowers could be sealed for up to fifteen years. The Conservative government “reform” has removed the “duty to act honestly” from the code of ethics governing the Cabinet and senior civil service. The Green Party believes in the decentralization of decision making powers and in open, honest government.

The Green Party hopes to achieve a better government though the following objectives:

  • Establish a Public Inquiry into Democracy, with powers of a Royal Commission, to engage Canadians from coast to coast and address anti-democratic trends within Canada, including:

1. The growing and unhealthy power of the Prime Minister’s Office;

2. The lack of scope for independent action of individual MPs;

3. The use of prorogation to avoid political embarrassment, in violation of Parliamentary practice and tradition;

4. The abuse by the Senate of its role of sober, second thought in voting down bills approved by the House, as in the case in November of 2010 in their defeat without debate of Bill C-311 (the Climate Change Accountability Act);

5. The inequity of the current voting system with a view to replacing it with a system based on proportional representation

6. The recommendations of the Public Inquiry will be presented as options to Canadian voters.

  • Adhere to fixed election dates permitting political stability and fair elections.
  • Reduce the mandatory $1,000 candidate deposit to encourage more Canadians to participate in the democratic system.
  • Amend the Accountability Act to ensure that all those who monitor government are selected at arm’s length from those they monitor, to eliminate the blanket exemptions on public release of government documents and to guarantee transparency and openness for all government activities.
  • Update the Access to Information Act to permit greater transparency of government activities.
  • Restore Parliamentary Committees as a vehicle for non-partisan, constructive improvement of legislation and require that the improved version of such legislation be the version put to parliament for vote.
  • Enact effective whistle-blower protection for public and private sector employees.
  • Institute a code of conduct and an independent complaints process to ensure that tax dollars are not used for pre-election partisan purposes.
  • Institute mandatory training in ethics for MPs and their staffs, requiring all MPs and staff to take in-house training on the basics of good management and ethics in parliament.
  • Reform the appointments system to discourage patronage by establishing an independent agency for ensuring that appointments to government tribunals, boards and senior positions are done through a qualification-based process and are not politically motivated patronage appointments
  • Strengthen the mandates of Independent Officers of Parliament, including the Auditor General and the Information Commissioner.
  • Implement stand-alone legislation to create an independent Commissioner on the Environment and Sustainable Development, removing the office from that of subservience to the Auditor General.
  • Replace the current Ethics Commissioner, who reports privately to the Prime Minister, with an independent Ethics Commission reporting to Parliament and appointed through a merit-based process with strong powers to investigate government officials and lobbyists.
  • Provide Parliamentarians with independent regulatory audits through the Auditor General’s office on the effectiveness of government regulations in meeting their stated public purposes.
  • Make service improvements a higher priority for all agencies and departments, with systematic citizen feedback and a schedule for periodic program review.
  • Require the independence of public sector employees who oversee industry, such as those responsible for such areas as fisheries, science and drug licensing, from those industries.
  • Require long-term public departmental service plans to report on government program purposes, costs, reforms and performance.
  • Strengthen the rules of conduct for lobbying. All lobbyists’ contacts with politicians and government bureaucrats both formal and informal must be reported and made public.

I completely support Democracy Watch’s efforts at pressuring the Harper Conservatives to set and fulfil meaningful commitments in its two-year Open Government Partnership Action Plan in April 2012. Thank you for your letter and I hope that you continue to take a stand for the issues that matter to you.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth May, O.C., M.P.

Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands

Leader of the Green Party of Canada

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