Liberal reforms will not reduce government's democratic deficit
By Duff Conacher

The federal Liberals released their plan to reduce the federal government's "democratic deficit" Feb. 4.

Democracy Watch called on Prime Minister Paul Martin to expand the plan and address key undemocratic and unethical flaws in the government.

Martin's plan, made up of vague promises and half-measures, focuses on occasionally giving Liberal MPs the right to vote against the Cabinet's wishes and to review a few Cabinet appointments.

Empowering Liberal MPs to challenge Cabinet ministers every so often will do little to make the federal government more democratic because Liberal MPs will very likely never do anything to embarass a Liberal Cabinet minister.

Between the 1997 and 2000 elections, when the Liberals only had a five-seat majority in Parliament, not even six Liberal MPs challenged the Cabinet on any issue or broken promise, even though only six Liberal MPs could have forced Prime Minister Chr≠tien to call an election by crossing the floor and sitting as independent MPs.

Martin has also promised to pass Bill C-34, introduced in the last Parliament. It creates a new ethics enforcement system,although it only promises to "seek" ethics rules for MPs and senators.

There have been seven failed attempts in the past 20 years to pass ethics rules for MPs and senators, and in December Martin weakened ethics rules for Cabinet ministers.

Even if Bill C-34 and ethics rules for MPs and senators are passed, the rules will still have too many loopholes, the ethics watchdogs will still not be independent, the public will be denied the right to file ethics complaints and appeal rulings, some ethics rulings will be kept secret, and penalties for unethical behaviour will be too weak.

In addition, Martin has promised more regular and open reporting of federal government department spending estimates.

Letting MPs and the public know more about government spending estimates will do little to prevent government waste. If Martin is serious about addressing the federal government's democratic deficit, he would expand his plan to correct the flaws in the ethics Bill C-34, and enact all of the following measures:

  • give all the federal government's accountability watchdogs the power to order a clean-up of wrongdoing, to penalize violators of ethics, spending, hiring, access-to-information and privacy rules, and to protect whistleblowers from retaliation;
  • strengthen the access-to-information law to end the government's culture of secrecy, including requiring disclosure of meetings between politicians, senior officials and lobbyists, and;
  • reform the Senate and the voting and public consultation systems to ensure Parliament represents voters.
Duff Conacher is coordinator of Democracy Watch and may be reached at 613-241-5179, by Email at dwatch@web.net or visit their website at www.dwatch.ca