Thursday, January 19, 2006

Report Card on the 2006 Government Accountability Election Platforms

Media Release

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

OTTAWA - Today, Democracy Watch released its Report Card on the 2006 Government Accountability Election Platforms of the five main federal political parties (See Report Card set out below).

The Report Card grades the five main parties' platform pledges based upon 16 sets of changes Democracy Watch believes are the changes that will most effectively require everyone in the federal government to act honestly, ethically, openly, efficiently, representatively and, if they don't act in these democratic ways, easily and thoroughly held accountable. In total, the 16 sets of changes add up to about 70 changes to the federal government's accountability system.

The measures are a compilation of the proposals of the four nation-wide coalitions Democracy Watch coordinates (Government Ethics Coalition, Money in Politics Coalition, Corporate Responsibility Coalition, Canadian Community Reinvestment Coalition). A combined total of more than 140 citizen groups with a total membership of more than 3 million Canadians belong to the coalitions, groups that work on anti-poverty, bank accountability, community economic development, consumer, corporate responsibility, environment, labour, social justice, women and youth issues.

Many national surveys over the past several years have shown that a large majority of Canadians support the government accountability reforms set out in the Report Card, as do many commentators on democratic reform.

The 16 sets of changes, divided into five areas, all reflect the following five key elements for ensuring that large, powerful government institutions act responsibly and follow rules: 1. strong laws with no loopholes; 2. requirement to disclose details of operations and violations; 3. fully independent, fully empowered watchdog agencies to enforce laws; 4. penalties that are high enough to encourage compliance; and 5. empowerment of citizens to hold governments and watchdog agencies accountable.

The parties were given a grade ranging from A (Platform makes clear promise to implement proposal) to I (Platform does not mention proposal), with grades B for a vague or partial promise to implement the proposal, C and D for clear to vague promises to explore the proposal, E for mentioning proposal and F for mentioning the theme of the proposal. Grades were averaged for each of the five sections, and the average of section grades was used for the overall grades.

The highlights of the Report Card are as follows:

* The overall grades for every party, except the Liberals, are better than in all past election platform Report Cards Democracy Watch has produced, a clear sign that most of the parties are finally making comprehensive, effective pledges to strengthen the federal government's accountability system;
* The Conservatives had the best overall grade of B (mainly because of they made many specific pledges), and the best grade in two of the five areas (the Open Government area, and the Representative, Citizen-Driven Government area);
* The NDP also had the best grade in two of the five areas (the Honest, Ethical Government area, and the General Government Accountability Measures area), and tied with the Bloc and the Green Party with an overall grade of C+;
* The Liberals had the worst results, with an overall F grade, and the worst grades in all five areas;
* The strongest overall area grades for all the parties were in the "Open Government" area, with the Conservatives the best with a B+ grade;
* The worst overall area grades for all the parties were in the General Government Accountability Measures area, in which none of the parties had better than a B- grade (although in this area all the parties except the Liberals promise strong action on whistleblower protection);
* The main area in which all of the parties are weak is in empowering citizens and citizen groups to hold the federal government directly accountable;
* All of the parties except the Liberals promise action to strengthen ethics enforcement, lobbying disclosure and enforcement, auditing resources and enforcement, and election reforms, and;
* All of the parties except the Liberals promise to increase Parliament's role in reviewing appointments currently made solely by the Prime Minister, and ensuring merit-based nomination and appointment processes.

"Given the lack of a federal honesty in politics law, and the lack of a clear pledge by any of the parties to pass such a law, voters should be wary of trusting any political promises," said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch. "However, a positive sign is that unlike in the past four elections most parties are addressing many of the key flaws in the federal government's accountability system."

The 2006 Report Card is an updated version of the Report Card issued by Democracy Watch during the 2004 and 2000 federal elections, reflecting changes that have occurred in federal laws since 2004. In the 2004 Report Card, the NDP received the highest overall grade of C mainly because of its promises to strengthen enforcement and standards in almost all of areas the Report Card covered (the NDP had the best grades in five of the 2004 Report Card's six areas).

Democracy Watch graded the parties' election platforms by reviewing the platforms. Statements by party leaders or representatives were not taken into account as they are not fully accessible to all voters, nor are they binding in any way on the party (as admitted by many party leaders) and as a result are even less reliable than promises made in the parties' platforms. (Please see Backgrounder set out below for details and relevant excerpts from the parties' platforms)

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Duff Conacher, Coordinator
Tel: (613) 241-5179


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