Tories have best accountability platform: watchdog
An advocacy group for clean government has awarded top marks to the federal Conservative Party for accountability.
Democracy Watch has released its annual review of the main federal parties' platforms, giving each of them a letter grade in 16 different areas -- ranging from "Requiring honesty-in-politics" to "Ensuring loophole free laws and strong penalties for wrongdoers."
Highlights of the group's Report Card on the 2006 Government Accountability Election Platforms:
The Tories had the best overall grade of "B" -- mainly because they made many specific pledges in the areas of ethics and accountability, says Democracy Watch.
The Tories also had the best grade in two of the five sections (a "B+" in "Open Government Measures, and a "B" in "Representative, Citizen-Driven Measures").
The New Democrats scored the best grade in two of the five sections (a "B-" in "Honest, Ethical Government" and a "B-" in "General Government Accountability Measures"), and tied with the Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party with an overall grade of "C+".
The Liberals scored an overall grade of "F" -- the worst result by far of all the parties, and they also had he worst grades in all five sections.
Excluding the Liberals, the overall grades for every party are better than in all past election platform report cards that Democracy Watch has produced since 1993.
To look at the full report card, click here
Duff Conacher, coordinator of Democracy Watch, said the fact that most of the parties are scoring better than in the past four elections is a positive sign. He says they're finally starting to address key flaws in Ottawa's system of accountability.
Conacher adds, however: "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."
As in past elections, the group is also raising questions about the way political parties have raised money for their campaigns.
Conacher says voters have the right to know the identity of donors and the amount of donations and loans to candidates and parties from October to the end of December, 2005.
"They have a democratic right to know, before they cast their vote, who has bankrolled political parties and candidates," Conacher told CTV.ca, "because it's key information as to who the parties may owe or may have ties to -- especially given that unlimited secret donations to candidates are still allowed."
Since January 1, 2005, parties have to disclose their donors every three months under the Elections Act.
But donors from October to December, 2005 have not yet been made public.
Under the Act, loans to the parties, and donations to riding associations for the previous year, aren't required to be disclosed until the end of the fiscal period (June 30).
Further to this information voters aren't privy to before they cast their ballots, Conacher says contributions of money, property and services can be made in secret because of a "loophole" in federal law.
"It's only counted as a contribution if it's used in a campaign," Conacher told CTV.ca
"If it goes into your personal bank account, or if it's a car that's given to you or some sort of service, if it's not tied into your campaign or used for your campaign, it's unlimited -- and you never have to disclose it. It is a gaping loophole."
Conacher also points out holes in a law that applies to Members of Parliament, requiring them to disclose any gifts over $100 they may have received.
"But once the election is called, Parliament is dissolved and MPs are no longer MPs," said Conacher.
"And so the MPs' code does not apply to them because they become candidates, and as candidates, the criminal code provisions don't apply to them. So all you have to do is not use it on your campaign, and you can take an unlimited donation from anyone and never have to disclose it."
Conacher calls this a "recipe for corruption," which only the Conservative Party has vowed to get rid of in its Federal Accountability Act.
He said he hasn't seen anything close to the Tories' promises in the other parties' platforms.
"The Greens say they'll require the full identity of donors to be disclosed. But it's very vague -- nothing specific on these particular types of accounts or donations. None of the other parties even mention it."