Make public the election-period “rule book” for ministers!

 

UPDATE – JUNE 26, 2015

 

When I recently went to see if there had been an update in the federal government, my staff spotted this:

ATIP scrnshot

Should we be worried for the upcoming federal election campaign?

 

 

There is a restricted document with guidelines on how cabinet ministers should restrain using their powers during an election.

It’s not public, but a copy was obtained by a researcher in 2011 through an Access to Information request and can be found here (PDF).

Following a recommendation from constitutional scholars, I have placed the  following motion, the Caretaker Convention Motion, on the House of Commons order paper (agenda):

M-286 — October 28, 2011 — Mr. Hsu (Kingston and the Islands) — That, in the opinion of the House, the government should make public the document regarding guidelines on the conduct of ministers, secretaries of state, exempt staff and public servants during an election, and maintain the public nature of this document.

The government of the day, namely ministers and their staff, should only have their powers with the consent of we, the people, through our representatives — the Members of Parliament. But when Parliament is dissolved for an election, this oversight is gone, and therefore it is traditional for ministers to restrain the use of their powers. This tradition is also important to ensure that the public resources of the government not be used for partisan advantage.

This guidelines document is, apparently, public in other countries with our parliamentary system, such as New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom. I believe — in the interests of a more open and accountable government — that the Canadian guidelines and any modifications to them should be made public.

Because of upcoming by-elections in Calgary Centre and Durham, and because of some confusion over whether a certain minister should or should not have held a certain campaign event during the 2011 election (as reported by the Winnipeg Free Press here), I have written a letter to all Members of Parliament asking for their unanimous consent, when the House of Commons resumes sitting in September, to allow me to bring my motion forward for debate and a vote.

The Kingston Whig Standard has an article on the subject here

Related Press Release:

OTTAWA, July 23, 2012 – MP Ted Hsu (Kingston and the Islands) has sent an appeal to all Members of Parliament urging their unanimous support for a motion (M-286) that he put on notice last year and intends to bring forward at the earliest opportunity this fall.

The motion calls for a public Caretaker Convention document in Canada. Such a document, which is public in the United Kingston, Australia and New Zealand, would clarify and formalize guidelines on the conduct of ministers, ministers of state, exempt staff and public servants during an election.

The need for such a publicly accessible cabinet manual became glaringly obvious last week with a news report (“Campaign event mimicking funding announcement raises questions about rules”, Winnipeg Free Press, 07/19/2012) of a minister’s tactics during the 2011 election.

Hsu said, “I strongly believe — in the interest of a more open and accountable government – that Canadians must know how ministers should restrain the use of their powers during an election campaign. This is especially relevant today with two upcoming by-elections in Calgary Centre and Durham and in light of recent media reports on campaign tactics in the last federal election.”

He continued, “Urgent attention must be given by the House of Commons so that Canadians know what the rules are and have confidence that the government is acting within them.”

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