Honesty Is the Best Policy in Politics, and Should Be Compulsory

By Conacher, Duff | CCPA Monitor, February 2010 | Go to article overview

Honesty Is the Best Policy in Politics, and Should Be Compulsory


Conacher, Duff, CCPA Monitor


WHY SHOULD POLITICIANS BE ALLOWED TO LIE?

Some people say dishonesty should be allowed in politics, but nothing could be further from the truth. The percentage of stimulus money actually spent; who knew what and when about Afghan detainees; how many bogus refugees are coming to Canada; the federal Liberals' position on Israel; one federal MP's position on gun control - conflicting claims have been made publicly about these and many other political issues in the past few months, but those who made blatantly false claims in some cases faced no penalty, and in other cases the truth still remains unknown.

Given the number of people hurt in various ways by this dishonesty, and how damaging it is to reasonable, democratic debate, you would think that passing a law requiring honesty in politics would be a top priority across the country.

After all, politicians have passed many laws in the past requiring many Canadians to be honest in many ways. From welfare applicants to taxpayers to corporate executives, it is illegal for Canadians to lie, and strong penalties are in place to discourage dishonesty.

To become a citizen, to receive welfare, to receive tax deductions - you better tell the truth. If corporate executives lie in the corporation's financial statements, shareholders can sue. If a corporation's advertisement is false, and six Canadians file a written complaint, the Competition Bureau must investigate and has the power to fine the corporation and order it to cancel or correct the ad.

It's even illegal for anyone anywhere in Canada to make a false claim about election candidates.

But when it comes to candidates lying to voters, and politicians and government officials and lobbyists misleading the public between elections, almost anything goes. In fact, most election laws across Canada forbid candidates to make a written pledge to do something specific if elected.

Some provincial governments have passed laws making election fraud illegal. And the preamble to the ethics rules for federal MPs and government officials say that they are expected to do their jobs with "honesty." But these laws and rules are vague, don't involve definite penalties, and cannot be effectively enforced.

Judges have ruled in past lawsuits filed against promisebreaking politicians that voters are naive to believe election promises, and so they have refused to punish such political deceivers.

And, believe it or not, the federal Conservative government's "Federal Accountability Act" actually reduced accountability significantly by deleting the honesty rule from the code that applies to the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, ministerial staff, cabinet appointees, and senior government officials.

A few ridiculous excuses are given for not requiring honesty in politics and not penalizing prevaricating politicians. …

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Honesty Is the Best Policy in Politics, and Should Be Compulsory
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