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Ottawa has an appetite for transparency, says Goodale

OTTAWA - (Web posted April 16, 2002 @ 4:50 p.m.) - Ralph Goodale, the minister responsible for Canada's electoral process, said the Liberal government has an appetite for transparency with respect to the financing of political leadership campaigns, but he would not reveal how that hunger could be satisfied on Tuesday. 

Governemnt House Leader Ralph Goodale (c) PoliticsWatchThat appetite may also be allowed to fester, since the Globe and Mail reported that Prime Minister Jean Chretien wants to keep his job until at least April 2003.

The issue of transparency in leadership campaign has been brewing for months.

Canada's Chief Electoral Officer Jean Pierre Kingsley first shone light on the issue late last year when he suggested Liberal leadership hopefuls should publicly disclose the names of their financial backers.

"Canadians have a right to know who is behind leadership bids...Not knowing breeds cynicism," Kingsley said.

A blunder by one of Finance Minister Paul Martin's campaign organizers recently refocused the public's, and the Opposition's, attention on the issue when a donation to his unofficial Liberal leadership campaign was sent to the party's national headquarters.

It turned out the money was collected for the minister by Calgary lawyer Jim Palmer who was also working for the Department of Finance. 

Palmer subsequently resigned from both jobs, and the $25,000 donation he obtained from an Alberta energy company was returned.

Now the Prime Minister is considering a series of guidelines proposed by Ottawa's Ethics Commissioner Howard Wilson on how to regulate the conduct of ministers who want to become party leader.

"There's an appetite here for transparency for a solution that is satisfactory in the public interest the government shares that appetite," said Goodale, the Government House Leader.

"The government is wrestling with ways that to achieve that transparency."

Prime Minister Jean Chretien (c) PoliticsWatchAs they try to achieve that policy objective there are a handful of political observers who hope the recommendations made by the Ethics Counsellor and the Chief Electoral Officer will help promote greater openness in political leadership campaigns.

Aaron Freeman, of the Ottawa-based political advocacy group Democracy Watch, said new policies are needed to promote disclosure rules in political leadership campaigns that bear the most public scrutiny.

 "We need a rule that applies to leadership races," said Freeman. "It's probably the most significant loophole in the Elections Act."

Ian Greene, a professor of political science at York University in Toronto, added more openness in leadership campaign financing could lead to a restoration of public trust in the political process.

"I really think the image of politicians needs to be raised so we can persuade better people to run for office, but the only way we can do that is to have the highest standards," he said.

"I think the campaign contributions ought to be regulated by the federal election financing act...there should be limits to donations and I think everything should be publicly disclosed a month after the donations are made."


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