Last Friday Gloria Galloway and Bill Curry ran an excellent piece about how the government’s promise to strengthen Canada’s access-to-information laws is now five years old.
It is of course all so laughable it is sad. Here we have an issue that the public is universally supportive of – making government more transparent and accountable – and yet the government contends the issue requires extensive consultation. And so… no action.
Meanwhile, on issues to which the public is almost universally opposed – for example the long form census – the government acts without consultation, without evidence and in the dead of night, hoping that no one will notice.
Again, it would be laughable if the implications weren’t so serious. It’s also a big reversal of what should have been and maybe the clearest sign yet this government is broken.
And it didn’t have to be this way. Looking back at the Conservative’s 2006 election platform under the header “Strengthen Access to Information legislation” The government promised it would (this is verbatim)
- Implement the Information Commissioner’s recommendations for reform of the Access to Information Act. Give the Information Commissioner the power to order the release of information.
- Expand the coverage of the act to all Crown corporations, Officers of Parliament, foundations, and organizations that spend taxpayers’ money or perform public functions.
- Subject the exclusion of Cabinet confidences to review by the Information Commissioner. Oblige public officials to create the records necessary to document their actions and decisions.
- Provide a general public interest override for all exemptions, so that the public interest is put before the secrecy of the government.
- Ensure that all exemptions from the disclosure of government information are justified only on the basis of the harm or injury that would result from disclosure, not blanket exemption rules.
- Ensure that the disclosure requirements of the Access to Information Act cannot be circumvented by secrecy provisions in other federal acts, while respecting the confidentiality of national security and the privacy of personal information.
How many of these promises have been implemented? To date, only one (the one that is italicized)
As an aside, take a look at that platform. Guess what isn’t mentioned once: The long form census.
One of the great pledges of the Conservative government was that they were going to make government more accountable and more transparent. So far, when it comes to managing information – the collective documents our tax dollars paid to create – today our government is more opaque, more dumb and less inspiring to Canadians than it has ever been. For a government that was supposed to restore Canadians confidence in their country, it has been a sad decline to observe.