Excerpt, link to full Globe and Mail article below:
The Harper Conservatives have failed to deliver on their key election promise to open up the federal government to greater scrutiny and to offer a transparent administration to Canadians, retired judge John Gomery told MPs yesterday.
The former head of the inquiry into the sponsorship scandal said the government is “badly misjudging” the situation if it believes Canadians will tolerate a government that doesn’t adhere to transparency.
“The era of secrecy in government is the past. I’m convinced that any government that behaves secretly is eventually sowing the seeds of its own defeat,” he said.
Mr. Gomery’s comments came as the Conservatives are under intense opposition attacks for their refusal to release information on detainees in Afghanistan, their conflicts with various government agencies and their overall focus on secrecy.
Mr. Gomery made 19 recommendations to the government in 2006 after two years at the head of his inquiry, and said he heard a near-unanimous call for greater transparency as a protection against other scandals.
He added that, in his view, there is a need for decentralization of power in Ottawa, to get away from the growing trend toward a “one-man government.” He said that two years later, he is surprised that the Harper government has not acted on many of his proposals, and that it has also failed to enact some of its key election promises.
In the last campaign, the Conservatives specifically vowed to “implement the Information Commissioner’s recommendations for reform of the Access to Information Act (ATI Act).”
The promise was in reference to former information commissioner John Reid’s plans for the act, which included the creation of a public-interest clause that could override the numerous reasons to hide information from the public.
But the Harper government has not made any major changes to the access to information system, even though it has had a number of opportunities to take action and has been pressed in that direction by the opposition.
The only major change adopted by the Harper government on access to information was to increase the number of agencies that fall under the scope of the act, which Mr. Gomery said is insufficient.[FIPA notes that, out of more than 300 agencies the Conservatives could have brought under the ATI Act, they chose the handful that they disliked the most – a prime example being the CBC.]
The tory pledges to strength access to information legislation were:
- To implement the Information Commissioner’s recommendations for reform of the Access to Information Act.
- To give the Information Commissioner the power to order the release of information.
- To expand the coverage of the act to all Crown corporations, Officers of Parliament, foundations and organizations that spend taxpayers’ money or perform public functions.
- To subject the exclusion of Cabinet confidences to review by the Information Commissioner.
- To oblige public officials to create the records necessary to document their actions and decisions.
- To provide a general public interest override for all exemptions, so that the public interest is put before the secrecy of the government.
- To 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.
- To ensure that the disclosure requirements of the Access to Information Act cannot be circumvented by secrecy provisions in other federal acts.
Read “A Chance for Transparency“, FIPA’s submission to the Parliamentary Committee to Consider the Federal Accountability Act