THE DEMOCRATIC REPORTER
Pages of Special Interest;
Other Table of Contents;
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Opening comments: More at the end.
There is a general pattern to these events and it is the wilful destruction of one of the foundations of democracy itself. The end of transparency of government to ensure accountability to the voters and taxpayers. Let us not forget the reason for creating democracy in the first place was to protect the majority from abusive governments, its agents and associates.
What we read about happening at the federal level is what the Mayor of Mississauga and her helpers in the office Information and Privacy Commissioner/Ontario are doing at the provincial/municipal level. This not what so many Canadians gave their lives in war and other democratic struggles for. A government that operates in secret and that you can get arrested for writing letters to your elected officials!
There is so much to say about this one, have to do later but none the less this is a great piece of writing about how democracy in Canada is dying faster then a candle in a wind storm.
An important point here is the difference between the Federal Freedom of Information (FOI) Act and the Provincial/Municipal FOI Acts. The Federal Commissioner has the power to take the government to court to make the the Federal government obey the FOI Act. That is not the case Provincial/Municipal FOI Acts, also the FOI Act, in regards to accessing records, is not a law that Cities have to obey.
The Toronto Sun - Feb. 3/02 - Sunday ed. - Page 4 of the COMMENT section.
By Greg Weston - National Politics
Grits make a sham of Access to Information Act
0TTAWA - Shortly after Jean Chretien rode to power in 1993, he rose in the Commons to announce the dawning of a new era in government ethics, promising "the system more transparent and open."
Instead, eight years of Liberal rule have made secrecy the operational standard of government, a systematic hiding of public information that is starting to smell a lot like the moral decay of a party in power too long.
At this writing, the Chretien administration is facing a staggering 33 outstanding court actions by its own Information Commissioner, John Reid.
Reid claims his own investigative staff have been intimidated and threatened by government goons, and says there is "a systematic attack on the Access to Information Act."
The Liberal government's latest middle-finger salute to the Canadian public is a decree that federal cabinet ministers and their political staffers no longer have to, make public any information about their travel expenses, wining-and-dining costs, or any other ways they might find to blow our tax money.
Even many Liberals are privately shocked and embarrassed by the audacity of the move, outraged by the mere idea ministers and their political hacks should somehow be exempt from public scrutiny.
Liberal MP John Bryden, for one, said bluntly and openly: "The public has a fundamental right to know how its money is being spent, regardless of whether the person spending it is a government employee, minister, or political staff."
Figuring out why the government might like to hide ministerial expenses does not require a degree in rocket science.
First, there's the matter of political embarrassment.
In 1996, for instance, an Access to Information request revealed that then Youth Minister Ethel Blondin-Andrew had been using her government charge card for vacations, a fur coat and other personal expenses. (She eventually reimbursed the treasury.)
Second, there's the matter of political image.
During the years the Conservatives were in power, the opposition Liberals routinely lambasted Brian Mulroney and his staffers (often unfairly) for their travel expenses -- a political smear campaign which, over time, created a negative image of pomp and lavishness that became the Tory PM's "presidential style."
Third, there's the issue of abuse of taxpayers' money.
Would a federal minister dare to use government funds to travel the country to press the flesh with potential Grit supporters in a leadership contest?
Would a minister's political staffers dare to use their government AmEx cards to organize all those Grit flesh-pressing parties for their boss?
And how about those "personal services" contracts doled out by ministers to special operatives crucial to a successful leadership campaign?
Maybe some will cheat. Maybe they won't.
Fact is, the only modicum of protection taxpayers have ever had against abuse of the public purse is the "transparent and open" government Chretien promised so long ago.
Bottom line: If ministers and political staff have nothing to hide, surely there's no reason to keep their expense accounts and other information secret by exempting them from the access laws.
As Chretien's freshly anointed public works minister, Don Boudria, said back in his Liberal opposition days: "Instead of trying to get around the Access to Information Act in order to avoid embarrassing situations, perhaps the government should avoid getting into such situations in the first place.
"Wouldn't that be better than refusing to disclose the facts to Parliament and to the people of Canada?"
Alas, government is forever a font of excuses for dubious actions.
In March of last year, "upon inquiries from several ministers' offices," the loyal bureaucrats at the federal Treasury Board, upon receiving legal advice from loyal bureaucrats in the Department of Justice, decided ministers and their political hacks are exempt from the Access to Information Act.
This conclusion was allegedly based on a 1997 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, which took more than four years, until March of 2001, before anyone in the entire government noticed it.
We asked three lawyers to read the decision, and not one could find anything that says ministers don't have to cough up their expense accounts for public scrutiny like everyone else in government.
A spokesman for the Treasury Board couldn't explain it, either, saying, "We acted on legal advice from Justice --you'll have to ask them."
A spokesman for the Justice Department said: "We just provided legal advice to Treasury Board; they're the ones who issued the guidelines (on access to information). You'll have to ask them.''
Whatever might be interpreted from the 1997 Supreme Court decision, the justices were clear on one point: "The overarch legislation is to facilitate democracy by helping to ensure ... that politicians and bureaucrats remain accountable to the citizenry."
Weston appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays
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