Saturday, April 29, 2006

harper's tory path to self destruction ...

Accountability act 'a bureaucrat's dream,' information commissioner
CBC, Apr 28 2006

Canada's information commissioner launched a scathing attack against Stephen Harper on Friday, charging that the prime minister has done a complete about-face on a promise to make government more accountable.

'No previous government has put forward a more retrograde and dangerous set of proposals to change the Access to Information Act.' - John Reid

In a special report to Parliament, John Reid said he had "grave concerns" about the Conservative's proposed accountability act, which is now under debate. He charged that it will actually reduce openness in government and make it easier to cover up potentially embarrassing scandals.

Employing unusually strong language, Reid said the legislation "will not strengthen the accountability of government through transparency, it will weaken it.

FROM APRIL 11, 2006: Tories bring in promised accountability act

"No previous government has put forward a more retrograde and dangerous set of proposals to change the Access to Information Act," he wrote. "The new government has done exactly the things for which its predecessor had been ridiculed."

Reid referred to the Chr├ętien government and the sponsorship scandal, and noted that the Harper's Conservatives campaigned on a platform of accountability in the recent federal election campaign.
FROM APRIL 21, 2006: Threats to delay accountability act 'intolerable,' Harper says

Harper promised more accountability, but the proposed act will "reduce the amount of information available to the public, weaken the role of the information commissioner and increase the government's ability to cover-up wrongdoing, shield itself from embarrassment and control the flow of information to Canadians," he wrote.

Reid called the latest proposals "a bureaucrat's dream."

The Harper government released its proposed reforms to the federal Access to Information Act earlier this month. They add 19 entities that would be covered by the act, but Reid pointed out that it also open 10 new loopholes that would allow civil servants to deny requests for information.

For example, the proposed legislation would prevent draft audits or audit papers from being released for 15 years.

In addition, Reid said the reforms would not require civil servants to create records, and would not give the information commissioner the investigative powers he is seeking.

The federal government objected to the language in Reid's report, but said it is willing to work with the commissioner to refine the legislation.

The language is "excessive," said John Baird, president of the Treasury Board, who said most of the differences are minor.

Baird acknowledged that the commissioner and the government disagree on some points, but he is willing to seek a compromise.

"We're keen to work with him on those areas where I think there can be some agreement," Baird said. The commissioner has "submitted some draft amendments. We're just currently looking at that."

Pat Martin said government needs to strike a balance between Reid's pro-access position and privacy. But Martin, an NDP member of Parliament from Winnipeg, said he takes the commissioner's concerns seriously.

"This is a pretty serious condemnation by the one leading authority on access to information," Martin said. "It was the culture of secrecy that allowed corruption to flourish in Ottawa during the Liberal years. John Reid has actually now said we may be in a worse situation."