Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Contrasting Conservative rhetoric, and action, on transparency with Liberal action

You’ll remember that the last Conservative election campaign made a big deal about bringing transparency and accountability to government. Heck, they even had a whole plank in their platform dealing with access to information:

That was the Conservative rhetoric. The Conservative reality though, as we’ve seen, is completely different. And as we know it’s far from the first time the farce of Conservative promises and rhetoric have been exposed by their actions, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

The federal Conservatives have quietly killed a giant information registry that was used by lawyers, academics, journalists and ordinary citizens to hold government accountable.

The registry, created in 1989, is an electronic list of every request filed to all federal departments and agencies under the Access to Information Act.

Known as CAIRS, for Co-ordination of Access to Information Requests System, the database allowed ordinary citizens to identify millions of pages of once-secret documents that became public through individual freedom-of-information requests over many years.

With this latest action by the Conservatives to restrict access to information, from its war with the media to stalling committee investigations, I was reminded of concrete, tangible action taken by the last Liberal government.

It was the Liberals that in December 2003 took a major step forward in opening government to accountability by bringing-in a system of proactive disclosure of expenses by cabinet ministers, their political staff, and senior civil servants. Every quarter their expenses need to be posted publically on the department’s Web site, where citizens and media can scrutinize how the servants of the people are spending our money.

For example, go to the Ministry of Finance Web site, at fin.gc.ca. After picking your language, scroll down and you’ll find a link for proactive disclosure, click Travel and Hospitality Expenses, and then reports. Thanks to this system we can see, for example, that Jim Flaherty dropped nearly $10k on air fare to go to Tokyo for a G7 Finance Ministers meeting. Or that his communications director, Dan Miles took a journalist to Ottawa’s Eggspectation and dropped $18.90 on the meal. (Hopefully the PMO doesn’t find out a Conservative staffer dined with a reporter, even if he or she bought their own eggs!)

You’ll find similar disclosure reports on all ministerial Web sites. Such tools are a great resource for the media and the public to hold ministers and staff accountable for their spending. Indeed, the very existence of the system, and knowing that their expenses will be made public, have led ministers and staff to curtail their expense spending.

That’s transparency and accountability, courtesy a Liberal government. Given that the Conservative style of accountability seems to be closing CAIRS and curtailing disclosure, one wonders how long it will be before they kill proactive disclosure of ministerial expenses too?

On a funny side note, on the main Finance Ministry page on proactive disclosure they have a little blurb on the history of the program, including a link to the PMO Web site on ethical conduct. Open the link and you get:

A blank page. Too funny. And very appropriate.

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J said...

OK. Cons are not the accountable transparent govt. they promised to be. So....what ya gonna do about it? Actually, that's not fair - what is the LPC caucus gonna do about it? Nothin' Zip Zero
In fact, the Liberal Caucus will instead vote with them or sit on their hands so often that respected pundits like Paul Well's says it is tantamount to a Conservative/Liberal coalition govt.
I really do feel for the grassroots of the Liberal party. I can understand how disheartening it must be to have to watch your MPs throw principle after principle under the bus.
I know that some are pitting their hopes on the grand summer tour but actions speak louder than words and Dion and the LPC caucus actions are deafening.

sharonapple88 said...

I'd love if there were an election, but there's a fair chance we might just end up back where we are with a Conservative minority government. If the electorate was sick of either the Conservatives or the Liberals, both parties would have plummeted in the polls instead of hovering around the numbers they had at the polls.

You can have fun by seeing how an election might turn out by running numbers through this riding calculator.

As for the situation the BCer posted on, the situation reminds me of this parody article from 2006 on how voters were going to punish the Liberals and themselves by voting Conservative.

P.S. Does anyone know whatever happened to Derision 2006. Funny parody articles. ("Ethereal idea of 'change' now poised to form government."... Bah, we got change. The current government has proven one point--before we decide to change things, we should ask ourselves whether it's going to be for the better.)

J said...

So we simply have to keep voting for the same two old-line parties. Interchangeable corruption, too often interchangeable policies? I don't think so. It really doesn't have to be so bleak.
I would be prepared to consider voting for the LPC, except for their track record for most of my adult life. I don't believe the party of Chretien/Martin/Dion is the party of Trudeau. Progressive policies were sidelined because of years of Chretien/Martin feuding. It wasn't the deficit, that was retired early (thanks to massive downloading and on the backs of unemployed workers btw). Dion was supposed to be the 'great' progressive hope. Soon the LPC will be back to their perennial leadership fight.
Why should progressive Canadians have to set aside their hopes for a better, greener, fairer Canada so wannabe Liberal leaders can play who's got the biggest caucus. The answer is they don't. The NDP is the progressive party that walks their talk and is standing up to this Conservative govt.

Saskboy said...

Now this is what shows up:
Proactive Disclosure

The Government of Canada is working hard to enhance the role of Parliament and the proactive disclosure of information so that Canadians are better able to hold Parliament, their Government, and public sector officials to account. To this end, the Government announced the mandatory publication on departmental web sites of:

Contracts over $10,000.
* Grant and Contribution Awards over $25,000
* Position Reclassification
* Travel and Hospitality Expenses

Please note that information that would normally be withheld under the Access to Information Act or the Privacy Act does not appear on this web site.

Last Update 2008-04-25

Powell lucas said...

I don't like any action that makes it harder to shine a little light on the activities of our overly- bureaucratized institutions. However, before everyone gets their knickers in a knot and tries to make this the crime of the century, just how many people do you know who has ever used this service? Or, for that matter how many do you know who were even aware of it.
I think the site should be left in operation, but if this is the best that Liberal supporters can come up with to beat on the government, I can understand why they fear an election.

sharonapple88 said...

So we simply have to keep voting for the same two old-line parties. Interchangeable corruption, too often interchangeable policies? I don't think so.

I think you could make the argument a few decades ago that the two parties were interchangable, but not now. Not with Harper leading the Conservatives. No party is pushing the Conservaties to come up with some of the crap they've been doing lately. Conservative initiative.

As for being progressive, the NDP-Liberal collation during Paul Martin's time did a lot to push some issue forward. I was sad to see it go, especially since child care, health care, First Nation issue... well, the Conservatives have completely ignored them or worse, gone out of their way to dismantle the little that was going to be done.

J said...

This is the entire point of my comment. It is fair to ask why, if the LPC doesn't support the Cons Agenda, they are not voting this govt out of office. The NDP is putting forward another non-confidence motion (this time concerning the growing income gap and the faulty economic policies of the Con govt) and the LPC is yet again choosing to prop up Harper and his govt.
Many analysts (media, pundits, etc,) have noted that there are those in the LPC brass and caucus who are very happy with the Cons agenda to reduce the federal govts ability to create new programs. The diminution of the federal govt is THE REAL Con agenda and Paul Wells in writing about this referred to the Conservative/Liberal coalition in making it happen.
Progressive voters have to look past the rhetoric of the LPC to see where their actions match up with the Cons (ie on social policy - 26 liberal MPs vote with cons for anti-abortion legislation C484).

sharonapple88 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sharonapple88 said...

(sorry, had to delete because of a nagging spelling mistake.)

This is the entire point of my comment. It is fair to ask why, if the LPC doesn't support the Cons Agenda, they are not voting this govt out of office.

I think the situation may be a bit more complex than the Liberals subtly supporting the Conservative agenda by not voting them down.

Unless a party knows they can replace the Conservatives, voting the Conservative government would be like winning the battle but losing the war. You have to be more than right in a democracy, you have to get the public to support your position.

Opposition parties have to be careful when they face a minority government. When they took a harsh line against Diefenbaker, the Conservatives won a majority campaigning on Liberal arrogance (guess it didn't help that Pearson said that Diefenbaker should hand power back to the Liberals, oy vey). If you want a more current example, there's Jean Charest in Quebec--from almost losing power to being on the verge of a majority government. (Well, the Liberals managed to bring down Joe Clark, but the polls made it clear that the Canadian public wanted Trudeau back.)

The Conservatives are in a position to get a majority, especially if the other parties prevent them from doing anything. This would make a great appeal--we didn't get a chance, give us a majority to avoid chaos. Thankfully, the Conservatives are defeating themselves because their biggest drawback is their agenda. They're not flirting with majority support since their agenda doesn't connect with the average Canadian.(The fact that they managed to be even more scandal plagued than the Liberals probably helps.... Also, didn't they say something in 2005 about having better relations with the premiers? Well, Danny Williams hates them, they're in a mini-feud with Dalton McGuinty, and they had that whole fiasco with the Atlantic Accord...).

(Having said all this, I'd wished someone would have the guts in the Liberal party to throw the damn dice.)

ie on social policy - 26 liberal MPs vote with cons for anti-abortion legislation C484).

That's about a forth of the party. To be absolutely flippant, this is better than the 37.6% of Canadians who are against abortion in an opinion poll in 2001. (For the record, I'm pro-choice.)

Everyone knows there is a conservative faction in the Liberal party, and there always will be. They don't thankfully, make up the majority.

I'm going to to a slight tangent here, but one of the interesting things in democracies are how differing political viewpoints deal with each other. On the internet it tends to be two sides doing the equivalent of yelling at each other through their keyboards. (People gravitate towards like-minded individuals on the internet, which strengthens views. Not bad, but there's an element of tribalism and extremism that can creep in all of this.)In real life, I think we manage to avoid these extremes simply because we get the know people with other viewpoints and see that they're not the devil. Thankfully, there's accomodation and change that goes on--it has to or else we'd just spawn our own revolutions and counter-revolutions, essentially going around in circles... except with yelling and fighting. (Anyway, I hope j that we can disagree without thinking the other person is mad.... just passionate for his/her own political point of view.)

sharonapple88 said...

Er... I meant fourth. A fourth of the party.

J said...

of course I don't think badly of (most) Liberals. My grandfather was a Liberal MP for decades. I do think that the LPC is NOT a truly progressive party because they have too many socons and financial conservatives in party and caucus. As an NDPer I believe that you can have a progressive government that is still fiscally responsible, it is all a matter of what you prioritize (ie. dippers support fixing the health care system over more corporate tax cuts which LPC supports). If I sound overly partisan sometimes, it is only passion mixed with frustration that progressives who vote LPC out of fear of Cons help to ensure that we only ever get rhetorical change not real change. LPC governments have mainly enacted progressive legislation when they were acting to shore up soft progressive liberal vote from slipping to NDP.
I have personal disappointment with LPC inaction on their supposed progressive values. As the party of the Charter I was deeply disappointed that the LPC forced the LGBT community to fight in court for each and every right we now have. All the way to the SCOC in many cases. It took two decades longer than it should have to achieve legal equality. No one in the LPC (not Chretien or Martin) was as brave and principled as Trudeau was on this issue.