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. Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers