Monday, December 24, 2007

Access to information: Conservative rhetoric and Conservative reality

We're likely to be in an election campaign this spring, and I suspect the Harper Conservatives are going to have a much harder time getting Canadians to take their sanctimonious piety at face value, or believe much of anything they say.

Take, for example, this recent story on the Conservatives and access to information requests (Steve also has thoughts):

Public requests for documents are being slowed by lengthy reviews in the central department that reports to the prime minister, the Information Commissioner says.

While Stephen Harper's Conservatives campaigned on opening up the access-to-information system, Information Commissioner Robert Marleau said the government's own statistics show that responses to the public's requests for information are slowing down “across the board.”

A far cry from what the Conservatives promised in their last election platform:
Strengthen Access to Information legislation

The Liberal government has consistently rejected attempts to provide Canadians with better access to government information. The present Information Commissioner has gone to court several times to force the government to open its windows.

The plan

A Conservative government will:

Implement the Information Commissioner’s recommendations for reform of the Access to Information Act.

Give the Information Commissioner the power to order the release of information.

Expand the coverage of the act to all Crown corporations, Officers of Parliament, foundations, and organizations that spend taxpayers’ money or perform public functions.

Subject the exclusion of Cabinet confidences to review by the Information Commissioner.

Oblige public officials to create the records necessary to document their actions and decisions.

Provide a general public interest override for all exemptions, so that the public interest is put before the secrecy of the government.

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.

Ensure that the disclosure requirements of the Access to Information Act cannot be circumvented by secrecy provisions in other federal acts, while respecting the confidentiality of national security and the privacy of personal information.

As Judge Judy would say, Stephen, I wouldn't believe you if your tongue came notarized.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


Burton, Formerly Kingston said...

In the interest of fairness to quote from the same articles BCer.

The Information Commissioner, an independent officer of Parliament, who is nearing the end of his first year in office, said he has not yet been able to pinpoint the cause of the delays.

There may be several causes, including more requests being vetted for national-security reasons because of questions relating to terrorism or the war in Afghanistan, Mr. Marleau said.

“There's definitely a regression. Some people are saying it's the Harper government. I don't think I can state that myself now. The war in Afghanistan, and the whole sort of post-911, I think, has made a contribution to that regression.”

You know how that whole fairness issue works don't you

Robert said...

"The war in Afghanistan, and the whole sort of post-911, I think, has made a contribution to that regression."

So Kingston, the point of the article you use to base your defence of the slowdown in the freedom of information act is based on events that started when??

Jeff knows 'how that whole fairness thing works.'

At least he and he and Steve V. put some thought into what they write.

Burton, Formerly Kingston said...

Actually Robert, My entire post used the same reference that BCer provided. The same article, the same author, the same MSM release. I chose not to cherry picker things that support or do not support my impressions of a topic when I comment. As to your comment on my submissions and the time involved it was not meant to be a thesis or a frisking of his BCer posts. It was a fair comment on the fact when you utilize a source as substantiation for your post it is only fair and professional to also mention the sections that are counter to your argument. Refute them as need be if required but at least acknowledge that the named source the article is based on is not totally supportive of your argument. Happy Holidays

Jeff said...


I did read the section you note. A couple of points.

One, while Marleau gives security as one reason, the fact is those concenrns were in place well before Haroer came into office, so there's no (legitimate) way for security to be the cause of the slow-down.

Second, more relevant is the fact the Conservatives campaigned on reforming and speeding-up this process, and not onlt have they failed to implement the legislation, the situation has gotten worse under their watch, Whatever the excuse, that's their responsibility.

Thirdly, on security itself, in their election platform the Conservatives included two items that indicate they'd ensure the security wouldn't be used to slow/override the public's right to know. If they didn't accept security as a blanket excuse then, why should I now?

Anyway, whatever the reason for the increase in delays, the fact remains the Conservatives promised action and failed to deliver. Promise made, promise broken.

Burton, Formerly Kingston said...

Hi BCer, I hope your having a excellent Xmas season.
I totally support your second point, "not onlt have they failed to implement the legislation, the situation has gotten worse under their watch". I also agree with your conclusion concerning it is their responsibility.
My concern is and I have quickly looked but I have not been able to find a source which briefly describes outstanding FOI requests which would be extremely helpful in both of ours arguments here.
Here is my concern, before and during the last election the CF overseas with the exception of the seven months in KAF in 2002 (was there) were not involved in combat operations, they were in Kabul and well still dangerous was not the same thing. Since the time of the election we have rotated into KAF( was there again, quite the change by the way, I feel like I am preaching to the choir about the mission because I know that you support it) has driven security concerns much higher. I would be interested in seeing a break down on the FOI requests, your totally right if there are delays in how much the PMO spent on his travels to where ever or how much the Commons Library spent on stamps or other routine govt business or policies, if the back log is being caused by Afgan then I am willing to cut them some slack on this one.