Does the federal government care if it doesn't know what Canadian values are? (Photograph by

Does the federal government care if we don’t know what Canadian values are? (Photograph by

OTTAWA SAYS IT’S COMMITTED TO RESEARCH DESPITE NOT FUNDING VITAL SURVEY Three federal government departments decided not to fund the latest round of the World Values Survey in Canada because they dedicated their research budget to “other priority areas.”

Earlier, I exclusively reported the absence of such funding meant our country wasn’t among the 59 countries included in that round — one of the few means we have of knowing what our current values are, how we differ from people in other countries and whether those values have changed over time.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Justice Canada and Canadian Heritage were among the departments that financed the survey’s last wave, which took place in 2005.

Justice contributed $22,150, while Heritage contributed $85,000 to allow the survey’s Canadian investigator Neil Nevitte to “explore social capital and values, including the World Values Survey.”

By comparison, Citizenship and Immigration did not disclose the amount of funding it provided. However, spokesperson for Statistics Canada, which provided $1.4 million for the survey’s Canadian component between 1998 and 2006, stated the department approached it about providing additional financing for the 2010 round. That approach was declined.

There have been concerns that the lack of World Values Survey data for Canada will mean more policy decisions will be made in a “vacuum” and create a “huge hole” for socio-political research.

Government spokespeople didn’t directly respond to a question about those concerns.

Instead, communications staff for the three departments I contacted stated their ministries remain “committed to research and meeting the needs of Canadians today.”

Justice Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada will be relying “on many sources of information” to inform their policy development and program delivery work

Meanwhile, Canadian Heritage has “identified other research priorities to inform performance measurement and policy and program development.”

Nevitte, a University of Toronto political scientist, earlier estimated the cost of gathering the data for the 2010 Canadian component of the World Values Survey would have been around $650,000.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER Earlier, I reported the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying appeared to have passed on participating in a review of lobbying disclosure in Canada. But the office now says it will be making a late contribution to that study, which was already published by the Sunlight Foundation on May 5.

The study stated the United States-based foundation did not receive any response to written questions that had been sent to the commissioner’s office, despite “multiple follow ups.”

However, in an email, a spokesperson for the office stated it is now “in the process of finalizing its response to the Sunlight Foundation. It is the Office’s understanding that its responses will be added to the case study when received.”

THE OVERSTATED POWER OF THE PRESS “Don’t put anything on paper that you don’t want to read on the front page of the Vancouver Sun.” That was the advice I got as a communications advisor for the British Columbia government — versions of which, I suspect, are given to bureaucrats the world over.

But I was always surprised at how much didn’t end up on the front page of the Vancouver Sun. And, as a reporter, I was always frustrated about how difficult it was to get the papers bureaucrats were writing. Which is why I appreciate famed leaker Daniel Ellsberg‘s observation that this adage is “flatly false” — a lie that serves the self-interests of those who were in newsrooms and government.

In his 2002 bestselling memoir Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers — which, given Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning’s revelations, has become more relevant than ever — Ellsberg states, such truisms are “in fact cover stories, ways of flattering and misleading journalists and their readers, part of the process of keeping secrets well.”

“Of course eventually many secrets do get out that wouldn’t in a fully totalitarian society,” continues Ellsberg. But “the reality unknown to the public and to most members of Congress and the press is that secrets that would be of the greatest important to many of them can be kept from them reliably for decades by the executive branch, even though they are known to thousands of insiders.”

As such, the statement, “Don’t put anything that you don’t want to read on the front page of the (insert paper of record here)” may simply ensure circumspect record-keeping on the part of bureaucrats, an overstated sense of efficacy on the part of journalists and continued public complacence about the amount of transparency and accountability in our political system.

Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.

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