OPEN GOVERNMENT INACTION? Canadians have given the federal government some worthy ideas on how it could be less secretive and more accountable. But some of them seem doubtful those ideas will actually be acted on.
The Harper administration has been consulting with Canadians about what should be in it’s Action Plan on Open Government 2.0 since April.
In addition to recommending reforms to the country’s freedom of information system, other suggestions that have been submitted online or made during in-person meetings have included:
- establish an online ratings system so Canadians can grade the performance of unelected and elected officials, the institutions they work for and their policies;
- ensure the preservation of Canada’s “documentary and public policy heritage”; and
- establish public consultation principles that departments and agencies would have to abide by.
But the government also acknowledged “several comments reflect that the Government of Canada’s commitment to transparency leaves something to be desired.”
You can check all of those suggestions out here.
THE MEDIA’S STAR CANDIDATE Vancouver’s city hall might become a more welcoming place for reporters if former media executive Kirk LaPointe unseats sitting Mayor Gregor Robertson.
LaPointe, who is heading the right-wing Non-Partisan Association slate, is promising to “create the country’s most open, accountable government” should his party win the upcoming November civic election.
That would include a “bylaw requiring the city to disclose information routinely” and permitting city employees to “speak freely to the public.”
Such promises are laudable, especially given recent criticism of the Canadian and American governments for muzzling bureaucrats.
But they also not surprising given that LaPointe, the former managing editor of the Vancouver Sun (disclosure: he was also one of my bosses at that paper), has been a longtime friend of freedom of information.
I’ve personally participated in two panels with him on the subject and, during both, he forcefully championed Canadians’ right to know.
Despite those credentials, though, voters in Vancouver may be wary of LaPointe’s transparency agenda.
After all, in 1999, BC Liberal Party leader Gordon Campbell, the city’s former mayor, told his supporters he would also run “the most open and accountable government in Canada” and ended up doing almost the opposite when he became premier.
THE DEVIL’S IN THE EXEMPTIONS As I and others have written before, Campbell is far from the only political leader who has promised transparency and delivered opacity.
So, in some ways, the better question for a candidate seeking elected office is not what they would do to make government less secretive but when they think such secrecy is necessary.
In other words, when is government justified in withholding information from the citizenry and how does the candidate’s position differ from existing practice?
After all, it’s often those exemptions that have defanged right to know efforts in this country.
I’ve posed that question to LaPointe and will post his reply when he’s had an opportunity to answer.
Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.
Author’s note: A nasty summer bug kept me from posting last week’s column. My next look at the people, the press and the powerful will be published in two weeks.
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