Will this soon be standard issue equipment for civil servants when reporters are present? (Photograph by

Will this soon be standard issue equipment for federal civil servants dealing with the news media? (Photograph by

REPORTERS GET SPECIAL TREATMENT FROM HARPER ADMINISTRATION The muzzle federal bureaucrats must wear around journalists appears to be so tight that they can’t even talk about the Harper administration’s open government action plan if a reporter is in the room but one of their spin doctors isn’t.

The scene of that crime against free speech was a “public workshop” in Halifax which was supposed to give Canadians an opportunity to comment on the second edition of that plan.

But, according to the investigative reporter Tim Bousquet, when he showed up to that meeting, a woman who worked for the Treasury Board “asked who I worked for and left the room to make a phone call.”

“When she came back, she said that with a journalist in the room, the Treasury Board employees were not authorized to speak without a government media professional in the room.”

Ironically, the Canadian Association of Journalists recently wrote a letter calling on the federal government to do away with such poisonous public relations restrictions as part of its new open government action plan (disclosure: I drafted and then, as one of the association’s regional directors, co-signed that letter).

TRAINED SEALS FAIL TO FLEE AQUARIUM Michael’s Chong Reform Act is being “watered down to the point of transparency,” according to the National Post’s Andrew Coyne. But don’t say I didn’t warn you this would happen.

The bill, which was introduced last year by Chong, was supposed to legally enshrine caucus’s authority to remove party leaders. It was also supposed to take away the final say those leaders have on who gets to run for their party and who doesn’t.

But, last week, Chong announced he would be proposing two major changes to the Act that will limit those provisions.

The first will allow parties to designate someone who will get a final say on who can be an election candidate. The second will allow caucuses to opt out of having the power to remove their leader.

In response, Coyne — who had described the bill as containing “the seeds of a revolution” — wrote the Reform Act has been “effectively gutted”

But that should come as no surprise to readers here.

Earlier, in covering the Reform Act, I opined, “Canada’s MPs may soon have a chance to steal fire from their gods. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t seize it.”

THE HIGH PRICE OF FREEDOM (OF INFORMATION) A Calgary city councillor wants the public to pay more for information about work the public has paid for, even though Alberta’s freedom of information fees are already among the highest in the country.

Speaking with the Calgary Herald, Ray Jones said, “I think there should be fair market value on it. I think whoever asks the FOIPP requests should be paying for it.”

According to the newspaper, Jones made the comment after aides “spent days responding to a query under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act for details of all the gifts councillors have given to the public.”

It costs $25 to file a freedom of information request in Alberta, with other provinces and the federal government charging $5 or nothing at all. Only the Northwest Territories and Nunavut match Alberta’s filing fee.

Similar to other Canadian governments, Alberta also allows freedom of information applicants to be charged the cost of searching for records and copying them.

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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