Information Commissioner: Conservative Government is “Not Transparent”

Julian Wolfe
February 10th, 2013

Accountability and transparency were the hallmarks of Stephen Harper’s win in 2006 but despite robotic scripts that claim accountability is the utmost priority, recent report cards and trends show that accountability and transparency have been thrown out the window.

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault says the Harper Government is “not the most transparent” and that Access to Information requests have been responded to at all time lows.

“We are at a record low in terms of timeliness,” Legault told CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition. “The percentage of information being disclosed is also low.”

She has been in office for three years and her office has taken an 8% budget cut and has to deal with 2,000 complaints after having dealt with 7,000. While the government is reluctant to answer to Access to Information requests, they are kicking the cans down the road at a record pace.

“In the recent statistics provided by the government, requests for extensions [by departments] are at a record high.”

Access to Information requests demand a response within 30 days, but departments can ask for extensions. One extension request, made by the Ministry of Defense, asked for 1,110 days and is now before Federal Courts.

“I don’t have order-making power. I only have recommendation power,” Legault noted.

Furthermore, the bad news for the Conservative record is after making promises to improve transparency and accountability, we’re told the last time Canada’s legislation was updated was in the 1980s.

“Generally, countries which have amended their legislation since 2000 include more modern elements … the U.K. and Australia have given their commissioners order-maker power,” said Legault.

A report made by Legault last year gave the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the department of Northern and Indian Affairs, and Transport Canada “F” grades for their timeliness at responding to Access to Information Requests. When it came to disclosure, the department of defense hit the bottom.

“It prevents Canadians from holding governments to account — especially in the way they respond to crises.”

“Canadians should be angry,” she said. “It’s really a fundamental democratic right in Canada [and] it’s linked to freedom of expression.”

Meanwhile, Canada’s reputation with this regard is taking a hit on the world stage. A Reporters Without Borders report ranked countries on its media freedom.

In the latest report, Canada took a 10 point hit over the previous report leaving Canada in 20th place. The top three countries are: Finland, the Netherlands and Norway.

The report noted that Canada lost “its status as the western hemisphere’s leader to Jamaica (No. 13). This was due to obstruction of journalists during the so-called ‘Maple Spring’ student protests and to continuing threats to the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and internet users’ personal data, in particular, from the C-30 bill on cyber-crime.”

Legault said she would like Canada to once again become the envy of the world but that it will need a strong jolt to do so.

“We need more voices to weigh in. It’s a very important right and we must fight for it.”

It turns out that the government Canadians elected on the basis of trust and accountability can’t be held to account and can’t be trusted. We have a government that runs from the media and muzzles those with something worthy to say. We have a government that is fixated over control and is ready and willing to restrict people’s freedom to maintain it. This report about Harper’s record of transparency doesn’t reveal anything groundbreaking, it just makes a trend Canadians have seen for a while official.

When a government has lost its sense of accountability and principle, it has lost its moral authority to govern. The promise of accountability was a lie, and as a consequence, we now have the most secretive and restrictive government in history. Do you still trust this government?

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   Categories: Accountability, Freedom, International Reputation


On Monday, the longest campaign in modern history will come to a close and if current polls are any indication, Canada may be seeing a change in government after 9 years of Conservative rule under the leadership of Stephen Harper. Accountability was his calling card in 2006 and today, accountability may very well be one of the defining reasons for his departure.

In its length, in its cost and in its debate schedule, this election is unusual. The first and possibly only real debate of the campaign ended and here are the highlights of what happened.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper left Rideau Hall this morning with Governor General David Johnston’s approval to drop the writ and Canadians are now officially headed to the polls on October 19. For the first time since fixed election date legislation was brought in by the Conservative government, a fixed election date has been followed.

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