[Democracy Watch Logo] [Op-ed]

Prime Minister Harper's Conservatives broken open government promises can be easily implemented by opposition parties given minority government

Set out below is a letter to the editor by Democracy Watch Coordinator Duff Conacher which was published in the February 9, 2009 issue of the Hill Times

While your article outlined some of the weaknesses with the federal Access to Information Act and enforcement system, and how the current and past federal governments have exploited those weaknesses to keep information secret, it did not detail the well-known, broadly supported solutions ("Access czar says information control 'alarming' in government" (Feb. 2, p.7).

When Information Commissioner Robert Marleau recommends changes to the Act and system at the end of February, he only needs to list the measures promised by the Conservatives during the 2006 election, measures which were proposed by the Open Government Canada coalition in 2001 as the key ways to strengthen the access system.

Conservatives would prefer that everyone forget just how much they have failed to keep their 2006 open government promises -- so here they are to remind everyone (To see Democracy Watch's December 2008 Report Card on the Conservatives' 29 broken promises, click here):
  • "Expand the coverage of the Act to all Crown corporations, Officers of Parliament, foundations, and organizations that spend taxpayers' money or perform public functions";
  • "Oblige public officials to create the records necessary to document their actions and decisions";
  • "Give the Information Commissioner the power to order the release of information";
  • "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";
  • "Subject the exclusion of Cabinet confidences to review by the Information Commissioner";
  • "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" and;
  • "Require ministers and senior government officials to record their contacts with lobbyists."
There is no need even to wait for the Commissioner's report -- given the minority government situation, opposition parties can easily work together to pass a bill making these changes within a few weeks (a bill the Conservatives, despite their culture of secrecy, would have great difficulty voting against).

So how about it opposition parties -- why are you waiting to open up the federal government?

Duff Conacher, Coordinator
Democracy Watch

For more details, go to Democracy Watch's Open Government Campaign