Sunshine is a good disinfectant against dishonest,
unethical, wasteful and unjust government:
Recent federal government secrecy and leaks scandals have highlighted how loophole-filled and ineffective the government's access-to-information system -- and the related spending and donations control, ethics enforcement, lobbying disclosure and whistleblower protection systems -- are.
Politicians and political staff regularly "leak" government announcements in advance to hand-picked reporters and media outlets without any negative consequences (even though the leaked documents are often inaccurate and aimed at "spinning" false media coverage), but public servants who do the same are investigated by the RCMP for breach of trust.
Security officials keep key information secret for more than 20 years about how and why an enormous disaster occurred, and bizarrely some applaud them when they finally go public.
Spending by senators on a publicly funded trip is considered private, personal information that can't be disclosed, while spending by a minister on a publicly funded trip is considered departmental information that doesn't have to be disclosed.
And tracking how Canadians imprisoned in other countries are treated is a top priority, while information about how Afghanis arrested by Canadian armed forces are treated is top secret.
These disgustingly ridiculous situations are just the latest in literally thousands of similar past situations, and all are the fault of all federal governments throughout the history of Canada as none of them have taken steps to ensure everyone in the government operates openly.
Most recently, then-Liberal Justice Minister Allan Rock broke his 1994 pledge to strengthen the federal Access to Information Act (ATI Act), former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien broke his pledge to pass a whistleblower protection law, and the Liberals delayed increasing disclosure of lobbying for 10 years. And Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper broke his 2006 election promises to include measures in his so-called "Accountability Act" to close a few dozen loopholes in the ATI Act, to end secret lobbying, and to protect all whistleblowers effectively (To see the details about the ethics complaint Democracy Watch filed about the Conservatives' breaking their election promises concerning Bill C-2, the so-called "Accountability Act", click here).
These broken promises reveal one of the most fundamental loopholes in the open government system -- the lack of a requirement that parties and party leaders tell the public clearly what they will do (and will not do) if they are elected, and the lack of penalties for misleading the public in this fundamental way.
While other parties and politicians have accused the Conservatives and Harper of having a secret agenda, the truth all voters should face (a truth shown clearly throughout Canadian history) is that all of the parties and politicians have secret plans they donít want to reveal to voters until after election day.
Beyond the lack of an effective honesty-in-politics law, the following measures are needed to end the cult of secrecy in the federal government (and, as well, in most Canadian provincial, territorial and municipal governments):
In the minority federal government situation that has existed since June 2004, there are even fewer barriers to making these changes as any partyís proposals have the possibility of being passed.
With this upcoming July 1st marking 140 years of secretive Canadian federal governments (and, as a result, often dishonest, unethical, wasteful and unjust governments), the questions remain, as always -- is there a federal political party that will clearly propose these solutions in a bill, and will all the parties work together to ensure the bill is passed as soon as possible?
Or will they all just continue, as they have for decades, to point the finger at each otherís scandalously secret behaviour?
As the old saying goes, sunshine is a good disinfectant -- one can only hope that it is strong enough for federal politicians to feel the heat so they will, finally, open up the federal government and, in doing so, clean it up in a lot of ways as well.
Democracy Watch's Clean Up the System webpage
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