Set out below is a letter-to-the-editor by Democracy Watch Coordinator Duff Conacher which was published in the October 11, 2010 issue of the Hill Times
Canadians should be just as concerned about the actions (or inaction) of all Conservative Cabinet ministers as they are about the actions of the one Cabinet staff person (Sebastian Togneri) who has correctly resigned and is under investigation by the Information Commissioner for wrongfully interfering with access-to-information requests.
The Conservative Cabinet has broken their 2006 election promises to require all government and government-funded institutions to create records detailing all their actions and decisions, and to give the Information Commissioner the power to order the disclosure of any record if it is in the public interest and would not cause any actual harm to anyone or any organization. (To see Democracy Watch's December 2009 Report Card on the Conservatives' 29 broken promises, click here).
Until these changes are made, and the Information Commissioner is also given the power to penalize violators, it is very likely that federal politicians, their staff and government officials will continue to violate the spirit and intent of the access-to-information system.
Similar changes are needed across Canada to ensure all governments are effectively required to operate openly, and to prevent secrecy that is a recipe for corruption, waste and abuse of the public.
NOTE: See set out below the Conservatives' promises quoted from their 2006 platform, and to see details about a court case appeal the Conservatives are challenging to hide information, click here.
Duff Conacher, Coordinator
FEDERAL CONSERVATIVES' (MOSTLY) BROKEN ACCESS-TO-INFORMATION PROMISES
ONE PROMISE PARTIALLY KEPT:
"Expand the coverage of the [Access to Information Act] to all Crown corporations, Officers of Parliament, foundations, and organizations that spend taxpayers’ money or perform public functions"
(NOTE: the Federal Accountability Act (FAA) added 50 new federal government institutions to the list of institutions covered by the Access to Information Act, but did keep the promise of extending the Act to all government and government-funded organizations. The FAA also changed the Act to allow draft reports to be kept secret until finalized (delaying access significantly))
EIGHT PROMISES NOT KEPT:
"Implement the Information Commissioner’s recommendations for reform of the Access to Information Act."
"Give the Information Commissioner the power to order the release of information."
"Subject the exclusion of Cabinet confidences to review by the Information Commissioner."
"Oblige public officials to create the records necessary to document their actions and decisions."
"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."
"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."
"Require ministers and senior government officials to record their contacts with lobbyists."