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Government secrecy leads to abuse of the public and waste of the public's money.
In its Open Government Campaign, Democracy Watch is pushing to close the many loopholes in the federal Access to Information Act (ATI Act) and to make the federal government's access-to-information system more open and accessible and strictly enforced.
In 1994, then-Justice Minister Allan Rock pledged to strengthen the federal ATI Act, but it was not until early 2001 that then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien set up a government task force to examine the flaws in the Act and the access system.
Chrétien was responding to pressure from a group of MPs, led by Liberal MP John Bryden, who had set up their own "MPs on Access Committee" and were pushing for changes to the ATI Act and access system. In addition, in spring 2000 the Canadian Association of Journalists held a conference in Toronto inviting citizen groups to work together on the access to government information issue, and the Open Government Canada (OGC) coalition formed out of that conference and was also pressuring the federal government.
Unfortunately, the government's Access to Information Review Task Force was made up of public servants from departments which are in a fundamental conflict of interest because they are regulated by the law, failed to disclose key information such as the results of its research, and failed to consult in a meaningful and open way with Canadians.
The Access to Information Task Force's June 2002 report, which set out 139 detailed recommendations, did include the following positive general proposals:
In frustration, Liberal MP John Bryden introduced a private members bill in 2002 to strengthen the ATI Act, however Prime Minister Chrétien and the rest of the Liberal Cabinet ensured that the bill had no chance of passing.
In 2004, NDP MP Pat Martin introduced a private members bill that was almost exactly the same as the John Bryden bill. Unfortunately, Martin withdrew the bill when Liberal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler pledged to introduce a government bill. Cotler broke his pledge in spring 2005 when he instead released a discussion paper on access-to-information reform (even though the former government Task Force had discussed the issue more than it ever needed discussing).
As with past Information Commissioners, then-Information Commissioner John Reid strongly criticized the ineffectiveness of the current federal access to information system, and called for reforms.
The pressure is increasing on the federal government to clean-up the federal Access to Information Act (ATI Act) and access-to-information system.
Then-federal Information Commissioner John Reid released his version of a stronger ATI Act in October 2005.
On November 4, 2005, the federal Conservative Party pledged to pass 52 measures to increase the ethics and accountability of the federal government as the first thing they would do if they were elected, including several measures to strengthen the federal government's access-to-information system.
The Gomery Commission Inquiry into the federal sponsorship scandal also made recommendations to strengthen the ATI Act and access system in its final report released in February 2006.
However, the Conservatives' broke their election promises by passing a so-called "Accountability Act" containing only 30 measures, and many of those measures are weaker than promised. To see Democracy Watch's news release about the Conservatives' broken promises, click here.
In October 2006, a House of Commons committee passed a
resolution calling on the federal Justice Minister to
introduce a bill keeping the Conservatives' election
In 2007, and again in February 2009, the NDP MP Pat
Martin introduced a private
member bill that includes the changes recommended by
former Information Commissioner John Reid.
Also in February 2009, current federal Information
Commissioner Robert Marleau released his 12
recommendations for strengthening the federal Access to Information Act
and enforcement system. The House Access, Privacy and
Ethics Committee issued a report
in June 2009 endorsing some of the recommendations, but
the Conservative government rejected
all the recommendations in December 2009.
In September 2010, information and privacy commissioners
for governments across Canada issued a call
for open government.
Other recent reports
by federal Information Commissioners highlighting how the
access-to-information system is in crisis have increased
the pressure on federal parties to make changes, but they
have continued to resist meaningful changes.
In the 2011 federal
election, almost all the federal parties made open
government promises -- however, most of their promises
focused on making already publicly available information
more easily accessible, not on strengthening the ATI Act.
As a result, it continues to be very important to let all
federal political parties know that Canadians want
democratic reforms to open government rules and the
enforcement system, and to continue push them to promise
such reforms in their election campaign platforms.
Government Coalition, coordinated by Democracy Watch
needs your help to push for these key open government
Write Prime Minister and Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper, Interim Liberal Party Leader Bob Rae, the NDP, and your own MP (See addresses below). Please send a copy of your letter and any response to Democracy Watch.
In your letter urge the government to strengthen the federal Access to Information Act (ATI Act) and access-to-information system in the following key ways:
SEND YOUR LETTER BY MAIL calling for key federal
government accountability changes to:
House of Commons
OR send your letter by email to all the federal
party leaders at:
OR send your letter by fax or email individually
Interim Liberal Party Leader Bob Rae
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair
AND, finally, please send a copy of your letter by email to Democracy Watch at: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Thank you for participating in our DemocratizACTION Network
Democracy Watch's Open Government Campaign
April 17, 2012
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