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Canada Rubin: Trudeau's defiance of parliament should top the election agenda, but it won't

20:29  28 july  2021
20:29  28 july  2021 Source:   ottawacitizen.com

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Will one central issue in the as-yet-undeclared election campaign be the Trudeau government’s repeated defiance of the House of Commons’ orders for information, or is the latest struggle with the Public Health Agency of Canada just political theatre?

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The latest clash has seen the government appeal asking Federal Court to validate its attempt to block parliamentarians from getting records about the dismissal of two scientists from Canada’s top-security virology laboratory in Winnipeg.

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This simmering conflict extraordinarily saw PHAC’s president, Iain Stewart, called to the floor of the House of Commons to be admonished and in contempt of parliament for failure to answer demands for information on the two fired scientists. But it did not work or result in one single record being handed over.

There have been other high-profile tugs-of-war, over pandemic funding details, the We Charity government tie-ins, and SCN-Lavalin lobbying. It’s pretty serious when ministers resign, parliament is prorogued and the government clamps down hard on not wanting many documents put on the public record.

In one case, the government denied the House of Commons Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Committee request for the specific amounts being paid as bonuses to senior officials at Canada Infrastructure Bank.

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Here’s the hypocrisy inherent in these information fights, which have intensified in the current minority government.

It’s parliament who passed laws such as the Access to Information Act and many other pieces of legislation where confidentiality provisions override the access legislation allowing for large chunks of data to be exempt.

The law protects sought-after information like bonuses paid as “private.” As well, the expected doses and delivery timing of multi-million dollar COVID-19 vaccine contracts can be considered “proprietary,” and the firing of scientists covered under broad “national security” grounds.

In 2019, parliament agreed to proactively publish summarized parliamentarians’ expenses outside the Access to Information Act. But not much else about MPs and Senators’ operations is releasable, including invoices and expense payment details.

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Much of what gets released or not is done at the discretion of the Speaker of the House of Commons and members of parliament on the powerful Board of Internal Economy. No serious effort is underway to revamp the law that would make many parliamentary operational records more fully public.

If parliamentarians are having difficulties and delays in getting information, just think of the public having significantly more hoops to jump through to get any information. It’s extremely difficult to get better disclosure when the PMO, ministers, parliamentarians and cabinet records are, all by parliamentary law, beyond the public’s reach.

Voters and taxpayers may be forgiven if they see parliamentary information efforts as shallow and confusing where parliamentarians do not come across as role models fighting to secure and enhance the public’s information rights.

Justin Trudeau’s father once called MPs “nobodies.” It’s now clear how much power is concentrated in the Prime Minister’s office. Prime Ministers prefer that parliament not get too much unedited information and officials are under orders to keep a tight rein on information.

Getting parliament-versus-the prime minister information struggles high on the election agenda is unlikely. There are just too many pressing other issues, such as systemic racism, a past genocide, the pandemic, the economy and climate change. As much as it would be gratifying to have better transparency and less arrogance right up near the top of the election agenda, it’s no secret that’s a long shot.

Ken Rubin is a transparency advocate reachable at kenrubin.ca

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usr: 2
This is interesting!