Chris Aylward

Mr. Harper, tear down this wall!


It hardly came as a surprise to learn on World Press Freedom Day that in Canada only 20% of Access To Information requests are answered in full. Ever since the Harper Conservatives won power in 2006, they have preferred to work in secrecy, going so far as to refuse to release documents to the House of Commons—our elected representatives—until ordered to do so by the Speaker of the House.

The government fell in 2011 after refusing to provide information to the House about the costs of the F-35 fighter jets (small wonder, as it turns out) and new crime legislation. The Opposition was simply expected to vote with its eyes shut. More recently, we have seen huge omnibus bills steamrollered through the House, whose ill effects don’t become clear for months.

Kevin Page, until recently the Parliamentary Budget Officer who was appointed amid much fanfare as an independent watchdog, has been red-lighted at every turn by the government, denied the data he needed to do his job. Armed with a favourable court ruling, his successor has vowed to continue the fight for budget transparency. But why should she have to fight?

Keeping us all in the dark seems to be a way of life for this government, and it extends deep into the public service as well. The muzzling of scientists is by now old news—in 2006, shortly after the Conservatives came to power, Mark Tushingham was forbidden to attend a book launch for a science-fiction novel he wrote on global warming, and it’s been all downhill since then.

Transparency in the public service? Guess again. The first so-called “Integrity Commissioner,” whose job it was to look into allegations of wrong-doing in the public service, simply turned a blind eye to most complaints, and never upheld a single one of the handful that were actually investigated.

More recently, we have learned that senior RCMP officers have been forbidden to meet with our elected representatives unless cleared to do so by the government.

All this secrecy, and yet the government is trying to jam an anti-union bill through the Senate in the name of “transparency”—a transparency that already exists. If unions ever attempted to operate along the lines of this government, their members would soon take the swift and vigorous action needed to put a stop to it.

But government secrecy is only half the story. Those who speak out are also targeted and intimidated. You may not approve of all of the issues that Conservative backbenchers want to raise in the House—I don’t—but the heavy-handed government response to crush their dissent is all too typical. Environmentalists are denounced as “radicals.” Charities are threatened with loss of their charitable status if they criticize government policy. Write to the Prime Minister expressing concerns about global warming? The RCMP may pay you a visit. Even advocating for the rights of First Nations children can get you into trouble: just ask Cindy Blackstock, shadowed and intimidated by government officials.

Not content with building a wall around its operations, in other words, the Harper government is attempting to impose silence on our side of the wall as well. High time, I think, for Canadians to tear the wretched thing down.

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This page contains a single entry by Chris Aylward published on May 7, 2013 8:29 AM.

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