Robyn Benson, PSAC

Open Government

open government.jpg

Who supports the concept of “open government?” Why, Treasury Board President Tony Clement, of course. You mean you didn’t know?

Carol Goar of the Toronto Star nails the absolute hypocrisy here in one column. Follow the links and weep. Or laugh out loud.

It’s all there. Clement, refusing to tell Parliament where his cuts to the public service are going to land. Complaints to the Information Commissioner up 30% last year. Media barred from asking Cabinet Ministers questions. Clement again, abolishing the long-form census and slashing the budget of Statistics Canada, ensuring that not even the government has essential information for policy-making.

And this latest effort is—unbelievably—Phase Two of Tony’s “open government” plan.

The most obsessively secretive government in Canadian history is promoting openness? Isn’t that a bit like a meat-packing plant campaigning for vegetarianism—while doubling its production of cold cuts?

In any case, the most recent evidence running contrary to any normal definition of “openness” is an order handed down by Clement that directly affects our members. Briefly, he wants federal public workers, including us, to delete emails with “no business value,” which could include documentary evidence of government wrong-doing.

There could be personal reasons for Clement’s sensitivity on the subject of email. It was emails of his own, that revealed his diversion of $50 million to his own riding to build gazebos, parks and public restrooms. That money had been earmarked to enhance our border security during the 2010 G20 meeting in Toronto.

It took a provincial freedom of information request to get that one out into the limelight: Clement had sought to escape federal scrutiny by using his constituency office in Muskoka.

Better, perhaps, to have no email trail at all. Certainly the new order to delete emails could destroy draft reports and other records, some of which are currently accessible to the public under the Access to Information Act, which might otherwise be evidence of government malfeasance.

Our members are conscientious, ethical workers who labour under increasingly difficult conditions for a government that has nothing but contempt for them. Bad enough that our champion of “open government” won’t say where further cuts are going to land, keeping our members in stressful suspense. Now there is a distinct possibility that public workers may be forced to become accomplices in government cover-ups.

That may not be the case, in all fairness. Perhaps the new Email Management standard is just commonsense housecleaning after all. But given the Harper government’s record, our members, expected to serve the public with due diligence and honesty, need some serious clarification on this matter. Surely that’s the least we should expect of an open government.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on September 10, 2014 8:31 AM.

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