We need open government

Reprinted with permission from the Ottawa Citizen

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Thursday, August 9, 2001

Editorial
The Ottawa Citizen

A vigorous House of Commons and an open government are essential to a healthy democracy, so it's disturbing that the prime minister is taking such an unopen approach to parliamentary efforts to make the Access to Information Act more effective.

Not only has Jean Chretien concentrated too much power in the Prime Minister's Office at the expense of ordinary MPs, his office is also engaged in extensive litigation with federal Information Commissioner John Reid over how much access the commissioner can have to various prime ministerial records.

One MP who has been reluctant to play the role of loyal possum is John Bryden. A Liberal, he first made his mark with well-researched reports detailing the extraordinary dependence on government funding of groups that purported to represent millions of Canadians. Now he's turned his attention to the public's right to know what government is doing.

A former journalist, Mr. Bryden attempted to reform the Access to Information Act, but was defeated by his own party's majority in Parliament.

When the Liberal government announced its own review of the act would be carried out in private by senior public servants, Mr. Bryden set up his own all-party committee, intending to call witnesses over the summer recess and report in October.

But the government is now trying to undercut that independent committee, ordering public servants not to testify because its unofficial standing means the evidence they give wouldn't be "privileged." If the government's concerns are genuine, all it has to do is make the committee official. If it doesn't, Canadians will draw the obvious conclusion.

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Freedom of Information Coalition

Last edited: January 22, 2003

 

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