need open government
Reprinted with permission from the Ottawa
Thursday, August 9, 2001
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
A former journalist, Mr. Bryden attempted to reform the Access to
Information Act, but was defeated by his own party's majority in
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.