Reprinted with permission from the the Toronto Star
Wednesday, August 29, 2001
It was a sad little display of defiance.
Yesterday on Parliament Hill, a handful of MPs led by Liberal backbencher John Bryden began public hearings on the government's Access to Information law.
No federal employees are scheduled to testify. Government House Leader Don Boudria has forbidden them to appear before the committee.
Most of the organizations that had agreed to participate in the hearings have cancelled out, fearing repercussions.
Two of Bryden's Liberal colleagues, Ivan Grose of Oshawa and Marlene Jennings of Montreal, have dropped off the committee.
To his credit, Bryden refuses to back down.
Last spring, he pulled together a group of parliamentarians to look at the 18-year-old law when it became clear that the government's own review was being conducted entirely in private by globetrotting bureaucrats.
Since then, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his inner circle have done everything in their power to thwart the independent-minded Dundas MP. "The whole ground has been poisoned,'' he conceded, as the hearings opened.
But Bryden is determined to provide a forum for those who do wish to speak out. He is committed to putting forward a plan to reduce government secrecy. That, he says, is one of his duties as a parliamentarian.
In practical terms, Bryden has little chance of winning this power struggle with the Prime Minister, his cabinet and the federal bureaucracy.
In symbolic terms, he's already won. He has exposed the hypocrisy of Chrétien's promise to "make open government the watchword of the Liberal program.''