The federal government has rejected requests for the report on the Middle East penned by floor-crossing MP Wajid Khan by arguing that documents in the Prime Minister's Office are not covered by Canada's Access to Information Act.
The response suggests that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is hiding his records behind a secrecy policy that he promised to change in the last election campaign.
The government's assertion that ministers' offices are not covered by the access law is not new: In 1999, Jean Chrétien's government began refusing access requests by saying that the minister's office is not part of the department they head.
That interpretation was contested in court by then-information commissioner John Reid, and sharply criticized by the Conservatives and their predecessor parties, the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives.
Mr. Harper promised in the last election campaign to scrap it. The Conservative campaign platform promised that the party's first task would be to pass an "accountability act" that would "implement" Mr. Reid's recommendations for reform.
Those recommendations include an amendment intended to dispel any claim that ministers' offices are not covered by the act. "This provision is included to clarify that the offices of ministers form part of the department over which they preside," Mr. Reid's recommendations state.
"It's passing strange how quickly they forget," Mr. Reid said in an interview.
The Canadian Press made a request under the Access to Information Act last January seeking government briefing materials on the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.
Among the 139 heavily censored pages produced last week by the Department of Foreign Affairs are a number of old documents that end with "talking points."
In every instance, some of the points previously prepared for public consumption (but never publicly delivered) have been blacked out
"Canada is very pleased with bilateral consultations with Australia on uranium and nuclear issues in Canberra on Nov. 20 (2006)," begins one set of talking points, dated Feb. 20, 2007.
"Our officials agreed to seek a trilateral meeting with U.S. officials . . . ," begins the next point, before blacking out the rest of the line.
The entire next "talking point" is black.
A document dated Feb. 10, 2006, cites five talking points and two "Responsive Only" points, prepared in case of specific questions from media. The responsive points are blacked out.
Accountability was always a transparent attempt to hurt the Liberals, more than it was an actual commitment to openness and reform. Under this government, information is harder to ascertain, roadblocks more frequent and secrecy the preference. What a joke, considering the pius indignation during the last election, as the lily white moralists argued for reform. In reality, whatever your measure, the Conservatives have turned out to be worse than their predecessors, which they chastized. How rich.
Another story, on the same theme.