Sears: Government secrecy hides corruption and covers for the incompetent. Why do we still allow it?

Good question. Imagine one of the reasons is the fear that media and others may focus more on the “gotcha” quote rather than a deeper read to understand more comprehensively the issues and interests at stake. That being said, I agree that the default should be openness, not the current opacity and delay.

Wonder if that was his position more than 30 years ago when working as Chief of Staff to then Ontario Premier Bob Rae:

Imagine living in a democracy where open access to everything politicians and governments say and do is automatically made public. Where everyone in public service knows that documents are public, unless you can make a persuasive case that a specific file impacts national security or personal privacy, among a short list of exemptions.

A fairy tale? No, Sweden. They’ve governed this way for well over 200 years, ever since King Gustav III staged a coup d’etat and instituted open government in the 18th century, as a means of revealing corruption in Parliament and the judiciary. Today, all Nordic countries have similar commitments to the importance of accessing information.

But this is Canada, where it seems every week we have another minister or official caught in a coverup. Recently, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc were almost insolent in their testimony before a parliamentary committee examining why the government had not investigated reports of political bribery by China. As Global News reports, LeBlanc “could not disclose whether he has been informed of ‘specific cases,’” while Joly “reiterated that both she and (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau were not provided specific information.”

This leaves Canadians with a very unpleasant binary choice: either they are not telling truth, or they are. The latter option begs the more worrying question: why were they not briefed?

Our performance on access to information would be laughable, if it were not so dangerous. One witness, a frustrated information seeker, claimed he had been told the delay in meeting his request would take up to 80 years. Needless to say, when decision-making is done in secret, we do not get better government.

The “Freedom Convoy” inquiry has already revealed the cost of government secrecy. That shambolic, finger-pointing circus showed Canadians in painful detail the efforts by many officials to hide information and pass the buck.

Then the inquiry into the failure of Ottawa’s LRT reported that former mayor Jim Watson and senior staff had been economical with the truth, hiding dozens of serious warning signals about the project. Another failure in secret.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith attempted to legislate a defenestration of Parliament and to govern by decree whenever she chose — an astonishing proposition also brewed in secret. The firestorm caused her to relent within days.

Source: Government secrecy hides corruption and covers for the incompetent. Why do we still allow it?

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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