"Muzzling the media, Harper style By Dianne Rinehart (Apr 1, 2006) * Good thing the prime minister campaigned on a promise of open government. I'd hate to think what he believes a closed one is ... Trust us. That's what Prime Minister Stephen Harper's director of communications is asking Canadians to do. Responding to press complaints about the lengths Harper is taking to reduce media access to ministers, Sandra Buckler told reporters this week: "I don't think the average Canadian cares as long as they know their government is being well run." Well, there are two interesting points there, besides the obvious one about trust: Yeah, right -- and the cheque's in the mail. The first is that how do you know the government is being well-run without media reports? Do any of us think the former Liberal government would have willingly revealed the sponsorship scandal? Or we'd have heard about scandals that plagued former Conservative Brian Mulroney's government? Or about freewheeling spring trips to Paris for parliamentarians and spouses, wrong-headed policies, or security slip-ups? How about the torture and murder of a 16-year-old by Canadian troops in Somalia? If governments could be trusted, we wouldn't need auditor generals to reveal out-of-control spending or access-to-information commissioners to reveal out-of-control expense accounts. And it's not just about ferreting out mistakes and corruption: if Canadians don't know what government is doing how can citizens debate whether directions and policies are workable? No, the only thing governments can be counted on doing, Ms. Director of Noncommunication, is acting in their own self-interest. When that self-interest coincides with the electorate's -- as in providing good government to get re-elected -- all is well. When mistakes happen -- and they do -- when well-meaning people do bad things -- and they do -- and when ministers and bureaucrats can rationalize inappropriate spending or windfalls for their constituents -- and they do -- the electorate's interests are iced. That's why democracies need courts -- to fight bad government decisions -- and a free press to ask questions and dig deep into the bowels of government; yes, literally: our job is to dig up s--t, to counterbalance that power. Because one thing is clear: if what starts out as "trust me," isn't challenged, more grievous assaults on rights follow. Consider Communist nations, military dictatorships and rebel governments. First they shut up their critics -- and the media -- and then they graduate to imprisonment without cause and mass murders; think Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Idi Amin, to name a few. Or consider Russia. After decades of censorship, and the human rights violations that followed, Russian society blossomed again under Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost -- openness -- and a free press followed, permitting citizens to criticize government without fear of arrest. Since Vladimir Putin took power, the stranglehold on the media -- including firings, government takeover of media outlets and a convenient bombing of a rebellious reporter's apartment -- has left him, and his government, more and more to their own devices. And that's not good for Russians, or anyone else: a noncritical home media enables powerhouses like Russia to their own devices on the world stage, as well. So why is it so easy to shackle the media? Sadly, because everyone loves to hate it (not that we don't sometimes deserve it). And that -- the second point Buckler's comment raises -- is what Harper is counting on. If he orders senior ministers and bureaucrats, as he did, to limit talk to five policy points, it is everyone's loss, not just the reporters' who are complaining. But will there be mass protests? No, because many Canadians don't see media rights as being about their right to know how their government is doing business behind closed doors. So far, Harper's edicts have been appalling: secret cabinet meetings, increased security details to ensure reporters can't approach ministers and what amounts to a reign of terror against ministers and senior bureaucrats who fear losing their jobs if they talk to the media. While there's nothing wrong with encouraging bureaucrats, ministers and MPs to stay "on message" so the government can get its job done, Harper is turning them into hand puppets -- with duct tape across their little mouths. As one letter-to-the-editor writer put it: if he doesn't trust his own ministers, why should we? Why indeed? And perhaps more importantly, why should we trust him? "
"April 01, 2006 The Harper government gave an untendered contract to provide communications advice on the proposed federal accountability act to a consultant who worked with the Tories' transition team after the election.Marie-Josee Lapointe was contracted last month to develop communications strategy for the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat on the new ethics legislation, the centrepiece " The Liberal critic for the Treasury Board, MP Mark Holland, said it was "audaciously hypocritical" for the government to hire Ms. Lapointe to work on the accountability act after her transition-team work. "
Public exposure and prosecution of the guilty serves everyone's best interest still too. Most every bad guy who set out to do something awful wanted to do it in secret and keep it secret so he or she unlawfully could keep their false gains too.
The citizens have a right to be informed about government actions, and nothing should be done in secret, because they do eventually concern the citizens and it is the citizens that will affected the most negatively or positively by the actions of the governments anyway. We the citizens should be allowed to know about all things that could harm our health, well being and our tax money too. Especially since these days it seems half of the politicians tend to be liars, immoral persons. Too many officials in Ottawa, and the other governments,, Civil and public services still do things that they don't want the citizens to know about. They do things they know are wrong. If our elected officials feel it is a too heavy burden for the citizens to know how they conduct business, they clearly do now need to find another career. Clearly the Citizens respect and trust of our elected leaders still relies on an open government. Secrecy moves us all down the path of distrust. Openness enables the public to trust that government and their agents, agencies are really doing the best they can now for all of the taxpayers, each and every citizen.
Openness! All elected officials should want this and all voters should and do demand openness. Sadly these days the rightful transparency in government is clouded by the false increasing Conservative government secrecy. Secrecy not only covers up mistakes, it obstructs accountability. "It is only by shining a bright light into those dark corners where the secret deals are made that the public can be assured of honest, forthright representation". Any Politicians tend to get into more trouble when they go behind closed doors to do their work. They rather sometimes do mischief. Too often when politicians cite privacy issues, they simply want to avoid embarrassment to themselves.
Too much secrecy also is rather an obstruction, and is also a challenge to fair and honest justice now as well
Most Canadian Citizens do rightfully now want, demand in our democracy even a wider window to the open government and freedom of information, both in our nation’s capital and around Canada even at all of the federal, provincial and municipal levels too especially related to the citizens good welfare and their tax payers money being used, spent. Their desire for a fully accountiable democracy is now again being clouded by the false increasing Canadian Conservative government secrecy, but nevertheless all of the citizens and it' elected officials should still purse always, continually the unhindered goal to have and to provide, to achieve even a greater access to public records and meetings, a free flow of information,full transparency in government issues and efforts.
"Information empowers and energizes a democracy.
The free flow of information serves to keep the processes of government honest and robust. To ensure and maintain that integrity and vitality, the public’s need-to-know and the individual’s right-to-know must be held paramount.
We believe that actions of government that limit or prevent access to information must serve a clear and compelling public purpose. Even then, those actions should be the exception, and must be limited in scope.
Within that broad conceptual framework, here are some principles that we believe should serve as guidelines whenever limits on public access are considered:
Government should never be closed by stealth. New legislation that would close records or meetings should stand on its own and be accompanied by an independent evaluation of the impact on public access.
In approving closure of records or meetings, lawmakers must find that there is a “compelling public necessity” that outweighs the people’s right of access to information about their government. The secrecy should never extend beyond the demonstrated need.
Anyone acting on behalf of government should be subject to open government laws.
"Government information" should be defined broadly and include information regardless of the form in which it was created or obtained by government.
Records created or received by government, or anyone acting for government, are presumed to be public unless specifically exempted.
An exemption shields certain information, not the document. Records should not be denied because it is inconvenient to redact information that has been exempted.
Delay is denial. Records should be provided in a timely fashion.
High cost is also a form of denial. Copying of public records must be affordable.
Technology should be used to enhance public access, not to limit it.
The discussions that lead to decision-making are as critical to the understanding of government as the final action taken. Meetings of government policy-making boards or commissions should be presumed open to the public unless exempted by lawmakers after public hearing and debate.
Any meeting, or portion of a meeting, closed under statutory exemption should nonetheless be recorded in its entirety. The recording should be retained and available for review when the stated-need for secrecy has passed, or by court order. " Coalition for an Open Government, US
"Transparent government is essential to democracy. The people have an inherent right to know what their elected and appointed leaders are saying and doing in the process of government. While this may sometimes make for messiness , democracy is an inherently messy system. Nevertheless the ultimate control must reside in the electorate." The citizens always do have has a right to know as much information on any issue as possible. "We should always err on the side of openness. Since government is the servant of the people, how can there be anything but a striving to be as open and clear as possible? "Open meetings and open records should be written into law, and that law needs to be supported by an attitude of openness by elected and civil servants. Keeping secrets fosters mistrust and ignores the premise of democracy – literate and informed citizens making decisions for the good. There should be a presumption of openness in government with private dealings delineated in law."" If you believe as I do that one of the chief functions of government is to keep the people informed, then it is a simple one. Aside from matters of national security, I can’t think offhand of too many instances where the state/local government shouldn’t keep the public informed of decisions and actions by elected officials. In the past I think that in most, if not all cases, where secrecy has prevailed it is for reasons that had nothing to do with protecting the public but rather to protect an individual/government body from criticism and/or embarrassment, should the public learn of it. In my opinion this usually occurs when they (the officials) feel they can’t properly justify their actions. Public officials are answerable to the public and how can the public judge performance if they are not privy to the decisions by made their elected officials. Whether the actions/decisions in our opinion were right or wrong we would have the confidence that we knew what was going on something we don't always feel is happening now. "
An Open government should always be mandated, be enforced by all officials. We should have open governments even to any and all of the information available to the citizens. Just as there is no question that every parent would want to have access to all school curriculum, and that every person wants to also be aware of the details of a crime committed in their neighborhood. They also do want to know if a company is being investigated, and this should be public knowledge. The citizens also want to know what their government members now are really doing at all times as well. The citizens next making an informed decision means have all the facts presented. Common sense should prevail that mere public exposure of all of the facts does not even establish the innocence or the guilt of anyone too but is an essential part of any democratic government and the citizens right to know as well. "The reason for open government is to prevent the consolidation of power by an entrenched few, and to prevent the abuses that inevitably follow. The reason the entrenched few want to work in secrecy is so that no one knows what they are doing, which allows them to continue abusing power. If their abuses were made known, they would likely lose power and/or have to stop the abuses and/or make restitution for what was improperly accumulated. The human temptation to abuse such unmitigated power is irresistible. Only Christ has not been tempted. So we must know what is going on, to keep the checks and balances system working properly."