Sunday, October 28, 2007

Welcome to Russia where censorship abounds - oh, it's Canada

Russia on the Rideau, that is: "Nuclear waste plan too politically hot for Harper minority, says expert." Read this breathtaking CP report, for its content on not only the nuclear issue but information control as exercised by the Harper government, and contemplate in its full glory what kind of democracy the Harper government is running. Total media management. Access to cabinet ministers for public comment verboten. But carefully written statements from the PMO offering nothing but platitudes, yes. Access to information requests being fulfilled in 9 month time frames. When they do actually arrive, only following published reports exposing the government's sorry record on fulfilling access requests, they are heavily censored for anyone's informed review.

They are so afraid of the slightest misstep being made in the public domain that they are practically cutting off free and open questioning and answering from the highest levels of government. This is the most packaged and controlling government we've seen in this country yet.

Consider first off the the Harper government's complete code of silence on the issue of joining the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership and the significant implications for Canada. It is an issue of great importance for Canada.
But the partnership, as proposed, has at least two observable sticking points from a Canadian perspective:

-(at) It proposes that fuel-exporting countries take back nuclear waste for reprocessing and disposal.

-(at) It wants to develop a new reactor system that, at least on paper, does not involve heavy water reactors or Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's massively subsidized CANDU technology.

A public opinion poll commissioned last February by Natural Resources Canada suggests both those issues are a tough sell.

The Ipsos-Reid survey found general support - 71 per cent - among Canadians for nuclear power remaining as a part of the energy supply, but considerably less support in Quebec (46 per cent).

That's one broad consideration for a Conservative government fixed on making a breakthrough in Quebec.

But the survey suggested deeper concerns that go to the heart of the GNEP proposal.

A large majority of Canadians, 82 per cent, said no new nuclear plants should be built until the problem of dealing with nuclear waste is resolved. Again, concern was highest in Quebec.

An even bigger majority, 85 per cent, said it's important that the nuclear industry in Canada be controlled and owned by Canadians. And seven in ten said any new nuclear facilities must be based on Canadian-developed technology.

The GNEP - which already has 16 countries signed on including Australia, China, France, Japan and Russia - poses potential challenges to these heartfelt preconditions of Canadian public support.

And, as an international plan proposed by an unpopular U.S. president dealing with the charged subject of nuclear waste, the whole issue gives government critics a bulls-eye the size of a barn door, said one energy policy consultant from Ottawa. (emphasis added)
Absolutely significant issues for the Canadian public to receive full information on and have their members debate openly. Yet for Conservatives, it's apparently not for we in the public domain to know about or debate unless the PMO grants us the privilege of tidbits of communiques that are furiously minimalistic and shaped by their desired message.

And consider this notable aspect of the report from CP, lengthy but required reading for anyone concerned with an open and accountable government. These guys are heavily into censorship:
When does government censorship of released documents cross the line from protecting national interests to farce?

Blacking out year-old "talking points" - the pasteurized lines prepared for public consumption in case a minister is asked about an issue - would appear to be one likely threshold.

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.

Following an April 12, 2006, meeting on the GNEP between Canadian and American officials, 11 talking points were prepared by Foreign Affairs officials. A year and half later, eight of those points are blacked out.

The latest release of documents to The Canadian Press arrived last week, the same day that a national newspaper detailed statistics showing that the public release of government information is being choked off under the Conservative government.

The Globe report said the share of access requests that were released in full in 2006-07 was 23.1 per cent, down five percentage points from 2005-06 when the Liberals were mostly in power.

The Conservative government was also found to be increasingly using Section 15(1) of the Access to Information Act, which protects information that "could reasonably be injurious to the conduct of international affairs."

This section was used to black out talking points in the GNEP documents.
The nuclear issue and the continued penchant for secrecy need to be fully brought to the government in Question Period.

How do you like life under the Conservative government? This is why I continue to bet the more we see of them - or don't see, in this case - the more we don't grow to like them.