Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Newsflash: Elections Canada concerned about its reputation

Funny, isn't it, the access to information requests that seem to be granted with such speed these days. Like this one disclosing internal e-mail communications between Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand and his chief financial officer. And here I thought times were tough in the access to information trenches. We've been reading such reporting, just recently in fact, about the access to information system being hopelessly backlogged and words like "paralysis" being used to describe the system under the Conservatives. So excuse a person for expressing some surprise at the uncharacteristic speed of the disclosure of these internal Elections Canada e-mails.

No doubt the Conservatives will be looking to put their special spin on the e-mail exchange in which Mayrand expresses concern about the possibility of there having been a leak which tipped off the Liberals to the raid on Conservative HQ and his desire to "kill" the story. He does go on to note that an internal review found no leak. Is the exchange so damning? You be the judge:
In the days after the high-profile raid in Ottawa, the Tories charged that Elections Canada had ignored similar electoral ad spending transgressions by the opposition, and told the media and Liberals about the raid to maximize political damage.

"With regard to this allegation of [a] leak do you have any suggestion as to how we could kill it?" Mr. Mayrand asked in an e-mail dated April 18.

"If we can dispel this story [the leak], we will have only positive media coverage," replied Ms. Vézina, the associate deputy chief electoral officer in charge of political financing. "And the alternative is that we appear to be partisan or biased or vindictive and at the moment the media seem to believe we tipped off the CBC and the Liberals."
But Mr. Mayrand makes clear in the April 18 e-mail exchange that he believed the allegations were unfounded.

"Our internal review indicates no reasonable ground to believe there was a leak," he wrote. "This may be pure diversion tactic/competitive frustration from a media outlet vis-à-vis another. The central fact is that media were there more than two hours after the operation started."

Ms. Vézina replied, "Ok. But however we do it we need to kill it as it seems to be the one negative aspect haunting us and damaging our reputation. Even the disclosure of the affidavit won't eliminate the doubt about the so-called leak."
Hmmm...it sounds like a government agency, under siege by its own government, that is naturally discussing the serious allegations against it, as we would expect them to do rather than walk around like uncaring automatons. A leaking of news of a raid on Conservative HQ is alleged against an institution whose impartiality is its foundation. Of course they're going to talk about it and yes, discuss how they can combat that perception. Because heck, this would normally be the time when the government would come to the rescue of a foundational democratic institution in our society. And these Conservatives certainly wouldn't be performing that expected role in this situation, would they?

A well-timed grant of an access to information request to once again undercut Elections Canada? Does anyone need to be changing the subject this horrible week and have an ability to speed up certain requests over others?

Amazing the things Elections Canada is spending its time worrying about, as a result of unprecedented government attacks against it.

Update: similar view at Far N Wide.