Friday, October 30, 2009

Disclosure if necessary, but not necessarily disclosure

What a comic event yesterday, John Baird's office dumping boxes of documents on federal stimulus spending on the Parliamentary Budget Office. A sterling example of how the Harper Conservatives do transparency and accountability, 1950s style. There are such things as Excel and "computers," guys:
The Harper government has dumped three boxloads of information about its efforts to stimulate Canada's sputtering economy on Parliament's independent budget watchdog.

Kevin Page had asked for more information, complaining that the sketchy data provided up to now made it impossible to tell whether $12 billion in stimulus spending is having any impact on the economy.

But rather than provide an easy-to-analyse spreadsheet listing infrastructure projects and how much money has been spent on each of them to date, the government flooded Page Thursday with 4,476 pages of documents.
Surely they have this data in a manageable online spreadsheet form? Of course they do and it's such nonsense that they're wasting people's time here. Why is the U.S. government capable of producing one spreadsheet with all their spending on it, accessible to the world, with an economy untold times as large as ours yet the government of Canada can't? Or should we say, won't. It's remarkable to see Baird treat the PBO with such contempt in this way. It's the classic litigation tactic wielded against an officer of parliament, an office of accountability which they helped to create. The irony is palpable.

Note also that this sudden conversion to "disclosure" occurs in the wake of two polls suggesting Canadians are tweaking to the Conservative gaming of the stimulus spending. Those polls aren't necessarily troubling for the Conservatives at this point, but there are seeds being sown in the public mind and the Conservatives are likely noticing. See: "Canadians believe Tories unfair on stimulus cash: poll," and "Costs of stimulus starting to worry Canadians, poll shows."

Also on the timing question here, the document dump occurs on the same day that Mr. Baird visited the Government Operations Commons Committee. No answers for them, of course, but lots of documents delivered on the same day, as cover, for media to note.
Baird was repeatedly asked during the committee hearing to specify how much money has been spent thus far. He did not provide a figure.
Page is apparently working around the federal obstruction, coordinating with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to get information. He's bound to accomplish his task at some point, in spite of Mr. Baird's efforts. Page is going at this and his track record is good. They could make his life easy, but they're not and that in and of itself says something.

More here and here.