Monday, February 08, 2010

Political interference with access to information

There was a very troubling report from CP yesterday about violations of Access to Information laws under former Public Works Minister Christian Paradis' oversight.

CP requested the release of the annual report on Public Works' real-estate portfolio. The request was thoroughly reviewed by the appropriate actors and was approved:
The department's real-estate branch had consented to the full release, and the Access to Information office at Public Works had determined after extensive consultation that there was no legal basis to withhold any of the report.
Christian Paradis' parliamentary affairs director, however, objected to the release of the document which apparently would have spoken to "high vacancy rates and weak returns on investment." The Paradis staffer won out, in the end, with a heavily censored version being released. This occurred despite a further (third) review by the department's director-general, who also agreed, after consulting with Justice Department lawyers, that the document in its entirety should be released. It was not until this past week that CP was able to obtain the entire report, after having launched a complaint with the information commissioner's office. So just what exactly is going on here?

It's clear that there was a breach of the access law, to have withheld information that three levels of review had approved. Further, the censored information that was released occurred "82 days later than allowed under the law."

The staffer nevertheless continues to work with Paradis, according to the report, in Paradis' new ministerial office, Natural Resources. And Paradis' new position at Natural Resources has been viewed as a promotion.

These violations of the law, suppressing information to which the public is entitled, are exactly why Parliament needs to be in session. To press the government on such flagrant abuses. We see example after example of how this government has become an utter joke of accountability-poseurs gone awry.

Now if you don't believe that the real estate portfolio at Public Works or any of this is particularly fascinating, keep in mind that the above report on access to information violations in Public Works comes after we learned this other information last week:
The senior bureaucrat in charge of Ottawa's massive real-estate portfolio left his job after allegations that he engaged in favouritism and was in a conflict of interest with one of his suppliers, sources say.

Public Works and Government Services Canada has confirmed that it called in the RCMP and hired the auditing firm KPMG to review contracts at the centre of the complaint.
Whether there is any connection between the political suppression of information on Public Works' real estate portfolio and the above investigation, that is a logical question that comes to mind. In that vein, note that the access to information complaint by CP to the information commissioner's office that finally got them the real estate report "...was fast-tracked last week when the office determined the file raises significant issues related to the accountability of government...".

Public Works looks to be a hot spot when Parliament does return, way off a month from now. Lucky Rona Ambrose appears to be holding the bag.