Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Transparent spin

Some more follow up today in Le Devoir on the Information Commissioner's investigation of Christian Pardis' office over an access to information breach. Now that a Harper minister's office has been caught red-handed suppressing a legitimate and approved access to information request, all hands are on deck. The PM's chief of staff sent out a sternly worded memo to ministerial offices reminding them of the need not to meddle in access to information requests. And Former Minister of Public Works Christian Paradis is in the media and very apologetic over his aide. Getting some sympathetic headline action as a result: "Censored report incident 'isolated'."

Paradis is shocked, just shocked, by the incident that occurred in his office because: "Transparency is one of my core values." Really? Some would probably beg to differ. Nevertheless, the aide, as it turns out and in his boss' eyes, is a super parliamentary affairs director. So in spite of Paradis' shock, they're just keeping him away from access to information issues, that's it. They're pawning this one off to an "error in judgment" by the aide. Yet we know that it's Paradis and the access to information directives of this government that bear ultimate responsibility for what goes on in his office. The effort to shunt responsibility off to the aide is transparent too.

The Information Commissioner should do her investigation and ignore the heavy p.r. job that's going on around her and will no doubt continue to swirl in an attempt to influence the airwaves in Ottawa. If anything, she should probably be quite motivated by it all. She's on the right track. The Harper gang is concerned, that's what memos from the PM's chief of staff and a round of sudden media availability for Paradis indicate.

A stiff penalty applied by the Information Commissioner when the year has started off on such a negative footing for the government in respect of its anti-democratic tendencies would be fuel for the fire. And access to information constraints might be eased up as a result. Because even if the Commissioner limits her investigation to this one case, the result would send an important message about this kind of behaviour. That may be happening already with the news of this investigation.

Update: That concluding part may be a bit optimistic, given this government's track record. Not to get too far ahead on this. But there are going to be a lot of eyes on this process now. You have to think that pushback against the Harper efforts will be a little more emboldened by these developments.