Monday, March 29, 2010

Hitting the trifecta

This report today is one that's got it all in terms of the Conservative governing philosophy: "Tory aide tried to suppress $5-million Olympic ad bill."

There's the self-interested political opportunism in using $5 million taxpayer dollars to engage in extensive self-promotional hype during a major national sporting event.

There's the wasteful aspect that's a recurring theme for this government these days (see Flaherty, Jim for example and his double-double jaunt the day after the budget's release). The government preaches restraint on the one hand in its recent budget yet manages to find $5 million to spend over a one month period on advertising. If it's truly a time of restraint, such measures as advertising, not core to government operations or programmes, should clearly come in for scrutiny. But they don't.

Then there's the secretive Conservative style of governing that's been clearly called out in the reporting, the inappropriate abuse of access to information that we're seeing all too often from them now:
A senior Conservative official repeatedly intervened last month to try and suppress the revelation that Ottawa spent $5-million on a TV advertising blitz surrounding the Vancouver Olympics, new records show.

In a tense exchange of e-mails over a two-day period, ministerial aide Ryan Sparrow blocked attempts by bureaucrats to reveal the price tag of the ads that aimed to promote Conservative budgetary measures.

The civil service had prepared the numbers in response to a question from The Globe and Mail, but records just released under the Access to Information Act show that Mr. Sparrow managed to temporarily hold back on their release.

“No figures,” bureaucrats were told by Mr. Sparrow, the director of communications in the office of Diane Finley, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development.

The department went on to suggest the information was simply unavailable.
Almost duplicating the recent example of the aide to Harper Minister Christian Paradis running down the hall to put the clamps on another release of information. And recall that three Harper ministers, including Paradis, are being actively investigated by the Information Commissioner for abuses of access to information. "No figures," said Ryan Sparrow. That's a keeper.

Of note in the Globe report, an aspect of information access that needs to be cut out:
Bureaucrats calculated the value of the advertising campaign and prepared an answer the same day. Before making it public, however, they consulted Mr. Sparrow and other political officials on the proposed response.
The public has a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent. That's a principle that the access to information laws should support and political interference should not be given any opportunities to blossom. The Conservatives mouthed some platitudes about the impropriety of such access to information interference recently but it's been exposed as rhetoric, nothing more. Conservative political operatives like Ryan Sparrow are the gatekeepers to the public's right to know. Awesome.

Self-interest, waste & secrecy, a bulls-eye hit on that trifecta in this one.