Friday, October 01, 2010

Paradis aide resigns, awaiting ministerial responsibility

Late last night, CP reported the fallout from their earlier story on the aide to Minister Christian Paradis who had engaged in repeated interference with access to information: "Aide to Tory minister resigns over meddling in release of government information."
A cabinet minister's aide resigned late Thursday over his meddling in at least four access-to-information requests, a case that initially spurred the Conservative government earlier this year to declare ministers responsible for the actions of their staff.
"Minister Paradis will be asking (current Public Works Minister Rona) Ambrose to refer this issue to the Information Commissioner," the statement read.
Yes, the Information Commissioner should be expanding her already full docket of investigations into this government for access to information abuses. But there should be more action taken on this Paradis matter, politically. These serial abuses happened under Minister Paradis' watch. And it was just months ago that Conservatives were regaling us with the doctrine of ministerial responsibility. It should apply here. Recall former Government Leader Jay Hill this spring reminding us of its tenets:
Page 32 of O'Brien and Bosc states:

Responsible government has long been considered an essential element of government based on the Westminster model. Despite its wide acceptance as being a cornerstone of the Canadian system of government, there are different meanings attached to the term “responsible government”. In a general sense, responsible government means that a government must be responsive to its citizens, that it must operate responsibly...and that its Ministers must be accountable or responsible to Parliament.

In terms of ministerial responsibility, Ministers have both individual and collective responsibilities to Parliament....The principle of individual ministerial responsibility holds that Ministers are accountable not only for their own actions as department heads, but also for the actions of their subordinates; individual ministerial responsibility provides the basis for accountability throughout the system. Virtually all departmental activity is carried out in the name of a Minister who, in turn, is responsible to Parliament for those acts. Ministers exercise power and are constitutionally responsible for the provision and conduct of government; Parliament holds them personally responsible for it.

On page 139 of the second Gomery report, “Restoring Accountability: Recommendations, Chapter Seven: The Prime Minister, Ministers and Their Exempt Staff”, Mr. Gomery says:

--Ministers need to understand clearly that they are accountable, responsible and answerable for all the actions of their exempt staff.

There is a clear case to be made that the accountability of political staff ought to be satisfied through ministers. Ministers ran for office and accepted the role and responsibility of being a minister. Staff did not. (emphasis added)
See also John Baird:
“The fundamental constitutional principle of responsible government, which is integral to the supremacy of Parliament, provides that ministers are the ones accountable to Parliament, not members of their staff are responsible to Parliament,” Mr. Baird wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Globe.
Further, it's worth noting what Paradis said at the time the first access to information transgression of his aide Togneri came to light. Paradis stated that it was an isolated incident, the same story his aide Togneri gave to the Commons committee:
«Je ne suis pas content de ça, mais il s'agit de faits avec lesquels je dois vivre», a-t-il dit, ajoutant que cette ingérence est un «incident isolé» qui ne reflète pas sa conduite en tant que ministre. «Je ne défendrai pas ce geste. Je ne donnerais jamais une telle directive. La transparence est une de mes valeurs fondamentales. C'est important pour moi et c'est pour ça que je suis choqué. Il y a une loi à suivre et c'est très sérieux. Je vais vivre avec l'enquête et attendre les résultats.»
Paradis' story has been discredited along with his aide. He appears incompetent to oversee staff who are breaching access to information laws under his nose. It's also very difficult to believe that a staffer would have carte blanche to repeatedly interfere with access to information procedures like this and that the minister would not know about it. Indeed, it has been reported that the practice was widespread in this government.

Even if Paradis didn't know about the infractions, the principle of ministerial responsibility - if these Conservatives do value it, after all the pious speechifying over it - would require that repeated breaches of access to information law under Paradis' watch would require accountability, i.e., resignation.