Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Caught out

As Uranowski is pointing out this afternoon in a cleverly titled post, "IMakeTheRules.gov," there is some astounding news today that should matter in Canadian politics. The Harper government proceeded with their uber-partisan Economic Action Plan website, in violation of Treasury Board rules, and they did so in full recognition of the rule-breaking they were committing: "Harper's Economic Action Plan website got approval despite violating rules." This is the kind of thing that in other countries prompts resignations. It should be pursued. Unless we are truly living in a rules-free federal government era.
A flashy government website plastered with photos of Prime Minister Stephen Harper was approved even though it violates federal rules.

According to federal documents obtained by The Canadian Press, bureaucrats advised that the Economic Action Plan website didn't meet rules - and didn't merit an exemption from those rules.

However, the website was given the green light anyway by Treasury Board President Vic Toews.

He justified it by writing that the rules - which only came into effect in 2009 - were going to be changed at some future date.

The rules set standards for government websites to ensure they are credible, technically accessible, uniform and non-partisan.

More than a year after the exemption, the rules remain in place - as does the website.
That site (and other advertising transgressions) was the subject of a complaint to Treasury Board (pdf link at bottom of post) that, it turns out, was entirely justified. See the detailed version to the Ethics Commissioner below (pgs. 6-7 for the website-related complaints). Rules were broken. Yet, Martha Hall Findlay's complaint was ignored by Treasury Board and rejected on technicalities by the Ethics Commissioner. Something is very wrong with all that.

Recall that we read about objections from staff in the Privy Council Office about the partisan nature of the EAP website in reporting from Canadian Press in October of 2009. In that reporting, a Privy Council Office spokesperson, Myriam Massabki, and PMO spokesman, Dimitri Soudas denied the allegations. Here they were:
For the record, a PCO spokeswoman said there has never been any disagreement.

"At no point did PCO raise any objections to developing the site," Myriam Massabki said in an email.

"Website development is consistent with PCO's role in co-ordinating the implementation of the government's agenda."

Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for the prime minister, said the story was "entirely false."

"The site is legitimate and appropriate and we reject that characterization entirely."
Wonder if they would care to revise their statements now.

The government has been caught out.

20091027 - Ethics Complaint Document Portfolio Eng