Harper opaque on transparency

On the heels of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's five-day northern tour, Canada's information and privacy commissioners are meeting in Whitehorse to discuss government transparency.

On the heels of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s five-day northern tour, Canada’s information and privacy commissioners are meeting in Whitehorse to discuss government transparency.

Their joint resolution stresses “the importance of governments sharing information with the public in more accessible, open formats.”

It’s an issue Harper doesn’t deal with well.

While in Whitehorse, he held a round-table meeting with select stakeholders, hosted a Conservative evening function for guests who’d registered and been vetted at least 24 hours in advance, and staged a funding announcement before about 60 supporters and invited media to reannounce affordable housing money already allocated to the territory.

Harper didn’t take questions after his speech at the Conservative party function. But he did allow local and national media to ask seven questions after the funding announcement.

The questions had to be given to Harper’s press secretary 45 minutes in advance, so Harper could vet them.

He was asked whether he would be more forthcoming with information – like, for example, granting the local Conservative candidate the right to answer media questions during the next election, something that wasn’t allowed in 2008.

He failed to answer the question.

“You ask an important question, so let me give you a very pointed and direct answer,” said Harper.

Yukoners want two things from their MP, he said.

“One is, they want a federal member who doesn’t just take credit for the great things we’re doing here in partnership with the territorial government, they want a member of Parliament who actually votes for these things and supports them in Ottawa.”

His assembled supporters clapped.

“The other thing they want is someone who will stand up for the people of this territory and vote to abolish the long-gun registry.

“And I can assure you, a Conservative member of Parliament will be doing both of those things.”

More applause.

Government transparency “is regressing at the federal level,” said Information Commissioner of Canada Suzanne Legault, who’s in Whitehorse for the information and privacy commissioners’ meeting.

“We certainly don’t have a prime ministerial statement of open government at the federal level,” she said.

The president of the United States, as well as the prime ministers of both Australia and the UK have all made commitments to open, transparent government.

Harper has not, said Legault.

In fact, over the last few years, there has been a steady decline in the amount of information and privacy requests processed.

“And the amount of documents disclosed has been in steady decline,” she said.

There are pockets in government, like border services, where transparency is improving, said Legault.

But in other departments, like federal affairs and international trade, accountability’s so bad it’s “a red alert.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at