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Parliamentary Officers v. PM Harper: impact on Canada’s role in the world?

June 24, 2009

Robert Marleau, Canada’s Information Commissioner resigned this week, citing personal and private reasons. But as columnist Lawrence Martin noted, Ottawa speculation wasn’t dampened:  perhaps Marleau left well before his seven–year term ended because he could no longer operate under the Harper regime. Our federal government gets more secretive the longer the tenure.

Press reports this week included news that our Defence Department cited national security in refusing an Opposition Freedom of Information request on the costs of Canada’s Afghan “engagement.” I wonder if this troubles many Canadians? We are prosecuting a war in a foreign country and our government will not allow itself to be held accountable for its costs. One thinks here of that other Strong Man, B.C.’s former premier the late W.A.C. Bennett: “Not a dime without debate.”

Last fall I wrote about Canadian Parliamentary Officer, Kevin Page, the nation’s first Parliamentary Budget Director, who has consistently bitten into our Prime Minister’s spin on both war and the economy.

Afghan War costs: Page calculated up to 18 billion by 2011, billions more that the DOD was reporting. He was roundly criticized for the timing of his “Afghanistan Report” news conference – held in the middle of a federal election campaign. (Page’s deficit forecasting also contradicted the Tory government. For example, last fall, PM Harper told Canada it wouldn’t face a recession. He was wrong and Page told him so.)

The “conservative mainstream media” in Canada favours us having a Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO), similar to the U.K, the U.S. and Mexico; and to his credit, Mr. Harper included the PBO in its Federal Accountability Act and got Parliament to pass it.  But the bloom is off that rose of transparency. Does the Marleau resignation and the recent fiscal squeeze on Kevin Page’s own budget, signal to Officers of Parliament, independent of the government of the day, that they need to toe the line or face budget annihilation? What does that mean for Canadians regarding our role in the world?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. derrick permalink
    June 24, 2009 11:05 am

    This is a bit of a tangent, but what this links into for me is the tension between parliament and government – legislative and executive branches – parliamentary oversight etc.

    I am interested in history and novels, two forms of storytelling, so my compulsion is to find points and the narrative arc, and the argument in this case is to use Nixon and the post-Watergate period as a turning point in oversight and legislative / executive balance. I have a book about this, a great big history of 1965-1976 or so, called “Nixonland,” that I need to read.

    But the Harper government has been criticized for trying to move to more of a presidential style of government and I think what you are listing here are more examples of that tendency. And hey, how do we feel differently about these tensions in the USA now that Obama, not Bush, is in the white house but a lot of the ‘executive privilege’ is being protected/maintained? If Ignatieff beats Harper, I do not think that we will see any greater freedoms for parliament or parliamentary officers.

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