Sunday, December 20, 2009

Media Finally Catching on But They Helped to Create This Monster

"Keeping secrets from the people is no democracy". Very true. However, while many in the mainstream media are beginning to wake up, and are in a panic now that Harper may yet again prorogue parliament to save his job; what do they expect? They helped to create this monster, and now have no idea how to control him. He certainly knows how to control them.

Not long ago James Travers was suggesting that Harper should allow his government to fall so that he could get his majority. What do you have to say for yourself James? You thought Harper was the best thing since sliced bread. Look what you and others have done to us.

Check and Mate!

Travers: The year of governing secretly
Stephen Harper promised accountability, but instead conducts the business of the state behind closed doors
By James Travers National Affairs Columnist
December 19, 2009

OTTAWA - Think of Parliament in the same way the Prime Minister treats it: As an inconvenience. A year that began with the centrepiece of Canadian democracy shuttered to save Conservatives from defeat is ending in a dispute over blackened documents that could see it dark again, this time to save them from embarrassment.

Data points on a decades-old trend line, Stephen Harper's success in suspending Parliament last Christmas and his resolve now to starve it of Afghanistan abuse memos are victories for control and secrecy. They shift the affairs of state further behind closed doors and beyond the reach of those whom voters dispatch here to safeguard national interests. They free the ruling party from the constraining discipline of peer pressure and public scrutiny.

This is not what the Prime Minister promised. A Conservative party steeped in Reform populism came to power with a hand-over-heart pledge to restore accountability lost in the headlong Liberal rush past ethics to entitlements.

What a difference nearly four years make. Where Conservatives stand depends on where they sit in the Commons. Once shocked and appalled by the concentration of power in the hands of Jean Chrétien's appointed apparatchiks, Harper and associates have learned to appreciate, as well as relentlessly abuse, the convenience of power without accountability.

Little now stands in the Prime Minister's way. Parliament's independent watchdogs are mostly mute, their collars drawn tight and leashes shortened. Parliament's committees, including the one investigating torture allegations, are rendered impotent by a confidential manual instructing partisan sabotage. Elected representatives sent here to safeguard the national treasury and restrain ruling party excesses are no longer able to fulfil those defining duties.

Central to the capital's methods is the mantra that what you know could hurt politicians.

Denied facts and figures, Canadians don't really know how the Economic Action Plan, the largest infusion of federal cash in history, is being spent, how expensively it's being promoted or what sacrifices will be required to restore balance to federal budgets. They can't read the fine print of the auto-sector bailout. And if the Prime Minister wins this latest test of strengths with Parliament, they'll never know what or when ministers and generals were told about torture.

What's now in the public domain is that Conservatives don't want truth spoiling their story.

Richard Colvin, the diplomat who warned Ottawa that Afghans were abusing prisoners, made that clear this week when he wrote that Canadians in Kabul were told "they should not report information, however accurate, that conflicts with the government's public messaging."

Colvin is not a whistleblower; he's a coal mine canary. More revealing even than Peter MacKay's shoot-the-messenger assault on a bureaucrat is Colvin's detailed rebuttal of testimony from those above him in the federal food chain. It signals that the long-standing bargain between civil servants and the government of the day is broken. On-the-run politicians who abandon the principle of ministerial responsibility, who toss mandarins and their truth-to-power advice to the pursuing wolves, should no longer expect blind loyalty or suicidal silence.

That change pushes the relationship into uncharted territory where trouble waits. By essentially going it alone without Parliament or confidential public service counsel, Conservatives are placing their full bet on the sole-sourced party line. They are trading accountable democracy for a direct hard sell to Canadians systematically denied the information they need to decide the value of what they are being urged to buy.

Coldly cynical and conveniently effective, the advantage tilts dramatically to the ruling party.

Sharing only favourable factoids and fearing no challenge from an opposition frozen outside the loop, Harper, sounding like a U.S. president, speaks directly to the people over the heads of MPs, Parliament and, should the need arise – as it did during the coalition crisis – even the Governor General.

We are witnessing institutions crumbling under the weight of assumed personal power. After decades of whittling away the principles, precedents and even laws limiting their manoeuvring room, prime ministers are now free to do as they please, at least until voters next make their mark.

Largely missed by Canadians, that new situational democracy, that what-matters-is-what-works culture, has been spotted by civil servants who now know they'll wear the goat horns when things inevitably go wrong.

Abandoned by Liberals to shoulder blame for the Quebec sponsorship scheme, bureaucrats are hurriedly adapting to a new era by discreetly distancing themselves from Conservative stimulus projects likely to fail the critical sniff test.

As for the rest of us, we have lost, and won't soon recover, the surest way to protect ourselves. In October, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced that the aging access to information system dismissed by successive commissioners as woefully dysfunctional is, despite all reports, in robust good health and won't be reformed.

Timely knowledge of what the government is doing is not a privilege; it's a right.

Enshrined both in law and constitutional principle, it's the ways and means of pulling back the covers on what politicians and mandarins are doing in your name, with your money.

Robert Marleau, the most recent and still not replaced information commissioner, states the democratic proposition plainly: "How can you cast your vote intelligently if you don't know what's going on?"

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