No­body should tol­er­ate the Lib­er­als' WE tricks

Ottawa Citizen - - Canada - CHRIS SEL­LEY

“There prob­a­bly isn' t a smok­ing gun in these docs, but the Lib­er­als on com­mit­tee are cer­tainly act­ing like there's one,” An­drew MacDougall, Stephen Harper's for­mer press sec­re­tary, re­marked on Twit­ter this week. He was re­fer­ring to the pa­thetic, end­less spec­ta­cle of Lib­eral mem­bers of two sep­a­rate par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tees — 21 hours of use­less wran­gling be­tween them on Thurs­day — re­fus­ing to al­low votes on mo­tions con­cern­ing their party's WE Char­ity de­ba­cle.

Lib­eral mem­bers of the fi­nance com­mit­tee spent 11 hours on Thurs­day fil­i­bus­ter­ing, mov­ing hope­less amend­ments and other­wise avoid­ing a vote on a mo­tion con­demn­ing heavy redac­tions in WE-re­lated emails re­leased in Au­gust.

Those redac­tions were nu­mer­ous enough that Phillipe Dufresne, the in­de­pen­dent par­lia­men­tary law clerk, and even Wayne Easter, the Lib­eral chair of the com­mit­tee, ex­pressed some con­cern. Now, how­ever, Lib­er­als will move heaven and earth to keep those black lines where they are — and they don't mind how ridiculous they look do­ing it.

To wit: Also on Thurs­day, Lib­er­als on the ethics com­mit­tee spent 10 hours avoid­ing a vote on a mo­tion to have the Speak­ers' Spot­light book­ing agency release re­ceipts of var­i­ous Trudeaus' paid speak­ing ap­pear­ances over the years. The pro­ceed­ings saw Lib­eral MP Han Dong ex­pound at length about racism di­rected against Asian Cana­di­ans dur­ing the pan­demic. When op­po­si­tion MPs ob­jected on grounds of rel­e­vance, Lib­eral MP Greg Fer­gus ac­cused them of per­form­ing “the mi­cro-ag­gres­sions that a lot of Cana­di­ans of colour face.”

Ab­so­lutely hideous. It's like Twit­ter come to life.

“It is all about COVID right now, this is what is crit­i­cal for Cana­di­ans,” Lib­eral MP Brenda Shana­han com­plained last week dur­ing an­other marathon ethics com­mit­tee ses­sion.

How is this not “all about COVID”?

The gov­ern­ment came up with a very weird sub-min­i­mum-wage sum­mer jobs pro­gram to help young Cana­di­ans weather the COVID storm, farmed it out to cronies, and then it all ex­ploded into a thousand pieces. Trudeau apol­o­gized for not re­cus­ing him­self, in light of ap­pear­ance fees paid for WE events to his brother and mother; Morneau apol­o­gized for not re­cus­ing him­self, in light of his daugh­ter work­ing for WE (!), and van­ished in a puff of smoke.

It later turned out the Kiel­burger broth­ers, who run WE, needed this gig so badly that when it all fell apart, they shut down their scream­ing-tweens/vol­un­tourism char­ity in Canada al­to­gether. What else should an ethics com­mit­tee be in­ves­ti­gat­ing?

It would al­most be bet­ter if they were cov­er­ing some­thing up. It's cer­tainly con­ceiv­able that they are. But as MacDougall says, it's equally con­ceiv­able they're just do­ing this for sport. They're do­ing it be­cause this is what com­mit­tees in Ot­tawa do. We're the gov­ern­ment, we own this in­for­ma­tion, and you can't have it. And no­body be­sides the op­po­si­tion par­ties re­ally cares.

Maybe that's un­der­stand­able: This sort of be­hav­iour is hardly a Trudeau Lib­eral in­ven­tion. In their early days in mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment, the Harper Con­ser­va­tives ac­tu­ally cod­i­fied and dis­trib­uted pro­ce­dures how to do this sort of thing. No­body cared about that ei­ther. If peo­ple ex­pect their politi­cians to act like asses, politi­cians won't suf­fer for act­ing like asses.

But when the asses are bray­ing to keep in­for­ma­tion from Par­lia­ment, and thereby the Cana­dian peo­ple, peo­ple re­ally should care. Cana­dian of­fi­cial­dom guards in­for­ma­tion as a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple: it is closed by de­fault, no mat­ter how be­nign the in­for­ma­tion in prin­ci­ple is. It is im­mensely frus­trat­ing and un­demo­cratic, not to men­tion costly. But it also ob­vi­ously means that any non-be­nign in­for­ma­tion will be guarded even more zeal­ously.

Vet­eran Cana­dian jour­nal­ist Michael Petrou told an amaz­ing tale on Twit­ter on Thurs­day with re­spect to his in­ves­ti­ga­tion into aid Canada pro­vided to Libyan rebels way back in 2011. At the time, he ap­pealed one of the redac­tions in doc­u­ments he had re­ceived through an ac­cess-to-in­for­ma­tion re­quest. This week, seven years later, his ap­peal was up­held … and the for­eign af­fairs depart­ment re­fused to nix the redac­tion any­way.

The in­for­ma­tion in ques­tion wouldn't have caused Harper's gov­ern­ment any grief in 2011, let alone Trudeau's in 2020. This is sim­ply opac­ity for its own sake.

It doesn't have to be this way. Non-jour­nal­ist Cana­di­ans are of­ten in­cred­u­lous when you tell them how much more forth­com­ing Amer­i­can of­fi­cial­dom is with harm­less in­for­ma­tion, but it's night and day. Com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cers in the U.S. gov­ern­ment gen­er­ally ex­ist to com­mu­ni­cate with the pub­lic, not to in­ter­me­di­ate be­tween grown-adult jour­nal­ists and grown-adult civil ser­vants and politi­cians who are per­fectly ca­pa­ble of call­ing each other's tele­phones. We could do that too, if we wanted. But gov­ern­ments don't want it, and no­body cares, so it doesn't hap­pen.

Elec­toral re­form re­mains Trudeau's sig­na­ture bro­ken promise, if only be­cause he broke it so flam­boy­antly, so in­sult­ingly, and at such great ex­pense. But at least he felt the need to hu­mour the pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion fans who fell for his grift, set­ting up a com­mit­tee and pre­tend­ing to be in­ter­ested in its find­ings. His promise to fix ac­cess-to-in­for­ma­tion pro­ce­dures and time­lines, his “open by de­fault” pledge, didn't even get that. It got chucked be­hind a sofa and for­got­ten.

Fly­ing this blind, Cana­di­ans are re­ly­ing enor­mously on their politi­cians' hon­our, good in­ten­tions and back­bone to stay on the straight and nar­row. They should tune into the ethics or fi­nance com­mit­tee some day soon and ask them­selves if that's wise.

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