By Stuart Thomson
The Whitecourt Star
Journalists, politicians, and communications people all have a common fascination with information.
For all the talk of Stephen Harper's controlling ways, you only have to look back a few years to see that Jean Chretien did the exact same thing. I think they both tried desperately to control information, both in and out of their government, most of the time successfully.
When Harper boasted to Peter Mansbridge last week that his government had gone five years without any scandals, he was correct. It probably has a lot to do with the tight reigns he holds on information, especially when it comes to the government's sprawling stimulus program.
Journalists have access to information laws on their side, but they don't always work as they're supposed to.
It seems obvious to me that information should belong to the taxpayer by default. The burden should be on the government to prove why certain things shouldn't be released, rather than the other way around.
Advice to cabinet ministers is not released, which makes sense. You want advisors to feel empowered to offer bold suggestions without fear of it being released.
Personal information is generally held back and this one is obvious.
Any requests about the Economic Action Plan seemed to get stalled interminably, and data about the costs of individual projects and geographical points were never allowed to intersect. It was very hard to figure out where all the money was going. That information is too powerful for taxpayers to know, apparently.
A wise person once told me, though, that a bureaucrat is never going to be condemned by his bosses for not releasing enough information. It's an unfortunate fact, and anyone requesting information at the federal level will have experienced this.
Once again, the benefits of a small town become clear, even on issues like this. I've been looking for information on collisions in the area since I moved here. It's just one of those interesting little data snacks that tells you a lot about a town or a county.
Now, requesting a similar kind of document at the federal level would probably take a few months, a few testy conversations with data coordinators and bureaucrats, and eventually a file that doesn't even contain what I was asking for in the first place.
In a Town? Well, you simply ask someone at a committee and then it shows up in your inbox in less than a week.
Just that little bit of easy-going transparency is a very good thing for a government, at any level, to make a habit.
And it may be true that, at the federal level, the more you keep from the taxpayers the less likely to feel a scandal rumbling beneath your government but I would suggest that maybe it's smarter just to avoid scandalous activity in the first place. Then you don't have to worry about hiding it.
People are entitled to the information that is collected and generated by their tax dollars and it's nice to see some folks, at the Town of Whitecourt, agree.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Posted by Brent Fullard at 1:04 PM