In the fog of war, nothing is more critical than quality and timely information to make sound decisions on the battlefield. Information is often the difference between life and death; between success and failure.
Leaders in all domains know the power of information and that “information is power”.
Today this universal truth is even more poignant as Canada finds itself in the midst of the greatest health and economic crisis of our time. To fight this pandemic Parliamentarians and Canadians alike require sound information to support them as they make difficult decisions to mitigate the impact of COVID 19 and effectively position their families, businesses and the country for recovery.
But this Liberal government is waging a relentless, and unwavering campaign to restrict, delay and deny information, public discussion and debate.
First they targeted the institutions of governing and the information that Members of Parliament receive. In March, Parliament was suspended and the dissemination of government information stopped. There was no provision of documents, no debates, no committees and no question period. The government was granted extraordinary spending powers at the same time as the checks and balances were eliminated.
When a semblance of parliamentary activity later resumed it was not as a fully functioning House of Commons but instead as a Special Committee on COVID-19. This gave the appearance of governing but failed to achieve it, with excessive constraints that prohibited motions, questions, committees, and debate. Then after only a few weeks, the government took the drastic and unnecessary step of shutting down parliament by proroguing, once again rejecting any access to government information or opportunity to improve Canada’s emergency response.
With Parliament resuming in late September, the obfuscation and frustration of parliamentarians has continued unabated. Significant emergency legislation was rushed through Parliament with insufficient review and little ability to improve. Opposition parties have been blackmailed into accepting the legislation with minimal debate for fear of being accused of standing in the way of helping Canadians or forcing an election simply by doing the job that taxpayers expect. The Liberals have successfully rebuffed all attempts to require them to provide documentation, and the little that has been provided is immensely redacted. They have paralyzed committees through filibuster and refuse to deliver a budget, representing the longest period in Canadian history that the nation has gone without a federal financial plan.
Next in the Liberals’ campaign to restrict dissemination of government information is the targeting of independent government agencies entrusted with oversight. The Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO), Parliament’s budget watchdog has issued two separate reports outlining their concerns over the Liberals’ spending secrecy. Of particular note is “the amount of information that is publicly available to track the $79 Billion in spending is lacking, thus making it more challenging for parliamentarians to perform their critical role in overseeing government spending and holding it to account”.
Furthermore, the Liberal government is ignoring access to information laws. Compliance with the Access to Information act suffered from underfunding long before the pandemic, but now over 55 of 80 government agencies have said that freedom of information is not a critical service while less than half are fully processing requests.
With over 125,000 requests for information each year, and almost 50% being made by businesses, 30% from private citizens and 20% from the media, industry associations, unions and other organizations, provision of this requested information is fundamental to our economic and societal success.
The government says that providing information is not a priority, and that instead all energy should be expended solely on fighting the pandemic. However, what they fail to understand is that our collective ability to fight the pandemic is dependent upon the quality and timeliness of information that citizens have to plan and make informed decisions.
The information exists but the Liberals won’t release it. Demanding that it is made available is not a partisan issue. It is essential to ensure that the government is acting in the best interest of the country and protecting the core of our democracy.
Without compliance to the foundational principles of openness, transparency, and accountability Canadians are not only unable to effectively weather the challenges of today and tomorrow, but their trust and confidence in the people elected to govern and the democratic institutions themselves, is lost.
Secrecy is the enemy. Information is power. The Liberals must give the power of government information to all Canadians. We can’t survive this crisis without it. Our democracy will not endure without it.