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Tories have ignored sponsorship report: Gomery


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Posted with the usual disclaimers


John Gomery says the Conservative government has largely ignored the recommendations of his report into the federal sponsorship scandal and, as a result, the prime minister's office is developing a dangerous concentration of power

That very trend, the former judge told the Commons government operations committee on Friday, "is a danger to Canadian democracy and leaves the door wide open to the kind of political interference ... that led to what is commonly called the sponsorship scandal."

Speaking Thursday on CTV's Canada AM, Gomery said he is disappointed little has been done with his report, which took two years to complete and made 19 recommendations.

"I was expecting the report would be given more consideration and would be to some degree at least followed, and it really hasn't. It's been put on the shelf."

He said the Conservative government adopted its own version of what it thought was necessary to improve accountability, with its Accountability Act.

But Gomery said the act was drafted long before his report was released, and the measures fall short of what is necessary.

Gomery said his biggest concern is the government's lack of effort to end the concentration of power he says exists within the PMO -- a situation he says flies in the face of democracy.

"I don't think Canadians elect only a prime minister," Gomery said.

"They elect a House of Parliament which is there to deal with government policy. I don't think government policy should arrive only out of the prime minister's office -- that's sort of an anti-democratic kind of government."

Gomery also warned that unelected officials are gaining more and more power in Ottawa and are increasingly able to influence public policy and legislation.

Gomery said his report was the result of extensive work by scores of experts.

It seems to me that the the democtratic process is working just fine. This minority government is still getting things done and although it may seem to some that Mr. Harper is a bit aggresive sometimes, so far he's seems to have done and OK job. As for giving any one party a majority right now, no, I don't fell comfortable with giving just one person the keys to the castle just yet.  The ball is still in our court and i'd like to hold onto it for a while longer.
Actually I am starting to wonder if a Minority Government might not be Harper's best, if not preferred operating environment.  Consider that one definition of a Conservative is someone that believes in Minimal Government: ie one that doesn't do things.  It principally exists to administer the affairs of the nation and the treasury.

In a minority government Harper has got every excuse to follow his apparent inclinations: nothing.

By doing nothing he gets to starve the machine that kept generating more revenues for Government and it was those increasing revenues that permitted ongoing schemes to change/improve/progress/elect Governors.  By doing nothing he gets to dry up the bureaucracy. By doing nothing he reduces expectations and capabilities. And maybe, along the way, he allows a few more people to realize that they don't need the Government to survive.

If he had a Majority people would expect him to actually do things - and they would be disappointed and not re-elect him and not get the opportunity to continue doing nothing. And continue, as Jeffrey Simpson has noted, to radically reshape Canada.

Most politicians can't get elected on a platform of "If elected I will do Nothing".  In Harper's case it seems that a majority of Canadians are quite happy to re-elect him on those terms because, while the accept he is an exceptionally skilled Manager, the fear he might implement his "hidden agenda".

The reality, I believe, is that is doing precisely that.  I further believe that he will continue to be given that opportunity as long as he can continue to blame the Minority he holds for his inability to Act and as long as people see that he is not running the country from one crisis to another.

Some parties revel in crises.  They allow them to be seen to be doing.

Stephen seems quite happy not to do anything.
Actually I am starting to wonder if a Minority Government might not be Harper's best, if not preferred operating environment

A minority government is going to be Harpers only operating envirnoment. If it was going to any different, the polls would be a lot different.
Since this government has accomplished more in two years than the previous one did in 13, a minority is fine with me!  ;D

Kirkhill's post is spot on. Compare the incremental approach to change by the Harper government to the radical change proposal of Gerry Nicholls. While many people might agree with Nicholls, more people would probably be put off by that approach.

Consider also the sea changes that have been set in motion. Canadians are now seeing some more money in their pockets due to tax reductions and tax changes. Most people will not be willing to give up the extra freedom and autonomy which this represents. Targeted financial stimulus to favored friends and industries has been replaced by a broad based economic stimulus in the form of the Tax Free Savings Plan, which will work its magic across all levels of the Canadian economy. "Universal Child Care", which teaches that the State is responsible for things has been set aside in favor of paying child benefits directly to the parents, which teaches that you are responsible. The lowering of expectations and drying up of the bureaucracy may be as exciting as watching the tide go out, but in the end, the water level is still lower.

While this may not be perfect (large spending cuts seem to have been ruled out, and radical tax reform like the Flat Tax are not even on the horizon, two policies that I personally would like to see), having half a loaf is still better than having none at all. Given the fact that @60% of Canadians will support left wing parties or policies and the minority government position the Prime Minister is working with, this represents an amazing accomplishment.

I have accused Prime Minister Harper of being only a tactician; I stand corrected, he is indeed a master of strategy as well.
Once again, Stephen Mahar is right on the mark. This is his lastest column

WHEN FRED DOUCET appeared last month before the House of Commons ethics committee considering the Mulroney-Schreiber affair, West Nova MP Robert Thibault asked him when Karlheinz Schreiber first hired him to lobby the government.

"I registered in the fall of 1989, if my memory serves me right," said the old Tory lobbyist. "That registration will be distributed. I believe I got on the payroll in February 1990."

Mr. Thibault, who didn’t know the truth, then asked: "And when did that relationship end?"

CBC producer Harvey Cashore, who has been working on this for a decade for The Fifth Estate, knows a lot more about this story than any MP. After Mr. Doucet’s testimony, he dug through his garage and found an invoice to Mr. Schreiber for $90,000 from November 1988, just three months after Mr. Doucet had stopped working for then-prime minister Brian Mulroney.

It would have been helpful if Mr. Thibault had been able to stop Mr. Doucet when he said he was hired in 1989, produce the invoice in question and quiz him about what work he had been able to do in three months that was worth $90,000 to Mr. Schreiber.

But Canada’s parliamentary committees, unlike their counterparts in the United States, don’t have teams of lawyers, researchers and accountants working for them, doing the kind of preliminary work that is necessary if they are to ask the right questions of the right people at the right time.

This week, retired justice John Gomery testified in front of another government committee, complaining that the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not implemented all of the recommendations in his report into the Liberals’ sponsorship scandal.

Mr. Gomery complained about increasing centralization of control in the hands of unelected staffers in the Prime Minister’s Office. He called this a danger to democracy.

Some of Mr. Gomery’s recommendations for fixing this would make top public servants more independent of their political masters.

Some Ottawa veterans with high foreheads argue that these changes would make it harder to manage Canada’s vast bureaucracy and undermine the Westminster tradition of ministerial accountability.

They were relieved when Mr. Harper ignored the recommendations.

These are difficult but boring questions. There are smart people on both sides of the debate and I don’t know who’s right. But I do know that Mr. Harper has also failed to act with much vigour on three simpler Gomery recommendations that would have subjected the government to greater scrutiny.

The prime minister’s inaction on these three issues contradicts his oft-stated desire to make government more accountable, but his hypocrisy is in a long bipartisan tradition and ought not surprise anyone. The three recommendations are:

•More resources for committees. Canadian parliamentary committees would function much more effectively if each party had a dedicated research office for committee work, funded by taxpayers, with lawyers, researchers and accountants helping prepare MPs and senators for hearings.

Watching these committees function now is often discouraging, in part because they frequently descend into partisan chaos. But even when the meetings are conducted in an orderly way, many of them aren’t very helpful. Open microphones are like crack cocaine to politicians, and they can’t help themselves from making dull speeches even when they haven’t got anything useful to say.

Giving them more resources so they’re properly briefed would make for better meetings.

•Greater access to information. Mr. Gomery recommended a number of reforms that would make it easier for the public to get access to government documents and harder for civil servants to hide embarrassing files. The Tories have ignored these recommendations and acted to tighten information flow in many ways, making draft reports secret, for example, and delaying releases.

They have also signalled firmly that they prize closed lips, a message that is certain not to be lost on the poor wretches who work in the access-to-information offices.

•A public appointments commission. Mr. Gomery recommended it. The Tories promised it, and even passed legislation to create it, but they still haven’t got around to setting it up.

Such a commission would act as an arm’s-length body to oversee the many juicy jobs that the party in power hands out, cutting down on patronage appointments given to poorly qualified candidates.

But doling out jobs to loyal party workers is a crucial, if often troublesome, technique for getting people to help the party, so it is not surprising that Mr. Harper is not keen to curb that power.

If Mr. Harper took these steps, it would increase scrutiny of his cabinet. That might lead to better government, but it would also make his cabinet ministers vulnerable to pesky questions from opposition MPs and reporters engaged in gotcha journalism. I wouldn’t want that if I were in Mr. Harper’s oxfords.

As a reporter, I like the idea of greater transparency in government, and I think most Canadians would agree that it would be helpful to have more scrutiny of the $200-billion federal budget and the 270,000 civil servants who handle it.

But some grey heads in Ottawa warn of unintended consequences. Access-to-information legislation has made naturally cautious civil servants more fearful, so they scribble things on Post-it notes instead of putting them in the file. Fear of access-to-info law has actually driven more government processes into the PMO, where they can be more easily hidden.

It is often difficult to get anything done in government now, veterans say, because civil servants are so keen to cover their generously compensated behinds that they don’t want to do anything for which they might be held accountable. Adding greater scrutiny might make that culture of fear even more paralyzing.

So perhaps the Tories’ hypocritical inaction is actually for the best!

Those interested in this, especially in why Gomery was a little bit right and a whole lot wrong, need to read two books by Prof. Donald Savoie:

Governing from the Centre: The Concentration of Power in Canadian Politics (1999); and

Court Government and the Collapse of Accountability in Canada and the United Kingdom (to be released later this year.

Savoie argues that the essential balance between the public service/PCO and the partisan politicians/PMO has been lost, to the disadvantage of the former and Canadians at large. Governing from the Centre catalogues the increasingly dangerous concentration of power in the PMO during the Trudeau, Mulroney and especially the Chrétien years. Court Government argues that the trend has not been arrested, that it is also found in the UK (and likely in other Westminster style democracies), and that it is doing damage to democracy itself.

Sadly, Prime Minister Harper did implement some of Gomery’s less well thought through recommendations – further binding the public service is useless red-tape and, concomitantly, dealing more body blows to the prestige and morale of that service.

Edit: typos (2) interested, Prime Minister
I totally agree. 

Prof. David E. Smith has argued that the virtual possession of the prerogative powers by prime minister has heightened this concentration of the court government.  He has noted that after the 1837-38 rebellions the powers of the GG were essentially transfered to the PM.  After the Byng-King thing of 1926 it made things even worse. 

Savoie has also noted that the lack of ministerial accountability and responsibility has also contributed to the court government.  Politicians are unwilling to admit when the make mistakes and chose to blame the public service.
Here, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act from today’s Ottawa Citizen, is and editorial that deals with the issue:

The politics of privilege
The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Nobody likes to see power concentrated behind closed doors -- until they get behind those doors themselves.

Stephen Harper's government isn't the first to make use of a coterie of unelected aides. When the Conservatives were in opposition, they mocked Paul Martin for failing to end the politics of privilege, of "who you know in the PMO."

But the Prime Minister's Office is just as powerful these days as it was during the Chrétien-Martin era, if not more so. And Mr. Harper's personal control of his government is direct and uncompromising.

That's a problem, because this Conservative government was elected as a repudiation of the old structures that made the Liberal sponsorship scandal possible. Retired judge John Gomery gave the new government a blueprint for reform, in the recommendations that followed his inquiry into the affair. He told a parliamentary committee last week that Mr. Harper's government has all but ignored that blueprint.

Mr. Gomery is particularly concerned about the growing influence of unelected, unaccountable people in the PMO. He also warns the power of the executive branch -- the prime minister and his cabinet -- comes at the expense of the legislative branch. MPs in the Harper government -- even ministers -- have seemed at times like members of the Borg collective from Star Trek, without personalities or opinions of their own. Instead of the transparent "new" government Canadians were promised, we've got more of the same old politics.

There's nothing wrong with a government putting its own stamp on policy, and directing the civil service accordingly. Neither is there anything wrong with a prime minister who has a strong vision and the ability to make things happen.

There is something wrong, though, with a closed and defensive attitude toward the media and toward anyone who asks inconvenient questions. And there is something wrong with giving unelected political operatives the power to influence the business of government. That's how the sponsorship scandal happened.

Corruption is, ultimately, a failure of character. Rules can never entirely prevent it. But it is possible to create a political environment where corruption is less likely to flourish.

Mr. Harper should at least give Mr. Gomery, and Canadians, a detailed explanation for his brush-off of the recommendations. If an all-powerful PMO is no threat to democracy and accountability, Mr. Harper should explain why that's so. Mr. Gomery says the Tories have not even given him a formal response to his report. When Mr. Gomery was useful, the Conservatives treated him as a hero. Now, his sincere and unflinching demands for reform are brushed aside as annoyances.

Mr. Harper could take lessons from the story of Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York who fell so spectacularly from grace last week. Mr. Spitzer's constituents would not have felt so betrayed had he not portrayed himself as "Mr. Clean," standing against crime and corruption. If there's one thing voters can't stand, it's hypocrisy.

Mr. Harper's career doesn't bear much resemblance to Mr. Spitzer's, except in this one important respect: He, too, came into office by promising to clean up. He spoke of a new era of openness and accountability.

He owes Mr. Gomery an answer.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2008

The Citizen makes a couple of very good points:

1. This is an old problem. It (the dangerously un or anti-democratic concentration of power in the PMO) goes back nearly 40 years – to Trudeau’s regime. Mulroney made it somewhat worse and Chrétien made it much, much worse. While he, Chrétien, was famously and publicly “hands off” with his ministers we now know, thanks to Judge Gomery, that his PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) was deeply intrusive – dealing with relatively low level civil servants on matters of partisan, Liberal Party, business; and

2. “There's nothing wrong with a government putting its own stamp on policy, and directing the civil service accordingly. Neither is there anything wrong with a prime minister who has a strong vision and the ability to make things happen.”

But the Citizen betrays its true colours when it misstates the problem as being about media access. The problem is that the checks and balances in our, Westminster type, cabinet system of government are provided by the civil service. When the PMO becomes too powerful, as it has been for nearly 40 years, then the PCO (Privy Council Office – the “head” of the civil service) loses power – it is a zero sum game – and that means that the checks and balances do not work as well as they should.

Prime Minister Harper did implement many of Gomery’s recommendations: unfortunately they were the wrong ones, they were the ones that further hamstring the civil service by forcing it to pay more and more and more attention to the sorts of financial administrivia that, ever since the middle of the 19th century, judges have imposed in order to control minor league corruption but that have the effect of glossing over big league problems.

If you want to see a problem with the PMO, look here for a good example of the PMO using its powers to interfere in areas well beyond its jurisdiction.

I listened to Judge Gomery being interviewed on CBC radio on Thursday and the crux of what he was saying is that his feelings were hurt because he spent two years of his life doing this commission and then only got half his recommendations implemented. He did menition the fact that he thought too much power was vested in the PMO as well. I think he was doing pretty good to get half the recommendations instituted....I can remember commissions of the past in which it was just an excuse to study stuff rather than act and none of the recommendations were implemented.
sgf said:
Which commissions were those?

How about the LeDaine (sp?) commission for one? I'm glad personally that they didn't implement the recommendations from that one by the way.
How about the LeDaine (sp?) commission for one? I'm glad personally that they didn't implement the recommendations from that one by the way.
Gerald Le Dain was ahead of his time,.. this commission was in the early 70s.. any others a bit more up to date?