transparency

The Tyranny of the Talking Point

Dear government spin doctor,

I am working on a story about how the job you’re doing is helping to kill Canada’s democracy.

I know that your role, as a so-called communications professional, is to put the best spin on what the government is or isn’t doing.

That means you often don’t respond the questions I ask, you help elected officials do the same thing and you won’t let me talk to those who actually have the answers.

While this may work out very well for you, it doesn’t work out so well for my audience who, by the way, are taxpayers, voters and citizens.

So your refusal to provide me with information is actually a refusal to provide the public with information.

And if the public doesn’t know what their government is actually doing, it can continue doing things the public wouldn’t want it to do.

That just doesn’t seem very democratic to me. Does it seem democratic to you?

Canada’s Public Companies Should Disclose Political Spending: Report

Unlike the U.S., where the wellspring of cash flooding federal elections is reaching a new level of absurdity (try $5 billion), Canada has kept federal political campaigns relatively grounded by placing an outright ban on corporate donations during elections. 

Yet the influence publicly-traded corporations exercise in Canada – through lobbying, political contributions during provincial elections, think tank support, advertising and advocacy campaigns – remains hugely significant, according to a discussion paper recently released by the Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE), an organization that provides investment services and research to institutional investors.

Concern about the effect of money on politics is perennial,” Kevin Thomas, report author and director of stakeholder engagement for SHARE, writes. “Aside from the obvious concerns about the outright corruption and/or illicit expenses and bribery, there is a broader concern about the influence of private interests on the development of policy and regulation, as well as on the content and tenor of public political debate.”

Critics Question Whether News Canada, a Federally Funded Wire Service, Disseminates Pro-Government Propaganda

Forget press releases. Forget press agents, publicists. Forget advertorials and sponsored content and native content. Forget all of it.

If what you want for your company, your government bureau, is total control of a news story, why bother with the pesky journalists who are going to check the facts and get the other side of the story?

No. Here’s what you do: write your own news story.”

That’s the sardonic strategy Jesse Brown, reporter and host of Canadaland, recently outlined on a show dedicated to News Canada, a federally-funded public relations body and news wire service which was recently awarded $1.25 million to distribute hand-out news content meant to “inform and educate Canadians on public issues.”

The story of News Canada receiving a 25 per cent increase in government funding from Public Works Canada was first reported by Blacklock’s Reporter Tom Korski.

News Canada Ltd. president Shelly Middlebrook told Korski the service provides content to media editors and that “journalists either pick it up or they don’t.”

Dear Harper, You Know the Rules: It’s Three Strikes You’re Out

This is a guest post by Michael Harris, author of Party of One: Stephen Harper and Canada's Radical Makeover. It originally appeared on iPolitics

In politics, as in baseball, the rule is simple: Three strikes and you’re out.

When Stephen Harper finally shambles towards the showers, head down, bat in hand, I’ll be thinking of Mighty Casey. For much of his career, Harper has umpired his own at-bats. But that role will soon — if briefly — fall to the people of Canada. Election Day is coming to Mudville.

Strike one against this government of oligarchs and corporate shills comes down to this: They have greedily championed oil and gas while doing nothing to protect air and water. Consider the piece of legislation with the Orwellian name — the Navigable Waters Protection Act. NDP house leader Nathan Cullen said it as well as anyone could:

It means the removal of almost every lake and river we know from the Navigable Waters Protection Act. From one day to the next, we went from 2.5 million protected lakes and rivers in Canada to 159 lakes and rivers protected.”

Canada’s Access to Information Act Doesn’t Really Provide Canadians with Access to Information

Access to Information Canada

In their recently published book Your Right to Know, journalists Jim Bronskill and David McKie have done yeomans' work explaining how Canadians can use freedom of information requests to get government secrets. But, at the federal level, it's work they shouldn't have needed to do - pointing to another problem with Canada's broken access to information laws.

Introduced in 1980 by Pierre Trudeau's Liberals, the Access to Information Act gave Canadians a limited right to request government records. The bureaucracy's filing cabinets could now metaphorically be opened by anyone - unless the records in them included 75 different kinds of information that would still be considered secret.

But, even with those limits, the Trudeau administration seemed to have little interest in telling voters about their newfound rights or how to exercise them.

Why Support DeSmog Canada? Here Are Six Reasons It’s Totally Worth It

DeSmog Canada team

As many of our readers have already seen, DeSmog Canada recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign where we raised $50,000 from our generous supporters. Even though we're on the other side of that fundraiser, we still rely on support from readers like you. That's why we make it easy to contribute to DeSmog Canada at anytime through PayPal

If you are wondering why DeSmog Canada deserves your support, here's a list of our top reasons: 

It's Time to Put the Spotlight on Government Secrecy

#cdnfoi, transparency in government, sean holman, freedom of information

Partisans may not believe it, but Canada’s “culture of secrecy” existed long before Stephen Harper moved into the prime minister’s office. And it’ll be around long after he moves out, unless Canadians do more than just cast their ballots in the next election.

That’s why four groups concerned about freedom of information, one of which I’m part of, are launching a campaign encouraging Canadians to take a small but vital step on social media that would raise more awareness of just how much is being hidden from us: spotlighting examples of government secrecy with the hashtag #cdnfoi.

Such secrecy has its roots in our political system, which has a tradition of strict party discipline. Because of that discipline, decisions made by the government behind closed doors – in cabinet meetings, for example – are rarely defeated in the House of Commons, making secret forums the principle arbiters of public policy.

To be sure, the Harper administration has done more than its share to cultivate a backroom state, frustrating access to government records and officials, as well as failing to fix our broken freedom of information system. But Canadian society is an especially fertile ground for the growth of policies that violate our right to know.

In part, that’s because our country doesn’t have any groups that exclusively and routinely advocate for greater freedom of information at a national level. Probably the closest we have to that is the small BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.

Evangeline Lilly: It’s My Job To Stand Up For Canadian Scientists

evangeline lilly desmog canada, war on science

You may know the Canadian actress for her tough-girl roles in Lost or The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. But Evangeline Lilly has a battle – besides those with orcs and island smoke monsters – to fight: the battle for Canada’s scientists.

Lilly first heard about the defunding and muzzling of Canada’s federal scientists when she was reading DeSmog Canada just over a year ago. In a spate of funding cuts, the federal government eliminated some of Canada’s most prestigious scientific institutions, to the dismay of scientists and Canadians across the country. And since the Harper government has been in power, strict communications protocols have prevented scientists from speaking with the public about their research, limiting public awareness of taxpayer-funded science.

Lilly, who now lives in the U.S., said she keeps an eye out for stories about her homeland. And it always concerns her when she stumbles across something so disheartening.

I think it’s always a little bit scary and astounding when as a citizen of what you consider to be a free nation you discover one day for various reasons…that something awful has been going on under your nose and you didn’t know,” she told DeSmog Canada. “And that happens to me a little more often than I’m comfortable with nowadays.”

Lilly was dismayed to learn that “all over Canada right now scientists are having all their funding pulled,” she said, “especially scientists who are speaking about climate change.”

Could BC be First to Enact Full Financial Disclosure Rules for Extractive Industry?

bc mining transparency

A new campaign for transparency is pushing British Columbia to become the first province to require mining, oil and gas companies to reveal what they pay to domestic and foreign governments. The initiative, led by Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Canada and Publish What You Pay (PWYP), a group that campaigns for full disclosure from the Canadian government, asks Canadians to send a postcard, reading “Information is Power,” to B.C. Finance Minister Michael De Jong.

The groups hope to hand-deliver more than 500 postcards to the Minister on May 1st.

When citizens can follow the money generated by the natural resources their country supplies to the world, they can ensure their government is using these revenues to improve their communities, rather than lining the pockets of people in power,” the groups state on the campaign’s website.

The TRACE campaign, or TRancesparent & ACcountable Extractives, advocates for accountability in the global extractive industry, starting with B.C.

The TRACE Campaign is currently focused on increasing transparency, by making it mandatory for extractive companies registered in Canada to disclose all payments they make to governments, at home and abroad,” the groups write.

Joe Oliver's Transparency Rule a Parting Gift to Canadian Mining Companies

canadian mining companies, transparency

On March 3rd, former Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver unveiled a new transparency initiative that will require Canadian mining companies to report significant payments made to governments both abroad and in Canada. Under the new law, medium and large publicly traded companies will post the details of payments above the $100,000 threshold on their company websites, listed on a project-by-project basis.

Oliver described the initiative as a “comprehensive and meaningful approach” designed to “enhance transparency and accountability in the mining and oil and gas industries.” 

The new legislation comes as the most recent installment in a long list of policy changes implemented by the Conservative government in an attempt to improve the international standing of the Canadian extractive industries.

Last month saw the opening of the Vancouver headquarters of the Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development (CIIEID), a joint project between the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and École Polytechnique de Montréal that received nearly $24.6 million in funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. According to the CIIEID website, the institute’s mission is “to improve governance of extractive sectors in developing countries.” 

The timing of both Oliver’s announcement and the opening of the CIIEID reflects not only the growing importance of the mining and oil and gas sector to the Canadian economy, but also the increasing level of social and environmental conflict associated with the activities of the Canadian extractive industries both at home and abroad.

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