Canada’s Dissipated Democracy
The leader who dislikes the investigators is a potential tyrant.
-Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny
There is joke at the expense of the US State Department…if they could find a way to do it they would classify the wallpaper in their offices “Top Secret.” It would seem this same obsession for secrecy has arrived at the Prime Minister’s Office(PMO) and the Privy Council Office(PCO).
The necessity for government to operate in secrecy, and just how much secrecy is necessary is an ongoing debate. Needless to say certain aspects of government must remain secret; but secrecy can too easily become an addictive behavior when two of the basic precepts of democratic government are being accountable and being responsible. Secrecy can too easily become an end run around both.
As Scott Horton in his book Lords of Secrecy points out, bureaucrats use secrecy to obscure from public sight anything that might embarrass them or reduce their political power and influence, for instance, innocent mistakes, evidence of incompetence, evidence that the policies they have made or implemented do not work or have unforeseen negative consequences, corruption, or even evidence of criminal conspiracies and dealings.
Horton writes from an American viewpoint where his country has constructed a massive secrecy and surveillance state. Where America goes, lambish Canada tends to follow.
The PCO has just announced that another 94 current and former staffers have joined ranks of the PPBS- Persons Permanently Bound to Secrecy. This is in addition to the 12,144 reported in the Globe and Mail as of a Jan.18th 2011. Another 200 were PPBS’d regarding the acquisition of fighter jets. PPBS came about as a result of 9/11, 2001 and The Security of Information Act (SIA) that was hastily passed soon after. Under the act any government employee revealing secret government information can be sentenced up to 14 years in prison.
Given its origins it appears the primary intent of the SIA was to block any leakage of information regarding the distrustful events of 9/11, but has now mutated to a sledge hammer government can use as it sees fit. Over its history roughly a thousand civil servants and contractors a year are forced to sign the three page oath. This might suggest successive governments have been using it indiscriminately and raises the question: What is the nature of the information that requires so much secrecy?
Is the SIA no more than a political expedience used by governments to avoid accountability?
The acquisition of the F35 JSF is a case in point. In 2010, Defense Minister Peter MacKay kicked-off his bungled attempt to acquire replacements for the CF-18. What turned into a political fiasco for Harper’s government ended with a decision on the F-35 being deferred until after the 2015 election. During that election PM Justin Trudeau assured us the F35 JSF was not going to be purchased by any government he formed. Low and behold, after a secret review the decision has now been deferred by the queasy Liberals until after the 2019 election.
Successive federal governments have had immense problems procuring everything from helicopters, to aircraft and now ships. The building of the navies new ships is going to be 2.4 times more than the 26 billion dollar budget.
The present Liberal government is now in secret negotiations to revive the Trans Pacific Partnership(TPP) claiming it to be an innocuous free trade agreement that, in fact, is an investor and corporate rights agreement that will destroy the last vestiges of Canadian sovereignty.
Parliament has seen ministers who push through bills they have never read, MPs who vote on bills they have never read, and support bills that don’t yet exist. When such shenanigans occur in open Parliament we are left to only imagine the horrors that go on in the bureaucratic ghettos where so much secrecy prevails.
The portentous Bill C-51 was also born out of 9/11 and effectively mimics similar American legislation brought in under their Patriot Act. The present government resists changing this draconian legislation and the reason I suspect they do so is they under pressure from the US to maintain this legislation to be consistent with theirs. Thus we are coerced into accepting the surveillance state spawned by an event that has suspect pedigree and so blatantly serves ulterior motives.
The public has a right to know that due diligence is being exercised at all times; and we must insist on it. Regarding due diligence, I recently noted that Parliament only has 182 sitting days in 2017 which is almost exactly ½ a calendar year. Is this reflective of the due diligence we get from our dedicated legislators? Are we paying full time wages for part time employees?
Accountability and secrecy are two very big words in the world of politics today. There is a scarcity of the former and an over-abundance of the latter. Too many of the problems and crisis’ we face are directly attributable to the failure of governments being held accountable which is well served by secrecy.
Excessive government secrecy might even be considered a form of coup d’etat or class warfare as information withheld and misinformation can so easily be weaponized by those with subversive ambitions or; by those simply so lazy as to take unwarranted shortcuts, naively unaware the impact their actions have on the viability of our alleged democracy.
Just as this government is running a ballooning financial deficit, so too is our democratic deficit adrift.