Canada

Gomery calls Tories turncoats on gov't transparency

The man who investigated the sponsorship scandal says Prime Minister Stephen Harper seems to have abandoned any commitment he once had to transparent government in favour of a top-down style that centralizes power in his own hands.

The man who investigated the sponsorship scandal says Prime Minister Stephen Harper seems to have abandoned any commitment he once had to transparent government in favour of a top-down style that centralizes power in his own hands.

John Gomery, in a wide-ranging interview marking the second anniversary of his final report, expressed dismay that the federal Conservatives have ignored his key recommendations for reform.

"I have to tell you, I'm very disappointed," Gomery said from the farm in Havelock, Que., where he now lives in retirement.

"I worked so hard, and I got other people to work hard, and we gave very serious thought to what we were recommending. I thought it deserved a debate."

Instead, said the former judge, most of the political and bureaucratic changes he proposed fell into a "black hole" of indifference or were rejected out of hand.

His verdict on the Harper government is harsh: "They were glad to see the end of the commission (of inquiry), and they'd like me to disappear … I'm a pain, I'm a bit of a menace."

Ironically, it was Gomery's scathing indictment of the previous Liberal government that was widely credited with paving the road to Tory power in the 2006 election.

In his first report in November 2005, Gomery concluded that millions of taxpayer dollars had been skimmed by Liberal-friendly ad agencies, and some of the cash had flowed back to the party in under-the-table kickbacks.
  
Gomery followed up with a second report — released two years ago this Friday — in which he offered a recipe for changing the way business is done in Ottawa.

The overall goal was to reverse a growing trend — decades in the making — toward centralization of power in the hands of the prime minister and his inner circle, a situation that critics saw as an invitation to the abuse of power.

It was a goal that Harper appeared to share when he was in opposition, said Gomery. But since he took power, "there's more concentration of power in the Prime Minister's Office than we've ever had before, which is quite remarkable in a minority government, but he's pulled it off."

Failure to revamp Access to Information Act

Gomery also points to the Tory failure to revamp the Access to Information Act to make it easier for journalists and other citizens to pry documentation from the bureaucracy.

"The government was saying at the time [of the report] that transparency was very important and that they wanted to improve transparency. In practice it's been an exact reverse."
  
The Conservatives did expand the access law to cover many federal institutions that had previously been exempt. But that didn't improve the actual mechanics of the process, in Gomery's view.
  
Gomery also slammed the PM for abandoning the effort to install a new appointments commissioner to ensure that merit — not patronage — would be the main criterion in naming people to the boards of Crown corporations and other key posts.
  
In delivering his recommendations on Feb. 1, 2006, Gomery asked the government to table a detailed response in Parliament within 24 months. With time due to run out Friday, he's still waiting.

"I thought that at least they would have the courtesy to say, well, we're not going to respond … It's just as though my report doesn't exist."

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