Whatever happened to accountability?

If you remember the events that brought about the 2006 federal election then you will recall the Conservatives got elected on the issue of accountability.  They used the sponsorship scandal as a weapon and promised Canadians they would usher in a new age of transparency and openness.  This must have been said with fingers firmly crossed because 8 years on every measure that is said to create more accountability has resulted in less. 

The latest in this line of new-speak accomplishments is the report from the Ethics Committee on conflict of interest guidelines.  Instead of creating clear and understandable guidelines to ensure that public office holders are not using their position for their own benefit or that of their friends and family, the new guidelines make sure the Ethics Commissioner oversees the work of all federal employees.   This includes every civil servant and expands the scope of that job to the point that it cannot be done – which helps protect corrupt office holders who will have more opportunity to go about their dirty business undetected.

It goes well beyond the idea of protecting Canadians against conflict of interest and into the territory of protecting elected official like Cabinet Ministers who control huge budgets against the Ethic Commissioner.  The 2006 promise of accountability included measures that would give the Ethics Commissioner the power to fine violators, to enshrine the conflict of interest guidelines into law, to allow members of the public (not just politicians) to make complaints to the commissioner and to make part-time or non-remunerated advisors to ministers subject to the act – none of this has happened.

Instead of those lofty notions, people who clean the lobby in a federal building will now be subject to the guidelines.  In addition to that we have measures to protect the identity of Ministers who are actually under investigation.  It should also be noted that no witnesses at committee proposed these changes to the guidelines.  This is entirely a government wish-list that was pushed through by virtue of majority domination.

Gone are the days that committees could be counted on to do the heavy lifting for parliament.  It was said that although the chamber could appear to be a partisan mess, the committees were where sleeves were rolled up, petty differences set aside, while some common good was served.  That notion and those outcomes have been replaced by side-show antics and committees are now a place where democracy rarely happens.  By using their majority to go ‘in-camera’ the Conservatives are gaming every aspect of committees and then telling Canadians with a straight face that this is what they voted for.

This is also why they are so desperate to make the next election about foreign affairs.  They have failed so miserably on the few items that were supposed to be their strengths.  Ethics, accountability, and the economy - none of which are anywhere near high water marks for Canada.    Remember the ads with the honking car that promised accountability and an end to scandal?  Those promises melted like the snow in those ads and are just a memory now.   More proof of that was seen this week when the government voted down an NDP motion to make Question Period less of a spectacle and a little more accountable. They wanted no part of it.