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Political Accountability Starts With Transparency

04/12/2015 01:17 EDT | Updated 06/11/2015 05:59 EDT
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Secrets lie at the heart of corruption. Details of the housing and meal expenses Conservative Senator Mike Duffy claimed were never supposed to see the light of day. Neither was the secret conversation between Duffy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Nigel Wright, his chief of staff, on how to manage the embarrassment that Duffy attracted.

Sadly, too many public officials are all too eager to scam taxpayers and charge fraudulent expenses. That is especially true if they feel they are accountable to no one. Accountability begins with transparency. After all, you can't judge a person's actions if you don't know what they've done.

Just as companies are accountable to their owners and shareholders, so elected officials are accountable to their citizens and taxpayers. In the wake of the audits and even criminal charges that emerged after investigating Duffy, and senators Mac Harb (Liberal), Pamela Wallin (Conservative), and Patrick Brazeau (Conservative), it was clear that the culture of how these expenses are treated needed to change.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau took action. In October 2013, Mr Trudeau and all Liberal MPs and Senators began posting detailed itemized expenses viewable online. Then in June 2014, Mr. Trudeau tabled a private member's bill, Bill C-613, to require other parliamentarians to do the same.

The proposed bill, called the Transparency Act, would go much further than track expenses. It would open up the Board of Internal Economy, the parliamentary committee that controls the House of Commons budget. The bill would also empower the Information Commissioner to order the release of documents, and would make it easier and cheaper for Canadians to make an Access to Information request.

At second reading in parliament last week, Trudeau's bill won support from MPs of every political party -- with the Greens, the NDP, and the Bloc joining Liberals -- except one: the Conservatives.

I was looking through some parliamentary transcripts and found these fine words about accountability:

"Canadians are weary. They are weary of hearing about the misuse of funds, of insiders appointed to high levels of government who believe they are above the law, of watching the Auditor General struggle to bring to light wrongdoing only to have it ignored, or to watch it get caught up in the circus of political theatre only to be reminded that under the current system, there will be no real accountability[...] It must stop. Canadians will never regain confidence in government if we do not make it stop." (April 6, 2006, Ron Cannan, MP Kelowna-Lake Country)

How soon they forget. On April first, Ron Cannan joined Stephen Harper in defeating Bill C-613, and in keeping your government secret.

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