Ever wanted to be an investigative reporter? Well, here’s a simple exercise you can try at home. All you need is a computer.
Go to your Google search window and type in “Ottawa order in council”; your first hit should say “Welcome to the Privy Council Office website.”
Click on the link and look to the right under the heading Quick Links. The first one on the list is called “Orders in Council — Search.”
See? You’ve just established that the federal government posts all of these documents online.
What is an order in council? Well, as The Telegram’s James McLeod explained in an article Saturday, it’s a legally binding decision of cabinet that has almost the same status as a piece of legislation.
You can’t keep legislation under wraps. But this province does not make orders in council available online or on request — unlike every other province. And it took two weeks of being bounced from one department to another for McLeod to even find that out.
MUN political science professor Kelly Blidook said he finds it shocking.
“It’s laws. There can’t be a limitation on which citizens get to know which laws are in place. It just sounds so weird to me,” he said.
To be fair, this has been the status quo for a long time. But it still reflects poorly on how the Dunderdale government — especially since the implementation of Bill 29 last June — has spread a wide cloak of secrecy over almost every shred of information. Few media or individual requests for information are granted without significant redactions (blackouts) of the text, or without lengthy delays beyond the legislated 30-day window.
The provincial government loudly trumpets itself as among the most open in the country. Yet its actions rarely reflect that claim.
Worse yet, it appears the Canadian standard is hardly anything to crow about.
In a Canadian Press article Saturday, Dean Beeby reported the Harper government has dismissed a September 2012 report ranking Canada 55th among 93 countries around the world in terms of freedom of information.
The Halifax-based Centre for Law and Democracy’s report was the most recent of three conducted since 2011.
The real irony, though, is that Ottawa’s four-page rebuttal took five months to surface after an access to information request was filed.
The report’s authors say chronic delays in fulfilling information requests are what primarily counted against Ottawa in the ranking formula. And that’s something the Dunderdale government is notorious for.
In other words, when information is not released within a reasonable time frame, it’s just as bad as simply denying access.
As for keeping orders in council under wraps, former Executive Council clerk David Vardy put it best.
“I think it reflects … an antiquated approach to government — a very protective, secretive approach.”