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Thursday, June 4, 2009

CTV and opposition deliberately misconstrue ministerial responsibility

In as bold a display of mock outrage as has been seen in some time, CTV on-air staff and a raft of their fellow Liberal supporters—singing to the tune of their leader, Michael Ignatieff—bluster on about the injustice of Maxime Bernier having to resign last year while Minister of Natural Resources Lisa Raitt gets a pass.

Surely they are being disingenuous for the difference in the two cases is clear enough. Former cabinet minister Bernier was personally responsible for a breach in security; Lisa Raitt as a minister is responsible for the actions of her staff, but not personally responsible.

The constitutional convention of “ministerial responsibility,” a Westminster tradition, is that a cabinet minister bears the ultimate responsibility for the actions of their ministry or department. In Canada, successive Liberal governments have left this convention in tatters. As currently practiced in Canada, ministerial responsibility requires that:

  • While ministers are responsible for answering to parliament for the errors or misdeeds of their staff, they do not thereby accept personal blame for them.
  • It has become accepted that it is unreasonable to hold a minister personally responsible in the form of resignation for the errors of administrative staff.
  • Ministers will often resign in the cases of serious personal misconduct or in cases where they have directed public servants to do something that turns out to be a serious mistake.

CTV staffers have manufactured elements of this story and then have reported on them as if they were neutral and uninvolved. Robert Fife (pictured above), CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief, should know better.

The real story here is the security breach for which the government is responsible and for which a staff member has paid with her resignation. The manufactured story is the questionable ethics of CTV staff opening, copying and publishing material marked secret that came into their possession by accident. The howls for the minister’s resignation are just fodder for those voracious animals: the main stream media and crass partisan politics.

Notwithstanding CTV staff’s assertions to the contrary, Canadians do not have the “right to know” what is in secret government documents. To invoke the “public’s right to know” as justification for publishing secret information is a canard not worthy of a news service of the stature of CTV. Are standards of integrity less for media organizations than they are for the rest of us?

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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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12 comments — This is a moderated blog and comments will appear when approved. Please don’t resubmit if your comment doesn’t appear immediately, and please do not post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable.

  1. Exactly. I direct you to this:

    http://www.atirtf-geai.gc.ca/paper-ministerial-e.html#2

    Pay particular attention to this:

    ""The answerability component of the doctrine requires that each minister answer to Parliament, in the form of explanation or defence, for all the actions of his or her department. Thus, when public servants make an error, the minister is expected to explain to Parliament what went wrong; to promise that the error will be remedied and that measures will be taken to prevent its repetition; and to impose appropriate sanctions within the department on the public servant(s) who committed the error. In practice, this answerability component is generally respected, even though ministers often do not provide answers that are complete and unambiguous."

    which is what Raitt did in the HoC yesterday.

    In fact she floowed the doctrine to the "T'.

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  2. This is an extremely well-written article. I hope this very piece was sent to CTV. It is unbelieable that the Canadian public has to live with people who call themselves "reporters" that twist and turn every story that will put a negative view on the Governing Party of our Country, just because they have ties and love for the Opposition. It is also unbelieable that they refuse to publish stories that are out there that would put a negative light on their liberal party as well. It is time this is stopped, the sponsors of this news organization has to relize there are more than one party in this Country and they should not be supporting a organization that wants to support only the liberal party. Steps must be taken to correct this and expose reporters such as Bob Fife for what he is constantly doing and this ariticle is a wonderful step in that direction...

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  3. Mr Fife sure does look sincere, as he spins this as much as he possibly can - kinda makes you wonder whose payroll he really is on. Mr Hurst has gone all woggy, or the lieberals have been offering topping up ? - my bet is on the latter - one can smell the lieberal war room here - they are like the eveready bunnie, pushing faux outrage to cover Iggy's slow revelation of his inexperience to the great unwashed - Fife is one thing, but CTV ? hmmmm......

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  4. Were the documents left behind or were they stolen. Inquiring minds want to know.

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  5. At one time in my career, I did have to handle Secret documents. Each document had to be signed for. If my boss gave it to me I signed for it, and if I gave it back, he signed for it.
    The simple question here is who signed out the document. If it wasn't Raitt, its not her responsibility.
    The bigger question in my mind is whether CTV has breached the official secrets act by even opening a clearly marked Secret document. The fact that they've leaked contents and photographed the document should have the RCMP involved and charges laid under the Official Secrets Act.
    The proper thing to have done upon discovering the document was to seal it in an envelope, place it in a secured location and call the proper authorities.

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  6. CTV is horrified at this incredible breach of secrecy!
    Not horrified enough to KEEP the contents secret or anything like that.
    If the minister should resign for an aide leaving the file there, shouldn't Bob Fife resign for CTV having revealed the contents?
    Seems to me they are trying to milk this goat from both ends.

    Stan

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  7. I think part of the reason CTV & Fife are being so blusterous about this is that they realize they broke the law in retaining, copying, and not returning immediately, these documents and they are trying to keep the focus off them.

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  8. I agree that the media and ALL political parties have to stop with the endless smear jobs and gotcha smear jobs. The hatchet job on Ruby Dhalla and now this - it has to end.

    With that being said I do see a tremendous amount of stupidity in leaving something like this in a national NEWS room - my god how dense can you be.

    In the end either both resignations should have been accepted, or neither should have.

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  9. Since when Robert FIFE gives two beans about the public.
    The AECL story is not new, this has been going on since 1990' so to say 'secret documents left behind then to photocopy them then say it is the duty of a journalist to broadcast it to advice the public is hogwash.

    Here is a major story on The 54billion dollar E.I scandal and FIFE is very quiet the same goes for liberal CORBEIL. I take it from FIFE, these stories are too mild to report.
    Don't leave anything behind at CTV, you never know it will become sensational news.

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  10. Raitt loses the secret documents and you basically say its the Liberals fault and the MSM hates conservatives.

    You get extra points for getting 2 tired cliches in one stretched answwer. Congratulations.

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  11. Hugh Segal provides a textbook litmus test for Ministerial accountability in In Defence of Civility.

    I'm not sure that Lisa Raitt actually stands up to this particular litmus test.

    Segal talks about cases of corruption where that corruption goes undetected by Ministers because they're unreported. Consider this against the backdrop of any other flub, and it's hard to hold a Minister responsible for something that happens without their knowledge.

    Then again, this was a direct assistant of Raitt who was under Raitt's direct supervision.

    While Raitt may not be primarily responsible for this particular breach, there is certainly a strong element of secondary responsibility.

    ReplyDelete

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