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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