The decision yesterday by the speaker of the House of Commons on whether the government must hand over, non-redacted, all documents requested by a parliamentary committee was pretty much as expected. Peter Milliken confirmed that parliament is the highest authority in the land and can compel the executive branch of government to do its lawful will.
The opposition is trumpeting this as a victory over the Conservative government, but its not much of one. After all, the Speaker also upheld the obligation of the executive to protect state secrets and other confidential information not suitable for public disclosure.
To view such sensitive information, opposition members will have to maintain confidentiality or face serious legal consequences. It is true the opposition does get to have a say in who decides the information constitutes state secretes or have other reasons to be kept confidential, and I suppose this was about all they really expected to get from this.
Peter Milliken has given the government and the opposition two weeks to come to an agreement on how the documents will be handled, or failing this, the speaker will make a further ruling on the matter. The clear inference here is that the opposition had better be reasonable and bargain in good faith with the government or they might just find themselves in contempt of parliament.
We live in a democracy, but there are special circumstances to be considered. For one thing, the documents in question relate to a war Canada is waging in Afghanistan and the reputations of our Country and our armed services are at stake. For another, our parliament contains a contingent whose very existence as a political party is to engineer the break up of our country. How can that party’s members be trusted to see any and all of Canada’s state secrets? I, for one, do not believe they can.
It does seem to me, though, that our governments over the years, Conservative and Liberal, have been excessively secretive. Their default position seems always to have been, we’ll keep information from Canadians unless there is a compelling reason to divulge it. Transparency has never been our governments’ long suit.
The current government might not be any worse in this regard, but that does not say very much for our right to know what they are doing behind closed doors. I would like to see more openness on the part of our governments—a lot more openness and transparency.