During the last general election and since, the Trudeau Liberals promised us “evidence-based decision making.” They also promised to “restore a sense of trust in our democracy” through “openness and transparency.” I believe it is time for Canadians to ask how well they have delivered on that promise.
Perhaps not too surprising to some readers, my view is that the Grits have not done very well at all. I’ll concede that the “atmosphere” in Ottawa these days seems to be a marked improvement over the days of the secretive, uncommunicative Conservative government. But has much of “substance” really changed? And are decisions really any more informed by evidence and data than they were under former governments? There seems little evidence that they are.
Trudeau promised to “amend the Access to Information Act so that all government data and information is made open by default in machine-readable, digital formats.” A year later and no such action has been taken. Moreover, I read that, according to Treasury Board President Scott Brison, a “review” will not be done until 2018—and no date seems forthcoming for when the promised changes will go into effect.
Ministers seem eager enough to speak to the media and Prime Minister Trudeau is out and about taking selfies and holding news conferences, but do we really learn anything from them that would support their claim during the last election that, “We will release to the public key information that informs the decisions we make.” I haven’t seen evidence of this, have you?
Trudeau told us he would end the secrecy surrounding the Board of Internal Economy and that, except in rare cases requiring confidentiality, meetings of this group will be open to the public. So far, no such action has been taken and all we have is promises and good intentions. And, while we’re at it, exactly when will the promised advertising commissioner be appointed—you know, the one who was going to help the auditor general oversee government advertising?
The Liberals promised to be honest about the government’s fiscal position, yet earlier this year Finance Canada’s officials disclosed to the Parliamentary Budget Office their numbers behind the budget’s five-year cost estimates, but later claimed the data were confidential and couldn’t be used in the PBO’s report. Consequently, Canadians were left in the dark regarding the true composition of a critical forecast on which important budget policies and proposed expenditures were based.
For the several months the Liberals took to decide when they would pull Canadian fighter jets out of the fight against Daesh in Iraq, there was a dearth of information surrounding the decision. And certainly the Grits produced no hard evidence to show that the Canadian bombing mission was ineffective or unnecessary. For the record, our CF-18s conducted 251 airstrikes during which they dropped 606 bombs. Those bombs destroyed 267 ISIL fighting positions, 102 vehicles or other pieces of equipment, and 30 improvised explosive device factories or storage facilities.
There is a similar lack of knowledge as to the how, where and when regarding government plans to deploy up to 600 soldiers and 150 police officers as UN peacekeepers. Weeks slip by and all we ever hear is that after final decisions are made we’ll be updated. How is that any different from the modus operandi of the Harper government—or that of the Martin and Chrétien Liberal governments before that? Where is the transparency in this decision making?
And where was the evidence that informed the Liberals decision that Canada could resettle 25,000 Syrian government-assisted refugees by the end of 2015, a figure that was clearly intended to exclude privately-sponsored refugees. That total is not expected to be met much before the end of 2016, if then. It is obvious to me that the promise was made for political advantage, period. Evidence-based indeed!
And I suppose the government’s stand (or lack of one) on building pipelines to get Canada’s valuable energy exports to tidewater is based on hard evidence? Does anyone believe this?
PM Trudeau said recently that “we must continue to generate wealth from our abundant natural resources to fund this transition to a low-carbon economy.” Apparently, therefore, the prime minister is not against oil and gas exports per se, and does not propose we just leave those valuable resources in the ground. And, since pipelines are generally considered the safest way of moving them, one could reasonably conclude he’d be backing one or all of the proposed pipelines, subject, of course, to all regulatory approvals.
Canada could have a pipeline approval system whereby the government sets rules and regulations in place, including public hearings. And, so long as an organization can convince a regulatory agency it qualifies under the rules, construction should be allowed to start without political interference on either side of the approval process.
But that will never be allowed. Even if the pipelines receive regulatory approval based or data and science, the Trudeau Cabinet has already reserved the right to make the final decision. A highly politicized decision, you can be sure, for what new evidence or data would Cabinet have that the regulator was denied? Crass politics, you may be sure, will always trump rational, evidence-based decisions.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing if it turned out we had some politicians in Ottawa who were prepared to practice what they preach? It would be, but don’t count on it.