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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Canada cleaning up its Act

You can’t beat a scandal to get the reform juices flowing.

No, nothing to do with the Australian Wheat Board and events here in Australia.

The recently elected Canadian Government this week introduced the Federal Accountability Act and Action Plan. The Action Plan commits the Government to a wide range of reforms concerning political donations, limiting post politics lobbying by ministers, government appointments, protection for whistleblowers, stronger auditing and accountability requirements, and last but not least proposals to strengthen access to information legislation.

This follows the tabling of the second and final report by Justice Gomery into corruption at high levels in the former Chretien Government concerning sponsorship programs and advertising activities. The report showed corrupt political donations and diversion of government funds, failures of internal control systems, systematic disregard for compliance with financial regulations and other legislation including the Access to Information (FOI) Act and attempts to manage the detail of a government program from the Prime Minister's Office. $50 million is still said to be missing.

On FOI the Government has moved to extend the scope of the Act to all government entities and has tabled an issues paper on further major reforms to be considered by a Parliamentary Committee. The paper discusses a wide range of issues canvassed by the Information Commissioner as vital to the modernisation and effective working of the Act.

The proposals include tightening exemptions, a provision for release of any document if in the public interest, and a broadening of requirements regarding record keeping to include an offence if an officer failed to create a record of specified important events.

Further grist for any Australian government showing the slightest interest in reform and best practice.

1 comment:

  1. Tom Belton1:31 am

    I would caution that the placement of the Access to Information law changes (including record making and keeping requirements)in a separate draft bill for study by a Parliamentary Committee could be seen as a retreat from a campaign promise to embed them in the overall Accountability legislation. Perhaps the government is getting cold feet!

    According to the National Post (http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/):

    "Prime Minister Stephen Harper hinted at the pull-back two weeks ago but the remarks went unreported at the time.

    Harper was swayed by bureaucrats and Crown agency officials who protested that the plan for more openness went too far, one government official said.

    "It was enough to shake the knees of the government into kind of backing this thing off into a committee,'' he said on condition of anonymity.

    "It sounds like there's going to be a lot more talking, but not much action.''

    Stay tuned!

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