Corbella: Transparency is empty talk in Redford’s world

Corbella: Transparency is empty talk in Redford’s world by Licia Corbella, November 3, 2012, Calgary Herald
The more the provincial Tories talk about transparency, the more opaque things get. Consider the province’s new whistleblower protection legislation. “We have gone further than the government of Canada and, quite frankly, we have set, in my opinion, a new bar for accountability and transparency,” boasted Service Alberta Minister Manmeet Bhullar. But for David Hutton, executive director of FAIR (Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform), a charity focused on improving whistleblower protection, Tuesday’s announcement was “disappointing” as “it completely ignores decades of hard-won experience in other jurisdictions” like the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. “It compels the whistleblower to enter a secretive, bureaucratic and tightly managed process which is likely to bury their allegations and is unlikely to protect anyone except the wrongdoers,” said Hutton on Tuesday night. “It has disturbing similarities to our federal legislation, which has been a failure, costing the taxpayer more than $30 million over the past five years, yet achieving almost nothing,” added Hutton.

“In some ways, it is worse: under the Alberta bill, it is unlikely that the public will ever learn the specifics of any wrongdoing, alleged or proven, and the whistleblower in most circumstances is forced to make their disclosure to the senior management of their own organization — a practice that has been denounced by our courts as a denial of due process.”

In other words, rather than making things more transparent, “all the indications are that this will, like the federal legislation, simply create a black hole into which courageous employees put serious concerns that affect the public interest — and get no feedback, no result and no protection.”

Deron Bilous, NDP MLA for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, put it this way in the legislature on Halloween: “Strong legislation must allow whistleblowers to blow the whistle any time, anywhere, and to anyone, including the media. But this law sets up a departmental process ensuring a blown whistle echoes down a never-ending bureaucratic tunnel. “This law offers no protection to private-sector workers or government contractors. This is simply unacceptable in a province that just went through a massive E. coli crisis due to unreported food safety issues,” explained Bilous.

Then comes the carefully worded vow by Premier Alison Redford to publicize the results of a probe into a $430,000 donation to the PCs by Edmonton Oilers owner and Rexall Pharmacy billionaire Daryl Katz during the spring election. According to Hansard on Oct. 31, Redford said with regard to making the chief electoral officer’s report public, the following: “ … we have made significant contributions with respect to transparency, from expense disclosure to a commitment to a FOIP review, public interest disclosure, whistleblower legislation, and of course we will make whatever information is communicated to our party publicly available as soon as possible.”

The only problem is, the chief electoral officer is prevented by legislation that Redford herself wrote while Justice minister, from releasing much information at all. All he can reveal is there was or there wasn’t a breach. No further information can be released by law. While that law is apparently going to be changed, it will not be retroactive, so the results of the investigation cannot be released without breaking the law, unless Redford changes it to be retroactive. Clearer now? But the chances of her making the law retroactive, are slim in light of the fact that the chief electoral officer found that 45 cases of illegal donations were made in the past year, but he can’t reveal who made the illegal donations, how much was donated, and who received the donations. However, it’s safe to assume it was the Tories, since there were numerous stories prior to the election of agencies, school boards, universities and colleges — all of which receive tax dollars — making illegal donations to the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. It’s this province’s very own sponsorship scandal — but it’s against the law to know the details or receive proof that the Tories paid the money back. Convenient, eh?

Then there’s the government’s vow to release all government expenses on the Internet. Alberta Health Services has complied by dumping more than 1,400 pages of raw receipts, credit card statements, airline tickets and the like into PDF documents. It’s not easy to find on their website — the link is hidden in a news release — and none of it is searchable by date, name or event. It’s not even in chronological order, it’s just a jumble of documents vomited out onto the Internet. On Thursday, Speaker Gene Zwozdesky made a ruling in the legislature that outlaws debate about the Katz affair, saying that parliamentary rules don’t allow for discussion of “internal party matters.” Those may be the rules but can you imagine what would happen if the federal Tories disallowed questions in the House of Commons about robocalls, or about a government MP’s election spending irregularities, arguing that those fall under internal party matters? We’re talking about the potential influencing of the government here. It’s germane to everything. Redford’s government isn’t only not transparent — it’s a lead wall! If the province wants to learn how to release expense information properly, to actually aid transparency rather than obscure it, it need only look at how the cities of Vancouver and Toronto lay out their expenses for councillors. It’s organized and is on spreadsheets and is searchable. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:  When Women Blow the Whistle ]

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