Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Conservative Bill Stigmatizes Parliament's Watchdog Agencies

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Conservative Bill Stigmatizes Parliament's Watchdog Agencies

Article excerpt

Editorial Exchange: Conservative bill stigmatizes Parliament's watchdog agencies

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An editorial from the Toronto Star, published Jan. 29:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has had more than his share of public run-ins with Parliament's independent watchdogs for his hyper-partisan, secretive style of governance. He has drawn deserved fire over the years from the chief electoral officer, the auditor-general, the ethics commissioner, the privacy commissioner and the information commissioner.

Now it's payback time. Parliament's independent officers are being forced to defend their rank-and-file staff from the petty tyranny of a stigmatizing Conservative bill that would force them to disclose any political positions they have held in the past. The government makes the lofty claim that the public has "a right to know" whether staffers once engaged in political activities. But there's more paranoid mischief than truth-in-packaging to this bill.

Conservative MP Mark Adler's private member's Bill C-520 requires employees and potential hires to disclose whether they held a "politically partisan" position in the 10-year period before joining the office. That includes everything from running as a candidate to being an electoral district association officer or working as a ministerial, parliamentary or political staffer.

Presumably, this will alert the public to the dark potential for bias in the watchdog agencies, responsible for holding ministers and the bureaucracy accountable.

But that's a bogus concern. Canadians are well-served by these watchdogs; their integrity is unimpeachable. Staffers are covered by the Public Service Employment Act, the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector and other codes that require them to do their jobs in a strictly non-partisan manner, whatever their political views or affiliations. On-the-job partisan bias can get them fired. Moreover, staff who conduct investigations are routinely obliged to disclose real or potential conflict of interest beforehand. And hiring is solely on merit, not on partisan affiliation.

While the Harper Conservatives (like any government) chafe at robust parliamentary oversight, all necessary safeguards already are in place. …

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