Friday, January 1, 2010

Promises that cost nothing

A long-ago Premier of British Columbia, happily aware that public attention and news coverage of his government shifted rapidly, would smirk and say, "Old newspapers are good for fish wrap."

Not so today. Long after newsprint has been recycled, its content circulates on the web. Echoes remain as information spreads widely, like concentric ripples on a tranquil pond. Words pass outside control of their originators.

For example, your humble proprietor at Northern Insights missed Vaughn Palmer's delicious December 3 column. However, a month later, I was led to a web based version of it through Stephen Rees's blog.

"A colossal waste of court time - Information commissioner battles challenges by bureaucracy." It describes how David Loukidelis, Independent Officer of the BC Legislature, is forced to beg, cap in hand, for public funds to defend court actions filed "primarily by government and other public bodies."

One arm of public service attends to statutory duties and others subvert the efforts. Thus, we have the ultimate government make-work project, mock war with the public paying all adversaries. Even Premier Gordon Campbell tries to block the information commissioner's work. Vancouver Sun columnist Palmer writes:

Yes, the politician who promised to give B.C. the most open and transparent government ever and swore the information in government hands belonged to the taxpayers who paid for it, not the bureaucrats and least of all the politicians.
The hypocrisy is bad enough. Several of the Campbell government's challenges to the commissioner's disclosure orders are of the "you-can't-make-this-stuff up" variety. For instance, the case that originated with a request from the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, the public interest organization that has long advocated greater access to information in B.C.
The association sought details of government consultations on how the existing freedom of information law could be improved. The ministry in charge released some details, but withheld others on grounds that they were covered by a legal exemption for "advice or recommendations to government on proposed courses of action."
The office of the information commissioner reviewed the severed material and concluded that in many instances the ministry had gone too far.
"Many of the comments are brief and innocuous. Even the more substantive comments are not controversial or earth-shattering." Plus, most were out of date, the ministry having fought the request for a number of years by that point.
Years ago, Gordon Campbell may have studied and learned from Edmund Burke, who said:

Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing.
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