The department supporting Prime Minister Stephen Harper is refusing to release reams of documents related to the electoral reform bill.
Conservatives keep electoral reform documents secret
By Alex Boutilier
The Star: March 21, 2014
OTTAWA—The Conservative government is keeping secret documents prepared for Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre as he drafted the controversial electoral reform bill.
In an unusual move, the Privy Council Office has refused to release all but three pages of a 199-page transition binder prepared for Poilievre when he assumed his cabinet post in July 2013.
Citing cabinet confidence, the department also heavily censored the three pages they released, including a table of contents with most of the contents blacked out.
The Privy Council Office has now promised to release the briefing book — but not for another two decades, after the cabinet confidences exclusion expires.
“The information in question is not subject to the Access to Information Act because it is a confidence of the Queen’s Privy Council,” PCO spokesman Raymond Rivet wrote in an email to the Star.
“That determination is made by PCO’s cabinet counsel division. After a period of 20 years, this information will become subject to the act.”
Transition binders are prepared after cabinet shuffles to catch new ministers up to speed on their files, including upcoming legislation, risks facing the department and information on key organizations that have a stake in the portfolio.
They’re routinely sought by journalists and opposition parties under access to information legislation in attempts to divine the ministers’ plans. Often the binders are released in full, albeit after a long wait and typically heavily censored.
But it’s rare to see the complete file excluded from access laws. In contrast, the Star has received transition binders for the environment and transport ministers with only partial redactions.
“This goes beyond the pale. This is unbelievable,” said Craig Scott, the New Democrats’ democratic reform critic.
“They’ve just sort of said there’s some kind of connection to cabinet . . . (and) we can’t see (197) pages.”
“Not to sound trite or cliché, but what are they hiding?”
The NDP initially sought Poilievre’s transition binder back in October, and PCO outright refused to release the document. After a complaint to information commissioner Suzanne Legault’s office, PCO relented and sent the three pages to the party in March, according to the NDP.
The opposition New Democrats have since lodged a second complaint to Legault’s office, but it’s unlikely the documents will be released until cabinet confidence expires in 2033.
That’s well after Bill C-23, the Conservatives’ controversial electoral reform bill, is expected to be enshrined as the law of the land.
Critics warn the bill, which eliminates vouching at the polls and does away with voter information cards, will disenfranchise tens of thousands of Canadians .
Others, including chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand, have bluntly warned the bill will compromise the electoral system, has serious loopholes surrounding campaign financing and spending, and jeopardizes voters’ privacy.
The Star requested an interview with Poilievre’s office on Wednesday. In an emailed response, spokeswoman Cheryl Stone said the minister’s office has no role in the access-to-information process.
Scott speculates the materials in the transition binder likely touch on differences between C-23, tabled by the Conservatives in February, and a previous version of the electoral reform legislation that died last spring.
That legislation, proposed by former democratic reform minister Tim Uppal, never saw the light of day after being presented to the Conservative caucus in spring 2013, according to news reports at the time. Uppal was shuffled out of the position shortly after.
“I do not believe that the (current) bill is more or less the same now as it was then,” Scott said. “I just can’t believe that these hundreds of pages don’t tell that story.”
Aside from two mentions of cases before the courts, the three pages released state very little, except to say that the Democratic Reform ministry is supported by PCO, which also supports the prime minister.
(read the full article at The Star)
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