Musings —06.07.2013 07:39 AM—
This week, Ontario’s “Information and Privacy Commissioner” – her oxymoronic title neatly lays out the point I am about to make – excoriate some of the folks I know pretty well from the Dalton McGuinty government. She ripped those folks from stem to stern, for deleting – or even apparently thinking about deleting – emails.
You can read her report for yourself, here. Personally, I found her approach and tone to closely resemble that of former Justice John Gomery, the Westmount hobby farmer who seemed to be far more interested in publicity than the public good.
Here’s some of the problems I have with Cavoukian’s report:
- She did not even bother to contact some of the people being smeared (even Gomery gave people a chance to tell their side of the story);
- She did not give a moment’s thought to Ontario law, which “prohibits employees from disclosing confidential information” even after someone leaves government;
- She pays no heed to the fact that records of emails concerning government business were kept by officials, and/or the government server, for many months and ultimately deleted only by them;
- She ignored the fact – the fact – that the rules permit the deletion of transitory records, records that have no historical value, and records that exist in duplication (I know from my time on the Hill that most records would fall into those categories);
- She gives no credit to the important points raised in the Globe and Mail editorial below. Which I quote:
“While officials should certainly create written records of actual decisions, cabinet ministers and their closest advisers should be free to talk about the reasons for a decision without making a paper or electronic memorandum. Their motives and purposes are best scrutinized in parliamentary debate, question periods and legislative committees…Ministers and their staffs should be able to deliberate informally, without having to disclose their every passing thought.”
That’s what I think, too, and it was what I was attempting to say on Sun News the other day (when I could get a word in edgewise, that is). As Cavoukian’s title makes clear, there is a glaring contradiction at the centre of this false controversy: political staff are told – indeed, threatened with prosecution if they don’t – that they must keep confidential information confidential. They are also told by publicity-seekers like Cavoukian they must simultaneously do the polar opposite.
That’s dumb; that’s idiotic. Politicians, and policy-makers, need to choose. Total openness, nothing held back – or some degree of confidentiality, to ensure that government (and citizens, and business, and unions, and associations) can continue to do its work.
Which is it? I know what I pick.