Musings —07.22.2013 09:35 PM—
Who provides oversight for the overseers?
In this era of ombudsmen and commissioners and incessant inquiries, it is no idle question. In a time when, increasingly, gutless politicians are delegating authority for government oversight to unelected megalomaniacs, we need to consider whether we are heading down the right path. Mostly, we aren’t.
About a decade ago, when John Gomery was presiding over his circus-like inquisition into the sponsorship program in Quebec, the issue came into sharp focus. With his reckless comments to the news media, his clear bias against Jean Chretien, and his willingness to spend upwards of $100 million over two years — even hiring his daughter’s law firm — Gomery became a case study in how not to do these things.
In June 2008, the Federal Court agreed, blasting Gomery for his “preoccupation with the media” instead of fairness, for “prejudging issues” before all the evidence was in, and for wrongly assigning blame to Chretien and his former chief of staff, Jean Pelletier. Two years later, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld that scathing decision, and even ordered Stephen Harper’s government to pay some of Chretien’s legal costs.
Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner, should heed the lessons of Gomery. Cavoukian is the unelected narcissist who wrote a report a few weeks back about deleted e-mails in the ongoing Ontario gas-plant controversy. At the time, Cavoukian said the e-mails had been deleted “to avoid transparency and accountability.” It was “just appalling,” she said. It could even hurt the Ontario Liberals’ “ability to be re-elected,” she said.
Cavoukian, like Gomery, loved the attention that her over-the-top report received. So she dialled up the rhetoric. Immediately thereafter, the opposition also started screeching that laws had been broken and the OPP decided to investigate Cavoukian’s claims.
A few weeks later she was at it again, claiming the e-mails had been deleted to avoid “public scrutiny.” She then went on to call Chris Morley, Dalton McGuinty’s former chief of staff, “misleading,” “disingenuous” and alleged Morley had engaged in “misrepresentation.”
But, when pressed, she admitted much of what Morley had said had been “technically true.” And that she hadn’t even interviewed him to get his side of the story — not once.
Oh, and the deleted e-mails? Turns out some of them weren’t “deleted” after all.
That’s a pretty big mistake, considering what her mistake led to — headlines, subpoenas and a police investigation. Her excuse is that some unidentified functionary in government told her the e-mails had been deleted, and it was that person who got it wrong, not her. But that’s not good enough.
Cavoukian has a huge staff that is paid to weed out information. They forwarded on to her information that was not true and she used it. By her own admission, she rushed her report out the door. Most seriously, before accusing people of actual crimes, and viciously attacking them in print and on air, Cavoukian had a legal obligation to leave no stone unturned. She didn’t do that.
Instead, she (like Gomery) reminded us that, most of the time, the overseers are just as bad as those they were hired to oversee.