4 min

All the appearance of accountability with none of the substance

As expected, Government House Leader Jay Hill stood up in the Commons yesterday morning and delivered a ministerial statement that said the government would no longer allow their staffers to appear before committees, because under ministerial accountability, it was ministers who take responsibility for the actions of their staff. Which is great in theory – but this is the Harper government we’re talking about.

This is a government that never met a Parliamentary tradition that it didn’t loathe and work to undermine in any way possible. And to demonstrate this, they sent John Baird to the Ethics Committee yesterday to answer questions on behalf of the prime minister, rather than allowing the committee to get answers directly from the prime minister’s press secretary in their study on government interference in Access to Information. Understandably, the opposition members of the committee were outraged. After all, Baird never had a direct supervisory role over Soudas, so how can he be accountable for his actions? And, as one Liberal pointed out, it also means that Baird can plead deniability, because he doesn’t know anything. Simply putting a minister before committee doesn’t make them accountable – especially if they don’t actually say anything of substance. And we’ve all seen ministers of this government go before a committee and deflect, obfuscate, run out the clock and never answer a single question – but this apparently is this government’s definition of “ministerial accountability.”

And that’s the crux of the issue – they want to look like they’re being accountable without actually being accountable. That’s a huge problem that undermines our parliamentary democracy. They may be following the technical letter of our law when it comes to ministerial accountability, but they’re certainly not respecting the spirit, and that’s the biggest worry of all. But the public? They’re not paying attention and they’re not getting outraged – and that’s a problem that will only get worse.

Meanwhile, during Question Period, Michael Ignatieff was on the topic of the debt crisis and freezing corporate tax cuts, so Harper was happy to accuse him of trying to orchestrate tax increases. Lise Zarac asked after the abortion issue in developing nations, and Bev Oda gave her stock response about not wanting to re-open the debate.

Gilles Duceppe asked why the government was ignoring their own expert advice on the issue, to which Harper responded that he was simply following the wishes of the House – which is a useful bit of misdirection. Johanne Deschamps followed up on the same topic, and Oda gave her stock response. Jack Layton, however, asked about this issue of ministers now appearing before committees instead of staffers, and Harper gave him a whole song and dance about ministerial accountability, but we’ve already discussed that issue.

Larry Bagnell asked for clarity on the issue of plans for dealing with potential oil spills in the Arctic, Joyce Murray asked after the ban on oil tankers on the West Coast in light of some ministers stating it didn’t exist (and was reminded she had a different opinion on the ban when she was environment minister in BC), Daniel Paillé once again asked after the National Securities Regulator.

The topic of ministers before committees was raised again by Claude Debellefeuille and Yasmin Ratansi (herself the chair of the Government Operations Committee), as was the failure of certain ministers to appear before that committee. Those concerns were dismissed by Jay Hill, as one might have imagined. He also wouldn’t answer whether Harper himself would appear before committee, seeing as he is the minister responsible, but Hill obfuscated. The topic of Helena Guergis came up (and Guergis herself was in the House for the first time since her resignation and dismissal from caucus), as were more concerns about the BP oil spill, the Auditor General’s request, official languages, the closure of EI processing centres in Ontario, and the links between child mortality and poverty in this country.

Sartorially speaking, there was really nothing worthy of snaps to be seen. If anything, there was a whole lotta bad – Chris Charlton’s bright orange jacket (although not a fluorescent one for a change), Joy Smith’s leopard print dress and jacket (without any of the fierceness that Hedy Fry possesses while wearing similar prints), Stockwell Day’s pale tan jacket with a purple shirt and tie, or Maria Minna’s yellow jacket over a black dress. The Megan Leslie outfit watch reports a perfectly nice light grey jacket and skirt, with a bright orange top that matched Charlton’s jacket, and green kitten heels. But hey, the heels matched her bag, so that’s a start – even if they didn’t quite go with the orange.

Jean Chrétien had his official portrait hung in the Centre Block last night. Stephen Harper’s speech can be found here, and all manner of hanging jokes abounded. And Susan Delacourt posts her hopes for what the portrait should have looked like.

(Liberal TwitPic)

Anti-spam legislation is being re-introduced to the House – and about time.

And finally in Toronto, The Canadian Press talks to Toronto drag queen Miss Conception about the Queen Victoria look-alike contest, which looks to be turning into an annual event – and one I hope we’ll see queens win future titles at.
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