As they say, there are three kinds of statistics — and two of them are lies.
On Sunday, a strange and surprising report began making the rounds of the Canadian professional media thanks to Canadian Press: a claim that, contrary to the protests of the Official Opposition, the Harper regime is actually less secretive than its majority government predecessors, under Paul Martin and Jean Chretien. It’s not impossible, of course. But there’s enough red flags in this report that I’m going to have to reserve judgement.
It so happens that following a story which reached a different conclusion a couple weeks ago, I started compiling my own spreadsheet of Parliamentary committee in camera statistics. I immediately went to that spreadsheet yesterday after reading that story, and my numbers were so at odds with the CP report that I figured one of us — probably me — had to be wrong. So I’ve decided I’d better recheck my math — even if it means a long couple days’ worth of work (and it will). Which, in the meantime, has meant that in announcing my suspicions I’ve been scooped by the Venerable Kady. Not that I’m bitter.
I want to emphasize this: maybe my work’s wrong. It’s hard to imagine being as wrong as some of the figures would suggest, but I’m loathe to go on record with the only other logical conclusion without double-checking. But in the meantime, please note that I do not have confidence in the CP report, and that I will have more to say on this later in the week.
In the meantime you need to know the only statistic that for some reason CP didn’t bother to share: the percentage of committee time spent in secret. That’s because committees can meet for more time, and therefore more often in secret, without actually pushing an unusual amount of work behind the veil of the in camera rules. A couple weeks ago iPolitics suggested that the 2002-2003 Chretien session, which came second on the CP list, was more secret than Harper’s recent session. That’s possible; I haven’t checked those figures yet. But according to my spreadsheet, Harper’s committees have spent 25.1% of their time in secret since the last election; Martin’s committees, again according to my spreadsheet-in-progress, spent 22% of their time in secret.
More seriously, the CP says that under Martin, the most secret commitee was the “joint parliamentary committee on national security, which spent more than 36 hours in secret deliberations.”
This is the claim which has made me go public even with only tentative figures, because it threw me for a loop, just as it threw Kady for a loop. There is no such committee listed in the minutes for 2004. To my knowledge there has never been such a committee. There was a non-Parliamentary committee on this subject in 2004, with a different name than the one given here, and Kady thinks that’s what they’re referring to maybe. But they didn’t start hearing witnesses until after this session ended, according to their report. And the main thing is, they’re not a standing committee of the House; they’re a special committee created by the Minister of Public Safety outside of Parliament. So they don’t count.
What’s really interesting is that, since they’re using the (alleged) hours from a non-Parliamentary committee, CP’s source for this information can’t have been the Parliamentary minutes. Consequently, we need to know what data source they are using. Now.