Under policy set by the Chretien government and supposedly faithfully followed by all departments and agencies under the Harper regime, every group within the Government of Canada must supply, every three months, a list of contracts over $10,000, a list of grants and contributions over $25,000, and a list of travel and hospitality expenses by the minister and senior staff. They come out on the last day of the month, and they are staggered, so that every month, one of the lists gets published.
These lists are important for a variety of reasons. They let the media check up on which jet-setting ministers are expensing the largest number of flights, five-star hotels, and $16 glasses of orange juice to the public purse. They let Sixth Estate produce the Pork Barrel report — which tracks whether groups in Conservative ridings or specific regions (like Quebec) receive a disproportionate amount of federal money.
But they only do that if they’re published in full and on time. That’s happening less and less often of late. Transport Canada still hasn’t published its Grants and Contributions list for last quarter, and we’re already most of the way through their next reporting cycle. I’m currently planning a new study on Open Government, and one of the indicators it will track is whether the government makes its monthly Proactive Disclosure reports, on time. Granted it’s a comparatively minor problem, but try filing your taxes late and convincing the Canada Revenue Agency — one of the ones on the tardy list, incidentally — that there’s no need to pay the late filing penalty because, gosh, it’s just been so busy lately.
This month, it was the Contracts list. And the government, I’m afraid, got somewhere around a B minus: of the 28 major departments and agencies with Cabinet-level representation on my list, only 20 met the deadline. This was a selective list of the major departments. Next month, I’ll expand the list to include all agencies covered under the Proactive Disclosure policy. If the recent past is any guide, most of the tardy ministers will get their paperwork up over the next few days.
An argument can be made for missing the 30-day statutory deadline on Access to Information requests from time to time. Of course, currently the government misses it the majority of the time, which is quite another matter. But it’s hard to know how many requests will come in, or how complex they’ll be, and thus how many staff to have standing by to process them. In contrast, the Proactive Disclosure lists are a known quantity: they’re data the government should be keeping anyways, and they always come due at the same time. Missing these deadlines is simply sloppiness, incompetence, and indifference to transparency and accountability on the part of the Cabinet ministers.
Some departments simply failed to publish anything at all. Others are more serious infringements (or less serious, I suppose, depending on how you want to look at it). International Trade’s entire contract disclosure list is currently missing in action. Perhaps most incredibly, though, Rob Nicholson’s Justice site currently contains documentation claiming (at least as of early Tuesday morning) that no contracts were signed in the past quarter. Not one! That’s not impossible, but it would be a first for that department under Nicholson, and I’m inclined to believe they just threw up a declaration that no contracts were signed, and plan on actually filling it in later. I guess we’ll see.
Overall, in April 2012, the following Cabinet ministers chose to conceal proactive disclosure information up to and past the mandatory deadline: Status of Women minister Rona Ambrose, International Trade Minister Ed Fast, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, Environment Minister Peter Kent, Transport Minister Denis Lebel, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, Minister of National Revenue Gail Shea, and possibly Attorney-General Rob Nicholson.
Check back next month to see how the government does on the Grants and Contributions list.Tweet