Further Updates to Open Government Project: Yes, Harper Parliament is More Secretive than Predecessors
A couple weeks after CP spread a nasty and false rumour that Chretien and Martin ran Parliament far more secretively than Stephen Harper does, electronic versions of its hit piece have become rare as hen’s teeth. Some are still out there, but CP’s retraction, prompted by fact-checking by exactly two journalists across the dozens of papers which gleefully printed the story (Kady of CBC, and myself), means most have vanished down the memory hole. Sun Media’s gleeful pro-Conservative editorial has vanished without a trace, too. True to form, Sun didn’t bother with a retraction. Now you’re just greeted with a warning that “there’s something wrong” with the page, which was true all along.
So far in my own Open Government study, I have shown that the time Parliamentary committees met in secret, away from the public, rose from 22.5% under Martin to over 25% under Harper. CP’s misleading numbers on those two Parliaments involved concocting a seemingly made-up “joint committee” on national security, plus including hours Senate committees spent in secret under Martin but not under Harper. I also pointed out that the Public Accounts Committee met on average 21.8% of the time under the Liberals, but 32.1% under Harper.
I’ve now finished calculating two more Parliaments’ worth of data: the brief fall 2008 session which ended in surprise prorogation, and then the one in 2010-2011 which ended with the downfall of the government over allegations that it was lying about the cost of the F-35 jet fighter. Which, as recent events have shown, it was. Here’s how it all stacks up so far:
During the last minority session, Parliamentary committees spent a total of 88 minutes per day in secret, amounting to 23.2% of their total meeting time. That amounts to somewhat more than under Martin, and somewhat less than under Harper’s majority. Taken together, the numbers suggest a gradual upward trend, which is explained by the fact that some committees (like Public Accounts) meet far more in secret now than they used to, while most committees continue to trundle along pretty much in the public eye.
The 2008 data are on there for the sake of honesty, but in all fairness they don’t really count for much. Only a handful of committee meetings had actually been held before Parliament was prorogued, and some of those were in camera planning meetings. Whether that represented a trend or just an aberration, we can’t say on the basis of just a tiny handful of meetings.
Here’s how all the numbers stack up: