Newspaper and Taxpayers’ Groups Unite to Press Harper to keep FOI Reform Promises

Ottawa, April 12, 2006 - The Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Canadian Newspaper Association are calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to honour campaign promises to end a culture of secrecy in Ottawa by committing to a timetable for enacting reforms to the Access to Information Act before the next federal election.

“We are calling on the government to implement – not study, but implement – the Information Commissioner’s recommendations for reform of the Access to Information Act, exactly as promised in the Conservatives’ election platform,” John Williamson, Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said at a news conference on Parliament Hill today.

“Prime Minister Harper is wrong if he believes this is politics as usual,” he said. “Advocates seeking reform are not looking to pocket half a loaf here.”

“By introducing the Federal Accountability Act without promised reforms to improve transparency, the government has played a game of bait and switch with Canadian voters,” Anne Kothawala, President and CEO of the Canadian Newspaper Association said.

“Prime Minister Harper made a bold promise to restore the public’s trust in government,” she said. “But, strangely, he left meaningful reforms to Access to Information out. It’s as if an auto manufacturer promised to make its cars safer, added airbags and left out the seatbelts.”

The two groups said they have come together to make common cause in a matter of vital public interest. Access to Information is essential for the press to do its job of informing the public on what government is doing and why, and it is vital for taxpayers to learn how their dollars are used.

The Conservative election platform pledged to enact the Open Government Act, a bill drafted by Information Commissioner John Reid at the request of Parliament last year. Instead of introducing this bill in the House as his party’s platform promised, Treasury Board President John Baird sent the draft bill and a discussion paper to a Parliamentary committee for further study.

“The government is in serious danger of running out of time to honour its promise to improve transparency,” Ms. Kothawala said. “Transparency is so critical, not just because it shines a light on wrongdoing, but because it is a powerful deterrent of wrongdoing,” she said.

The two groups also called on opposition parties to work collaboratively to speed the introduction and passage of a bill to reform the Access to Information Act.

“If Opposition members stand shoulder to shoulder they can prevail on this important issue,” Mr. Williamson said.