Sometimes you need to get away to find people who will appreciate you.
For instance, Scott Brison, president of the federal Treasury Board, recently flew to Argentina, where he addressed a summit of the Open Government Partnership, a coalition of more than 80 governments pledged to the cause of political openness and transparency. Brison is currently serving as co-chair of the organization’s steering committee.
A month earlier, the Canadian Association of Journalists had awarded Brison and his department its “code of silence” award for “outstanding achievement in government secrecy.”
The dubious award was in recognition of the organization’s disappointment over Bill C-58, Brison’s attempt at improving the access-to-information system.
Squaring that domestic frustration with Canada’s international leadership is perhaps difficult.
But perhaps that is Brison’s task for the next two years.
Progress or missed opportunity?
The federal access-to-information system, a favourite tool of journalists and all others who hope to pry undisclosed information from the government, has been lamented for years, becoming infamous for the long delays and blacked-out pages it regularly produces.
Bill C-58 is not a comprehensive response to all that. But Brison is fairly adamant that the bill, widely panned by critics, is a useful step in the right direction.
“Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good,” he said in an interview this week. “For 34 years, no government tackled this.”
Pressed about the need for a full overhaul and whether the government’s changes are significant enough, Brison said while C-58 might not do everything stakeholders want right now it would be “asinine” to suggest C-58 does not represent progress.
The bill has been specifically criticized for not amounting to what the Liberals promised in 2015.
It codifies a system of proactive disclosure for ministers’ offices, but those changes don’t quite line up with the campaign commitment to extend the access system to cover those offices.
The bill gives the information commissioner some ability to order the release of information, but the commissioner has called it “an ability without teeth.”
“It is a lost opportunity to really make an ambitious and truly transformative change,” said Mary Francoli, a Carleton professor who studies open government.
“This is progress,” Brison counters. “And there will be opportunities to go further in the future.”