Federal government struggles toward greater transparency

Ever since the Canadian Senate scandal in October, transparency has been a hot topic in Ottawa. All three major parties are trying to prove their accountability. During the Conservative party’s policy convention, which ran from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, the party voted in favour of making their finances more transparent. In June of this year, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau tried to pass a motion to make all MP office, travel, and dining expenses available to the public in an attempt to increase transparency.

The NDP dismissed this motion initially; however, at the beginning of November, the NDP pushed for greater transparency too. They attempted to pass a motion that would limit the amount of “in camera” sessions being held by the Procedure and House Affairs Committee, meetings on the Status of Women, and the Official Languages Committee.

If a meeting is “in camera,” it means it isn’t open to the public. The motion that was proposed by the NDP asked for all meetings to be available for the public, except if the meetings covered one of five issues. Murray Rankin, NDP MP for Victoria, discussed these issues over the phone. He said the meetings should be held open for press and public unless “you are dealing with: wages, salaries, and other employee benefits; contracts and contract negotiations; labour and personnel matters; finalizing a draft report; or briefings concerning national security.” Rankin believes, “When these committees meet, they must be in public, unless they can bring themselves into one of those five categories.”

The NDP motion also asked, “Any votes that are taken in camera, they have to be recorded in the minutes, including how everyone voted.”

The UVic Students’ Society (UVSS), for example, records audio of their Board of Directors meetings as well as taking minutes, and they post them online. Other meetings simply require minutes to be taken and nothing else. Though the UVSS board itself does hold in-camera sessions, UVSS Chairperson Kelsey Mech mentioned in an email that “the majority of our committees are open to all UVSS members to attend any time.”

“What’s wrong with that?” asked Rankin. “It seems to us like a simple proposition.” When asked about Trudeau’s attempt at increasing transparency in June, Rankin said, “We didn’t think it was serious.” So the NDP put together what, they thought,“was a much more fulsome proposal than the one he was proposing.”

“This was less game playing, but much more serious. We wanted to reform the rules to be consistent so you can compare apples to apples when you’re looking at the expenses of different MPs. We wanted to record more details than what the Liberals were proposing,” said Rankin. Various news sources, like the National Post, Canadian Political Scene, and CBC, all reported that Trudeau’s attempt at expense transparency was a good first step, but regardless, it was still shut down before it began.

Expense breakdowns for NDP MPs can now be found on MP Nathan Cullen’s website. Trudeau is boasting the same, and the Conservatives, as mentioned, just voted to follow suit at the start of this month.

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