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Dear Ryan: What does it mean to be accountable?

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Ryan Leef

Member of Parliament for Yukon

Open Letter #25

Dear Ryan,

On May 22, Conservative MP Eve Adams drew the short straw. She had to explain the Senate scandal to Anna Maria Tremonti on CBC's The Current. You can always tell when Conservatives are desperate to shift focus. That's when they drag out the subject of pedophilia.

Ms. Adams also talked about the Accountability Act, claiming it was proof that Conservatives behave ethically and that dirty secret dealings have not been going on. Apparently the evidence before our eyes and ears is not to be trusted.

The Accountability Act is a beautiful document, Ryan. It was supposed to strengthen Access to Information, the role of the Ethics Commissioner, the power of the Auditor General and accountability within departments. It was to ensure truth in budgeting with a Parliamentary Budget Authority and to provide real protection for whistleblowers. It was going to clean up government polling and advertising, to ensure qualified government appointments and to ban secret donations to political parties.

Alas, the Accountability Act is empty window dressing. Access to information has been obstructed whenever possible. There is no transparency around budgeting. Canadians are still not being told the truth about the Afghan detainees or the real cost of the Crime Bill. There isn't a replacement for the last Parliamentary Budget officer whose hard work was rewarded with a smear campaign. Only a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister called Peter Peneshue, who resigned over improper campaign funding, "the best member of Parliament Labrador has ever seen." 

The previous Ethics Commissioner, Christiane Ouimet is alleged to have carried out retaliatory actions against whistleblowers and breached the Privacy Act. We don’t know the details because there is a gag order and Canadians had to pay half a million dollars to make her go away. Democracy Watch reports that the current Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has "let many politicians off the hook for breaking ethics rules and has rejected more than 80 cases since 2007 with secret rulings that hide the details and reasons for her decisions." We are now being told that Mary Dawson will get to the bottom of the Duffy affair although large facets of this case are not within her mandate. 

Is it unreasonable to expect our elected leaders to behave in an ethical way? I fear that winning at any cost is a part of Conservative culture. Just this month the courts have ruled that fraud using robo-calls did occur during the last election. This could not have happened without collusion from senior Conservatives who alone have access to Conservative Party’s database CIMS, the Constituency Information Management System.

The Conservative government is comfortable using public funds for things that should be paid for by the Conservative Party. Millions of dollars, more than the cost of the Sponsorship Scandal, have been funnelled into partisan propaganda in the form of Action Plan Ads. During the last two years the Harper government has spent more than $23-million on media monitoring including, by the way, spying on Conservative back benchers. As I write this Conservative MPs are mailing hate propaganda to their constituents at taxpayer's expense (I applaud you for abstaining from this practice).

Under the current rules, this unethical use of public money is legal. That doesn't make it moral. No wonder characters such as Mike Duffy thought it was OK to fudge their expense claims. It is a very short leap from ripping off Canadians on behalf of the Conservative Party to robbing the public purse for selfish reasons.

When the Prime Minister addressed the Senate scandal he asked us to feel sorry for him, a poor betrayed leader. I couldn’t care less about his feelings at this moment. When he finally apologized he was insincere.

More disturbing than the Prime Minister's empty smile after he dismissed the importance of the Senate scandal during last week's caucus meeting, was the applause used to drown out questions from media as they were herded from the room. The media are not "lickspittles." When they ask questions of the government they are demanding an accounting on behalf of citizens. That is how it is supposed to work in a democracy.

When you say you are sorry, you should own the problem and not try to deflect blame to others. And you should mean it. That is what it is to be accountable.

May you walk on the high road.

Respectfully yours,

Linda Leon

PS: The Sponsorship Scandal did not cost us "hundreds of millions" as reported by Eve Adams. The Gomery Inquiry cost approximately $14 million. Roughly $5 million was stolen. According to Sheila Fraser's report, up to $100 million was misspent.  

In 2005 - 2006, the Liberal Government spent $41.3 million on government advertising. In 2009-2010, the Conservative government spent $136.3 million on ads, much of it electioneering propaganda. They spent $83.3 million in 2010-2011 and $78.5 million in 2011-2012. This year's advertising budget is $55 million. But experts believe that it will exceed this number.

Of this year's budget, $16.5 million is dedicated to telling Canadians what a great job the Conservative Party is doing and $4 million is dedicated to schilling for the fossil fuel industry.

Linda Leon is an artist living in Whitehorse.

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