Turned-off Canadians tuning out
At the time it was hailed as groundbreaking. Fill out a one-page form, pay a $5 fee and Canadians had the right to ask for any federal government record. The introduction of the Access to Information Act in 1983 put Canada on the cutting edge.
"We were amongst the leaders in the world," says Robert Marleau, the federal information commissioner.
But the leader has become the laggard after 26 years of "static decline," Marleau says.
"Since then it's been the same song and dance, no effort by any government to have this legislation or these processes keep pace with time, change and technology," he said in an interview.
Today, the access to information system is collapsing from a combination of neglect and bureaucrats foiling citizens' right to know through foot-dragging and fees.
University of Toronto political science professor Lorraine Weinrib charges that Harper has an "extended track record" of showing disdain for the principles and practices at the heart of Canada's constitutional system.
"While Harper touts the democratic principle as his ideal, his actions align with another principle – an all-powerful executive authority that makes his own rules," she writes in an essay for a book titled Parliament Democracy in Crisis.
To make it clear this is the case, the Conservatives take another slice from the carcass of democracy:
In a significant policy shift, the Canadian government now believes that telling the country’s taxpayers the future cost of the war in Afghanistan would be a threat to national security, Canwest News Service has learned.
The Defence Department cited a national security exemption when it censored a request under Access to Information by the federal NDP for the military costs of Canada’s military participation in the NATO-led, United Nations-sanctioned military mission to Afghanistan.
When the NDP asked for the identical figures last year, the military made them public. Canwest News Service was able to disclose in April 2008 that the yearly incremental cost of the war would top $1 billion for the first time since Canada’s military became involved in Afghanistan in 2002.
The Taliban doesn't lack all measure of sophistication but the spending estimates are not crucial to the mission in Afghanistan. The need for a society to be appropriately informed of it's own affairs is paramount over the need for security in matters of this information.