08 November 2009

Governments are afraid of their people after all

Well, afraid of their people getting their hands on information and then daring to ask questions.  Good heavens, imagine the time that would take.

Take for example, this quote from a weekend Telegram news story (Correctional Update:  Yeah it is online.) on Danny Williams and his attitude toward disclosure of public records:

“If things get out and they have to be known, and we can be questioned on it, absolutely but if we had to have an open book on absolutely everything we’re doing, I’ve got to tell you, I’d be out of here.  I’d be gone.”

In the front end of that quote, Williams was expressing his concern about the drag on his time if he had to explain things once documents and other information were released.

This is really old hat by now and it is really old hat to note that Danny Williams was a huge proponent of open records laws before he got elected.  Once he took the oath, he very quickly thought it a bad idea for the public to know what he was up to.

Take for example his very first great foray into freedom from information.  The telegram asked for copies of polling Williams commissioned from one of his favourite pollsters.  Williams refused to disclose them despite the fact the law stated in plain English that polling couldn’t be withheld.   In another instance, the telegram asked for files it knew existed.  Williams admitted there were “purple files”.  The official reply to the request was that they didn’t exist and no documents were disclosed. 

Funny, then to see him quoted in the Telly six years later as saying:  “we go through the process and we vet what we’re entitled to vet by the rules. ”

That purple file one is still lost in the “process”, incidentally, almost two years later.



Mark said...


You're so lucky to have me.
It's my way or the highway, and if it were any other way, I'd leave.
You are so lucky to have me.

WJM said...

How many other laws does Dear Leader find inconvenient?

Edward G. Hollett said...

I am not sure, Wally, that he actually has enough time to find laws inconvenient.

My sense of the administration from very early on is that its highly centralised, micromanaged nature measn that the very few people running things (Danny, Liz, Brian, Jerome and Tom M) have no time to do anything but keep the plates spinning.

The people who would usually have input - cabinet and the DMs - really have been reduced to a second or third tier management job that seems focused more on keeping things running and handling the routine.

Five or six people just can't run something as big as government and do it successfully.

If you spend all your time administering things (like actually being aware of the minutia of ATIP requests) you have no time for the Big Thoughts necessary to worry about things like what the law says. The only stuff you would bump into is stuff others bring up as a matter of course.

And if you think about it for a second that explains, in part, the attitude to the House. Governments that actually have an agenda and are implementing it spend time in the House because they are getting things done. They have the ability to explain things clearly.

They don't take - for example - three separate kicks to create an energy company with two of those tries being substantive re-works.

All that also tends to fit the idea that, as Jerome!'s byelection comment suggests, there is a real tendency to just play everything by ear. Plate spinners don't have much time to do much beyond take and action and then see how it works in the very short term.