Photo: Canada: an inconvenient mess

Defence is one of this government's stated priorities. What about its performance on other issues (Credit: Mike Alexander via Flickr)?

By Jeffery Young, biologist

Leading a democracy is a tough job, and sometimes it requires making decisions that won't make everyone happy. But as National Post columnist Andrew Coyne points out regarding the recent "F-35 fiasco", hiding information and trying to silence your critics is ducking the job:

"Had anyone outside government been allowed to see the requirements, we might have been able to judge whether these were as essential to the defence of the nation as claimed; whether the F-35 was indeed the only plane that could fulfill them, and so on. Had Parliament been given the costing information it demanded, we might have been in a better position to judge who was right, the government or its critics — before the last election, not after. Remember, it was the government's refusal to provide just this information that was, in part, the reason for the motion of no-confidence that precipitated the election."

Defence is one of this government's stated priorities. What about its performance on other issues? Unfortunately, some recent decisions and the latest federal budget include a number of examples of the government working to stifle, axe or attack potentially inconvenient truths.

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Government scientists are being muzzled while their departments are being gutted. Canada's public broadcaster — an important source of information for communities across the country — faces major cuts. The National Round Table on the Economy and Environment, a gathering of leading economists and scientists who work together to find solutions for some of our biggest challenges, has been shut down. In an austerity budget perhaps we could consider some of these cuts fair and appropriate. But then we see continued subsidies to profitable industries like oil and gas. And then we have billions of dollars for fighter jets...

When information on matters of national importance is hidden or reduced, and when people who care about those issues are silenced, government becomes less accountable.

An interesting irony in the recent federal budget is the announcement of $8 million in new spending targeting Canadian charities for "education and compliance" under the guise of addressing accountability. Under the current regulations, charities in Canada must limit and disclose political activity, remain non-partisan, and report their sources of funding, regularly and often subjected to audit. As a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the availability of information while supporting inclusive democracy, the David Suzuki Foundation welcomes increased scrutiny of its activities. (You can read about DSF's work and funding sources here.)

Transparency, inclusivity and a commitment to science aren't just useful; they're necessary for an accountable and effective government. We're committed to upholding these values and playing our role within the complex web of interconnected communities, individuals and ecosystems that makes up Canada. It's a bit messy, and sometimes inconvenient, but it's what it takes to get the job done right.

April 6, 2012

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1 Comment

Apr 07, 2012
9:25 AM

Contributing to the fund for the David Suzuki Foundation is something I consider a very good investment. I would contribute what I could even if it didn't have charitable status as is the case with some other good organizations.

There are tremendous dangers to society and a nation when free public access to accurate information is diminished or removed altogether. Academics like Noam Chomsky and political scientist/ historian Michael Parenti have written and spoken extensively on related topics.

Government in a democracy has to operate transparently and democracy has to be democracy for all and not just the few.

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