Saturday, March 28, 2015

On structures of convenience

The Progress Summit panel on accountability and transparency has covered the issued of power being consolidated in the hands of the executive, as well as the fact that Stephen Harper's actions in that respect only reflect a wider pattern. But it's worth reminding ourselves how that trend is best explained - and considering how to reverse or modify it.

To start with, the desire to avoid accountability has led to additional trends beyond the transfer of power upward. In addition, projects - and particularly the aspects thereof which might give rise to controversy - are increasingly handled by the private sector which isn't subject to access-to-information legislation rather than the civil service which is. And while that's partly driven by ideology, it's also a matter of convenience for governments which think that knowledge about how decisions are actually made runs contrary to their political goals.

The existence of accountability mechanisms for one process thus tends to be treated as reason to use another one. And the answer to that reality may be to extend the reach of our watchdogs: by eliminating that asymmetry in making both executive operations and private decision-making affecting public expenditures subject to access to information and other oversight mechanisms, we can eliminate the incentive to channel power toward them for artificial reasons.

In addition, it's come to be assumed that the process of review by legislators is too ponderous for many decisions, resulting in legislation being developed more as a framework for executive decisions rather than the outcome of a deliberative process as to what choices should be made.

That trend can be reversed by lawmakers themselves to the extent they're willing to buck the trend and pass more substantive legislation. Or alternatively, greater transparency and consultation in executive decision-making - which itself could be required by law - could go a long way toward ensuring that decisions aren't made solely by the executive and its preferred set of special interests.

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