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No room for the public in Liberals' royal court

Closed-door hearings insure Liberals receive the advice they want on public policy issues


Edmonton Journal - logo

EDMONTON JOURNAL

No room for the public in Liberals' royal court: Closed-door hearings insure Liberals receive the advice they want on public policy issues

Sunday 20 July 2002

p. A10

The federal Environment Department held cross-country hearings last month on whether or not it should ratify the Kyoto accord on greenhouse emissions.

Don't worry if you didn't know -- you weren't invited. Neither were scientific experts who doubt that human activity is causing global warming, nor the press.

Who was invited? Only those environmentalists who side with the government's climate change views, or, in officialese, "interested and well- informed stakeholder groups that have specific interest in and expertise on climate change." In other words, agree with Environment Minister David Anderson and his pro-Kyoto bureaucrats, or keep out.

Some industry associations were invited, but mostly to give the illusion of balance.

And Bob Mills, the Canadian Alliance environment critic, reports that "green" lobbyists were permitted to vet the witness list. If this is true, it means environmental special interest groups were deciding who could and could not present evidence and opinions to the government.

Tim Patterson, from Carleton University's department of earth science, wasn't permitted to speak. Patterson, a paleoclimatologist, is one of Canada's leading debunkers of global warming science. He would have questioned Minister Anderson's assertion, repeated often, that the world's best scientists all agree human activity is causing the planet to warm.

Ditto Ross McKitrick, a leading economist who has concerns about the way Ottawa has estimated the impact Kyoto's implementation would have on Canadian jobs and industry.

Mills also points out that the government's excuse for not inviting Patterson, McKitrick and other opponents was a fear their presence might "colour stakeholders' answers." By contrast, environmentalists from the Sierra Club participated in the hearings in five different cities.

No sense risking a perfectly biased process with the introduction of contradictory facts.

But, believe it or not, this is not a column about global warming or the lengths to which Ottawa will go to make Canadians believe it must adopt Kyoto's protocols.

There is no doubt the fix is in on Kyoto. Anderson structured his hearings to get precisely the answer he wanted -- that the science of global warming is conclusive and the only way to prevent ecological catastrophe is to give Ottawa full control over the national economy.

But this is actually a column about the increasing prevalence of closed-door government. Anderson's charade of a consultation process is just the most recent and most egregious example.

Martin Cauchon, the federal justice minister, is about to launch a series of closed-door consultations on reforming the criminal justice system. Again the only people to be invited will be experts and stakeholder groups designated by the government. In that case, it will mean university criminologists and psychologists who believe imprisonment is old-fashioned, that the best way to rehabilitate hardened criminals is to love them. Hugs. Hugs are what murderers need. Let's hug them instead of locking them up.

Cauchon's predecessor at Justice, Edmonton's own Anne McLellan, had permitted her bureaucrats to hold similarly stage-managed cross-country hearings on the Divorce Act's child custody and maintenance provisions. They were even set to grant a separate, secret, man-free hearing to radical feminists until their intention was uncovered in the press.

This was bad enough. But what made the Justice bureaucrats' hearings even more outrageous was the fact that they followed a joint Senate-Commons committee investigation into custody and maintenance, the most extensive in a generation. McLellan's minions did not like the answers arrived at by Canadians' representatives, so she granted them permission to close the doors, and redo the work until they got the answer they wanted. Now there are to be no reforms to custody and maintenance.

The Liberals routinely use their majorities on Parliamentary committees to exclude expert witnesses proposed by the opposition parties. And recently, pro-lifers have complained, with justification, that one-man health care royal commission, Roy Romanow, is preventing them from being heard at his nationwide consultations.

These slamming doors in the corridors of democracy are saying one thing: The Liberals think ordinary Canadians are too ignorant to govern themselves. Only experts and stakeholder groups possess the technical knowledge to offer advice, and only the Liberals possess the wisdom to sort through that data and craft laws from it.

Worse, yet, the government doesn't even trust all Liberals. Rather, the closed doors also signal that the lamp of knowledge has, in the government's opinion, been given only to its ministers and their mandarins. Backbench Liberals are useful only for their Commons votes, and for their willingness at the committee level to block challenges to the government's legislative agenda.

It's the old idea of the royal court, minus the monarch.

______________________________
Lorne Gunter
Columnist, The Edmonton Journal
Editorial Board Member, The National Post


Index to some of Lorne Gunter's articles

On global warming

On other issues


White RoseThe White Rose
Thoughts are Free

__________________
Posted 2002 04 30