Thursday, March 13, 2008

Gomery is not a happy camper

Former justice John Gomery is pointing out the obvious: Harper isn't listening.
The former head of a federal inquiry into the sponsorship scandal has told members of Parliament there is a dangerous and growing concentration of power in the Prime Minister's Office.

The role of MPs in day-to-day decision-making has been diminished while the size and influence of PMO has grown, retired judge John Gomery said Thursday.

"It should be remembered that the political staff in the Prime Minister's Office are not elected," Gomery told the government operations committee.

"They are not subject to any rules or laws of which I am aware, and they have the ear of the most important and powerful person in Canadian government.

"I suggest that this trend is a danger to Canadian democracy and leaves the door wide open to the kind of political interference in the day-to-day administration of government programs that led to what is commonly called the sponsorship scandal."

Gomery said the 19 recommendations he made in his report on the Liberal government scandal have been all but ignored by the Conservative administration of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

That shouldn't come as a surprize to anyone. The Harperites take advice from their mentors to the south and look at what's happening there.

The whole CP report should be read, but this little bit stuck out.

"That problem is the growing imbalance between the executive side of the government, represented by the prime minister and his cabinet, and the legislative side, represented by Parliament," he said.

"Over the years, there has been a greater and greater concentration of power and authority in the executive, and a corresponding diminution of the role of members of Parliament.

"This problem is made more acute by the expansion of the Prime Minister's Office, which has grown in size rapidly in recent years, and which seems to have an ever-increasing influence on government policy and decision-making."

Yes it has. What makes that interesting is when and with whom that started.

You may find some reasons to disagree with Robert Fulford's assessment of Pierre Trudeau, but this is dead-on. (Emphasis mine)

For one thing, he was more obsessed with personal power than anyone expected -- much more than Pearson or Louis St. Laurent, his predecessors as Liberal leader. Having frowned in disapproval at conflicts among Pearson's ministers, he kept his own Cabinet on a short leash and made free discussion of issues a punishable offence. More important, he withdrew most of the power of the ministers and centralized all authority in his office and the Privy Council Office.
Harper may be a conservative idealist but he is, first and foremost, an opportunist. The way Trudeau managed to concentrate power would certainly not be lost on him and his advisers. It took years before anyone realized how Trudeau had transformed the workings of government.

Gomery is quite right. Democracy and parliamentary authority is diminished by the concentration of power in the PMO. Expecting someone like Harper to undo the problem however, is like wishing for a pony.

No comments: