By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - 0 Comments
The Privy Council Office tallies 15,000 public service jobs eliminated last year.
The report quietly tabled in the House of Commons last Friday shows that overall, the government cut its total number of employees from 278,092 to 262,902 from March 31 last year to Dec. 31. Of those, 8,000 of the more than 15,000 jobs that were eliminated were for fulltime “indeterminate” positions, a reduction of about three per cent. The remaining roughly 7,000 positions that were eliminated were for students and casual, or term, employees, the report says.
The document, an annual report to Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) on the public service, shows the students and casual employees, often women and younger members of the work force, took the biggest hit. Of about 5,300 student positions, the government cut nearly 1,100, a reduction of just over 20 per cent, the report says. Out of about 29,500 part-time positions, the government eliminated 5,550, a cut of just over 18 per cent.
See previously: The quiet cuts
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, March 11, 2013 at 9:59 AM - 0 Comments
With the committee to select the next parliamentary budget officer kept secret and an interim PBO suddenly appearing despite such a thing supposedly being impossible, Kevin Page talks to the Chronicle-Herald.
Q: Are you concerned about the process to select you successor?
A: I’ve been very worried about this whole selection committee process. We’ve been told that there’s somebody from Privy Council now sitting on the selection committee.
You know, I worked at the Privy Council Office for 10 years. The role of the Privy Council Office is to support the executive. They do not support Parliament. They support the prime minister and his office. We’re actually asking somebody (from Privy Council) to be part of the selection committee now. It taints the process.
And the Hill Times.
“It was an accident that the current PBO became a true legislative budget office. If Parliament, the media and Canadians want a true legislative budget office they will have to ‘stand up.’ The current PBO is about to go down,” Mr. Page told The Hill Times. “The process is very late. I am leaving in two weeks. We will have a budget very soon. The PBO will be in Federal Court on a reference opinion very soon. The timing of the selection process and the interim appointment of the librarian do not support the interests of Parliament. If Parliament, the media, and Canadians do not see what is unfolding and react appropriately—PBO will soon be an institution of the past. The risk is we go from the spirit of accountability to the spirit of a ‘sounding board.’”
Emily Senger rounds up three more exit interviews.
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 10:58 AM - 0 Comments
Canada’s Access to Information Act stipulates that a government institution should disclose information 30 days after a request is received.
It also allows government institutions to extend this time limit to a “reasonable” length of time, if searching through records would interfere with the work of the government department in question, or if “consultations” are necessary that cannot be completed within the original time limit.
The Act’s application is fairly narrowly defined. It does not apply to “confidences of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada,” and thereby shelters from scrutiny much pertaining to Cabinet and committees of Cabinet.
In practice, my experience is that requests are rarely completed within 30 days. Just what constitutes a “reasonable” extension is debatable. I’ve just received a disclosure from the Canada Border Services Agency for a request I made in 2010. I’ve similarly had to wait three years for a response from the Canadian International Development Agency. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, June 18, 2012 at 9:40 AM - 0 Comments
As foreshadowed in my letter, I sought legal advice on the issue. Attached is an opinion outlining reasons why the information that was requested falls within the power of direct request; the information is financial or economic data, in the possession of department heads, necessary for discharging the PBO’s mandate, and not subject to any of the statutory exemptions listed. As such, the information should have been provided as requested, and both your department and the other departments that have not complied are in violation of their legal obligations under the Act.
By Michael Friscolanti - Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 11:10 PM - 0 Comments
There is a thief inside the PM’s supposedly secure headquarters
Memo to all staff at the Prime Minister’s Office: don’t leave your valuables unattended. There is a thief (or thieves) lurking inside the Langevin Block, the PM’s supposedly secure headquarters.
For the second year in a row, the Public Accounts of Canada—the federal government’s three-volume, line-by-line spending breakdown—reveals sticky fingers lurking inside the nation’s highest office. The details are scarce (the Privy Council doesn’t discuss internal security issues) but one thing is clear: the PMO crime spree has cost taxpayers $4,440.
As Maclean’s reported in 2010, the first victim was Jason Ransom, one of Stephen Harper’s two official photographers, who was reimbursed $1,298 after someone swiped his personal laptop. (Ransom’s government-issued computer was being repaired that day, so he was using his own laptop at work). An investigation was launched, but neither the crook nor the Mac was ever found.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 9, 2012 at 10:24 AM - 0 Comments
Amy Minsky tallies the Privy Council Office.
In the mid-1990s, under Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien, there was the equivalent of 662 people employed on a full-time basis in the Privy Council Office, the bureaucracy that supports and advises the prime minister and his cabinet. By 2010-11, that number swelled to 1,066, according to the office’s annual performance reports. During the same time, costs of running the office increased to $160 million from $79.7 million.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, November 29, 2011 at 10:35 AM - 19 Comments
After fighting for disclosure, the Canadian Press turns up still more evidence of efforts to rename the Government of Canada in Stephen Harper’s image.
“The directive we have from the (director general’s office) is that if PCO adds the Harper Government reference, then we leave it in,” says an email to communications officials at Industry, dated Oct. 5, 2010. “Please proceed with this approach. Sorry – it is what PCO has instructed.”
An editor responded: “Given this directive, and with mild distress, I have reinstalled the phrasing.” ”French release harperized and good to go,” quipped another.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, November 21, 2011 at 2:34 PM - 17 Comments
The Hill Times tallies the number of people employed by the government for the purposes of “communications.”
The Hill Times went through the government electronic directory service to get a rough idea of how many communications staffers—people paid to help craft and disseminate any given government message—currently work in the public service, ministerial offices, the PMO and the PCO. In all, there are currently around 1,500 communications staffers working in government offices and departments across Canada, including 87 in the PMO and PCO.
That’s roughly five for every MP. And if that total doesn’t include staff employed by opposition MPs and leaders’ offices, the ratio is even higher.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, July 27, 2011 at 12:44 PM - 29 Comments
The Privy Council Office bars a salmon researcher from speaking with reporters.
Science, one of the world’s top research journals, published Miller’s findings in January. The journal considered the work so significant it notified “over 7,400″ journalists worldwide about Miller’s “Suffering Salmon” study. Science told Miller to “please feel free to speak with journalists.” It advised reporters to contact Diane Lake, a media officer with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Vancouver, “to set up interviews with Dr. Miller.”
Miller heads a $6-million salmon-genetics project at the federal Pacific Biological Station on Vancouver Island. The documents show major media outlets were soon lining up to speak with Miller, but the Privy Council Office said no to the interviews.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 8:51 AM - 0 Comments
The Canadian Press reviews some of what was disclosed in yesterday’s document release.
— Various 2007 reports filed by Canadian officials in Afghanistan who interviewed detainees transferred by Canadian Forces noted allegations of beatings, sleep deprivation and verbal abuse;
— Human rights observers were denied access at least five times that year to Kandahar facilities run by the notorious National Directorate of Security
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 10:44 AM - 68 Comments
The Privy Council Office explains that there’s been no “formal directive” to rebrand everything the “Harper Government.”
“The distinction that needs to be made here is the word ‘directive’ — a directive, as opposed to, you know, in a particular case departments may have used the words ‘Harper Government,’” said Raymond Rivet, a PCO spokesman…
Civil servants from four departments told The Canadian Press last week they’ve recently been instructed to use the new terminology. “If a department has told you they’ve got direction from ‘the Centre’ to use a message or certain wording or do something, I mean, that would be normal, would it not?” Rivet said. “Part of the role of PCO and PMO in the communications sphere is to co-ordinate government communications, so I imagine they get direction on a variety of things. So that’s not in opposition to somebody telling you that there’s no formal directive.”
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 9:30 AM - 17 Comments
The Canadian Press details the struggle to sell the stimulus.
The Economic Action Plan website, touting the Conservative’s big-spending budget of January 2009, was criticized from the outset for its highly partisan appearance. Despite earlier vehement denials by the Prime Minister’s Office, the nature of the exercise was explained this week as “strategic brand building” by Mr. Harper’s freshly departed former chief of staff …
Documents obtained under Access to Information show the Privy Council Office – the bureaucratic arm that serves the Prime Minister’s Office – spent four months in 2009 trying to convince Treasury Board to give it numerous exemptions to the new rules. But it never succeeded in convincing the gatekeepers of the online standards of its case.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, November 29, 2010 at 1:56 PM - 11 Comments
In the process of detailing the government’s confused response to last summer’s earthquake, the Citizen’s Tom Spears explains what it takes to issue a news release in this town.
Even though the announcement was 75 words long (not including phone numbers), it needed: Approval in principle from an assistant deputy minister — but still subject to approval of “media lines,” a sort of script outlining the department’s central message; Approval from the office of minister Christian Paradis; Translating the announcement of the conference call; Approving the translation; Approval from the Privy Council Office; Posting the announcement on the Natural Resources website — and immediately pulling it off again, because media lines were not yet approved by the assistant deputy minister; Approving the media lines; Last-minute copy editing, literally. One minute before the call, someone felt the French copy should list the time as 18 h, not 18h00.
Finally, at 6:24 p.m., sending out the conference call invitation on a commercial wire service — 24 minutes after the call began.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, September 17, 2010 at 1:01 PM - 0 Comments
In the future, as we move toward a new era of austerity and small government, the federal administration will occupy itself with only three things: defence of the nation, the protection of citizens through the enforcing of laws, and the handling of media requests.
“MR [media relations] works with the respective regional communications manager, the spokesman and, if required, the sector communications manager, to develop the response which is then sent for appropriate approval by MR [media relations],” says a summary of the new “media relation process” at Natural Resources Canada that went into effect this spring. “Required approvals can include, but are not limited to: appropriate sector director general, director general communications branch — PAPMS [public affairs and portfolio management sector], director of communications — minister’s office, PCO [Privy Council Office].”
The summary stresses in bold type that: “Approval from the minister’s director of communications must always be sought — no exceptions.”
And, on that note, a music video. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 at 7:55 PM - 0 Comments
In a follow-up to yesterday’s report, CP’s Bruce Cheadle details at even further depth the government’s concerns and demands for signage.
“Although progress in the installation of signage had been slowed due to seasonal limitations, departments and agencies managed to increase the number of signs erected from 58 per cent to 65 per cent of the total number of signs to be installed,” Wayne Wouters, the powerful clerk of the Privy Council, wrote in a March 8, 2010, memorandum to the prime minister.
The “Update on Signage” memo, marked “Secret” and obtained by The Canadian Press under Access to Information, goes on to list the total number of signs — 5,275 — installed to that date. It cites 3,840 more that “have been ordered or are in production.”
“Departments have been using alternative methods for signage installation in order to sustain visibility by placing signs in windows, on buildings or employing other temporary measures,” Wouters wrote of the winter conditions.
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 at 3:31 PM - 39 Comments
Last November, I made an access-to-information request to the Privy Council Office asking to see a performance evaluation report on the now deceased former president of Rights and Democracy, Remy Beauregard.
The PCO initially said no such report could be found in its records. Then, when David Matas, a Rights and Democracy board member, confirmed the report’s existence on national television and said it had been released to the PCO, Ann Wesch, director of access to information and privacy at the PCO, told me my request had not been “tasked out properly.”
That was in February. More delays followed, but this morning I received the PCO’s response:
“We have now completed the processing of your request and it has been determined that the information you requested may not be disclosed. The information has been withheld pursuant to subsection 19 (1) (personal information) of the Act.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 1:12 PM - 32 Comments
I am reasonably informed that all sides will be back at the table tomorrow morning to discuss the release of detainee documents. Meanwhile, Peter Jones, a former member of the Privy Council Office, fusses over the issues of trust and security and partisanship.
The key is that the Opposition MPs on this committee would have to agree to park at the door their impulse to use secret information to score real-time political points over the policies of the government of the day. Their role would be limited to providing the nation with the assurance that these policies were implemented properly, which would require some mechanism that would kick in if the committee felt the policies were not being implemented properly (but what to do in a situation where the government members felt they were, but the opposition members felt they weren’t?). The larger political debate over whether those policies were the right ones would go on in Parliament, as it does now, and the parliamentarians who had access to secrets would likely have to hold their tongues from time to time.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, March 12, 2010 at 2:08 PM - 10 Comments
The Globe looks at the concerns within NATO in late 2006.
A memo obtained by The Globe and Mail shows that in 2006 the federal government was briefed on a lobbying campaign by NATO allies aimed at getting the Kabul government to create stronger safeguards for detainees after prisoner abuses elsewhere. “London, The Hague and Canberra [Australia] are deeply concerned about the absence of solid legal protections for detainees, which – in the age of Gitmo and Abu Ghraib – imperils domestic support for the Afghanistan mission,” said the memo of Dec. 4, 2006, written by diplomat Richard Colvin.
The memo was written after consultation with Catherine Bloodworth, a Foreign Affairs colleague, as well as the military attaché in Canada’s Kabul embassy. It was approved by David Sproule – then Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan – and was e-mailed to dozens of officials at Foreign Affairs, the Privy Council Office and National Defence.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 1:40 PM - 13 Comments
While Richard Colvin awaits the necessary funds to pay his legal bills, the Liberals have publicly tabled some of the dozens of written questions they had put on the order paper and were awaiting government response when the second session of the 40th Parliament met its untimely demise. Included among them, several on the matter of Afghan detainees. To wit.
Who was responsible for redacting the documents and what role did the DFAIT, National Defence, the Privy Council Office or any ministry play? How many times has the government notified the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) of allegations of abuse, mistreatment, or torture of Canadian-transferred detainees? Did the government follow-up on these or any other investigation with regards to allegations or evidence of abuse, mistreatment, or torture of Canadian-transferred detainees to ensure that each of the allegations had been investigated? What were the results of these investigations? What did the government do to assure itself that the allegations had been sufficiently investigated by the AIHRC or any other entity? Were any records or files kept on these investigations? Were any of these investigations deemed to be insufficient and, if so, what was done to remedy this? Did the government ever request legal opinions regarding Canada’s domestic and international legal responsibility for detainees captured by the Canadian military or military police in Afghanistan and transferred to Afghan authorities? Did this legal advice contribute to the formulation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada’s diplomatic contingency plan related to detainees?
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 20, 2009 at 9:20 AM - 11 Comments
Canadian Press reports evidence of a December 2006 meeting in Ottawa to discuss Asadullah Khalid, a notorious Afghan governor known to have participated in torture.
The meeting in December of that year – months before torture claims became public – was the culmination of months of pressure from foreign affairs officials on the ground who wanted to see Asadullah Khalid shifted elsewhere, defence and foreign affairs sources said. One source said the meeting was at the Privy Council Office and involved Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s then-national security adviser, Margaret Bloodworth…
Both foreign affairs and defence sources said no notes were kept of the Khalid meeting. ”There was no policy for dealing with something like this, something so sensitive,” said one source. “Nobody quite knew what to do.”
By John Geddes - Monday, October 19, 2009 at 10:00 AM - 5 Comments
A new commissioner takes aim at Ottawa’s secretive ministries
The federal Access to Information Act dates back to 1983. Proposals to put more teeth into the rules for when the government must release documents started with the very first review of the law in 1986, and have kept coming ever since. Countless committee reports and expert studies have proposed ways to force more openness. When the Conservatives won the 2006 election on a platform promising a sweeping access-to-information overhaul, the time for real change seemed finally to have arrived. After settling into power, though, Stephen Harper’s government decided against implementing most of the promised changes in its early batch of accountability reforms. Since then, the Tories have seemed content to let the issue slide down their priorities list to obscurity.
Enter Suzanne Legault, the blunt-talking new interim information commissioner appointed by Harper in June. Legault might have been expected to take up the two-decade-old cry for fundamental changes to the system her office oversees. Instead, she has a surprising message for those hoping for root-and-branch reform: forget about it. “That won’t happen,” she told Maclean’s. “Nothing is going to change, that’s my experience.” And what about all those sincere, detailed blueprints for strengthening the access act that are always floating around Parliament Hill? “They’ve been saying the same things for 25 years,” she said. “So let’s try to tackle it differently.” Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, September 8, 2009 at 11:43 AM - 10 Comments
Jim Flaherty, November 27. We cannot ask Canadians to tighten their belts during tougher times without looking in the mirror. Canadians have a right to look to government as an example. We have a responsibility to show restraint and respect for their money. Canadians’ tax dollars are precious. They must not be spent frivolously or without regard to where they came from.
Canwest, September 4. Spending in the government department supervised directly by Prime Minister Stephen Harper soared by 14 per cent last year, despite a directive from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty that government must “show restraint.” Financial statements released this week show that spending by the Privy Council Office for the fiscal year that ended in March hit $172.5 million, compared to $151.8 million in fiscal 2008.
Miscellaneous Canadian news…
Canada’s pundits are still all over the shop.
The Calgary Herald’s
Miscellaneous Canadian news
Canada’s pundits are still all over the shop.
The Calgary Herald’s Don Martin surveys the various motions and proposals up for discussion at the Tories’ convention in Winnipeg and concludes “the Conservatives have buried their old guard ways under a hefty slab of mainstream ideas, even though few seem to fit with the economic challenge of governing today.” No more “abortion-limiting, capital-punishing, immigrant-curbing inclinations,” for example—and even if there were some, everybody knows Stephen Harper would lay an instantaneous smack-down on them anyway. Just lots of little ideas, some affordable, some not, and most of which “would not look out of place on a Liberal party convention floor.” Ouch.
The Globe and Mail’s Lawrence Martin pulls back the mysterious “cloak” that enshrouds Kevin Lynch, Clerk of the Privy Council, whose power has reached such levels that he can safely be considered the second most powerful man in Ottawa. (Third most powerful if you count Earl McRae.) And that power is raising some disquieting questions, Martin notes, as the ostensibly apolitical PCO “increasingly vets communications and access to information requests and has come under criticism from Information Commissioner Robert Marleau for obstructionism.” The media traditionally has little access to the executive branch of government, Martin notes, and that was fine “in the days when power was less concentrated at the centre.” Today, however, he deems this arrangement “inadequate.”