Saturday, August 2, 2008

 

AGED WHINE?

When there is much controversy about secrecy leading into the start of the Summer Olympic Games on Friday, I am reminded that it isn't just "closed" societies that endure controls over the free flow of information.

Just this weekend we have witnessed a certain level of manipulation over the Canadian Government's release of two somewhat unflattering reports. How else to explain the Foreign Affairs Department's much anticipated investigation into Maxime Bernier's secret NATO documents. The report which says Mr. Bernier's action were..."injurious to the national interest", was released late afternoon on Friday as the August Civic Holiday long weekend kicked-off.

The release of the Foreign Affairs Department report is not an isolated case. Late on Thursday, without previous notice, Health Canada released a 500 page report about the effects of climate change on Canadians. "Human Health In A Changing Climate" was scheduled for public distribution last spring when the House of Commons was still in session. Thursday's release by the Minister of Health, Tony Clement, came following several unflattering leaks to the media over the contents of the delayed report.

A year or so ago, the Government was criticized for an after hours Friday internet posting without notice of a similar report on climate change from the Ministry of Natural Resources.

But...Stop me if you've heard this one: You'll recall that just over two years ago the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Peter MacKay, became chummy with the American Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice. In September 2006, a few weeks after an official visit to Ottawa by Ms. Rice, Mr. MacKay entertained the Secretary at his Pictou, Nova Scotia farm....briefly rumours swirled in both Ottawa and Washington over a budding relationship between the two singles. Alas!

Lest I digress. No wonder that Minister MacKay has been five times voted "most eligible bachelor" on Parliament Hill by the "Hill Times" newspaper.

A small French language Montreal suburban weekly: "Journal de Rosemont" published this week a jaw-dropping story over the trip to Ottawa by Condoleeza Rice which involves the Government's dogged tenacity to keep a tiny element of the visit an absolute secret.

As the story goes: The good host, Minister MacKay, anxious to make a first impression on the most powerful woman in the Bush Administration gave Ms Rice a bottle of "Canadian Ice Wine" as her official gift on arrival in our nation's capital. Obviously a gift paid for by the taxpayers of Canada, and one which despite a multitude of Access to Information requests, has been stonewalled by the Harper Government.

The facts as published imply that the Prime Minister's office itself has nixed requests for both the brand and the cost of the bottle of Ice Wine. The newspaper stretches-on describing Mr. Harper as the most secretive and least transparent PM in Canadian history. While I don't know about that; I do know that the price of Canadian Ice Wine varies from the $30 cheapo at airport gift shops to collector series bottles at as much as $5000. Maybe that's the government's problem: It was a cheap bottle picked-up on the way to airport's arrival lounge???

Wait there's more! Unfortunately there is no apparent end in sight to the story of the "secret" bottle of wine. A tenacious researcher for Montreal's influential daily: "La Presse", named William Leclerc, has filed an official complaint with Canada's Commissioner of Information, Robert Marleau, who has launched an investigation amidst on-going stonewalling by officials from Access to Information.

According to the "Journal de Rosemont", the Montreal daily, (La Presse) is prepared to take the matter to Federal Court if Mr. Marleau can't dislodge the information about the wine from the grip of the PMO or Foreign Affairs Ministry.

No wonder that Condoleeza Rice is keeping her good distances from both Ottawa and Peter MacKay. And the rest of us have become cynical about government.

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