Gomery blasts government for lack of response
Published Thursday, March 13, 2008 4:31PM EDT
John Gomery says the Conservative government has largely ignored the recommendations of his report into the federal sponsorship scandal and, as a result, the prime minister's office is developing a dangerous concentration of power.
That very trend, the former judge told the Commons government operations committee on Friday, "is a danger to Canadian democracy and leaves the door wide open to the kind of political interference ... that led to what is commonly called the sponsorship scandal."
Gomery said his report was the result of extensive work by scores of experts, including "some of the best minds in all of Canada,'' and it deserves the government's "attention and careful consideration.''
"I expected that in due course the recommendations contained in our report would at some future time be studied and, at least to some degree, acted upon.
"Unfortunately, that was not the case.''
Gomery also told a parliamentary committee Thursday that the influence of the PMO has grown, while the power of ordinary MPs has been reduced.
"It should be remembered that the political staff in the Prime Minister's Office are not elected,'' said Gomery.
"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.
Speaking Thursday on CTV's Canada AM, Gomery said he is disappointed little has been done with his report, which took two years to complete and made 19 recommendations.
"I was expecting the report would be given more consideration and would be to some degree at least followed, and it really hasn't. It's been put on the shelf."
He said the Conservative government adopted its own version of what it thought was necessary to improve accountability, with its Accountability Act.
But Gomery said the act was drafted long before his report was released, and the measures fall short of what is necessary.
Gomery said his biggest concern is the government's lack of effort to end the concentration of power he says exists within the PMO -- a situation he says flies in the face of democracy.
"I don't think Canadians elect only a prime minister," Gomery said.
"They elect a House of Parliament which is there to deal with government policy. I don't think government policy should arrive only out of the prime minister's office -- that's sort of an anti-democratic kind of government."
Gomery also warned that unelected officials are gaining more and more power in Ottawa and are increasingly able to influence public policy and legislation.
Gomery said his report was the result of extensive work by scores of experts.
Opposition MPs were quick to seize on Gomery's comments.
New Democrat MP Charlie Angus said the all-party government operations committee has to come up with a strategy for Parliament to address such concerns or "we could be going down the road to another sponsorship.''
Liberal Mark Holland said it's clear Gomery's main recommendations for reform have been "ignored and not even responded to'' by the Harper government.
But Conservative Pierre Poilievre contended that the prime minister's Accountability Act has reached its objective in cleaning up the mess left behind by the sponsorship affair.
"We promised the Accountability Act, we delivered the Accountability Act,'' Poilievre told reporters. "Our promise was not to implement all of Judge Gomery's recommendations'
In his testimony, Gomery acknowledged the Accountability Act was a step in the right direction -- but said it didn't go far enough.
He added that the Tory government has never formally acknowledged the report.
Gomery's first report, which he unveiled in November 2005, he blasted the former Liberal government for allowing politically connected middlemen funnel millions of taxpayers' dollars from a sponsorship plan meant to promote federalism in Quebec.
This second report, which he released in February 2006, included 19 recommendations, among them:
- Halting the prime minister's power to appoint deputy ministers
- Limiting the authority of the Clerk of the Privy Council, the prime minister's right-hand bureaucrat.
- Providing more money and staff to the Commons public accounts committee to strengthen its role as government-spending watchdog.
With files from The Canadian Press