Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Senate's 'secret society' antics can't end too soon

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In 2012, you shouldn't have to trudge to Ottawa to look up your senator's attendance record.

But that, according to a recent Canadian Press report, is what a reporter for a New Brunswick weekly newspaper was recently told he'd have to do if he wanted to see what should be readily available -- i.e., online -- public information.

Given past scandals over Senate attendance, and the public dissatisfaction reflected in polls showing a third of Canadians want the upper chamber abolished, you'd think the Senate would want to be seen as being pro-actively transparent on issues like attendance.

Government Senate leader Marjory LeBreton has reportedly asked for a committee review of attendance rules. But it's not known if that includes whether people should be able to access the attendance register online, since her office said the senator was unavailable and they wouldn't comment on the latest story.

If that review doesn't include a recommendation to put full Senate attendance records online, it should. Senator David Tkachuk, chair of the Senate's internal economy, budgets and administration committee, did say in an opinion piece published in The Chronicle Herald on Aug. 1 that how attendance records are accessed will be part of the review.

To be fair, critics charging the Senate is a "secret society" trying to make its information as hard as possible to obtain are overlooking considerable recent evidence to the contrary.

As the Canadian Press report also mentioned, senators voted in May to put another registry online, one detailing their financial and business interests, but that won't happen until 2013. For now, that information is only available on weekdays at the Office of the Senate Ethics Officer in Ottawa.

However, that news story didn't mention senators had, at the same time, also agreed to expand those disclosure statements to include all sources of employment, income over $2,000 a year and assets over $10,000. Given that, the ethics office's plan to target next year -- instead of October, as the Senate originally voted -- to have that information online doesn't seem unreasonable.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 3, 2012 A13

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