Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Harper loses touch

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The Harper government has once again demonstrated it is losing touch with the public and even its own base on issues of accountability and transparency.

The latest evidence of the tin-ear syndrome occurred when the government gutted a private member's bill that would have required the government to disclose the exact salary and job description of everyone in the federal government who earned more than $188,000.

A Conservative-dominated committee, however, raised the salary level to $319,000, which would exclude just about everyone, except for the heads of Crown corporations. It would also exclude the high salary-earners in the Prime Minister's Office.

The proposal came from one its own MPs, Brent Rathgeber of Alberta, who has resigned from the Conservative caucus over the issue.

Most provinces have disclosed public-sector salaries for many years as part of a broad trend toward more transparency in government. The salary disclosure helps taxpayers judge the performance of a particular department and provides more details on how public funds are spent, including the gap, if any, between similar jobs in the private sector.

The Harper government agreed last year to release a list of bureaucrats earning more than $100,000, but it refused to release names and exact salaries because the information is protected by the federal Privacy Act, which Mr. Rathgeber wanted to amend.

Mr. Harper and his inner cabal may believe when it comes to accountability, they're better than the guys they booted from office seven years ago, but that's no defence for refusing to move with the times.

The public increasingly is impatient with spending scandals involving elected officials, senators and bureaucrats, and it wants more transparency and mechanisms to deter abuse. The Conservatives need to dust off their old campaign literature on this critical issue.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2013 A12

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