The Harper government's new accountability measures are creating an atmosphere in political Ottawa where accepting free tickets to gala concerts, fundraising dinners and other cultural events is frowned upon.
Not a cabinet minister was in sight at the Public Policy Forum's annual testimonial dinner in Toronto last month, and only a half-dozen deputy ministers were among the 1,300 people in attendance. This is usually a premiere event for senior government and private-sector officials, allowing them to get together informally.
This year's dinner was the biggest in the forum's history, and featured speakers such as Manitoba Premier Gary Doer and Liberal leadership candidate Bob Rae.
But the word had gone out from Privy Council Clerk Kevin Lynch that deputy ministers must no longer take freebies from corporate sponsors and would have to pay for the $375 ticket.
One senior government official said no conversation takes place now between a private-sector official and a government official about having dinner or even a coffee without mention of the proposed accountability act.
"It's making people afraid to talk to one another," said the official, who believes it is necessary to keep up a conversation between government and the private sector.
Some worry the measures will keep senior officials in at night, and away from cultural events, to avoid contact with lobbyists and consultants.
What we have here is a case of classic overreaction, the sort that always comes with significant change. Nothing in the new act suggests that accepting a few minor gratuities is illegal or even unethical. Nor does it even remotely suggest that people should be afraid to talk to each other for fear of violating it.
But Jane Taber's subtext is quite clear: Stephen Harper is spoiling all the fun and ruining the efficient operation of government at the same time.
Nothing could be further from reality. Lobbyists will still lobby and backs will still be scratched, but palms may no longer be greased.
And Jane Taber's social calendar will still be full.
Source: Globe and Mail