Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ignatieff pledges to give Federal watchdogs more bite

Some of these proposals have a telltale odor of opportunism about them. Ignatieff is taking advantage of the fact that Harper has tried to get rid of watchdogs or clip their wings so to speak. Ignatieff refuses to go into details but is trying to make hay while the gloom shines on Harper! Polls seem to suggest that perhaps Ignatieff's policy of saying little positive but launching a few jobs when he can may be working as Harper continues to punch himself.

Ignatieff pledges to give federal watchdogs more bite

Daniel Leblanc and Colin Freeze

Ottawa — From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

.Weakening the office of the prime minister has emerged as a new theme for Michael Ignatieff, with the Liberal Leader promising yesterday to strengthen agencies that oversee the Canadian Forces, the RCMP and other federal bodies.

If his Liberals were to form the government, Mr. Ignatieff said he would gladly deal with headaches stemming from the independent criticism of their actions. The proposal was made one day after he said he wanted to limit the prime minister's ability to prorogue Parliament, in the hope of capitalizing on anger toward Stephen Harper.

"All of these are pre-commitment strategies to limit and control the authority of a prime minister in a democratic system," Mr. Ignatieff said at a news conference.

"I'm saying as clearly as I can, if the public decides that is what they want to do with us, I'm willing to accept those limits."

The Conservatives responded by mocking the Liberal record on governance, pointing to the sponsorship scandal that marred the Chr├ętien and Martin governments. The Prime Minister's Office said the government appoints only qualified people to watchdog positions, and the jobs are not "lifetime sinecures."

"The Liberal record speaks for itself, and we will not take lessons from them," said PMO spokesman Andrew MacDougall.

Mr. Ignatieff was accompanied by two former watchdogs who complained about their treatment under the Conservative government.

Paul Kennedy, former chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, criticized his replacement by estate lawyer Ian McPhail, who conceded having little knowledge of police matters and will do the job part time.

Peter Tinsley, the former chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission, called for greater legal independence for some oversight bodies, which could answer directly to Parliament like the Office of the Auditor-General.

"Every one of these agencies is a creature of Parliament and perhaps Parliament should have a way of looking at its creatures," he said.

The Liberals will look at giving more power to some watchdogs, but Mr. Ignatieff didn't want to provide further details. He said that Mr. Harper has abused his powers since coming to office in 2006, and that checks are needed on future prime ministers.

"Our democracy has been eroded in the last four years, and we need to strengthen it," Mr. Ignatieff said. "I think you judge a prime minister by his willingness to accept limits on his own authority, and we think this Prime Minister does not."

Still, Mr. Ignatieff acknowledged he will also have to learn some lessons from previous Liberal governments. Former Liberal prime minister Jean Chr├ętien had no qualms in 1997 about pulling the plug on the public inquiry into the actions of the Canadian Forces in Somalia, and he has been a critic of the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship scandal.

At a forum organized by the Liberals, the former chief executive at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission said that administrative tribunals are "under attack by the federal government."

Linda Keen recounted how she was fired by the Conservative government in 2008.

"I said at the time this is going to send a chill through federal tribunals," she said in a videotaped message. "Are we in an era where tribunals must be more interested in meeting the needs of the government than in doing their jobs?"

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