Accountability ain’t what it used to be

Perhaps it never was. But in these days of cascading crises, it’s hard not to notice just who’s missing in action, or acting without accountability, or playing games with their obligation to accountability.

ac·​count·​abil·​i·​ty | \ ə-ˌkau̇n-tə-ˈbi-lə-tē  \

Definition of accountabilitythe quality or state of being accountable, especially an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions // public officials lacking accountability

Merriam-Webster online dictionary

Accountability. At 10:19 pm Atlantic time last Friday night — after much of the business of the political media world had wrapped for the day, if not disappeared into the news abyss of the weekend — federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan used a Canada Newswire press release to announce…

the appointment of Allister Surette [the president and vice-chancellor of Université Sainte-Anne] as Federal Special Representative, a neutral third-party who will communicate with and rebuild trust between commercial and Indigenous fishers. Mr. Surette will gather the different perspectives on the issues, seek to build understanding, and make recommendations to the Ministers of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard and of Crown-Indigenous Relations, as well as to the public, so parties can move forward toward a positive resolution.

Bernadette Jordan
Bernadette Jordan

Jordan — as has been her missing-in-action wont throughout the entire current conflict between Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishers — was not available to answer questions about the appointment. Neither was Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous relations. Neither was Allister Surette, the man into whose lap the unenviable task of reconciling the perhaps irreconcilable constitutionally guaranteed rights of Indigenous fishers with the traditional DFO-licence rights of commercial fishers.

Instead, some spun-dry governmental spokesperson spun their words dry of any meaningful content and tacked a blandly meaningless “Quotes” section on to the end of the official announcement, free for the publishing by journalists who had no other actual substantive information available to them.

In her own fluffed-up quote, Jordan declared “a peaceful resolution is achievable, and this will strengthen our fisheries and our communities.”

Bennett opined on “how we can all continue to walk the shared path of reconciliation.”

Surette, for his part, looked forward “to creating a forum for respectful dialogue so that, together, we can move forward…”

And yet more of the same old bland blah blah blah.




Premier Stephen McNeil at Question Period. (Not exactly as illustrated.)

Despite a coronavirus-devastated economy that has made a mockery of provincial budgets; despite the still publicly unexamined COVID-related deaths of 53 residents in Northwood’s long-term care facilities, despite the worst mass shooting in Canadian history and all the continuing, more-urgent-than-just-an-inquiry questions that flow from it; despite the largest ever health care redevelopment project in Nova Scotia history, “a once in a generation opportunity to rethink and rebuild the way we deliver health care;” despite all the usual but still urgent health-related issues of doctor shortages, testing delays, surgical wait times, lack of long-term care beds and emergency room closures… the Nova Scotia legislature hasn’t met since March 10.

It will likely meet again before year’s end, but only because the law says it must. The longer the announcement of the fall session is delayed, of course, the closer it will be to the Christmas holiday, the shorter the session will be, the less chance there will be to talk about issues.

If we didn’t know better, we might assume this current lack of accountability was simply the logical outcome of Stephen McNeil’s August announcement that he is stepping down as Liberal leader and that a new party leader — and premier — won’t be in place until February.

But we do know better.

Our premier, who never met a legislature he didn’t have to, doesn’t believe in accountability.

But he has lately perfected his COVID-made-me-not-do-it excuse to an art form. Legislature committees, which might have provided some legislative oversight during the growing chasm between legislature sessions, don’t meet. If they do, McNeil’s loyal Liberal lapdogs on the committees make sure they gang up to prevent opposition members from even asking any meaningful questions about any important issues.

Meanwhile, McNeil’s government continues to go about its/our business, unchecked.

  • The government recently cut funding for at least one nursing home — and threatened others — because they had reasonably refused to fill all vacant beds in their facilities as they prepare for the potential impact of a second wave of COVID-19.
  • The government claims to be spending an extra $228 million in COVID-related stimulus spending to help right the economic ship, but it refuses to release a list of the projects that money is funding after promising to do so. “We’re not your research department,” McNeil told reporters after a recent cabinet meeting, even though a spokesperson for his own transportation and infrastructure renewal department earlier acknowledged to the business website it would be “difficult” for a reporter to determine which projects are funded by the new stimulus program by examining public tender documents.
  • The government last week announced a COVID-related $50-million loan assistance program exclusively for the province’s biggest tourism operators. The program not only shut out equally struggling smaller tourism businesses but it also appeared to have been largely written by the large tourism operators themselves, who’d hired McNeil’s former chief of staff, Kristan Hines, to lobby… er, advocate on their behalf. Hines, now a senior vice president at National Public Relations, is not registered with the provincial lobbyist registry.




Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau turned a Conservative motion calling for the creation of a parliamentary committee to look into “ethical problems” with government spending, including, of course, the WE charity, into a pretend showdown-at-high-noon, political-chicken, election-triggering confidence vote.

There are legitimate questions to be asked about the government’s relationship with the WE charity and its no-tender deal to allow WE to administer a $928-million student grant program during the pandemic. After it was revealed family members of Trudeau and then-Finance Minister Bill Morneau had been paid by the charity, the scheme became a scandal. The deal fell through. Students suffered.

There may be reasonable explanations for the government’s handling of the WE file, but Trudeau isn’t interested in explaining. He cut off a first round of parliamentary inquiries in August by proroguing parliament, and last week he used his faux-confidence-vote tactic to shut down yet another opportunity for accountability.

Trudeau won. Canadians, who deserve answers to legitimate questions about their government, lost.


Whatever happened to accountability?

A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner

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