Globe and Mail

MPs condemn leaks to the press

Some critics suggest cure is to open all committees to the public

Friday, February 12, 1999
Parliamentary Bureau

Ottawa -- Key Liberal and Reform MPs attacked one of the oldest traditions of Parliament yesterday, advocating an end to the secret deliberations between MPs when they write reports on issues such as child custody or the funding of professional sports teams.

At issue was a recent controversy over the increased leaking of committee reports to the press before they were tabled in the House. The house affairs committee of Parliament was told yesterday that about 40 per cent of reports had been leaked since the 1997 election, including many to The Globe and Mail. Even a committee that had unanimously condemned the practice last year was the victim of leaks.

Robert Marleau, clerk of the House, said that the intense levels of competition between media outlets "make the scoops more tempting and the leaks more tempting."

The solution favoured by Reform House Leader Randy White and Liberal caucus chairman Joe Fontana is opening up all committee work to the public and the media, unless it deals with national security or secret financial information, for example.

If everything is done in the open, MPs will no longer leak draft reports as part of what Mr. Fontana called "the political game" of furthering an agenda or making other parties look bad. "If nothing is done behind closed doors," Mr. White added, "you can't have leaks."

Mr. Marleau, however, opposed opening up the in-camera deliberations. He said that according to his experience, having secret meetings allows MPs to speak their minds without fearing to change their position later on or take position against the party line.

Diane Davidson, general legal counsel to the House, stressed to the house affairs committee that leaking a report constituted contempt of Parliament. While she said efforts to prevent leaks should concentrate on reminding MPs of their obligation to confidentiality, punishment for transgressing these rules could go as far as exclusion from the House.

The issue of making it illegal to leak or even publish reports wasn't taken up by the house affairs committee yesterday. Mr. Marleau said House Speaker Gilbert Parent was speaking only in "a moment of frustration" when he talked about legislating against leaks.

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