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Federal Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard, who was appointed to the position in 2018, wrote in her annual report last year that during her tenure she has “observed the steady decline of the access to information system to the point where it no longer serves its intended purpose.”

One of her criticisms related to that damning assessment was that “money to bolster the system has evaporated.” That’s bad enough. So you can imagine her distress when she discovered that the Trudeau government has cut her budget by 5 per cent, a move that she says will force her to eliminate seven or eight positions.

Not only is the Trudeau government refusing to make the system better, it now appears to be making it even worse.

Ms. Maynard wrote a letter to the Treasury Board last week to complain about the $700,000 reduction. She generously suggested that the cut may have been the result of bureaucratic error, and her office says negotiations are “ongoing.”

Maybe that’s right. Maybe Treasury Board officials will go back over their numbers and see the light. They should; the federal access to information system ought to be able to serve what still remains of its intended purpose, after all.

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However this is resolved, Canadians should take away an important lesson: When an opposition party leader promises, if elected to power, to make Ottawa more accountable, open and transparent, nothing of the sort will happen when that leader actually becomes the head of the government that needs to be more accountable, open and transparent.

Information is power, and so power hoards information. Stephen Harper did it after he was elected prime minister in 2006 on a platform that included bringing greater accountability and transparency to Ottawa. By the time he left office, his Conservative government was under heavy criticism for underfunding the office of the federal information commissioner, for taking months to respond to access to information requests, and for finding ever more inventive ways of saying no to legitimate requests.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has arced along a similar trajectory. He has gone from his sunny 2015 election vow to make information public by default and ensure “open and transparent government” to just another politician who discovers it’s easier to make those kinds promises when you’re not in power.

Mr. Trudeau pledged in 2015 to reduce delays in the access to information system, reduce the government’s ability to withhold information and extend access to ministers’ offices, including his own. None of that has happened.

Last year, the Trudeau government ignored the advice of Treasury Board officials who urged it to carry out an independent review of the access to information system, and instead went with an oh-so-safe internal review that generated no change.

Politicians resist improvements to access to information at every level of government, as The Globe’s Secret Canada investigation has found. They happily fail to provide documents by required deadlines and cheerfully withhold information on improper grounds.

Just this month in Saskatchewan, 13 provincial ministries simply refused to comply with a decision by the province’s information commissioner ordering them to release documents to The Globe and Mail in an easily usable format.

It was a petty act of obstruction, but so typical in Canada. A system predicated on the notion that everything but the most classified government documents and data ought to be public has become a tool for Canadians governments to do what they instinctively do best: hoard information.

Let’s be blunt about why they do this: to keep information out of the hands of citizens, because an informed citizenry is an empowered citizenry. Governments aren’t so much jealously squirreling away information as they are sucking the lifeblood out of the democratic system.

Mr. Trudeau came to power vowing to set a sunny example by making information open by default to all Canadians. Then he discovered what every new prime minister discovers: that the default preference in Canada’s halls of power is to keep voters in the dark.

He could still restore his reputation on this issue. He should allow the independent review of the system and restore the Commissioner’s funding. It’s not too late for the Prime Minister to live up to what are still very good ideals.

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