The Canadian Association of Journalists recently published an open letter calling on journalists to “better explain to readers and viewers just how little information Ottawa has provided for a story.” Ever since Stephen Harper took office in 2006, the letter notes,
“…the flow of information out of Ottawa has slowed to a trickle. Cabinet ministers and civil servants are muzzled. Access to Information requests are stalled and stymied by political interference. Genuine transparency is replaced by slick propaganda and spin designed to manipulate public opinion.”
This Kafkaesque MO is nicely illustrated by the Harper administration’s Americas Strategy, the policy I’ve been investigating over the past year.
Ottawa first went public with the decision to make Latin America the main target (Harperites might prefer “beneficiary”) of Canada’s foreign policy in 2007. “Democratic governance, prosperity, and security,” became our three stated priorities in dealing with our neighbors to the south. To that end, Harper appointed a new Minister of Foreign Affairs (Peter Kent) to focus on the region; the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) refined its “countries of focus” list to concentrate more heavily on Latin America; Panama received a shiny new security centre; Latin American embassies and CIDA headquarters alike increased staffs and boosted budgets.
All well and good. But last August, when I started researching a story for The Walrus about the expanding consequences of Mexico’s drug war, I had my first brush with the limits of government rhetoric. I wanted to know why, despite explicit guarantees during the NAFTA negotiations that we would never demand travel visas from our Mexican trading partners, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney had just instituted that very requirement. I called Citizenship and Immigration Canada to ask if there was anyone I could speak with about it. I was told to go to CIC’s website, where I would find all the answers I needed; no one in the whole department had time to speak to a national magazine. (more…)