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Maxed Out

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"Don't know; don't care" has long been the mantra of the terminally apathetic, the chronically uncurious and the wholly indifferent. It also, increasingly, seems to be the coin of the realm of the political class, premised as it seems to be on the hope no one will notice and few will care what's going on.

In Ottawa, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty boldly claimed the new-old Conservative budget will eliminate the deficit by fiscal 2014-15. How? Won't say. With an expression most often seen on someone either suffering from bad gas or working under the illusion that saying something makes it so, Jimmy says it's simply a matter of cutting five per cent out of the nation's expenditures and, voilĂ , balanced books. Which five per cent? Details, details. Why do you want to know that? Can't say. Tell ya next year. It's a secret.

Same thing south of the border. The Party of Darkness battles the Party of Less Light to see who can be the king of budgetcutters at a time every economist - save the discredited holdouts of the Chicago School and Enterprise Institute - says do the opposite. The crux of both of their populist posturing is a total lack of detail, save what they're not going to cut.

In Tiny Town, the culture of secrecy we all hoped had peaked last winter has reached critical mass and is growing unchecked at every turn. Of the seven men who sit at council table, all seven, as I recall, paid homage to open and transparent government when they ran for office nearly three years ago.

Since then, we've moved so far from openness and transparency, I felt the need to go back and make sure it didn't mean something other than what I thought it meant. Most of the treatises seemed to be intact, no Orwellian language switcheroo. Open government is a notion rooted in the belief that citizens have a right to access the documents and proceedings of their freely elected government. Why? Well, it provides an avenue for effective public oversight. It promotes accountability, a quaint notion that someone who does something be held to account for his/her actions. It makes it more difficult for politicians to operate in secrecy, the antithesis of openness. And, it's the basic building block of democracy.

Transparent government means citizens get to access the sorts of background material decisions are based on. It means we should be able to see what sort of deals our government gets us into, how it spends our money and what it's obligating us to. The notion behind transparency is the more we know, the more we understand and the less likelihood our elected officials are going to ink a sweetheart deal that sells us up the river, enriches themselves or their friends or ties us to a course of action not far removed from indentured servitude.

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