Transparency and accountability have recently taken on increased prominence in the Canadian political mosaic. This is not a recent phenomenon, however. The trend began several decades back, and the various transparency and accountability practices implemented over that period have left us with a vast, rich and fertile set of measures. A great deal of attention has been maintained on accountability and transparency by ethical issues (Boisvert and Desjardins, 2004; Caron and Giauque, 2006), the attempt to rebuild common values in the public sector and some more recent difficulties relating to observed undesirable behaviors (Auditor General, 2000). Over the last several years and again lately with the proposed Federal Accountability Act (Government of Canada, 2006:1), public administrations in Canada are continuously adding to what could be called the “transparency framework”. Broader in scope than the ethical framework presented at the turn of the last century by OECD (OECD, 2000), the major trend now in Canada seems to follow three paths: capacity building, legislative and internal regulations, and socialization of individuals. Moreover, and from a different angle, Canada has explored and put in place measures to address the incoming demands for transparency – reactive measures – and a set of proactive measures to make available information that could be asked for and that would have to be made available in any case. These measures are both legal and administrative.
This paper addresses three specific questions in relation to this emerging transparency framework. First, what are the main components and associated characteristics of the framework? What are we trying to achieve? What are the links between transparency and accountability? Second, what should be the elements to use in order to judge the quality of the framework given its objectives? In other words, what should we look for in order to be able to conclude on its effectiveness? Third and finally, what are the impacts of these measures on the potential behavior of public servants and, more broadly, on those who have to work close to public administrations.
Problematic: the importance of transparency
International trends are around more access for citizens on the decisions made by politicians and public servants. To suggest a problematic in this area may appear to be somewhat retrograde, perhaps overly conservative and potentially antidemocratic. However, without questioning properly the rationale for transparency, the reasons why we are almost solely focusing on this nature of intervention to achieve what we would like to achieve, as well as questioning it with regard to its implications and consequences on the functioning of the state and its institutions, appear irresponsible. That is the reason this paper first and foremost concerns itself with transparency in terms of the relationship between the state and the citizen who has rights in terms of how tax dollars are spent.