JAG Successor Well Leashed

Governments have gone overboard to ensure no hint of JAG survives

THE ISSUE: Liason Committee Announced
Cape Breton Post Editorial
Thursday, Sept. 18, 2003

Any fear that a JAG II might rise from the political goo and lumber on into the implementation phase of the Muggah Creek watershed cleanup has been laid firmly to rest by the senior government partners. On Tuesday, two days before the mandate of the Joint Action Group expired after seven checkered years, the senior partners announced that the controversial agency will be succeeded by a Community Liaison Committee. This puppy will be on a very short leash.

Dan Fraser, chair of the expiring JAG, notes with understatement that the CLC will be "Quite a departure" from what he calls the partnership that has prevailed between governments and the community. Some of JAG's many critics would deny there was ever a true partnership, but clearly the non-government, non-salaried people involved in cleanup planning had a good deal more say in those activities than is usual on such projects - and a good deal more say than community organization representatives, will have on the new committee.

The committee will have up to 15 members chosen by government partners from among nominees put forward by community organizations representing 10 sectors: business, health, organized labour, environment, construction industry, post-secondary education, First Nations, recreation, service clubs, and religion. The chair will be chosen initially by government.

Not just any organization gets to nominate. To be selected to nominate, an organization must convince the government partners of its "legitimacy," based on factors such as size, history and length of time in existence.

This filtering process should ensure a well-mannered if not placid slate of members, most of them probably well experienced in the politics and decorum of committee work. But just in case any hair-pulling banshee slips through, the committee comes equipped with "guiding principles" requiring, among other things, "an atmosphere of mutual respect" and "courteous language."

But the government precautions don't stop there. Terms of reference underline that the CLC "will not be a decision making forum" and "will interact with the cleanup project only through" an implementation agency that's yet to be set up. The committee will have access to project technical experts only "through, and with the agreement of," the government implementation agency.

The committee's freedom of action is also restricted in the other direction by terms that discourage direct interaction with the public. CLC members will be accountable to the implementation agency, to the organizations that nominated them, and to each other - full stop.

The clincher is that the committee meetings will take place in secret. Approved minutes will eventually be published; depending on how they're written, meeting minutes can be informative or meaningless to the public.

Perhaps this group will be of some use to the agency that will be installed to implement the cleanup but the government partners have gone overboard to ensure that no one goes to the bathroom without permission. All that's missing is a gag preventing members from talking to the public or the news media, but perhaps that will be the committee's first order of business. Slamming the door on all meetings cannot be justified, and it sends entirely the wrong signal about how government should be proceeding.

Several of the identified interest groups - business, labour, the construction industry and post-secondary education, to name the obvious ones, will be there primarily to lobby for the advantage of their own constituencies. At least make them do it in public or have the decency to delete "community" from the name.