And so Information Commissioner Robert Marleau announces his retirement, prompting a veritable avalanche of how-will-you-be-able-to-tell-he’s-gone jokes.
This corner has been a reluctant critic of Marleau, who is a real gentleman in person and whose contributions to Parliamentary procedure as clerk of the Commons were legion. But he spent a very long time getting ready to criticize this government, even as he would occasionally be heard to whisper that its record on providing a free flow of information was getting more and more alarming. Here’s the combined list of macleans.ca Marleau blog posts. Note especially this post, in which Marleau defended himself against his assorted accusers. I thought that was a really classy move, and I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. In that interview he said:
But those who are waiting for an attack-dog commissioner will have to wait for the outcomes of what I can do because it’s not normally my posture. There’s a time to bite. There’s a time to bark. If all you do is bark, then after a while you don’t hear the dog. I’m not saying you have to wag your tail, but sometimes backing off gives you some results.
Fair enough. So what does he do when it’s time to bite? He retires.
Yesterday’s communiqué cites “personal reasons,” and again I’m inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. There really are personal reasons for making career decisions in Ottawa, and it’s cheap cynicism to discount them. But then Marleau gave an interview to Jim Bronskill, one of the Press Gallery’s most dedicated users of the Access to Information law. And the personal reasons he gives are…well, see for yourself:
“I’ve got a six-year-old grandson who can handle a fishing rod now, so I think it’s time to move on,” said Mr. Marleau, 61.
After working to improve the administration and financing of the commissioner’s office, the job would soon involve more vocal lobbying to improve access to federal information, he said in an interview.
“The next phase for me here would be to go more aggressively into the kind of advocacy I think this commissioner has to do. And I think it would have been unfair to the [access] community to go six months into a kind of personal-style kind of advocacy and then pull out.
To sum up: he spends three years defining his role as one of enhancing the administration of the Access Commissioner’s office. By God, that’s got to be the best-run Officer-of-Parliament office in the whole darned Commonwealth. Ship-shape, ladies and gentlemen! Top of the line! But then, when the moment comes — not a second too soon, some might say — to use this gleaming vessel of office flowchart perfection on behalf of the citizens whose access rights under law are being stymied at every turn — well, that’s precisely the moment Bob Marleau’s gone fishin’.
His stance for three years was that it was too early in his tenure to bark. Now he hands off to an interim commissioner; the government can take all the time in the world finding a permanent replacement; and then the newbie will, in all likelihood, feel bound by the same rookie reticence that made Marleau so mild a guardian of the law. Probably the new guy or gal won’t actually hold his or her tongue for three freaking years, mind you, but still.
The opposition parties need to approve the appointment of a new information commissioner. They should not hesitate to veto the Prime Minister’s choice if they are not satisfied he has found a canine with healthy gums. It is not true that any information commissioner is better than none. As we have seen.