Journal: News & Comment

Wednesday, November 02, 2005
# 12:05:00 AM:

Surprise surprise: a well-written government report

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UPDATE: People on the Editors' Association of Canada email list suggest that Michel Gauthier, listed in the Gomery Report's credits as "Information Technician," is likely the same person who is renowned as a plain-language expert, and thus may have had a role in the unusual clarity of the document. Those same credits also list an editorial and research staff that includes Strategic Editors Tom Gussman and Ian Sadinsky, who would have directed the effort. And of course, the report is available in French too, which makes it all the more amazing.

Whatever your thoughts on the Gomery Inquiry into Canada's federal sponsorship program scandal, the report released today is remarkable, as a government-sponsored document, for the clarity of its language and presentation. Consider:

  1. Unlike most Canadian government departments, the Commission has its own very reasonable web URL:

  2. More shockingly, the English version of the Phase 1 Report is at (wait for it)—and its title is, simply, "Who Is Reponsible?"

  3. Look at the glorious table of contents. Every item has a simple, easy-to-understand title.

  4. Gomery wrote the report itself in the first person, using the active voice in places you'd never expect it. Consider the introductory paragraph alone:
    I heard oral arguments at the conclusion of the hearings. They lasted five days and included representations from 21 participants, intervenors and interested parties, all of whom had previously filed written submissions. Fifteen others filed written submissions, but chose not to argue orally.
    Those words are well written and beautifully clear.

  5. He avoids the typical use of "allegedly" and "reported to" phraseology in his discussions, even though he does not have the authority to decide civil or criminal liability in this case. That makes his writing stark compared to what we're used to in newspaper and TV reports:
    Since [former Canadian Prime Minister] Chrétien chose to run the Program from his own office, and to have his own exempt staff take charge of its direction, he is accountable for the defective manner in which the Sponsorship Program and initiatives were implemented. Mr. Pelletier, for whom Mr. Chrétien was responsible, failed to take the most elementary precautions against mismanagement. There is ample evidence of an appalling lack of preparation for the introduction of a new program involving the discretionary disbursement of millions of dollars of public money by Mr. Guité's organization, without supervision or guidelines.

I'm not sure who edited this document, but I'd suggest nominating them for the Editors' Association of Canada's Tom Fairley Award next year, for prying something so clear from what would typically have been as dry and obscure a topic as imaginable: a government finance scandal.


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