The government of Stephen Harper has failed to decentralize power in the prime minister's office, a trend that is a "danger to Canadian democracy," retired judge John Gomery said Thursday.
Gomery appeared in Ottawa before the Commons estimates committee to address the implementation of his recommendations into the sponsorship scandal.
Although Gomery said some of his reforms were addressed in the government's accountability legislation, "the basic problem described in the report has not been dealt with."
Gomery said that problem is "the growing imbalance between the executive side of the government represented by the prime minister and his cabinet and the legislative side represented by parliament."
Gomery said his report warned of the "greater and greater concentration" of power within the executive.
Speaking to the committee, he raised concerns about the political staff in the PMO, saying they are not elected and are not subjected to any rules or laws, yet "have the ear of the most important and powerful person in Canadian government."
"I suggest that this trend is a danger to Canadian democracy and leaves the door wide open to the kind of political interference in the day-to-day administration of government programs that led to what is commonly called the sponsorship scandal."
In his first report in November 2005 about the sponsorship scandal, Gomery concluded that millions of taxpayer dollars had been skimmed by Liberal-friendly ad agencies and some of the cash had flowed back to the party in under-the-table kickbacks.
'Black hole' of indifference
In a second report, Gomery recommended reversing the growing trend toward centralization of power in the hands of the prime minister and his inner circle.
But in an interview with the Canadian Press in January, Gomery said that since Harper took power, "there's more concentration of power in the Prime Minister's Office than we've ever had before, which is quite remarkable in a minority government, but he's pulled it off."
Gomery said most of the political and bureaucratic changes he proposed fell into a "black hole" of indifference or were rejected out of hand.
In the interview, Gomery also slammed the Tories for not revamping the Access to Information Act to make it easier for journalists and other citizens to get documentation from the government.
He also took the prime minister to task for abandoning the effort to install a new appointments commissioner to ensure that merit — not patronage — would be the main criterion in naming people to the boards of Crown corporations and other key posts.