Pity the poor history teacher who assigned students to write about a Canadian PM—say, Brian Mulroney— based on authoritative online biographies. Depending on which government website the youngsters looked at, the teacher would be faced with at least three different dates for the most basic political information imaginable—Mulroney’s last day in office. Library and Archives Canada had June 25,1993, on its chart of Canadian PMs, as well as listing June 13 on Mulroney’s “fast facts” Web page, while the Prime Minister’s Office, the Library of Parliament and the Privy Council Office all settled for June 24. For the record, June 25 is the correct date.
An examination of the four putatively credible government websites revealed dating discrepancies involving 17 ministries of 14 prime ministers starting with Wilfrid Laurier and involving every subsequent PM except for Joe Clark and Stephen Harper. After the Privy Council Office combed through the orders-in-council for the official terms of each ministry, the PMO hastily changed Jean Chrétien’s start date from Nov. 11,1993, to Nov. 4. (Calls to the PMO about the discrepancies weren’t returned.)
Even the Privy Council Office’s Guide to Canadian Ministeries, considered the “authority of authorities” for ministerial terms of office, had at least two online errors. After assuring Macleans that the PCO website would be purged of errors, spokeswoman Myriam Massabki said that the correct data would be given to the other departments. While no one could explain how the mistakes went unnoticed for years, perhaps Kim Campbell had the best answer.
After being informed that federal websites had three end dates to her brief time in office (Nov. 3,1993, is correct), she responded: “When I was in government we used to have a humorous expression, ‘Close enough for government work.’ I guess this shows where it came from.” M
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