Jan 24, 2010

Loukidelis did good work for government accountability. Now it’s a legislative committee’s turn.


David Loukidelis, British Columbia’s Freedom of Information Commissioner has accepted the new role as the province’s deputy attorney general.  Vaughn Palmer did a good column on the switch in jobs but I thought Loukidelis deserved more credit for his ten years on the job.

Personally, I think Loukidelis’s leadership was almost completely responsible for BC’s FOI legislation keeping any credibility.  When the legislation was introduced under the NDP government it was considered among the most progressive in the world.  Then the Commissioner’s Office faced funding cuts under both NDP and Liberal governments.  Understaffing has meant getting decisions can take years. Bad interpretations of the legislation whittled away at clauses that should have guaranteed access to government information.  Liberal amendments increased timelines and the burden on applicants.  Whole new areas were declared out of bounds while BC Ferries was reorganized as a private organization and out of reach of FOI.

Despite this, Loukidelis faced the Campbell government down on a number of issues.  His opposition was largely responsible for stopping amendments that would have moved the government’s privatization schemes completely out of reach of FOI.  His determined criticism forced major changes to the privacy of BC medical information handed over to private American companies to manage.  He ruled that former Deputy Premier Ken Dobell had breached the rules respecting lobbying.  He also initiated a change in procedures that cuts months out of the FOI process when public bodies just refused to acknowledge or answer requests (deemed refusal).

I violently disagreed with some decisions of his office when I was on the wrong end of them, but on the whole I think he stopped the legislation from becoming a bad joke.

As a public servant for 10 years he acted with principle and according to how he saw the law.  If he keeps this up the Liberals might well have cause to regret appointing him as deputy attorney general.

With Loukidelis’s departure the legislative review of the FOI Act becomes even more important.  This review is required by the Act every six years.  In 2004 a committee made up almost entirely of Liberal MLAs put forward proposals that would have strengthened the role FOI played in government accountability.  The government ignored the report.

Another good report from this committee would be helpful in keeping the possibility of good FOI legislation alive.  If you think our FOI legislation needs to be improved make a submission to the committee.  The deadline for submissions has been extended to February 28.  You can find out all about the committee and its work here.

Dave Schreck has an example of a good, short submission to the committee on his website dated January 12 that is worth looking at.

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