Jan 25, 2009

Obama opens doors closed in BC


One of President Barack Obama’s first acts was to reverse an order from the Bush regime that undermined Freedom of Information requests. What a contrast to the British Columbia government.

In opposition Gordon Campbell was a big freedom of Information supporter. In 1998 he wrote to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association saying:

The fundamental principle must be this: government information belongs to the people, not to government. This means, among other things, that all citizens must have timely, effective and affordable access to documents which government make and keep. Governments should facilitate access, not obstruct it.

Stirring words.

Since elected the government has done everything in its power to roll back citizen access.

  • The deadline to respond to a request was increased from 30 calendar days to 30 working days. A Freedom of Information Association study found in half of cases the government failed to even meet the extended deadline.
  • Many requestors are facing heavy fee demands, and the clock stops on requests until they pay.
  • Between 2002 and 2005 funding for the Information Commissioner’s Office was cut by 35%.
  • Critical agencies like BC Ferries and Vanoc were exempted from access legislation.
  • The government attempted (unsuccessfully) to pass legislation exempting privatization projects from FOI requirements. Now the government is denying release of financial information about public private partnerships claiming such information is a cabinet secret.

So how does British Columbia stack up against other provinces? According to the Canadian Newspaper Association’s 2008 Freedom of Information Audit, BC ranks second worst in Canada, almost in a dead heat for the bottom spot with Ontario.

Let’s leave the last word on this to Gordon Campbell, again from his 1998 letter.

When government does its business behind closed doors, people will invariably believe that government has something to hide. Secrecy feeds distrust and dishonesty.