VICTORIA – New Democrats are calling for the Finance Committee to reconvene to investigate how B.C.’s Freedom of Information office was effectively shut down by the B.C. Liberals’ failure to appoint an acting Commissioner.
“British Columbians deserve to know why this lapse occurred. The Finance Committee has the responsibility to determine whether the FOI office has been shuttered through mere incompetence from the B.C. Liberals, or whether this is the result of their systemic campaign to diminish the public’s access to information,” said Doug Donaldson , New Democrat deputy finance critic and vice-chair of the Finance Committee.
New Democrat MLAs Doug Routley , Bruce Ralston and Donaldson today submitted a joint letter to Finance Committee chair John Les urging an investigation. The committee has the authority to convene hearings and call witnesses on matters affecting independent officers.
This committee’s first witness would be the Minister responsible for the government’s FOI operations, Ben Stewart.
On Wednesday, the government named then-Information Commissioner David Loukidelis the new Deputy Attorney General. However, because the government failed to name an acting interim commissioner, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner no longer has the legal authority to fulfill its mandate and effectively has had to shut down.
“Much of the great work of the OIPC has been put into limbo by the B.C Liberals, like handling FOI requests and alleged privacy breaches. Investigations into the B.C. Liberals’ handling of emails related to the BC Rail sale, and two civil servants breaching the privacy of 1,400 social assistance clients are also affected,” said Routley, the New Democrat critic for citizen services and FOI.
“In this vacuum, there is no oversight to ensure the B.C. Liberals and the public bodies that report to it are meeting their obligations under information and privacy statutes.”
This failure to appoint an acting commissioner coincides with a court challenge launched by the OIPC against the B.C. Liberals over their resistance to provide information to the public.
Carole James and New Democrats are proposing concrete measures to help restore trust in government, including strengthened FOI rules to increase accountability and an Independent Budget Officer to bring openness to budget reporting.