Universities and other public bodies can still create independent companies whose records are beyond the reach of province’s FOI law, more than a year after the former Minister of Open Government promised to deal with the problem.
Last October, Information and Privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham wrote a letter to then-minister Margaret MacDiarmid to highlight a BC Supreme Court ruling which found that university subsidiary corporations are in fact not subject to the demands of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. In her estimation, it was a relatively quick fix.
Following that letter, former Minister MacDiarmid expressed a desire to work with Denham to fix the problem, though for her it seemed a significantly more complicated matter. In response to a question from NDP critic Doug Routley on October 20, 2011, she said
“We certainly have the intention of working with her [Denham] and looking to address it, but it would require consultation and would require a number of sections of the act to be different…The initial conversation is already starting with the commissioner, and we’re going to work in this area.”
Since that statement, nothing has been done, and with the fall sitting of the Legislature cancelled, it’s not likely that we’re going to see action any time soon. When it comes to upholding the information rights of citizens, this kind of delay is unacceptable. But unfortunately for British Columbians, it’s only the latest in a string of transparency shortfalls on the government’s behalf.
In 2006, then Education Minister Shirley Bond announced that they would be putting for-profit subsidiaries of school districts under the FOI act. This announcement followed a special inquiry into money-losing subsidiaries, which recommended FOI coverage in order to enhance transparency.
Again, the promised legislative changes were never made, despite the Minister’s public statement.
For whatever reason, this government is allergic to making these subsidiary companies transparent. Apparently they don’t agree with the Commissioner that whatever form it takes, if a body is carrying on public business it should be subject to FOI.