The BC government introduced two bills this week that, if passed, will do enormous damage to public access to information in British Columbia.
Bill 23, the Public Inquiry Act, will make significant changes to public inquiries. Historically, the law required public inquiry reports to be publicly tabled in the Legislative Assembly. Under the new act, a public inquiry commission will not be able to issue its report to any person other than the minister, and Cabinet will have the power to decide when and if a report from a public inquiry will be released.
“I’m calling this the Ted Hughes Inquiry Restraint Act,” said FIPA executive director Darrell Evans. “Under this legislation, the government will never need to deal with a public inquiry as honest and independent as the recent Hughes inquiry into BC’s child protection system.” (The Hughes inquiry found the government to be directly at fault for failures to protect children.)
Bill 30, The Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, proposes amendments to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA) that further advance the Liberal administration’s six-year agenda of bogging down and limiting FOI requests:
An amendment to section 21 of the Act has the potential to create a vast arena of public-private enterprise that is not subject to the transparency and accountability the FOIPPA was enacted to create. A new designation of “joint solution project” is allowed for projects contracted between government and the private sector. Under this designation, a veil of secrecy can be drawn across the commercial, financial, labour relations, scientific and technical information of the project.
Increasingly large amounts of public funds are invested in government outsourcing, public-private partnerships, and other forms of “alternative service delivery” such as non-profit agencies, authorities and institutes. These arrangements will not be subject to the rigorous public scrutiny afforded by the FOIPPA if they are designated as “joint solution projects”.
“It’s vital to connect the dots between the federal “sponsorship scandal” and excessive secrecy around the contracting out of government work,” stated FIPA’s Evans. “It’s not only a great danger to our democratic system to cloak government projects and contracts in secrecy; it can also have immense financial consequences for taxpayers.”