Open Letter Urges Premier to Honour Pledge to Provide Stable Funding for Information and Privacy Commissioner

The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association sent an
open letter today to Premier Gordon Campbell urging him to honor his committment to “open government” by rejecting a Finance Committee recommendation to cut 35 per cent from the budget of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

On December 19th, the Legislature’s Finance Committee recommended drastic cuts to the offices of the Auditor General (15 per cent), Elections B.C. (45 per cent), Ombudsman (35 per cent), Child, Youth and Family Advocate (45 per cent), Police Complaint Commission (30 per cent), and Information and Privacy Commissioner (35 per cent).

FIPA’s letter states, “The relatively small amounts saved by cutting these budgets will mean vastly less government transparency and accountability, and inevitably more inefficiency, waste and improper conduct in public offices.”

“Cuts of this magnitude would completely destroy the government’s ‘New Era’ pledge to be ‘the most open, accountable and democratic government in Canada'”, said Darrell Evans, executive director of FIPA. “The exercise of power without sufficient scrutiny and accountability is a great danger for any government — and the danger is even greater in a province without an effective Official Opposition.”

FIPA is most concerned about possible cutbacks to the office of the
Information and Privacy Commissioner, whose budget of $2.4 million is already bare-bones following cutbacks made in 1998. The open letter points out that further cuts would fly in the face of a written commitment made to FIPA by the Premier to provide adequate funding for the Commissioner’s office.

In April 2001, FIPA sent a written question to then-Opposition Leader Gordon Campbell asking, “Do you favour reducing, keeping stable or increasing the funding for the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s office?” Mr. Campbell’s response was, “Our commitment to open government means providing a stable funding base for the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s office to ensure that office has the resources it needs to discharge its statutory mandate.”

FIPA’s open letter states, “Reducing the budget of the Information and Privacy Commissioner as recommended by the Finance Committee can by no means be interpreted as providing a stable funding base for the office, and there is no question that it will deprive the Commissioner of the resources needed to discharge its statutory mandate…

“We ask that you consider the effect that less scrutiny and accountability could have on government officials, both elected and unelected. What tragedies, what boondoggles, what unfairness and waste will be made more likely in such a situation? We think that you should be hearing warning bells as you consider this committee’s report.”

FIPA is the organization that successfully campaigned to have the freedom of information (FOI) act passed in 1992, and launched the “Campaign for Open Government” to defend the FOI act from the threat of severe budget cuts by the Clark government in1998.

CONTACT: Darrell Evans, (604) 739-9788