Information and Privacy Commissioner pushes government on duty to document

Judging by a number of documents released by her office on Monday, Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham is not satisfied with the “maybe by 2016, if we feel like it” response from Deputy Minister of Citizen Services Kim Henderson to her recent recommendation that the provincial government implement a legislated duty to document.

In a letter to Minister of Citizen Services and Open Government Ben Stewart, Denham clearly lays out many excellent reasons why bureaucrats should be recording what they are doing and how decisions are being made. She cites openness and transparency, facilitation of effective decision-making, preservation of corporate memory, accurate reporting of decisions to the public, and documentation of government’s legacy for future generations.

In a separate document, Denham also sets out guidelines for the use of private email accounts by government employees, which she rightly says should apply to all public bodies. In those guidelines she reaffirms her position that private emails, if they’re used to carry out government business, are subject to FOI. She also sets out a long list of reasons why, as a policy, private email accounts should not be used to conduct public business.

FIPA agrees with the Commissioner. The guidelines are a welcome reminder that, given recent controversies around the essentially undocumented investigation into former Chief of Staff Ken Boessenkool and the attempts by Liberal insiders to hide details related to the party’s “ethnic outreach” memo, if private emails are being used to guide public policy, then they are records in the eyes of FOI. However, it is essential that penalties for the use of private email accounts to avoid FOI be incorporated into any future amendments to the Act.

Perhaps the Commissioner’s preliminary investigation into the Liberals’ “multicultural outreach plan,” also announced on Monday, will be a catalyst for desperately needed improvements in government record keeping and information management

This is an important issue not just in terms of accountability, but also in terms of the actual functioning and historical record of government. In the rapidly approaching provincial election, all candidates should be prepared to state clearly where they stand on the duty to document.