The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) is calling on the federal government to extend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act to a long list of quasi-governmental bodies it has created over the past decade. These bodies create public policy, spend billions of dollars of public money, and in some cases make decisions that have a major impact on public health and safety; yet they remain unaccountable to both taxpayers and Parliament.
The problem is shown in its worst form with Bill C-27, the recently passed Nuclear Fuel Waste Act, which establishes a new agency called the Waste Management Organization (WMO). Bill C-27 will allow nuclear waste to be imported into Canada while letting nuclear energy corporations sit on the WMO’s board of directors. The WMO will not be directly accountable to Parliament or subject to the Access to Information Act, Canada’s open government legislation.
The Liberal majority ignored the advice of the Seaborn panel (set up to advise on the WMO’s creation) to include it under the Access to Information Act, and also voted down amendments by the Bloc Quebecois and Canadian Alliance parties to include it under the Act.
The Chretien government has created at least 14 unaccountable quasi-government bodies since first elected (See attached backgrounder for partial list) . FIPA is concerned that the wall of secrecy around two of these bodies – the Waste Management Organization and Canadian Blood Services – poses a potential threat to public safety.
In addition to less access to information, these bodies also provide less protection for the privacy of Canadians’ personal information than agencies which are subject to either the Privacy Act or the new Personal Information Protection Act, which governs the privacy practices of the federally-regulated private sector.
“Democracy is diminished when large sectors of government authority are placed beyond the openness, accountability and privacy protection provided by these acts,” said FIPA executive director Darrell Evans.
CONTACT: Darrell Evans, 604-739-9788
Backgrounder: Quasi-Governmental Bodies Created by the Federal Government
The problem of quasi-governmental bodies, which are created by the federal government but are unaccountable to both Parliament and Canadian taxpayers, was spotlighted by federal Auditor General Sheila Fraser in her annual
report to Parliament on April 16, 2002.
Fraser noted that “In many cases, these foundations do not meet essential requirements that government departments would have to meet if they were delivering the same programs: namely, credible reporting of results, effective ministerial oversight, and adequate external audit.”
Some of the quasi-governmental bodies established in recent years, most as non-profit societies, are:
- the Waste Management Organization, which will develop Canada’s long-term plan for handling and storing nuclear waste;
- Canadian Blood Services, which oversees the safety and management of Canada’s blood supply;
- the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (recipient and disburser of $1.9 billion in federal money);
- Canada Health Infoway Inc. ($500 million);
- the Canadian Millennium Scholar-ship Foundation ($2.5 billion);
- Canada Pension Investment Board; and
- Genome Canada.
For a more comprehensive list, see Prof. Alasdair Roberts’ website.
Workable solutions have been implemented elsewhere. In fall 2000, Britain adopted a Freedom of Information bill that which covers most major contractors, quasi-governmental organizations, and can even include private organizations that perform public functions. Some of these provisions are also included in the FOI laws of Ireland, Scotland, Jamaica, Australia and
New Zealand. There is absolutely no excuse for Canada to fall behind these nations.
Federal Information Commissioner John Reid has complained vigorously and often about the creation of quasi-governmental bodies as well, without success. In his annual report for 2000-2001, he warned “In future years, there may be changes in the way governments manage corrections, drug approvals, grants and contributions, policing, emergency response measures;
the list goes on. Accountability through transparency should not be lost merely because the modality of service provision has changed.”
Another indication of concern within the federal government: In February 2002, Treasury Board issued the government’s Policy on Alternative Service Delivery 1. It asks each quasi-governmental body to complete a “case analysis” which includes the question, “Is there appropriate provision for access to information, preservation of government memory and the privacy of
Clearly, for FIPA, the answer is, “Only if the body is covered by the ATI and Privacy Acts”