All party committees routinely review and make consensus recommendations for changes to to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). Bill 22 does not address many of the key recommendations made by prior all-party committees – committees that NDP members were a part of and which reflected public input.
In 2016, BC NDP MLA Doug Routley introduced a private members Bill to reflect the parties commitment to increase transparency. This has not been acted upon in Bill 22.
As part of the 2017 Provincial election the BC NDP made all sorts of commitments to improve Transparency and Privacy through amendments to FIPPA. These have not been acted upon in Bill 22.
After repeated scandal surrounding the Legislative Assembly with items like wood splitters, all parties agreed with the recommendations of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, Ombudsperson, and Merit Commissioner. This has not been acted upon in Bill 22.
Minister Beare’s mandate letter not only calls on putting people first but to specifically:
- Improve access to information rules to provide greater public accountability.
Between Tuesday June 15th, and Thursday July 15th 2021 Citizens Services held an online engagement around FIPPA. As we said at the time, “On review, what we see is a document that creates the illusion of consultation, with more than a few leading questions.” Despite that we worked to get people involved on the basis that similar to prior engagements it could be used to inform the Special Committee.
On Wednesday June 16th, 2021 the Legislative Assembly appointed a Special Committee to review the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act [RSBC 1996, c. 165] in accordance with section 80 of FIPPA.
On Monday, October 18th, Lisa Beare, Minister of Citizens’ Services, introduced amendments to FIPPA in Bill 22.
The government’s public engagement to inform Bill 22 contradicts that Minister’s mandate focusing on two key themes (service modernization, and privacy enhancement) but does NOT focus on access to information.
The government is not being transparent about the engagement and has only released a summary rather than complete information. Our organization as well as others have outstanding Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for the raw survey results and we call for all engagement information to be made available as soon as possible.
The government claims their amendments reflect the need for change in current reporting yet haven’t met their statutory requirement for making those reports public. For example, no annual report was tabled in 2020 nor in 2021, to date (November 1, 2021). Section 68 of FIPPA requires an annual report be tabled at the earliest opportunity. And while there has been a lot going on, the Interpretations Act is clear. In addition the Minster has tabled other Annual Reports. These reports are important because they enable everyone to understand how the act is functioning and where government is succeeding and failing.
The provinces own Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy calls this legislation a step in the wrong direction.
These dynamics have led to both Liberal and Green members of the house raising many questions while the government remains steadfast in ramming the Bill through. In addition to the concerns surrounding the content of the Bill. The government shows disregard for all members of the legislature and the transparent democratic process when they undermine the work of the Special Committee set out in FIPPA by drafting and tabling amendments behind closed doors while the Committee is active.
On October 20th, MLA Adam Olsen rose on a question of privilege.
On October 26th, the motion was defeated the Bill moved to committee of the whole. Hansard 11:20
On October 27th, In a rare occurrence during Oral Questions, MLA Peter Milobar and MLA Michael de Jong asked questions of Special Committee Chair Rick Glumac. He could not confirm if the committee would meet prior to final votes on Bill 22 in the next few weeks. Hansard 2:10
On October 28th, as the Bill enters Committee stage, the opposition continues to raise legitimate questions on the content of the Bill and the actions of government in both morning and afternoon sittings.
When we review the Ministers statements in Hansard we are left with more questions than answers.
November 2nd, saw no debate on Bill 22.
On November 3rd in the afternoon sitting of committee of the whole, debate resumed on Bill 22. Debate focused on the issues created for Indigenous Peoples in the Bill. The opposition highlighted not only the cost, but also important discrepancies between terminology and definitions in DRIPA and Bill 22 that will lead to future conflict.
Neither November 15th or 16th saw no debate on Bill 22.
On November 17th due to the significant opposition, controversy and debate surrounding numerous Bills including Bill 22 the government began using dual committee rooms to advance their legislative agenda.
On November 18th the morning debate in Committee Room A continued on Clause 17. That continued into the afternoon debate in Committee Room A where Clause 17 was finally passed. Of significance in this debate, opposition members raised questions of the Minister asking if Privacy Impact Assessments and Privacy Management Programs would be proactively released or require the public to submit FOI requests and pay the new fees. The minister skated around the question leaving the listener to infer that that the public will only know if their privacy is protected if they pay the fee to find out.
On November 25th, the BC legislative session is scheduled to end.