How blind partisanship continues to breed a government without accountability or transparency… and why that should concern everyone.
It was May of 2015 when the Triple Delete scandal broke, after a whistleblower came forward with disturbing allegations. Former B.C. government staffer Tim Duncan revealed more than a dozen emails were deleted in November 2014 following a freedom of information request relating to the Highway of Tears. He had been told to delete them, and when he protested doing so and hesitated, ministerial assistant George Gretes took his keyboard and deleted them himself. It eventually became known that every copy was wiped, coining the term, triple delete.
What ensued was an examination of how politicians and staffers, could evade those pesky Freedom of Information laws, by simply not even writing things down. Rich Coleman was a fan of this,as was former premier Christy Clark. No paper, no record. No record, no info to be handed over when a freedom of information request comes in. The NDP, then in opposition, loudly railed against these outrageous acts, as did we all, including myself. In fact I blogged about the lack of a duty to document law as well as the removal of penalties for document destruction, an equally noxious move that would prevent legal consequences for document destruction of any kind. It took 2 years before the BC Liberals finally coughed up some half-assed legislation to make it look like they were rectifying the failures, but in essence, it still fell far short.
At the time, the NDP rightfully critcized the half measures:
Doug Routley, a critic on the file for the BC NDP, said the Liberals should be embarassed.
“But they seem immune to that.” The bill, he said, is not stringent enough in mandating a requirement to document. An NDP government, said Mr. Routley, would draw from NDP private members’ bills on the issue, enacting tighter rules on the destruction of documents, and compelling the creation of documents to more clearly chart government decisions.
B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver said the issue is important because the public needs to know why decisions were made, including who was influenced and consulted on decisions. He said the bill doesn’t allow for public confidence that there will be transparency within government.
And they were both correct. Which is why everyone was surprised when in early 2019, the NDP government didn’t enact tighter rules on the destruction of documents and duty to document, and instead passed the very same bill the Liberals had tried to bring in, and celebrated doing so:
These “new” legislative changes that NDP Minister Jinny Sims is promoting were actually initiated by the Liberal party in 2017. At that time, FIPA issued a press release that called the Liberal bill “a sad excuse for action on creating a duty to document government decisions” in the wake of the Triple Delete scandal that revealed an organized campaign to destroy government records.
In fact, the NDP put forward a private member’s bill at that time that proposed an actual duty to document in comparison to the Liberal’s ineffective bill.
In a statement issued by the Ministry of Finance in 2017, Liberal Minister Michael de Jong had claimed that their ineffective bill would “formalize this good practice in legislation while ensuring that British Columbia remains at the forefront of information management with strong oversight and consistent practice across government.”
Now, two years later, NDP Minister Jinny Sims is claiming that the same ineffective legislative change also “formalizes government’s obligation to document decisions and helps ensure records of decisions are available and accessible.”
The statements from the NDP and Liberal MLAs, made two years apart, are remarkably similar and entirely misleading. FIPA wants to see the creation of a meaningful duty to document—more in line with what the NDP was proposing two years ago—which would include:
The creation of mandatory documentation procedures. A discretionary duty to document is not sufficient.
Clear oversight from the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
The legislative change should be to the FIPPA, which affects over 2,900 public bodies, not the Information Management Act, which merely affects 41.
But surely there must have been some outrage over this from the #bcpoli crowd who had repetitively and loudly called out the Liberals for this? No. Silence.
And there was not even squeak again from the same partisan supporters when Horgan just issued his mandate letters and completely backed off his promise to cut government secrecy. I’ll be honest when I say I was surprised to see the Tyee do an excellent piece on this, because they have not held the NDP’s feet to the fire in the same manner as they did the BC Liberals, (with the exception of Andrew Nikiforuks work,along with a couple others.)
Now let me tell you why both the half assed duty to document legislation and this backing off of a pledge to more open government bothers me, and why it should bother you. Under these very historical times, this government has already shown it will not make records either. Bob Mackin, who continues to hold the NDP to the same account as he did the BC Liberals, had the story back in July, on how no notes were made of two key Covid briefings this spring.
Why this is concerning right now, is because of the lack of transparency, accountability and data being shared with the public, the press and other governments….courtesy of our majority NDP government.
When questioned, our public health officer has refuted that any data is being withheld, which just isn’t true, as the tweet threads below will attest to. When asked why this government is so secret, Horgan says they are as transparent as any other government. But that’s not true either, not even close. You can click on each image to go and read the entire thread that follows , on twitter, no account needed.
And all of a sudden, after the very accurate and thoughtful posts above, today Dr. Henry finally announces a change. A long, overdue change considering we are 10 months into this pandemic and not one community region has been given data in their area ” because it might endanger public health”
One small move by government, and yet there is still more.
That a mayor was not even informed of what was happening in his own city, is unconscionable. And this sudden commitment to share community data only happened because of these reporters above, not because the legislative press gallery hounded government. School exposures have not been tracked by government, but by two moms on facebook. We are no longer given data breakdowns on long term care, due to staff issues. ( Ironically in a time of fiscal challenges and staffing issues due to ministry of health demands, Horgan did still manage to expand two ministries,and appoint many new staff )
While many were celebrating the vaccine announcement yesterday, today’s news of 723 new cases, and 28 dead in the last 24 hours, on top of the daily double digit death toll we have seen for weeks, should make everyone pause about why it is that we are in this position today. Say what you will about Norman Spector, he is scathingly accurate here.
Contact tracing is overwhelmed,particularly so now in the north, but also still in Fraser health, which was the epicentre of spread during the election. In the long hot days of late summer and our lovely autumn, it is valid and essential, to ask how focused was this government on wave 2 readiness, when all hands on deck were needed to prepare for an election instead? This was followed by a month in caretaker mode, without a health minister, at the time *we know now* we most desperately needed it. And will there be records to FOI? I honestly don’t know.
With a press gallery momentarily freed of their shackles so election coverage was complete, we saw politicians campaigning all over, repeated reassurances of how safe everything was and what a good time it was to have an election, inadvertently perhaps, giving social license to carry on. How serious could it be after all, if gatherings could be held outside for campaign stops and fundraisers, even right in Surrey? While it is safe to say that the act of an election, or even of voting didn’t lead to the wildfire spread of cases, it is accurate to say that holding off on issuing any restrictions – even in the clear and growing evidence of explosive case numbers in high density areas – did. When questioned in a presser recently, Dr.Henry admitted she was surprised to see the rise in cases earlier than expected, in September. Why nothing was done until the day after the election, or why it was even allowed to occur, will come under scrutiny. Particularly since the Elections BC committee minutes from June of this year, make note of when is the best timing for an election:
Who determines when public health risk is highest? If it is known cases are rising, and a second wave was imminent, in fact underway when the election started, why was it allowed to continue? And why were health orders delayed? Considering how unprepared we clearly were as a province, and still are, this matters.
Not surprisingly, as the death toll grows and staff become exhausted and critically stressed, long term care operators are now looking for some exemption of civil liability, and it will be interesting to see if they get it. https://www.radionl.com/2020/12/04/b-c-s-long-term-care-industry-seeks-protection-from-potential-covid-19-lawsuits/ Particularly since the government has exempted itself and public health authorities from any liability under the Covid Measures Act passed already, and actually amended that bill quietly in August, to make it retroactive to January 1st – ( ?? What happened between January and March to prompt government to amend the date of the bill to make it retroactive?) – and to expand liability exemptions to include For Profit businesses. You can read about those changes here: https://harrisco.com/new-order-in-council-expands-scope-of-covid-19-liability-protections/
Lot of questions, very few answers, and continual silence from the online NDP influencers, organizers and PR folks who would have been up 24/7 demanding answers and accountability if Wilkinson had been the one behind all this. We’ve gone from one depressing cycle of partisanship under the BC Liberals, to another under the NDP. And it threatens the very values good governance is built on. It’s entirely possible to be happy the BC Liberals are not in power, be loyal to your party, and still be vocal when they don’t govern as they should. ” Would you rather the Liberals be in charge?” isn’t an acceptable response to evidence based and valid criticisms of these issues in the middle of a pandemic. . The BC Liberals became as arrogant and out of touch as they did, largely because they could. Their supporters voted for them even in the face of serious wrongdoing. They favoured silence over action.
And I see no difference now. Not on a day when 28 more are gone and the only reason the few critical changes were made was because critics and northern reporters pushed back online…Horgan may be high in approval ratings now, but the higher the death toll grows, and the more people start to wonder why nothing was done for so long, the only place to go is down.