Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same, especially when it comes to how leaders respond to power. While many had high hopes for Horgan, his performance yesterday in the legislature and with media, seemed to finally be the tipping point for reporters.
First, the response to a BC Liberal member asking about the premiers office exemption from FOI. The full video for context is here and begins at about 11:45 am: http://videoarchive.leg.bc.ca/Harmony/en/PowerBrowser/PowerBrowserV2/0/-1/11188?viewmode=2
For brevity’s sake, here is one of the many tweets this display of hubris generated :
But, there is more. In the still highly controlled media availability,he doubled down and held out his phone to show what was on it in an apparent stunt to show just how transparent he is. It was a Trumpian stunt more reminiscent of something our former premier might do, and more bizarrely tone deaf than anyone who battled to get access to information from the BC Liberals was comfortable with.
At the heart of the issue that elicited this bizarre stunt, was the criticism that one of the changes within the Harperesque omnibus style bill, is an exemption for the premiers office from scrutiny of Freedom of Information requests. Michael McEvoy, Information and Privacy commissioner, is so concerned by this amendment and others contained in the bill that he recently issued a public letter to Minister Lisa Beare asking her to remove it : https://www.oipc.bc.ca/public-comments/3592
Now in power, the NDP resent the official opposition BC Liberals filing FOI’s to find information to use against the NDP as ammunition – something the NDP absolutely relied on themselves when in opposition! In fact, NDP mla’s used to file Freedom of Information requests for citizens trying to find information, when they faced a fee too high to pay. Horgan insists the oppositions requests which he refers to as fishing trips, is clogging the system for the regular folks. Also targeted was independent journalist Bob Mackin, who holds the Horgan government to the same standard he held the Clark and Campbell governments too – something they didn’t expect. The other key issue garnering criticism is the potential new fee to even file a request. If this bill is passed as is, any new fees and how much they are, will be decided after the fact. Even more concerning is the removal of the Information and Privacy Commissioners ability to waive a fee.
From his open letter :
Application fees for access requests
Bill 22 would authorize the government to impose application fees for access to information requests, fees that could be charged by all types of public bodies. This would be a significant step in the wrong direction. Application fees pose a real barrier for many who seek information that should be readily available to the public. I am unable to understand how this amendment improves accountability and transparency when it comes to public bodies that operate in a free and democratic society. Nor is it necessary, since FIPPA already authorizes public bodies to charge access fees, to help defray the costs of responding to requests.
We are living in a time when people are seeking more answers, and greater accountability, from public bodies and their governments, amplifying the significant role that freedom of information plays in allowing people to get information about what their governments are doing, and the decisions that affect them. To add another barrier of access at a time when transparency is critical is deeply troubling.
Further, I am troubled that there would be no ability for my office to waive an application fee if it is in the public interest.
I can’t even imagine what Dermod Travis would say if he saw this. Actually, I can, so let me do my best.
Under former premier Christy Clark, we saw a number of scandals surrounding how information was documented in government – or not – and how it was deleted.
We discovered that key ministers ” didn’t use paper ” to document discussions and decisions, courtesy of Rich Coleman. https://lailayuile.com/2018/06/27/money-and-corruption-are-ruining-the-land-2/
We discovered that emails relating to the highway of tears were deleted, in what became known as the triple delete scandal that saw charges https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/emails-relating-to-b-c-s-highway-of-tears-allegedly-deleted-1.3091592
The NDP were rightfully unapologetic in their harsh criticisms of Clark and crew back then, and promised if they got into government that they would fix it all, starting with the duty to document. Which is why everyone, including information and privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy, was shocked when the new NDP government ended up passing the same flawed bill the BC Liberals had originally brought forward 2 years earlier. I wrote about this in 2020, here : https://lailayuile.com/2020/12/10/how-blind-partisanship-continues-to-breed-a-government-without-accountability-or-transparency-and-why-that-should-concern-everyone/
Horgan had completely backed off his pledge to cut secrecy then, and now cuts access even more if this new bill passes. This is something I would have expected from Clark, and had she tried what the NDP government is doing now, every NDP partisan would have been blasting her for it. Now? Silence or worse yet, a defence of Horgan and the endless ” Well the BC Liberals did worse.”
Yes, they did, and some of us haven’t forgotten it. Think these changes are bad under Horgan? Imagine the next BC Liberal leader as a premier whose office is exempt from scrutiny. Imagine that same scenario with the current half assed duty to document legislation still sitting there. Does that scare you? Do you get why no one should let this slide? They should have fixed every loophole and amended every bit of legislation to ensure what happened under Clark, could never happen again.
But they didn’t. They passed the BC Liberals old bill on duty to document, thinking the public was too oblivious to notice. And now this. It’s an attack on democracy under this government…. it would be the death of democracy if passed and a BC Liberal government gets back in. This isn’t about transparent, open government. This is about trying to keep every political advantage they can. Just like Clark did.
Find your NDP MLA here, and call or email to let them know you won’t stand for this. https://www.leg.bc.ca/learn-about-us/members
AND…please join the coalition to stop Bill 22 by adding your name here https://fipa.bc.ca/transparency-matters/our-bill-22-coalition/