Canadian Politicians Work Towards Transparency Reform By Keeping Relevant Documents Secret
from the the-first-rule-of-open-records-reform... dept
Following in the proud tradition of governments everywhere who believe a push for transparency is best performed under the cover of darkness, the Canadian legislators behind an attempt to update the Access to Information Act have decided to keep their transparency discussions secret.
The Treasury Board Secretariat has chosen to withhold key memos to minister Scott Brison on reforming the antiquated Access to Information Act.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has promised to amend the access law so that federal information is open by default.
But Canadians aren’t allowed to see the advice from officials on how to reach that goal.
The Canadian Press used the access law to request recent briefing notes and memos to Brison on possible reforms. However, entire pages were withheld for fear of revealing government advice, consultations or deliberations.
The Canadian Press notes the government didn’t have to redact these pages. While there is an exemption for deliberative documents, it’s purely discretionary. The good news is that the unredacted portions of the documents seem to indicate a desire to strengthen the public’s access, rather than weaken it. It also appears the rewrite will expand the law’s coverage to more agencies.
But, for now, all other details are still only known to the public’s representatives, leaving the people they represent in the dark. It’s tough to mobilize support (or express objections) if voters don’t know who’s asking for what.
Then there’s the fact that this reform effort has been in the works for four years now with very little to show for it. The 1983 law isn’t equipped to handle a mostly-digital world and, as in every country with a national open records law, the government has become quite adept at exploiting loopholes to avoid having to turn over documents.
Long-standing problems with the access to information law have prompted calls for a substantive change, something the Conservative government, like previous governments, has been reluctant to do.
For example, instances where requesters got absolutely nothing increased by 49.1 per cent over the last five years. And during the same time period, the number of requests that were extended beyond their original 30-day deadline increased by 18.6 per cent — a slower rate of increase than the growth of requests, but still acknowledged as a problem.
Bureaucracies are never efficient, but it gets even worse when reform efforts target something everyone says they’re committed to (transparency) but is actually the last thing they want. Four years and a regime change later, the efforts are still inching forward. Meanwhile, the public is being told indirectly that the best thing it can do is sit on the sidelines and wait for their representatives to decide what’s best for them, rather than inviting them to participate in a discussion of great interest to them.