Private parts

Earlier this month, the Campbell administration introduced legislative amendments that will limit public access to information about so-called "joint solution projects" with the private sector. That legislation has been condemned by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the British Columbia Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. And last week, Liberal backbencher Blair Lekstrom also came out against those changes, telling reporters "The concern is that people want openness and accountability. I think we've done a good job of that so far. And I think the perception of the people certainly will be that this will be an opportunity to possibly avoid that." The Times Colonist and The Province both noted Mr. Lekstrom chaired a special committee in 2004 which recommended against similar amendments because "the case for strengthening protection of third-party business information lacks concrete examples of harm suffered." But that wasn't the only recommendation the committee made.

In its final 46-page report - entitled Enhancing the Province's Public Sector Access and Privacy Laws - the committee also encouraged government to:

* release information (such as "copies of successful requests for proposals and contracts") as "a matter of course" rather than requiring British Columbians to submit a formal request for those files;
* allow information to be released on CDs or DVDs rather than hard copies, thereby reducing the cost of freedom of information requests; and
* ensure those requesting information have the right to anonymity.

In an interview last night on Public Eye Radio, Mr. Lekstrom confirmed those three specific recommendations - out of the 28 included the report - have yet to be acted on by government. Although, he added the administrations new freedom of information amendments do allow for the routine disclosure of joint soliution project records - albiet in a limited fashion.


Mr Lekstrom obviously doesn't lack a backbone and he's absolutely right. His committee's recommendations make a lot of sense and should be adopted immediately.

I'm frankly surprised that the mainstream press (apart from Sean and David Schreck) haven't been all over this one, particularly in light of the government's stated commitment to accountability.

From a political perspective, proactive disclosure offers many benefits. Most often, governments end up taking more flack over real or perceived "cover ups" than over the original "offence" that is supposedly being covered up. Being more proactive can go a long way to defusing political brouhahahs before they ever have a chance to get going. And creating a more open culture helps keep the bureaucrats on the straight and narrow, thus reducing the chance of unpleasant surprises. It's win-win for everyone.

And ... what about Wally Oppal's Bill 23??

I had always wondered about the final conclusions of the Nanaimo Bingo "public enquiry" because no less an authority than Alex Macdonald, once B.C. Attorney General, wrote a little book which completely exonerated Dave Stupich ... I loaned my last copy out and never got it back, which I regret, as it was so useful whenever people got cranked up about so-called criminal deeds at "Bingogate." According to Alex, the deeds were trumped up. He named names and was never sued. But he said he welcomed discussing it in court, saying he'd really like to say more, for the record, under oath.

3 weeks after they became government, Campbell's Liberals shut down that Enquiry into the Nanaimo Commonwealth Society. Why was that? Because it would've cost an additional $2 million to clear the air, and to ... [wait for it] ... to report on the "adequacy of past and present rules and restrictions given the proceeds of licensed gambling?" In addition to possibly wanting to preserve its spin on NCHS, the Campbell government may have been motivated by its desire to expand gambling to the full extent that the market will bear, as we have seen over the past five years, says David Schreck (May 4/Strategic Thoughts).

People have a right to know these things (just like the right to know the background to what Basi & Virk may have done). This whole environment of embedded, behind-the-scenes, semi-legal corruption is what makes the upcoming trial of Basi & Virk so important in B.C. And Ottawa.

Attorney General Waly Oppal's Bill 23 has been condemned by the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation, the BC Freedom of Information Association (FIPA), and the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA).

BCCLA's president Jason Gratl said: "This act takes both the 'public' and the 'inquiry' out of public inquiry. It's nothing more than a scheme to thwart independent oversight and government accountability."

Previously, reports from public inquiries had to be tabled in the legislature for all the public to see, but under Section 29 of Oppal's Bill 23: "A commission must not release its report to any person other than the minister." So much for transparent government! says Schreck.

The timing is ominous. Less than a month from now, beginning 5 June, we may begin to hear that other vitally important public enquiries ought to be held. Beginning with the sale of BC Rail.

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