With its poll numbers plummeting, the Campbell administration has moved to keep a closer eye on the records being released by Crown corporations in response to freedom of information requests. And that's "not a good sign" for British Columbians concerned about openness and transparency in government, according to one of the province's leading freedom of information advocates. Those requests - which are used by reporters and opposition politicians to find out what officials aren't telling British Columbians - can often lead to damaging stories about the government. But the province has now ordered the Crowns - which include agencies such as the British Columbia Lottery Corp. and Insurance Corporation of British Columbia - to notify them about those records before they're made public. And that order has Vincent Gogolek, the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association's policy and communications director, worried.
"The duty of the public body - whichever one of these Crown you happened to look at - under section six of the (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act) is to respond openly, fully and completely to the person requesting the information. Their duty is not to ensure the public affairs bureau has information ahead of time so they can prepared whatever communications stuff they deem appropriate," he told Public Eye after looking at that order, which has been added to the letters of expectations outlining the relationship between the province and the Crowns.
"What the government seems to be putting forward here is, 'We have a right to look at this stuff and put together whatever communications plans we want.' And - reading between the lines - you can see how they would be tempted to say, 'Do you really think we have to release this? You're sure this isn't a cabinet document? You're sure this isn't advice to the minister? It sure looks like advice to the minister to us,'" Mr. Gogolek continued - referencing a section of the act that allows government to withhold records from the public.
In fact, that's exactly what appears to have happened in Ottawa - where a parliamentary committee is investigation allegations the Harper administration politically interfered with the release of records under the federal Access to Information Act.
But an administration spokesperson noted the order only requires a Crown corporation "to advise (the government) of an upcoming release and does not, by itself require the contents to be provided to the ministry."
As for why that requirement has been put in place, the spokesperson stated it will allow ministries to "better coordinate any required central government release of information with that released by Crown corporations."