New Canadian Government Delays FOI Reform Plans

7 April 2016

The new Liberal government in Canada has decided to delay for two years making promised reforms to the Access to Information Act, according to a top official quoted an article by Jim Bronskill in The Globe and Mail and another, by Alexander Boutilier, in Cambridge Times

Some short-term fixes, however, could be on the way soon, according to Treasury Board President Scott Brison.

“We’re looking for early wins in terms of the first phase of this,” Brison told a conference on open government.

The promised changes include giving the information commissioner the power to order release of government records and ensuring the access law applies to the offices of the prime minister, cabinet members and administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.

Brison, speaking at the Canadian Open Dialogue Forum in Ottawa, invited Canadians to participate in public consultations to help develop Canada’s 2016-18 strategy on open government, to be released this summer, according to an article in MarketWired.

“This act hasn’t been updated since 1983. Getting it right is really important,” Brison told reporters. “We feel we can move forward with some specific changes over the next several months . . . but that doesn’t obviate the need to do a deeper consultation in 2018, which will look at other areas of improvement.”

“I think that it’s really, really a step in the right direction,” said Tom Henheffer, executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. “We certainly want change more quickly rather than more slowly, so it doesn’t get taken off the agenda. But at the same time, we understand that the government has a very busy legislative agenda.”

“The government’s delay is frustrating,” editorialized The Globe and Mail. “It’s not as if anyone who wants to revise the law has to start from scratch. The abuses by government officials have been well documented by Ms. Legault,” referring to information commissioner Suzanne Legault.

Vincent Gogolek, executive director of the British Columbia Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, told The Globe and Mail that he hopes the government will be open to broader changes in the short term, not just the ones the Liberals promised in their platform. “We think that there are a lot of things that can be dealt with immediately.”

“Gogolek called for cabinet records — now almost completely off-limits — to be brought under the law, along with a provision requiring officials to document key policy decisions in writing,” the article says, going on to provide background on criticisms of the law.

“The Liberal government has taken the shine off its transparency promises by doing what the Access to Information Act is famous for: delay,” according to an op-ed by FOI activist Ken Rubin in the Ottawa Citizen.

Proposals for reform related to open date are outlined in an article by James McKinney and Bernard Rudny entitled “If Canada wants to become the world leader in open data and open information, here are six steps to consider.”


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