Trudeau Liberals Say Full Review Of Access To Information Law 2 Years Away

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OTTAWA — The Liberal government says a full review of the outdated Access to Information Act will have to wait another two years.

A comprehensive examination of the access law, which people use to request federal government files, will begin in 2018, Treasury Board President Scott Brison said Thursday.

scott brison
Treasury Board President Scott Brison speaks to a conference on open government in Ottawa, Thursday March 31, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)

Meantime, the government plans to introduce legislation as soon as this year with quick fixes to the law, based on promises the Liberals made during the election campaign and consultations already under way.

"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 government records to be released and ensuring the access law applies to the offices of the prime minister, his cabinet members and administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.

Act not updated in three decades

A Commons committee recently began a study of the Access to Information Act, which has not been substantially updated since it took effect almost 33 years ago.

In addition, the government began a public consultation on transparency on Tuesday. People can go to open.canada.ca to offer their views on what should be in the next federal strategy on open government.

Officials will also hold in-person discussions across the country and the resulting plan is to be released this summer.

Consultations on open government

Brison said a two-step process of access reform is needed. A initial bill "in the near term" will be followed by a deeper review in 2018, which is necessary to make sure "we get it right."

The minister told the conference he believes that an open government is a more effective government.

The Access to Information Act allows people who pay $5 to ask for everything from expense reports and audits to correspondence and briefing notes. Departments are supposed to answer within 30 days or provide good reasons why they need more time.

However, the access system has been widely criticized as slow, antiquated and riddled with loopholes that allow agencies to withhold information rather than disclose it.

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