To this point in the provincial election campaign, the leaders of the four major parties have been quite reticent to reveal where they stand on some of the burning issues in the field of information rights.
That's why, as we mentioned in our last post, the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, sent all four parties a questionnaire pushing them for clear positions on how they would stop the erosion of our privacy rights and defend our access to government records through Freedom of Information.
While they chose not to answer the majority of our questions directly, the Greens were undoubtedly the boldest of the bunch. Rather than proposing specific fixes to the existing Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), Jane Sterk's party seemed to favor a total teardown.
In their words, "The Green Party of B.C. would prefer not to comment on existing sections of legislation or shortcomings, because the entire model on which the existing legislation is based is an inappropriate model."
Just what their "new model for legislation" would look like is unclear, but they did throw their support behind certain essential provisions, such as a legislated "duty to document" (called for repeatedly by FIPA and the Information and Privacy Commissioner), a strong "expectation of public disclosure" and significant "sanctions for breaches of the legislation."
The NDP made several clear, unqualified commitments. They plan on reducing delays and by returning to a standard 30 day response time from the 30 'business days' currently allowed. The New Democrats also seem willing to consider introducing a legislated duty to document and are open to being "guided" by the Information and Privacy Commissioner's recommendations on the use of private email for conducting government business. They also say they support expanding the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to include the subsidiary corporations of universities, colleges and other public bodies.
Having been in government for more than a decade, the Liberal party has a record to defend. Their responses reflect that fact and, as might be expected, are quite similar previous government statements on these issues. For example, when asked if they would introduce a duty to document, they simply stated that they have "committed to implementing many of the suggestions the commissioner has made." The Liberals also deferred questions related to the proactive release of records and the over-application of exceptions to disclosure to the next statutory review of the FIPPA, slated for 2016.
On the privacy front, there are some critiques, but no specific plans of action. The Greens and the NDP expressed serious concerns over the provincial government's massive data linking and sharing initiatives, such as the clusterfiasco that is the Integrated Case Management system and the new BC Services Card. Both parties suggested that further public consultation and oversight by the Commissioner on such projects is required, but made no commitment to put these projects on hold. The Liberal response would only commit to consulting with the Commissioner, not British Columbians in general.
So there you have it. Check the full responses on our website (linked above) and make up your own mind about who best represents what you want to see happen with FOI and privacy over the next four years.
And don't forget to vote.