An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
GETTING INFORMATION out of the provincial government will become more expensive if John Horgan and his New Democrats get their way. And since they’re in power, they will, indeed, get their way unless a lightning bolt of common sense strikes them.
Bill 22 would provide for charging a $25 fee for each application under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The reason, says Horgan, is that there are too many applications.
The ones that apparently bug him most are from Opposition politicians. So Horgan also wants to make his own office off limits to applications. Needless to say, the BC Liberals oppose the idea.
So do the media, who are apoplectic over the prospect of the new fee, as well they should be. Most FOI applications come from reporters looking for dirt, or from politicians or activist social-issues groups and the like.
Seldom does Joe or Josephine Blotz feel inclined to file an FOI request unless it’s on something that involves them very directly.
Regardless, charging even this “modest” fee is bound to have a chilling effect on the release of information, and is polar opposite to the entire concept of freedom-of-information legislation.
Information and privacy commissioner Michael McEvoy is one of the critics of Bill 22. “I am unable to understand how this amendment improves accountability and transparency when it comes to public bodies that operate in a free and democratic society,” he says.
McEvoy points out that fees are already charged for FOI applications that require more than three hours of work to gather the requested information.
The government has chosen to ignore a special committee that was supposed to have reviewed proposals to amend the Act, and hasn’t consulted you or me about it.
The result is that what has been called the most progressive FOI legislation in the world stands to become a lot less progressive and a lot more regressive.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at email@example.com.