LATEST

EDITORIAL – Horgan’s plan to charge for FOI requests should be scrapped

(Image: Govt of BC)

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 mrothenburger@armchairmayor.ca.

About Mel Rothenburger (8573 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

1 Comment on EDITORIAL – Horgan’s plan to charge for FOI requests should be scrapped

  1. Very simple piece of information not included in this article;
    There were over 10,000 FOI requests recorded by the provincial government last year. That is up approx. 40% over 3 years ago.

    Over 30% of those are from opposition parties and affiliated lobby groups (most of the growth), about 600 are media … one media member put in 397 requests last year … thats one person. The rest of the requests are individuals and special interest groups.

    The largest contingent are actually people (Joe or Josephine types) that are making a FOI request … about themselves; health records, identification requests and the like.

    FOI requests cost the government an average of $3000 each. This is an average, the vast majority will be next to nothing cost wise, some will require extensive research.

    Other jurisdictions in Canada charge a nominal fee for FOI requests, for example Alberta charges $25, and Ontario; $5, and others, and no one is complaining about destruction of democracy as a result.

    BC is actually behind the curve on this one, Horgan is not forging some new type of FOI policing system, or trying to hide their own activities.

    A fee stops a couple things; superfluous requests intended to just jam up the system, it forces opposition to just ask government for information (including just asking in question period) instead of use the FOI system for mundane info requests.

    Think of it this way; If an opposition party files an FOI request and pays a fee, that fee/financial record is then available to others under the legislation. Now the media can access how many FOI requests they have done over the year … think about that. All of a sudden, obstructive FOI requests are not so appetising.

    FOI requests have become a type of political fodder for opposition, especially those directed towards the Premiers office. The hope is to fill up governments day with requests they dont even actually need the answer for, hoping to either catch up the government on a mistake or hide their own poor behaviour in the mass of paperwork … but mostly, they do it to just be jerks

    FOI works well on the ground when real people and media need it, but fails when abused by opposition. Horgan isnt innocent here, he did the same in opposition.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: