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Critics slam 'propagandists' withholding B.C. pandemic polling data

A routine request to review government polls commissioned to gauge British Columbians' thoughts on pandemic measures has resulted in renewed criticism of the BC NDP’s information-snuffing tactics.

CTV News asked the Government Communications and Public Engagement (GCPE) agency for “all opinion polling and research conducted by the province on COVID-19, and/or the pandemic and/or public health measures” from Sept. 2, 2021 to May 2, 2022, and was instructed to file a freedom of information request; 423 of the 428 pages from that request were withheld.

The response is the latest in a pattern of secrecy from the provincial government that Premier John Horgan claims is “the most transparent jurisdiction in North America.”

Even in comparison to previous heavily redacted freedom of information responses received by CTV News, this one was exceptional and roundly denounced by the association advocating for greater government transparency.

“Government Communications and Public Engagement knows exactly what they're doing when they choose to over-redact a document and force a complaint (to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner),” said Jason Woywada, executive director of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.

“In a 24-hour news cycle, it allowed them to be propagandists and control the narrative.”

He added that while government can redact or withhold advice to cabinet, the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act specifically states that “the head of a public body must not refuse to disclose under subsection (1) (b) a public opinion poll, (c) a statistical survey.”

Woywada questioned whether the BC New Democrats may have commissioned the polls through the party or the caucus, rather than with taxpayer funds, in order to get around FOI legislation. A CTV News request to GCPE for clarification of that point was not acknowledged.

“We've seen a number of political organizations that have secrecy and transparency issues starting to play fast and loose with rules and self-determine, if you will, who's paying for it order to prevent public from finding out that information,” he said.

The virtual pile of blank pages comes as health-care professionals and various experts urge public health officials to reconsider COVID-19 mitigation measures, like indoor mask mandates, amid an alarming rise in coronavirus illnesses and hospitalizations.


When CTV News asked the official Opposition to weigh in on the latest chapter in government secrecy, the BC Liberals revealed they’d filed two FOI requests for pandemic polling done before the controversial snap election in the fall of 2020.

“The public has a right to know if polling truly informed or helped shaped public policy decisions ultimately arrived at in relation to the pandemic,” said official Opposition house leader Todd Stone.

“What that un-redacted material showed is pretty damning – that the government, contrary to what it said it was doing and making decisions strictly based on science, was actually making decisions based on political science as much as science.”

When asked why he thought the Liberals received the precise kind of opinion polling that was withheld from CTV News, Stone was baffled.

“How is that in the best interest of the public, in not providing that information?” he asked.


Typically, a freedom of information request to a government agency results in names, locations, sentences and sometimes entire sections blanked or blacked out if they contain sensitive information or details that could impact personal safety, cabinet privilege, and other specific circumstances. 

In this case, rather than provide a PDF file with those pages, the document CTV News received simply noted 423 pages were “withheld pursuant to/removed” under mostly under section 12 (Cabinet and local public body confidences), with some under section 13 (Policy advice or recommendations).

Oddly, the five pages with writing on them included correspondence between public affairs strategists within – as well as contracted to – government and included Health Minister Adrian Dix, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and others discussing the wording of questions on “Public opinion research – 5-11 immunization.”

The emails are heavily redacted, but at one point Henry references suggestions she’s made and adds Dr. Monika Naus, a BCCDC employee and UBC professor, to the email chain, since Henry says she “has lots of experience in these issues.” Top Stories


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