NDP faces growing backlash over law that experts say could lead to more government secrecy
A wide-ranging coalition is calling on the NDP government to stop attempts to ram through controversial changes to the Freedom of Information Act, and instead refer the proposal to an all-party committee.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, The B.C. General Employees' Union, Independent Contractors Association and Lawyers Watch Canada are some of the more than a dozen organizations calling on the John Horgan government to withdraw Bill 22 and refer it to a special committee.
The legislative changes have drawn the ire of the privacy commissioner, journalism schools and others.
Under the proposed changes, some electronic records won't need to be kept and won't be searchable. The privacy commissioner worries that will be used to reject requests. Another change limits the commissioner's powers to make the government release records - a third - what critics call a "transparency tax."
The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association says the NDP is breaking a promise to make the legislature more transparent.
Jason Woywada, the executive director of FIPA said the party committed to bringing offices like those for the Clerk and Sargeant at Arms under freedom of information laws after two top officials were ousted amidst a spending scandal that couldn't be tracked through information requests. Former speaker Darryl Plecas made the allegations public.
"They could have taken steps that made transparency increase that put things like the Legislative Assembly under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act, which they agreed to at one point but have suddenly decided that that is in the best interests of their own secrecy," Woywada told CTV Vancouver.
Woywada believes the changes will hurt many British Columbians who are looking for information at all levels of government.
Just months ago, a legislature committee was formed to review the privacy laws, and has only met once. It has no input into the current legislation. The Minister of Citizen Services, Lisa Beare, told reporters there is an urgency to passing the bill.
"Our ministerial order which has been extended twice, which allows all these fabulous things that people have become accustomed to during COVID, like FaceTiming with their doctor or doing online conferences, that all expires at the end of December," she said Wednesday. Beare added that meant passing legislation.
However, when asked why the order couldn't have been extended while a committee studied the more controversial aspects, Beare replied there was "widespread consultation"
Judging by the criticisms, there also appears to be widespread backlash.