Increasingly, it feels as if the B.C. Liberals are working their way through a checklist, looking for ways to defuse issues likely to cause trouble in the election campaign.
So six years of inaction on the E&N Rail line produced last week’s press conference to announce politicians would meet to talk about it some more. Growing concern about B.C.’s lax — or non-existent — political fundraising rules that allow rich donors to buy access to politicians produced the promise of a commission to talk about that issue.
Cynical, perhaps, but politics as usual.
But on one critical issue the Liberal government’s response has fallen desperately short of what is needed.
Last week, Finance Minister Mike de Jong introduced legislation he said would help ensure the government lived up to its duty to keep the documents used in reaching decisions and setting policies.
The changes, de Jong said, “respond specifically to recommendations” made in the reviews of the Triple Delete scandal, which found a culture of secrecy and the illegal destruction of documents that extended from the premier’s office throughout government.
There are several problems in the legislation.
For starters, it comes almost 18 months after former information and privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s damning report on the scandal. That is hardly an indication of genuine concern.
And the legislation does not accept Denham’s recommendation that the government “should create a legislative duty to document within the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act as a clear indication that it does not endorse ‘oral government’ and that it is committed to be accountable to citizens by creating an accurate record of its key decisions and actions.”
That would also mean the independent commissioner would have the ability to investigate the government’s performance in fulfilling the requirement.
Instead, de Jong introduced amendments to the Information Management Act, so a government employee is responsible for the issue. And the amendment says the chief records officer “may” issue guidelines and investigate, a weak approach to such an important issue — especially from a government with such an embarrassing record.
This might seem arcane, but it is of great importance.
Records are needed to understand government decisions and comply with freedom-of-information laws. They can be critical in allowing a citizen to fight back against arbitrary, unfair or illegal government action, providing the evidence needed in court.
Unless those records have been wrongfully destroyed. That was, the report found, exactly what was happening in the Liberal government, which placed itself above the law.
The government’s actions undermined democracy. De Jong’s late, anemic response shows that it still does not take its responsibility to citizens — or the scandal — seriously.