Improving public access to information will make government better, Trudeau says

Something to watch:

During the election campaign, the Liberals said government data and information should be open by default, in formats that are modern and easy to use.

Trudeau has asked Treasury Board President Scott Brison to work with Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould on a review of the access law to ensure the information commissioner is empowered to order government files to be released — something she cannot do now.

He also wants Canadians to have easier access to their own personal information and says the law should be extended to ministerial offices — including his own — as well as to the administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.

In addition, Trudeau has directed Brison to accelerate and expand open-data initiatives and make government data available digitally.

In the interview, the prime minister made it clear he was not wedded to those changes alone.

“Access to information is about better governance, and it’s about ensuring that the decisions we take are thoroughly justifiable on a broad level,” he said. “And that’s not always easy, but it is certainly what’s going to lead to better outcomes.”

In a broad sense, the federal government must dispense with the notion that secrecy is necessary for decision-making behind the doors of cabinet, caucus and the bureaucracy, said Sean Holman, an assistant professor of journalism at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

“That’s really the test of openness for any kind of access-to-information reform in this country.”

Certain classes of records, such as audits and ministerial calendars, should be released as a matter of course so “we get used to the idea that government should be operating in the sunlight, not in these darkened, private spaces,” he said.

Legault tabled a report earlier this year recommending dozens of changes to the access law — the latest in a long line of calls for reform. She welcomes the prospect of a federal review, but hopes it happens “in a timely manner.”

Holman said history suggests the Trudeau government’s planned study will lead nowhere.

“The fact that this isn’t something the government appears to be doing immediately is concerning in and of itself,” he said.

“The longer governments stay in power the more seductive secrecy becomes.”

Source: Improving public access to information will make government better, Trudeau says

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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