Liberals push Access to Information overhaul back to 2018

I am more forgiving of the Government than some of the critics. Better to take some time to get it right, given the policy and operational considerations, but in the meantime, Canadians need to hold the Government to account, provide input to the open.canada.ca consultation site, and continue to provide examples of where the system is not working (my experience under the previous government can be found in my  ATIP Delay Log):

The Liberal government is pushing their pledged overhaul of the outdated Access to Information system to 2018, Treasury Board President Scott Brison revealed Thursday.

The government will still move within a year to make some smaller changes to the 33-year old system, which allows Canadians to obtain government information for a $5 fee.

But the larger reforms to address well-documented problems such as delays and aggressively applied secrecy provisions will have to wait two years.

“This act hasn’t been updated since 1983. Getting it right is really important,” Brison told reporters Thursday.

“We feel we can move forward with some specific changes over the next several months . . . but that doesn’t obviate the need to do a deeper consultation in 2018, which will look at other areas of improvement.”

Once a world-leading law, the Access to Information Act has been allowed to decay under successive Liberal and Conservative governments. It has not been substantially updated since the early 1980s, when most government business was conducted on paper.

The situation reached a point where, in 2015, Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault was forced to call the system a “shield against transparency.”

In their election platform, the Liberals pledged to make government information “open by default” — the principle being Canadians ultimately own their government’s work, and should be able to access it unless their government has a compelling reason to keep it secret.

The government also promised to eliminate the sometimes exorbitant fees departments charge for searching for and photocopying documents to release.

While those changes will have to wait, Brison’s department is moving forward on other commitments: applying the system to ministers’ offices, including the Prime Minister’s Office, administrative bodies in Parliament and federal courts, as well as giving Legault’s office the ability to issue binding orders for departments to release documents.

Treasury Board is expected to unveil legislation incorporating those changes, and potentially others from a parliamentary committee and public consultations, either in 2016 or 2017.

Fred Vallance-Jones, a journalism professor at the University of King’s College in Halifax, said the government appears to be moving in the right direction. But he questioned why more dramatic changes need to wait.

“I don’t think there’s any lack of advice that’s been given to the federal government over the last number of years about what is wrong with how the act is working,” Vallance-Jones, who leads Newspapers Canada’s annual Freedom of Information Audit, said Thursday.

“Those kinds of things have been on the table for quite a long time.”

Source: Liberals push Access to Information overhaul back to 2018 | Toronto Star

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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