In an era where transparency and accountability are the cornerstones of democratic governance, the NDP government in British Columbia appears to be backtracking, undermining the public's trust and the principles of open government.
This critique is not rooted in partisan bias but is a reflection of a troubling pattern highlighted by the Information and Privacy Commissioner and exacerbated by recent controversies such as the public land veto consultation.
The Commissioner recently released a report that found that the New Democrats failed to respond within the legislated timelines more than 5,000 times over three years.
The 85-day average lag time for this government was the longest since the commissioner’s office began recording response times 13 years ago.
The worst offender was the Premier.
As the Shadow Minister for Citizen Services (as well as Environment and Climate Change Strategy, Innovation and Technology) this particular issue falls under my critic role.
The NDP brought in a $10 fee for each request under the Freedom of Information Act, with the specific purpose of speeding up the timeframes of response.
This has not happened.
In the recent report by the Information and Privacy Commissioner, he noted that there has been a disregard for the law that mandates timely response to public inquiries.
The Information and Privacy Commissioner pointed out that the government is "routinely breaking" laws designed to ensure that citizens have access to the information that impacts their lives, their communities, and their environment.
This is not a minor bureaucratic hiccup; it is a flagrant violation of the principles of transparency and accountability. The government's approach to access to information is not just about delays; it reflects a broader strategy of obstruction.
Whether it's through the excessive redaction of documents, the imposition of prohibitive fees, or the outright denial of access, the NDP's tactics serve to keep the public and opposition parties in the dark about critical policy decisions and governmental operations.
This obfuscation has real consequences, stifling public debate, and eroding trust in our democratic institutions.
The most recent example of the government’s secretive practices is the contentious issue of public land veto consultation.
This matter, which holds significant implications for land use and indigenous rights, has been shrouded in a lack of clear information, leaving stakeholders and the public alike grappling for clarity.
This is a massive change that could result in less access to publicly owned lands – which is 95% of the land base of BC!
The timeframes publicized would indicate that the consultation process for a change in governance on public lands is not yet finished but the legislation is already being drafted.
The NDP's reluctance to openly consult and provide accessible information on such a critical issue is a governance style that prioritizes control over collaboration.
British Columbians deserve a transparent, accountable government.
The NDP government’s current trajectory not only undermines the public's right to know but also diminishes the quality of our democracy.
They need to uphold the laws governing access to information, ensuring that requests are met with timely, complete responses. Moreover, on issues of significant public interest like the public land veto consultation, open, inclusive dialogue should be the rule, not the exception.
All governments must remember that they are stewards of the public trust, not gatekeepers of information. A vibrant democracy thrives on the free flow of information, empowering citizens to make informed decisions and hold their leaders accountable.
It is time for the NDP government to lift the veil of secrecy and recommit to the principles of transparency and openness. Anything less is a disservice to the people of British Columbia and the democratic values we all cherish.
My question this week: Are you aware of the consultation process on access to all public lands?
I love hearing from you and read every email.
Please email me at Renee.Merrifield.MLA@leg.bc.ca or call the office at 250-712-3620.