Government lacking transparency

NDP supports update to information and privacy laws

The annual report of the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner paints a picture of a government that lacks transparency.

When the government wants to withhold a document that may be accessible under access to information laws, the commissioner reviews the case and issues a report. According to the commissioner, his reports were ignored beyond the deadline to respond 25 per cent of the time in 2014-15.

He also points to a number of examples in the health ministry in which an application to access documents was stonewalled for hundreds of days, violating access laws.

“What we are seeing is a problem with government transparency,” said NDP Justice critic John Nilson. “The records the government continues to withhold are about things like the condition and inspection of hospitals and seniors care homes. This is important information that patients, families and health professionals have a right to know.

“I do not think Saskatchewan people want their government spending its time and taxpayers’ money playing games with public information. A government committed to transparency would make information accessible and be more proactive about releasing information.”

Under the law, personal information and information that could affect the government’s ability to negotiate from a position of strength are automatically excluded from access laws. Things of that nature are not related to the ignored and stonewalled claims.

The annual report also outlines a proposal from the commissioner to modernize Freedom Of Information and Privacy laws in Saskatchewan. The NDP fully supports a modernization of information and privacy laws, something that hasn’t been done since the early 1990s. It says the proposals put forward by the commissioner are important ones.

Among the changes proposed is a plan to automatically include new public entities in access laws rather than relying on cabinet to make regulations to make them accessible. The government has failed, to date, to add new Crown corporation Creative Saskatchewan to the regulations, making things like the expenses and travel and expense claims of the Crown and its CEO John-Paul Ellson hidden. The government came under fire early this year when Ellson attended a pre-Oscar party in Hollywood, even while the government said it was cutting unnecessary travel, and Creative Saskatchewan paid for an after party at the Canadian Screen Awards even after decimating Saskatchewan’s film industry.

Other important changes suggested include cutting the amount of time government has to make information accessible and calling on government to make more information available proactively rather than by application. The NDP also supports adding police forces into Local Authority Freedom of Information and Privacy laws, as they are in other jurisdictions. Personal records – like arrest records – would be excluded, striking a similar balance to health regions included in access to information laws.