British Columbians have a right to know what Premier Clark’s highly paid staff are doing with their time after a Freedom of Information (FOI) report showed they continue to deliberately delete emails to avoid public oversight, say the New Democrats.
The report, from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, examined FOIs asking for emails sent or received by senior-ranking B.C. Liberal government officials on a specific day or over two days. The Premier’s Office claimed that there were no records matching the request.
“It’s simply not plausible that not a single email of any public interest was sent by senior officials in the Premier Clark’s office over two days,” said New Democrat citizen’s services spokesperson Doug Routley.
Routley noted that the day the report came out, the Official Opposition received an entirely blanked out FOI back from the B.C. Liberal minister responsible for FOIs.
“As proof of just how secretive the Liberal government has become with hiding info and how little they’ve learned, on the same day the Privacy Commissioner released the report the Liberal government released a freedom of information request package with no information in it. An FOI on the problem-plagued computer systems that have already cost taxpayers more than a billion dollars was 100-per-cent redacted. Only the title remained,” said Routley.
“Citizens deserve to know what their government is up to. This kind of behavior is unacceptable.”
The report notes that “the Office of the Premier confirmed that at least some staff members regularly delete emails” and emphasized that “government has made little meaningful progress regarding a duty to document” since the Commissioner’s last report.
“Staff in the Premier’s Office were caught doing B.C. Liberal party dirty work on the taxpayer’s dime during the quick wins scandal. Today’s report shows that the same tactics that were used to hide dishonest activities during the quick wins scandal continue to be used today. We’ve gone from quick wins to quick wipes.”
Routley noted that another report from the Information and Privacy Commissioner found “acceptance and familiarity within government of the practice of evading freedom of information requests,” with one former minister, John Yap, admitting his Communications Director, Brian Bonney, was “routinely using personal email for his correspondence” in order “to avoid freedom of information legislation.”
“Given the ongoing and unresolved issues stemming from the quick wins scandal, Premier Clark’s staff should be working to restore public confidence, not doubling down on secrecy,” said Routley. “It’s unbelievable, for example, that the Premier’s Executive Director of Communications and Issues Management, Ben Chin, simply doesn’t keep a calendar. That’s unacceptable.”
The report recommends that the Premier’s Office implement a “capstone” or similar system that would prevent senior staff from deleting their emails. It also recommends proactive disclosure for calendars and other routinely requested information.
“Premier Clark says all the right things, then she does what she wants,” said Routley.
“If she was serious about running an open and accountable government, Premier Clark would commit to ending the dishonest games being played by her senior staff, and implement every recommendation in this report.”
Watch George speak about the importance of Freedom of Information in the spring 2014 session of the legislature.