The public’s faith in government has always been tenuous and B.C.’s leaders have certainly been no exception to that fundamental truth.
Trust, we’ve learned, is earned and tends to be rooted in transparency.
That trust was seriously eroded under the leadership of Christie Clark who, in 1996, said (with media present) “If I had won the battle in cabinet, we wouldn’t have Freedom of Information.”
But when the government changed, the NDP promised a moral reawakening. Transparency, they said, would become a priority.
Unfortunately for politicians, we can all best be judged, not by the promises made, but on those kept. Despite its commitments, the NDP has not lived up to its high-minded campaign rhetoric about transparency.
Sure, there have been modest improvements in erasing the culture of secrecy established under the previous government. But baby steps are not enough.
It’s still possible for officials to seal records regarding policy advice, including all facts and analysis that were used to develop that advice.
Wholly owned subsidiaries of government are still excluded from freedom of information laws.
And it’s still possible for documents to be destroyed or never created. There is nothing to prevent minutes from just not being created if there is a thought that a pesky FOI request might uncover an unseemly discussion.
All of these factors still lead to blank responses to FOI requests.
Finally, there is no mandatory notification required when the privacy of citizens has been breached. Those breaches are not hypothetical; they have occurred in the past and will happen again.
It’s why the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association has launched a petition urging the provincial government to keep it’s promises regarding government transparency.
It’s a petition that should never have been required, of course, as we count on politicians to keep promises that involve one of the fundamental principles that got them elected in the first place.
In the end, Premier John Horgan and his ministers need to realize that a government that holds themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody. We believe that Horgan and his crew are better than that. It’s time to earn that trust.