MLA concerned about government secrecy

'Gatekeepers' of information

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 the (government) 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 citizen services critic (as well as critic for 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. That has not happened.

In the recent report by the Information and Privacy commissioner, he noted there has been a disregard for the law that mandates timely response to public inquiries.

The commissioner pointed out the government is "routinely breaking" laws designed to ensure citizens have access to the information that impacts their lives, their communities and their environment.

That 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 (government’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.

That 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 B.C.

The timeframes publicized would indicate 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 government’s current trajectory not only undermines the public's right to know but also diminishes the quality of our democracy. It needs to uphold the laws governing access to information, ensuring 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 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 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 [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna - Mission and Opposition caucus whip and critic for Environment and Climate Change, Technology and Innovation and Citizens’ Services. She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee on Education as well.

A long-time resident of Kelowna, Renee started, and continues to lead, many businesses from construction and development to technology. Renee is a compassionate individual who cares about others in the community, believes in giving back and helping those in need through service.

She values your feedback and conversation, and can be reached at [email protected] or 250.712.3620

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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