Trudeau government should make ‘robust’ reforms to info law, report card says

Report conducted as part of the Open Government Partnership’s evaluation scheme

The federal government should make ”robust reforms” to the Access to Information Act to finally bring the law into the 21st century, says an independent report card on Canada’s transparency efforts.

The review released Thursday also calls for specific funding of federal openness commitments, better takeup of advice from interested parties and more co-operation with First Nations on transparency issues.

The report was conducted as part of the Open Government Partnership’s evaluation scheme, which does progress assessments for each of the global partnership’s 75 member governments, including Canada, which began participating in 2011.

Michael Karanicolas, president of the Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia, was selected by the partnership to carry out the task for Canada. He held consultations in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax, and spoke with officials from 16 government agencies and departments.

The report is intended to help develop Canada’s fourth open government plan under the partnership umbrella.

“There is no question that the landscape for open government in Canada has improved dramatically since the last election,” Karanicolas said.

“However, now that the low-hanging fruit has been plucked, Canada is at a crossroads. There is potential for Canada to establish itself as a global open government leader, but this will require bold and ambitious proposals, rather than more incremental steps forward.”

READ MORE: B.C., federal privacy watchdogs to probe possible privacy breaches at Aggregate IQ, Facebook

EDITORIAL: Undermining the information act

Canada made 22 commitments in its third action plan, from increasing digital access to museum collections and scientific data to enhancing openness about government spending.

Progress in some areas has been impressive, such as efforts to make information about Canada’s grants and contributions funding more transparent, Karanicolas says. ”However, consultation with civil society across the country uncovered a widespread feeling that the government could be doing more.”

Although Canada’s latest set of promises mentioned improvements to the Access to Information Act, which gives citizens access to federal files for a $5 fee, ”that appears to have been a false dawn” as substantial reforms were not forthcoming, the report says.

The Trudeau government introduced legislation last June that would give the information commissioner new authority to order the release of files, as well as entrench the practice of routinely releasing records such as briefing notes and expense reports.

The Liberals hail the bill as the first real modernization of the access law since its inception in 1983.

But the commissioner’s office and civil society groups have panned the proposals as too timid, or even a step backwards.

“Access to information is a central pillar of open government, such that Canada’s lack of progress on this critical indicator is beginning to overshadow the excellent work being done elsewhere,” Karanicolas’ report says.

He notes that many studies have drawn similar conclusions about what needs to be done, namely: expanding the right to file access requests to the offices of cabinet and the prime minister; creating a duty for officials to write things down; introducing binding timelines for responding to requests; and narrowing the broad exceptions that allow agencies to withhold information.

In general, civil society groups want assurances the government will actually incorporate their ideas and priorities into the next open government plan, to be finalized later this year, the report says.

Many felt the government entered the last round of consultations “with a fairly clear idea of the commitments they sought to include and, at best, the civil society participants could offer minor tweaks to these plans.”

The report also points out the special sensitivities around Indigenous needs to assert local control over information collected by and about First Nations communities, especially against the backdrop of the broader push for openness in the federal sphere.

Canada has a role in making the case for the benefits of openness, and to help train and equip “open data champions” from First Nations communities with the resources to pursue such policies, the report adds.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Complete list of B.C. Interior wildfire coverage

Up-to-date information on blazes happening the Kamloops Wildfire Centre

BX wildfire a ‘fire of note’

Blaze now 1.2 hectares

Smoky skies cause Okanagan-wide air quality issues

Central Okanagan pushed to high risk

Vernon poet shines bright light on struggle with homelessness

Book launch for John La Greca’s Homeless Memorial is at Gallery Vertigo July 21

UPDATED: Suspects identified in meat thefts

Honour system fridge dishonoured, RCMP catch up with suspects

Breaking: More evacuation orders for Mount Eneas wildfire, south of Peachland

The BC Wildfire Service is battling a large wildfire alongside Highway 97 in Peachland.

Okanagan Rhythmic Gymnastics seeks support to complete new facility

The final project requires more costly changes to the septic system.

Campers find refuge at Penticton community centre

Campers evacuated from Okanagan Lake Provincial Park

Interior Health wants you to protect your lungs with the smoky skies

Kelowna - With wildfires comes with the risk of smoke pollution across the Interior.

Ontario, Saskatchewan premiers join together to oppose federal carbon plan

Saskatchewan is already involved in a court case over the tax

For-profit ridesharing legislation long overdue: BC Conservatives

Interim party leader Scott Anderson said the provincial government should step out of the way

Owner of fruit stand recounts ‘flames popping up everywhere’ from wildfire near Peachland

The Mount Eneas wildfire is burning at about 200 hectares south of Peachland

After cave rescue, soccer boys pray for protection at Thai temple

On Wednesday evening, the boys and coach were released from hospital

Gymnastics sex abuse victims join hands, accept courage award at ESPYs

The women who spoke out against the abuse by Larry Nassar stood together Wednesday night

Most Read