If the introduction of proposed changes to the province’s access to information legislation shows anything, it shows that the Tories are woefully unprepared to defend their own legislative agenda. And that is an extremely unsettling situation.
When Justice Minister Felix Collins first presented the new law, for example, he was asked about why the government was broadening the definition of cabinet document.
Under the old legislation, had there ever been an example of cabinet deliberations being released? He couldn’t answer.
Could he give an example of what would be classed as a “frivolous and vexatious” request for information? He couldn’t answer. Don’t take our word for it: if you want to hear a truly catastrophic performance directly from the horse’s mouth, go to http://www.thetelegram.com/media/flying/3696/FOI%20press%20conference.mp3 and listen for yourself.
The blunders have continued. Both Collins and Government Services Minister Paul Davis have talked about there being countless numbers of access to information requests somehow blocking up government. Collins put the numbers in the thousands: Davis was more vague, saying “You know, they make countless and countless requests for information.”
None of it is true.
In fact, as CBC News pointed out on Wednesday, the statistics are easily available and there are fewer than 600 requests a year, averaging out at 11 a week — across all government departments and agencies.
Other Conservatives have cast the debate about the idea that reporters and opposition politicians are looking for “cheap research.”
If you call paying hundreds of dollars for 40 or 50 pages of completely blacked-out documents “cheap research,” you’ve got a strange idea of value. Premier Kathy Dunderdale said this about the changes: “It means that people on the opposite side are going to have to do their work instead of having public officials do it for them, Mr. Speaker.”
By filing access to information requests, opposition parties are doing their work — and they are using their research budgets to pay for it. Turn that argument on its head: should the opposition simply pull unresearched questions out of the air? Would that improve our government?
The simple fact is that none of this was necessary. In a functioning democracy, the parties would work collaboratively at the committee level to fine-tune and improve the legislation. In a functioning democracy, the government might actually look at the concerns and address them with amendments, instead of just bulldozing forward.
But clearly, even as high as the provincial cabinet, some people don’t seem to understand a functioning, informed democracy.
Again, don’t take our word for it.
We leave the last word for Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O’Brien, arguing that the public actually does not have a right to know.
“Everything (would) be on the table each and every day for scrutiny, not only of the opposition, but scrutiny of government, scrutiny of the public at large and scrutiny of the media. Is that the way that a democratic society works? I say to the honourable members: that is not the way a democratic society works.”