A Green Party MLA tabled a private member’s bill Feb. 8 daring Premier David Eby to scrap the NDP-imposed $10 application fee for freedom of information requests.
In November 2021, under then-Premier John Horgan, the NDP government used its majority to amend the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to allow cabinet to set a non-refundable application fee.
When she tabled Bill 22, Citizens’ Services Minister Lisa Beare offered a $25 estimate. Shortly after becoming law, cabinet set the price at $10.
The Information and Privacy Commissioner’s review last month found the government grossed just over $16,000 during the first six months of charging the fee.
“[Michael McEvoy] noted that political requests were already in decline before this fee was introduced and, following the fee, journalists, researchers and community groups felt the most significant barriers to getting public information,” said Adam Olsen (Saanich North and the Islands), the private member’s bill’s sponsor.
McEvoy’s review found media applications fell by 80%.
“Right now there is a waning public confidence in democracy, at a time of growing fear and misinformation, at a time when people are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories and less likely to trust their government,” Olsen said. “This assembly needs to be held to a higher standard. The truth needs to be readily accessible and available.”
Olsen was on the all-party committee that reviewed B.C.’s freedom of information law last year and reminded the Legislature that the committee heard testimony that secrecy can undermine democracy and lead to extremism. NDP committee members blocked a recommendation to repeal the fee.
Before entering politics and while in opposition, Eby was a prolific user of freedom of information. Last June, when he was Attorney General, Eby released the Cullen Commission report into money laundering in B.C. and thanked reporters for using FOI to expose the BC Liberal government’s failure to keep dirty money out of casinos. But he refused to commit to repealing the fee.
Olsen’s bill will proceed to second reading debate. Private member’s bills, however, rarely pass in the B.C. Legislature.
Olsen’s bill came three days after the fourth anniversary of then-NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth’s unfulfilled promise to add the Legislative Assembly to the FOI law.
McEvoy and Ombudsperson Jay Chalke had written an open letter to Farnworth seeking more transparency in the wake of then-Speaker Darryl Plecas’s report on corruption in the offices of the Clerk and Sergeant-at-Arms.
Last year’s committee report recommended the the law be extended to the administrative functions of the Legislative Assembly, while still protecting constituency office case files.
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