In the wake of Speaker Darryl Plecas’s damning report about corruption at the British Columbia Legislature, the province’s information and privacy watchdog called on the Green-supported NDP government to put the Legislative Assembly under the freedom of information laws.
“There is no good reason why freedom of information legislation should not cover the Legislature, the assembly staff, offices, and members,” Commissioner Michael McEvoy told theBreaker.news. “This is something that my predecessors, all three of them, and myself, have called for over the years and I’m very pleased that it’s now in the public spotlight and the discussion is happening about it.
“There is no reason why they should be treated any differently from the other 2,900 public bodies that are subject to the legislation.”
A poll released Jan. 28 by Research Co found 70% of respondents agree that amending the FOI law to include the Legislature is a leading remedy to the waste and corruption that Plecas exposed. Only 12% of respondents disagreed.
“I found it quite fascinating,” said Research Co.’s Mario Canseco. “This isn’t happening, 70% want it to happen. One of the most interesting findings.”
Canseco was surprised that more respondents who identified themselves as BC Liberal voters from the 2017 election (41%) than Green (39%) and NDP voters (33%) agreed with subjecting the Legislature to FOI.
McEvoy said that he does not expect adding the Legislature to the Act would add significant costs. While legislative privilege has been raised as a defence to secrecy, McEvoy said that can be balanced with the public’s right to know.
“Access to information is not an absolute right, there are exceptions under the legislation,” he said.
Administrative records, he said, should not be exempted because they are matters of public interest and the public has a right of access.
Ending secrecy at the Legislature is just one part of McEvoy’s wish list.
“Public bodies’ use of subsidiary corporations, section 13 on advice and recommendations, lack of penalties with regard to destruction of records,” he said. “These are some of the issues that I constantly bring up to government and raise to the public. I’m glad this now is a discussion that is happening amongst members of the public and hope that will encourage members of our legislature to reform our legislation.”
The Legislature has paid lip service to transparency and accountability. It publishes quarterly statements and receipts about MLA spending, but the four top officers, including the clerk and sergeant-at-arms, only publish total dollar amounts they spend, without any hint of where they traveled or what they bought. The Legislature’s annual financial report shows payments to suppliers $25,000 and up and payments to staff $75,000 and up. The public has no legal right to seek correspondence and contracts, like it does from government ministries, agencies and Crown corporations.
As such, Plecas’s report was the first glimpse British Columbians ever got to correspondence between the speaker and clerk about spending.
Canseco conducted the poll Jan. 25-27 with 800 adults in B.C. online. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5%, 19 times out of 20. Respondents agreed the wasted money should be repaid (74%) and that Plecas acted properly (54%). Some 63% said they are watching the scandal closely.
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