The Liberal government has been facing uncomfortable questions about leaked internal e-mails outlining their “multicultural outreach” strategy. This completely inappropriate vote-getting plan would have mixed party and public resources to court different cultural communities across B.C., and it appears to have been co-ordinated by high-level staff in the Premier’s inner circle.
What’s interesting about the leaked documents is that the e-mail addresses were all private accounts, putting them outside the reach of freedom of information (FOI) requests. Earlier this week the information and privacy commissioner released a report on the increasing number of FOI requests that come up blank. Requests to the Premier’s Office resulted in “no responsive records” 45 per cent of the time in 2011/12, up 15 per cent over the previous year.
When Christy Clark ran for the Liberal leadership, she made commitments to open government and transparency, but the privacy commissioner says there’s a culture of verbal government in the Premier’s Office. E-mails are only used to set up phone calls and in-person meetings, and those transitory records are deleted. You may remember there were apparently no records created during the removal of the Premier’s chief of staff, Ken Boessenkool; deputy chief of staff Kim Haakstad, who resigned over the most recent scandal, says those records probably did exist, but were deleted. According to another FOI request, apparently no e-mails or letters were ever exchanged between the Premier and the finance minister or Prime Minister about the HST. Right.
Our FOI requests also come up dry. When there are documents we’re frequently told there will be stiff fees — sometimes thousands — to cobble together what we’re after. If we pursue one of those large requests, public money starts to move around in a weird cycle — from our office back to crown corporations and ministries — just so we can get what we need to hold government to account. It’s hardly freedom of information when written records don’t exist and information isn’t free. What happened to the promise of open and transparent government?
Bob Simpson is the Independent MLA for Cariboo North.