B.C. Premier John Horgan defended his government’s effort to modernize its bogged-down freedom of information law Thursday, and left room for a proposed $25 filing fee to be reduced or even eliminated.
“We haven’t settled on a fee,” Horgan told reporters in Victoria Oct. 21. The $25 figure is a proposal by Citizens’ Services Minister Lisa Beare, who described it as in the middle of the range of fees in other provinces. Horgan said the “vigorous debate” has begun, and he would consider changes such as five free applications a year to serve most needs and deter a few frequent filers.
Horgan pointed to an “extraordinary proliferation of information requests from political parties,” after being asked in question period about a long-running B.C. Liberal effort to see screen shots of his office computer. Abbotsford South B.C. Liberal MLA Bruce Banman recounted a long FOI battle for screen images of Horgan’s computer, with an automated capture system.
“He’s welcome to come over today, and he can take a look at, it if he wants to,” Horgan told B.C. legislature Speaker Raj Chouhan in question period. “The issue is fishing trips like that that are clogging up freedom of information for ordinary British Columbians. I mean, like, get real. Who cares?”
At a news conference after the session, Horgan fished out his smartphone and revealed that the device has Spotify, email and an app to advise him on the weather in Prince Rupert.
In the legislature he noted the changes would impose a fine of up to $50,000 for destruction of government documents, suggesting it would have applied to B.C. Liberal MLA Todd Stone’s staff had it been in place under the previous government.
The ministry says it now processes more than 10,000 FOI requests annually, with the volume of requests increasing by more than 40 per cent over a two-year period, reaching an all-time high of more than 13,000 requests in 2019-20 (13,055).
Horgan rejected a suggestion that the amendments exempt the premier’s office from FOI disclosure, calling it a simplification to treat his office as a ministry. He said the modernization has to reflect the current situation where a deputy minister may receive 6,000 electronic messages in a month, and those that should be disclosed are those indicating decisions.
As previous governments have done, Horgan pledged more “proactive disclosure” as a solution. If information is requested that would be released through FOI, it should be released without the lengthy process.
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