“The problem we’ve got is information that should be released isn’t being released and the culture that’s developed is to force people to go through right to information to get what they’re seeking, so of course the workload is going to be huge to respond to that,” – David Coon
Article by: SHANE MAGEE
David Coon, leader of the provincial Green Party, says changes in the way the provincial government processes right to information requests may not be a good thing.
A change in how the New Brunswick government processes right to information requests, a tool used to access government records, worries the provincial Green Party leader.David Coon said a central unit to respond to the public’s requests for government records isn’t a good move and could “enable a level of political control” over release of records.
The Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act allows anyone to file free requests for records – anything from studies to notes – held by public bodies.The law requires public bodies like the province or a municipal government to respond within 30 days, either providing the information or explaining why it is withholding the record in full or in part through exemptions in the law.
The province will shift from each department handling requests to a central unit in the Treasury Board, a ministry that also oversees spending.”We’ll have a standardized approach that’s more efficient,” Roger Melanson, president of the Treasury Board, said Friday. He said there are requests answered inconsistently under the existing system.
The new unit will provide “overall leadership, strategic direction, policy and operational advice and support services to the government and other public bodies to help comply with the act,” a news release states.”In terms of what’s provided, we will respect the legislation,” Melanson said. An annual audit of access to information systems across the country last year found the New
Brunswick government responded within the required 30 days to 87 per cent of 15 requests filed on various topics. News Media Canada, a media association, carries out the audit, testing federal, provincial and local government responses to a batch of requests. Its report noted several New Brunswick departments responded to requests for electronic databases by instead providing records in a PDF format or printed and mailed.
Coon said he understands responding to requests can be a lot of work for department staff, though fostering an open government culture could alleviate it.
“The problem we’ve got is information that should be released isn’t being released and the culture that’s developed is to force people to go through right to information to get what they’re seeking, so of course the workload is going to be huge to respond to that,” Coon said.
Jeff Carr, Progressive Conservative MLA for New Maryland-Sunbury, in a statement questioned whether the government would deliver on an improved process.
“People can be excused if they are skeptical about the motives, since this change appears to increase the opportunity for an ‘information bottleneck’ and as a result, less timely access to public information from a government that has become infamous for its secrecy,” Carr stated.