Former B.C. Liberal MLA Darryl Plecas is escorted from the legislative chamber by Clerk of the House Craig James (left) after his surprise election as speaker, Sept. 8, 2017. James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were suddenly suspended from their duties last week. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press/Pool)

Advocate hopes B.C. legislature scandal leads to more transparency

‘Depressing’ that it takes a scandal to inspire freedom of information reform, says Sara Neuert

B.C. Speaker Darryl Plecas’ report this week, accusing the legislature’s two highest-ranking officers of hundreds of thousands of dollars of spending abuses, has been making some people ‘sick’. But a transparency advocate is hoping the sick bags have a silver lining.

As the investigation into overspending by suspended clerk and sergeant-at-arms Craig James and Gary Lenz continues, BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association executive director Sara Neuert said her non-profit hopes the scandal will lead to serious change.

“We are looking forward to this opening the door for the government to really take it seriously that there needs to be legislative change and broader transparency, because the public is becoming more aware and [is] going to continue to ask more questions,” said Neuert in an interview Wednesday with Black Press Media.

One such change would be to include the Legislative Assembly in the list of public bodies to which the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act applies, Neuert said.

This would provide members of the public with the statutory right to access information from the assembly, such as the expense claims of its clerk and sergeant-at-arms, subject to certain exceptions.

Currently, the FIPPA list of public bodies includes provincial government ministries, provincial agencies, boards, commissions, Crown corporations, and local public bodies. However, the assembly itself is not considered a public body under FIPPA.

MLAs are not included in the list of public bodies either, but have been posting receipts that justify their spending online for several years.

In 2014, an all-party committee of MLAs unanimously approved then-finance minister Mike de Jong’s proposal to publish receipts from politicians’ travel and other expenses. The proposal came after several high-profile spending scandals, including the $5,500 that then-speaker Linda Reid billed taxpayers for her husband’s business-class flights.

READ MORE: B.C. MLAs work on financial disclosure

READ MORE: EDITORIAL: B.C. government shows signs of conforming to public concern

“There were a couple of scandals about MLAs’ travel expenses, so that created change for our political parties,” said Neuert, adding it was a policy change, not a legislative change. “What didn’t change is our legislative structure, the staff and that.”

For years, the association has been trying to get the same FIPPA rules applied to the Legislative Assembly as a whole, but that hasn’t happened yet.

“It’s easier for a government to put that on the back-burner and hit the hot topics that the public is hearing about and thinking about and seeing,” she said. “But then when something like this happens and it puts transparency into question, then we start to look at it. It takes something to give it that push and open that door.”

READ MORE: Canada slips to 55th place in global freedom-of-information law rankings

In 2016, a special all-party committee reviewed FIPPA and produced a report with 11 major recommendations and 28 other recommendations on the duty to document, proactive disclosure, extending the application of FIPPA and more.

“Their recommendations just got tabled. We haven’t seen anything come out of that,” said Neuert. “The new government has come in, they’ve been in power for almost two years now, and we haven’t seen any substantial changes to the legislation.”

Neuert credited the BC Ministry of Citizens’ Services with doing a public consultation on freedom of information and privacy rights last spring, but said the process also seems to have stalled on the path to legislative change.

“We’ve been waiting for a report on that consultation and we’ve seen nothing. We’ve put in requests and we’ve gotten nothing back,” she said. “I’m not quite sure why.”

Neuert said the last legislative changes to FIPPA occurred in 2005. She said the “minor” changes weren’t even close to the kind of reforms they were hoping for.

“Now we’ve got another issue around transparency,” Neuert said. “We think this is an opportunity for the government to take action and actually review what needs to be done about the legislation to ensure the public has transparency.”

A request for comment to the Ministry of Citizens’ Services has not yet been returned.



karissa.gall@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Starry Nights purchases $16,000 Nordic wellness chair for long-term care centre

The chair reclines, rocks, plays music, and has programs for relaxation, anxiety and restlessness

Canim Lake Band native discovers passion for pow wow regalia

‘It’s a spiritual gift and every child should have the opportunity to dance’

Easter Egg Hunt returns to 100 Mile House

The 100 Mile Free Press and Canlan Sports team up for chocolate egg hunt

Historic building in Alexis Creek destroyed by fire overnight

“If it hadn’t been a heavy rain last night we could have lost many houses in the area”

Mile 108 Elementary myth busters take home awards at Cariboo Mainline Regional Science Fair

Kaitlyn Piccolo won awards for her project, which tested how music affects the plant growing process

Sri Lanka invokes war-time military powers after nearly 300 killed in Easter bombings

Sri Lanka’s minister of tourism says 39 foreign tourists were killed in the Easter Sunday attacks

Bodies of 3 mountain climbers recovered after last week’s Banff avalanche

The men disappeared while attempting to climb the east face of Howse Peak in the Icefields Parkway

Happy birthday: Queen Elizabeth II turns 93 on Easter Sunday

Sunday is the first of two birthday celebrations each year for the queen

RCMP confirm witnesses say body found at Kelowna’s Gyro Beach

Police tape is blocking part of the beach and several RCMP officers are on scene.

B.C. fire department rescues kittens

Enderby homeowner not aware kittens in wood pile near garbage pile fire that got out of hand

QUIZ: How much do you know about Easter?

Take this short quiz and put your knowledge to the test

B.C. VIEWS: NDP’s lawyer show is turning into a horror movie

Court actions pile up over pipelines, car insurance, care aides

Global Affairs warns Canadians in Sri Lanka there could be more attacks

A series of bomb blasts killed at least 207 people and injured hundreds more

Most Read