July 25, 2013 5:08 pm
Updated: July 25, 2013 7:49 pm

B.C. privacy commissioner urges more openness

VICTORIA – British Columbia’s Privacy Commissioner says the Liberal government leads the pack when it comes to making public information that’s needed to complete a Grade 7 science project, but there’s still a long way to go when it comes to providing British Columbians with details about how politicians are spending taxpayers money.

Elizabeth Denham’s review Thursday of the two-year-old Liberal open government initiative makes 18 recommendations, including opening government calendars and minister spending records to public scrutiny.

“B.C. has released more data sets than any other provincial government,” Denham said in an interview. “The numbers are laudable. It’s mapping data. It’s geographic information. It’s climate change data. It’s data about the migratory patterns of animals.

“The more difficult side of the equation, and where I think they need to do more work and provide more focus is the proactive release of information that’s more related to how government makes decisions, what decisions they make and how they spend taxpayers’ dollars,” she said.

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Denham said the expansion of government information relating to contracts, audits, calendars and spending habits of ministers and their senior officials give taxpayers greater insight into the operations of government.

She recommends providing more details involving contracts with government valued at $10,000 or more. The $10,000 starting point matches federal regulations, Denham said.

Contract information provides the public with better understanding of who is receiving government contracts, the purpose of the contracts and what is expected to be achieved, said Denham. She said providing more information with regards to the calendars of ministers and the spending records of those ministers enhances accountability.

“The public has a right to know who is attempting to influence ministers, deputy ministers and senior staff,” she said. “This is top of mind for citizens.”

Citizens Services Minister Andrew Wilkinson said the government is reviewing Denham’s report and is looking to implement many of the recommendations over time, but he didn’t provide a date.

Wilkinson said opening the calendars of ministers comes with security issues the government needs to assess.

The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association said in a statement that the government would rather keep its information padlocked.

“Taken as a whole, Commissioner Denham’s report shows a government that is happy to release bland, brochure-type information, but digs in its heels over anything else,” said association executive director Vincent Gogolek.

The Opposition New Democrats said they will start posting their MLA expenses on line next month.

Denham said government should replace the out-dated Document Disposal Act with a modern archives and records management statute that prevents government from conducting business without records.

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