Baillie calls for changes to Freedom of Information Officer, McNeil says no

Premier Stephen McNeil and Opposition Leader Jamie Baillie speak to reporters at Province House on Oct. 9. Marieke Walsh/Global News

HALIFAX – Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie introduced a bill he said would increase the independence of the freedom of information officer, but the Premier said he won’t support the bill.

Introduced Thursday, the bill would make the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Review (FOIPOP) Officer an independent officer of the House of Assembly.

Under the current rules the office falls under the Justice Department. The Progressive Conservatives said that means the officer, Catherine Tully, answers to the governing party only. Changing her position to an independent officer of the legislature would give the office the same level of independence as the auditor general and provincial ombudsman.

Baillie said the change would make the the freedom of information system more transparent and accountable.

“It means that for any member of the public… when they want access to government information to make decisions about their jobs or their lives that an independent person will help them do that,” he said. “The system we have now means that one party decides what information goes out ultimately and what doesn’t and that’s the governing party and that’s not right.”

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Speaking to reporters after the bill was introduced, Premier Stephen McNeil said he won’t support the amendment.

“I don’t see any reason for it, the freedom of information process has been working well,” said McNeil. “I have enough challenges that I’m being faced with dealing on a daily basis of real problems, that’s what I’m going to continue to focus on.”

Nova Scotia and Quebec are the only two provinces in Canada where the freedom of information officer falls under a government department, Baillie said the change is overdue.

“As long as the FOIPOP review officer reports to a minister on the government side, Nova Scotians will never be sure that they are not getting the straight goods,” said Baillie. “The only way to make that happens is to create an independent officer of the house, in other words reporting to all parties, that can ensure that the government operates in an open and transparent manner, it is an important 21st century reform.”

The press release sent out by the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party accused the Liberals of using delay tactics and unclear rules to keep information from the public. It cites a Department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism letter sent to the Conservatives telling them it would cost $14,891 to process their information request regarding the Nova Star Ferry.

When former information officer Dulcie McCallum wasn’t reappointed after her seven-year term she called for the position to be changed so that it would report to the legislature rather than the government.

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Baillie said he will continue to introduce the bill in every session of the legislature until it is passed.

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