Liberals pledge to implement all access-to-information promises ‘as quickly as possible’

Treasury Board President Scott Brison's office says the Liberals will bring in legislation changing Canada's ATI system as soon as this winter.
Treasury Board President Scott Brison's office says the Liberals will bring in legislation changing Canada's ATI system as soon as this winter. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

The federal Liberals say they’ll bring in all the access-to-information promises in their election campaign as soon as possible — some as early as this winter.

That includes giving Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault the power to order government to release information, puts the Prime Minister and his Cabinet under the Access to Information Act and eliminating all but the initial request fee.

A spokesperson for Treasury Board President Scott Brison says that’s always been the plan for a “two-phase” approach, with the first phase making good on campaign promises, including significant changes to the Access to Information Act, and the second phase being a full review of the Act.

READ MORE: Info watchdog’s budget cut to lowest level since 2009

Last month, when Brison said the government wouldn’t review the Act until 2018, the understanding was that this would push back the Liberals’ promised reforms.

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That was a misunderstanding, Brison’s office says.

“As quickly as possible, and as early as this year, we will introduce legislation to implement our platform commitments and other significant improvements identified through our collaboration with parliamentarians and our consultations with the Canadian public,” Brison’s press secretary Jean-Luc Ferland wrote in an email.

“The Government will then proceed with the first full and now-mandatory five year review of the Act.”

DUTY TO DOCUMENT: What you need to know about access-to-information reform

Access to information is the most basic way Canadians keep their government honest. It ensures information becomes public and creates a mechanism for transparency when the government doesn’t release info on its own.

Or it’s supposed to, anyway: Legault’s report last spring portrays a dysfunctional system that’s become backlogged and unresponsive.

In the 2015 election campaign the Liberals promised to implement many of Legault’s suggested reforms: They said they’d give the watchdog the ability to make government release information (right now she can only ask, or sue); bring the Prime Minister’s office and Cabinet under the Act; get rid of all fees associated with obtaining requested records, which can run into the thousands of dollars, save for the initial $5 filing cost.

READ MORE: Feds censor transparency memos

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Legault said she was encouraged by some initial openness, including the publishing of Ministers’ mandate letters.

But the pledge to strengthen her office didn’t extend to giving her more resources to do her job: Legault’s budget under the Liberals is the lowest it’s been since 2009.

info commish budget 2006-19 (inflation-adjusted)