January 6, 2017 7:40 pm
Updated: January 6, 2017 8:56 pm

Nova Scotia’s new FOIPOP website welcomed, but ‘systemic problems’ persist: critics

WATCH ABOVE: Nova Scotia is making it easier for people to request and access government information. The government launched a new website on Friday with a warm welcome from people who make those requests but, as Global's Steve Silva reports, critics say more needs to be done to improve transparency.

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The Nova Scotia government launched a website on Friday that facilitates the requesting and fulfillment of Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPOP) requests.

“It’s good that they brought a new system in, it’s good that they’re seeking to modernize it. You could say that something like this should have been done 15 or 20 years ago,” said Michael Karanicolas, legal officer for the Centre for Law and Democracy.

The website became open to the public at noon.

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When requests are fulfilled, the applicants’ materials will be posted on the website after seven calendar days for anyone to access. The materials will stay on the website for three years.

Materials containing “personal information or confidential business information” won’t be posted, as noted in a government press release.

Also, “larger files” will be truncated to a summary report.

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

“This is just another step in moving information online,” said Labi Kousoulis, the province’s minister of internal services, at a morning press conference for the announcement.

“These changes are cosmetic in nature, they’re positive, but they’re a small step forward,” said Kevin Lacey, Atlantic director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

He said he files 40-60 FOIPOP requests each year and that the provincial government needs to “proactively disclose more information than” it already does.

“The act should be a last resort for getting information, rather than a first resort when the government won’t provide information that is important to how they make decisions and how they spend our money,” said Lacey, who has had his own issues with the system.

The letter Michael Karanicolas said he received from Stephen McNeil before the latter became premier. (The image has been redacted to remove an email account listed.)

Supplied

Karanicolas said fees for trying to access information are still a concern, among other “systemic problems.”

He said he received a letter from Premier Stephen McNeil before the latter became premier.

In it, McNeil made three promises, including: “If elected Premier, I will expand the powers and mandate of the Review Officer, particularly through granting her order-making power.”

(The Review Officer is also known as the Information and Privacy Commissioner for Nova Scotia.)

“While we welcome the fact that these sorts of modernizations are taking place, we would still like to see him keep his word regarding the structural improvements he promised,” said Karanicolas.

A requested statement from McNeil’s office was sent to Global News but did not answer submitted questions about the status of those promises.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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