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Manitoba promises to reveal more information, but some records could take more time

A bill now before the Manitoba Legislature would change the province's freedom of information law by requiring automatic public disclosure of more government records. Brittany Greenslade / Global News

The Manitoba government is promising to make more information public, but some documents could take more time to see the light of day.

A bill now before the legislature would change the province’s freedom of information law by requiring automatic public disclosure of more government records.

The additions include travel expenses by Crown corporation board members, briefing binders for new or shuffled cabinet ministers, and employee codes of conduct in government departments.

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For items that are not disclosed automatically, the Progressive Conservative government would extend the time limit for responding to freedom of information requests to 45 days from 30.

Kelvin Goertzen, the minister responsible for legislative and public affairs, says about half of the freedom of information requests in recent years couldn’t be filled within 30 days anyway and required a formal extension.

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He says the change recognizes that workloads for staff who fulfil the requests have increased.

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The provincial government has received between 1,700 and 2,900 requests in recent years. Many come from political parties and the media.

“There were responses (during consultations) that talked about sustainability of the system itself and the difficulty because of the volume of requests,” Goertzen said Thursday.

The Opposition New Democrats said increasing the response time to 45 days is the wrong move.

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“Key departments … consistently take more than double the amount of time allowed to respond to requests,” NPD legislative and public affairs critic Malaya Marcelino said in a written statement.

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“Yet rather than strengthen the law, this bill would give government more time to delay their responses.”

The bill would also give government departments and other public bodies more reasons to reject such requests.

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The current law says requests can be turned down if they are vexatious, frivolous or so repetitious that they amount to an abuse of the process.

The bill would add that requests can also be denied if they are excessively broad or not made in good faith.

“There have been many cases where people will file 20 or 30 (requests) in a day … or asking for everything in a particular database,” Goertzen said.

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One thing that is not changing is the cost of filing a freedom of information request. Manitoba does not charge an upfront fee for each application but does apply fees if the requests require a lot of staff time to fulfil.

Some other provinces and the federal government charge upfront fees ranging from $5 to $25 for each request and increase the charge if the response is time-consuming.

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