The B.C. Liberals are once again showing that the longer a party remains in power, the more it attempts to avoid accountability and transparency.
Two recent events revealed a government that seems to be doing end runs around the rules governing what information should be disclosed publicly.
One disturbing event was the revelation that not a single note or piece of paper was kept by anyone in government regarding the surprise resignation of Ken Boessenkool after an apparently inappropriate encounter with a female staffer at a downtown Victoria bar.
A Vancouver Sun freedom of information request for any documents relating to the internal investigation of the incident was met with the reply that no such documents even exist because none were created.
In other words, the government claims a process that resulted in the resignation of the second most powerful person in government was done entirely orally, without a single note being kept.
At the very least this seems odd, and at worst it is reveals a contempt for public accountability.
The premier refuses to talk about it, citing some vague rule that has never been adequately explained. The whole mess has done little to help her repair her credibility with the public.
The other incident involved the consultation process for the expansion of Burnaby General Hospital.
A batch of emails showed that information was being sent to a cabinet minister's private email account, which is not covered by the freedom of information law.
What's troubling about all this is that these don't appear to be isolated incidents and instead reflect a growing trend in the B.C. government toward secrecy and away from openness.
I've heard plenty of anecdotal stories from civil servants and political appointees over the years about how they sometimes avoid scrutiny by deliberately not keeping notes, writing memos, or by using Gmail or Hotmail email accounts instead of official government email addresses.
Vincent Gogolek, the executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, calls the situation "very troubling."
His organization estimates that almost one-fourth of all freedom of information requests are met with a "no records found" response. When it comes to media requests only, the number jumps to one-third.
"We've been seeing things getting worse," Gogolek told me. "There's something really wrong here."
Reporters are already used to getting documents through FOI that are heavily redacted. But the problems now appear to be growing well beyond that.
Gogolek found the lack of documentation surrounding Boessenkool's departure "unacceptable" and said uncovering the use of a cabinet minister's private emails in a supposedly public consultation process confirmed deep suspicions that this occurs much more frequently.
Gogolek would like to see the freedom of information law amended to include a clause that would require public officials to keep records.
Called a "duty to document," such a change could go a long way to end what appears to be a culture of silence that has grown in parts of the government.
The freedom of information commissioner is investigating B.C.F.I.P.A.'s concerns. Let's hope it leads to some bright lights being shone in corners of government that right now are fairly dark.
Who knows? Maybe the next time a powerful staffer leaves under a cloud, someone might make a note or two about why.
jobs plan TV ad a curious approach
Can you think of better ways for the B.C. Liberal government to spend $15 million of your tax dollars other than on a lavish advertising campaign lauding its so-called Jobs Action Plan?
I thought you could. The government is simply inviting criticism for spending this kind of money when pretty well anyone could point to more pressing priorities for government action.
The latest television ad features the premier herself, and at 90 seconds it's unusually long (and expensive).
No one in government (including the premier) has made it clear to me why it's necessary to have her in such an ad, leading to suspicions the whole aim here is to showcase her for political purposes.
Given that polls indicate the premier is not that popular with the public, it's a curious approach to advertising, to say the least. When the saleswoman is unpopular, selling a credible message becomes much more difficult.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.
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