The opposition Wildrose says a leaked internal email shows Jobs Minister Thomas Lukaszuk interfered politically in the processing of freedom of information requests that could hurt the ruling Conservative government.
The email shows Lukaszuk, when he was deputy premier, circulated a memo to the premier and cabinet ministers about freedom of information (FOIP) requests.
The Nov. 29, 2013 memo directed press secretaries to “gather information about active FOIP requests which have the potential to generate media, session, political or other reputational issues for the government.” The memo also asked the information be forwarded to his office by noon on Fridays.
In a news release, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said the memo clearly shows political interference in the FOIP process.
“Last week, Premier Hancock promised Albertans that no member of his government was undermining the integrity of the Freedom of Information process. Obviously, that is not true,” Smith said.
“The reason we have a free and independent Freedom of Information process is precisely to avoid this kind of perception that information is being managed and possibly suppressed,” Smith said. “The fact that the former deputy premier is actively inserting himself and political staff across government into this process is disturbing.”
The email is from a FOIP coordinator in Service Alberta, the department responsible for administering the FOIP Act in Alberta. The email cites Lukaszuk’s request to view all sensitive FOIP requests and says Service Alberta will look into the former deputy premier’s deputy request.
In response to questions from Smith in the legislature Tuesday, interim Premier Dave Hancock brushed off allegations of political interference.
“As information goes out the door, it would be prudent to be aware of what is going out the door, so you know how to respond to it when the people who get it, including the media or others, ask questions about it,” Hancock said.
2nd allegation of political interference
This is the second internal government released by opposition parties which they say show political interference in FOIP.
Last week, the Liberals released internal government documents which they said showed senior government bureaucrats, directly associated to the premier’s office, were meddling with freedom of information (FOIP) requests.
The internal government emails, obtained through FOIP, show Peter Watson, the deputy minister to Executive Council, personally directed several departments to submit FOIP requests to his office so it could dictate what information could be released.
The documents also showed weekly FOIP status reports were produced.
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman accused the government of political interference in what is supposed to be the independent processing of FOIP requests.
But interim Premier Dave Hancock defended the practice, telling the legislature that the coordination of FOIP requests did not mean there is political interference. Hancock also said Watson’s job was to ensure the most-effective use of government resources.
The government has long been accused of political interference in FOIP.
There has been one ruling from the province’s FOIP commissioner which found there had been direct political interference in an Edmonton Journal request for the flight manifests of the government’s fleet of planes.
The government delayed release of the manifests for six months, finally releasing them three days after the 2004 provincial election.
Alberta’s FOIP Act does not specifically bar political interference in the processing of requests.
The FOIP Act is currently being reviewed by transparency and accountability minister Donald Scott. It’s not known when Scott will issue his recommendations.