New Brunswick's information and privacy commissioner is disappointed with a new report card that gave the provincial government a failing grade on its openness to provide information to the public.
Anne Bertrand contends the province could do better, pointing to a current review of the province's Official Languages Act being held behind closed doors as an example.
If New Brunswickers want access to an intelligent language debate, they should have it, she said.
"Well, I haven't been able to read much of the pulse of the population, but I suspect that people would find that kind of odd, that's something that affects us all," said Bertrand.
"I think something as important to New Brunswick as bilingualism should be out in the open. That should be a public debate."
The Select Committee on the Revision of the Official Languages Act, which is made up of Progressive Conservative and Liberal MLAs, has agreed to hold the meetings in secret.
'I think something as important to New Brunswick as bilingualism should be out in the open. That should be a public debate.'—Privacy commissioner Anne Bertrand
Justice Minister Marie-Claude Blais, who is the committee's chairperson, has suggested language is too delicate an issue for public hearings.
Earlier this week, Newspapers Canada's 2012 Freedom of Information Audit found the provincial government and two of the three cities tested did not disclose much information in response to requests submitted by a student team from the University of Kings College in Halifax.
Overall, the provincial government got an "F" for disclosure and a "C" for the speed of its response.
One reason for the province's "F" on completeness of disclosure was the education department still hadn't responded after four months.
The privacy commissioner says it's "completely unacceptable" not to respond to Freedom of Information requests.
"It's quite surprising in 2012 that some governments would approach this way of governing in secrecy or behind closed doors," said Bertrand.
Citizens want to be informed
"I'm not saying some discussions shouldn't be held in private. Some sensitivities need to be behind closed doors; you can't just blab out willy nilly," said Bertrand.
"But an intellectual, intelligent debate that affects us all, the people should be informed about it."
Bertrand believes her office has been successful in the two years since it was established in resolving public complaints when information was initially denied.
Out of 45 complaints, only one remains unresolved, she said.
Bertrand also works with the department involved so they understand what types of information have to be disclosed.
Although there used to be a culture that government was the safekeeper of information, that is history, she said.
Citizens want to be informed, said Bertrand.
Debates are occurring at kitchen tables about zoning, water quality, taxes, and property assessments.
In order for citizens to advance beyond the coffee table to a local group, or a community town hall and engage in a broader debate, they need to know how decisions are made, she said.
Debate is healthy, she stressed.
In 2010, Premier David Alward campaigned on a promise to give New Brunswickers more information.
The Supreme Court of Canada says access to information is a fundamental right.