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I stood over his dead body, screaming and hoping that he would wake up, praying, “Please don't let him die.” I begged and pleaded but I knew he was already gone.
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Shelley Sheppard's own description of her panic and grief is evident in the letter she's written—a letter she sent to BC Premier Christy Clark—asking for massive reform in the province’s daycare system. In January, Shelley Sheppard’s 16-month-old son died in an unlicensed day care. Now she's joined other advocates in a push for change on an issue that's become an election issue in BC for ruling Liberals. In half an hour, we’ll hear her story and the debate that highlights divisions over daycare across this country. Also today when you think of the line between personal and business emails, you likely think of this woman.
I chose not to keep my private personal e-mails—emails about planning Chelsea's wedding or yoga routines, family vacations, the other things you typically find in inboxes.
AMT: Well, move over, Hillary—we need look no further than our own governments on the issue of e-mails. After a request for an e-mail paper trail on school closures turned up nothing, a Prince Edward Island opposition MLA is crying foul. And that issue—access to information regarding government decisions—is playing out across the country. A former Nova Scotia cabinet minister admits he has dodged access demands and a former BC privacy commissioner says elected and unelected policymakers should face tougher consequences when their email trails disappear or do not exist at all. We're exploring that in an hour. But we begin in Istanbul where a referendum result has handed more power to a president already accused of having too much of it. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.Back To Top »
Turkey's referendum win: decisive defeat or pyrrhic victory?
Guests: Nil Koksal, Meryem İlayda Atlas, Sanem Guner
[Sound: Protesters chanting in alternate language]
AMT: Well, protesters have been on the streets of Istanbul for the past few days, calling for a recount on Turkey's weekend referendum. Just over half of Turkey's voters said yes to granting the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sweeping new powers. If you ask people on the streets of Turkey, they have disparate views on what that outcome means.
VOICE 1: Desperation.
VOICE 2: Unity.
VOICE 1: Hopelessness.
VOICE 2: Peace.
VOICE 1: Tired.
VOICE 2: Together. Turkey number one.
VOICE 3: Hope for the best.
VOICE 4: Horrible thieves.
VOICE 5: Turkey is collapsed.
VOICE 6: Turkey has won.
AMT: Well, voices from Turkey courtesy of the BBC. Several opposition groups have claimed irregularities during the voting process and the OSCE—the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe –has said the referendum fell short of international standards. The CBC's Nil Koksal has been following the referendum closely from her base in Istanbul. Hello, Nil.
NIL KOKSAL: Good morning, Anna Maria.
AMT: This was a referendum where he really just squeaked through, wasn't it?
NIL KOKSAL: That's right. A lot of people are saying even Erdoğan and his supporters seemed shocked. In the initial aftermath of the results coming in, their facial expressions said a lot. And even pro-government columnists noted that live on television as it happened and in their subsequent columns how many people are asking, could this kind of result—just 51 per cent—have come when they really had a monopoly over all of the media coverage, even the signage around major cities like Istanbul that we've seen AND a lot of pressure on anyone who was supporting the no campaign. How with all of that control being the ruling party in Turkey were they only able to eke out a victory? That is a big question here. For their part, Erdoğan and his supporters say they do have the mandate to go ahead with their plans but there are a lot of questions being asked—behind closed doors we're certain—and certainly out in the open.
AMT: Well, Nil, walk us quickly through what those plans are going to be, what that referendum means for President Erdoğan.
NIL KOKSAL: Well, President Erdoğan has been pushing for these kinds of changes for years now. He wanted to take Turkey's system from a parliamentary one to a presidential one. So most of the changes will go into effect in 2019. We won’t have a prime minister anymore in Turkey, just a president with the power to dissolve parliament or call a state of emergency and prepare the budget. The win also resets the term limit clock on the president for him specifically. So starting in 2019, if he were to win the elections then, he'd have two more five-year terms and could be in power potentially till 2029. And the reason he's pushed these, Anna Maria, is he said that it would make Turkey a more stable country. There's been a lot of upheaval rather over the decades in Turkey, military coups as you know and elected governments being overthrown, coalition governments. He has said that this vote would change all of that. More stability, he promised.
AMT: How long has he been in power already?
NIL KOKSAL: Well, it's been almost 15 years and he was mayor of Istanbul before that and the concerns that people who aren't on Erdoğan’s side say look, he's shown us his evolution into what they believe is much more authoritarian power. Some have already said you know it's kind of a de facto dictatorship anyway. They feel he already has too much power. And the opposition parties were saying throughout this campaign you know he's just trying to legalize what he's already been doing and they feel that that would be disastrous for this country.
AMT: And the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, has said that there were voting irregularities. What did it find?
NIL KOKSAL: Well, they along with opposition parties are concerned about a couple of things. One is that the envelopes that all voters here in Turkey put their ballots in once they've sent them, some of them they allege did not have an official stamp that every polling station is supposed to put on those envelopes before people actually vote. In Turkey's election law, those kinds of envelopes, those ballots are not supposed to be counted but the election board said very quickly on the referendum night that they would be counting those ballots, that they feel that they are valid. And there's also concerns that people were given in some locations not a stamp that said the word choice—which was what they were supposed to put on the word yes or no on their ballots—but that some stamps just said the word yes. So there's concerns that there was potentially undue influence there as well and there are also concerns from the OSCE and the opposition, Anna Maria, about the campaign itself. You know the monopolization of the media that I mentioned and people also talked about—we covered this as well—during the campaign, opposition MPs saying you know we suddenly find when we go to do events, the electricity cut off or people who are handing out “no” flyers being threatened, those kinds of things. Anyone on the “no” camp being called a terrorist even. That's the tone that the campaign took and that's why there's so much concern about the results.
AMT: Right. And that's why they're saying it wasn't a level playing field leading up to that vote, right?
NIL KOKSAL: Exactly.
AMT: The other thing, Nil, is that the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party—the HDP—has said that the irregular votes add up to more than the margin of victory. They say three million votes lacked that stamp, huh?
NIL KOKSAL: Exactly. You know 1.3 million votes is what the “yes” side won by, which is not an insignificant number of course. But when you consider the numbers that the other side is talking about, this could change the outcome. They're particularly concerned about the way voting turned out in places like Diyarbakir, in the southeast, mainly Kurdish. While there are some conservative Kurds who—people might be surprised to hear—do side with Erdoğan and did vote for him and the “yes” campaign, there was such large numbers they feel, of people who had never voted for either one or his party before. So there's a lot of concern about how that could have happened partly because of the 13 elected MPs of the HDP, they say being thrown into jail including their co-chairs. Part of that suppression of their voice they said in that region, that's part of the reason for their concern. And also crackdowns in certain areas where there were clashes with the PKK, in places like [unintelligible]. Those people didn't have homes at the end of the day. So how would they have been able to vote? Those are the kind of questions the HDP is raising, Anna Maria.
AMT: Okay. And he didn't actually take the majority of the votes in Istanbul, did he?
NIL KOKSAL: No, not in Istanbul or Ankara which that specifically where he calls home, the capital of this country. It was a big surprise. And in Istanbul, certain neighbourhoods like [unintelligible], which is just across where I am, where our bureau is here on the Asian side, we were there just the day before the vote. People, I could say lost it when they heard that he might be stopping by their pre-referendum rally. Huge support there but he didn't win there in the end which is another reason like we were talking about off the top that a lot of people are asking questions. How could this be?
AMT: Right. So where did he win?
NIL KOKSAL: Well, he won in places that you might expect—in the Anatolian belt, in more rural areas. A lot of commentators here are talking about the divide between the less educated population in Turkey and the more highly educated population in cities. There's a big divide in that sense. He also lost, perhaps not surprisingly, in coastal towns like Izmir and Antalya where tourism is extremely important to their livelihoods there. Tourism along with other sectors of the economy have taken a big hit. So he did have core support in the Anatolian belt, in rural areas. That's not surprising. But it's those cities and Istanbul, his hometown, where he lost. That’s quite surprising.
AMT: He got a call from President Trump as well, did he not?
NIL KOKSAL: And that's another surprise. Yes. Not because you know it's normal of course in diplomatic circles for that kind of conversation to happen, but he's the only major world leader and the only Western leader who's made that call and there’s a lot of criticism about that because obviously the results are still being disputed at this stage. But also you know they apparently talked not just about the referendum and that congratulatory call but about Syria and Assad and fighting ISIS, so this could be the US trying to keep those bonds close because they need Turkey obviously. And Trump has business ties here in Turkey, so it's raising eyebrows on a number of levels that the speed at which that call came. But it's just one of the concerns. The main concern is why is he calling, the major world leader is calling Erdoğan when the results are still being disputed.
AMT: Well and when I guess some European leaders are saying this kind of precludes Turkey joining the EU. They feel he’s gone too far.
NIL KOKSAL: Yeah. First of all, they’ve said there should be a transparent investigation to what happened in this referendum before they can make any congratulatory calls. The European Union put out that statement just a short time ago. But what Erdoğan is saying now and what he's saying during the campaign, you know really attacking Europe and saying that they're trying to temper or intervene in Turkish politics has really marked this campaign. But he's also been saying that he might want to bring the death penalty back to Turkey. That really energizes his base. He mentioned that just moments after you know speaking about the outcome of the referendum. If that were to happen in Turkey, that is essentially a death sentence for Turkey ever joining the EU. So, so much is up in the air for Turks when this was supposed to be decisive path, a decisive path for a new Turkey.
AMT: Okay. Well, Nil Koksal, thank you for your observations on all of this.
NIL KOKSAL: A pleasure. Thanks, Anna Maria.
AMT: That is Nil Koksal. She is CBC’s correspondent in Turkey. She joined us from Istanbul. Meryem İlayda Atlas is the opinion editor of the Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah and she is in Istanbul. Hello.
MERYEM İLAYDA ATLAS: Hello.
AMT: Your newspaper supported the “yes” side in this referendum. Why is that?
MERYEM İLAYDA ATLAS: Yes, because like half of the Turkish voters—like more than 51 of the voters—[unintelligible] in Turkey was a must because the existing constitution was very centralist, very, very uncivil and it was made by military officials after a coup d'etat. And a Turkish parliament was not able to come together to make a new constitution in order to reform the system so the government with the majority votes of [unintelligible] go for a referendum for us, people, if they want to make a system and governance change in Turkey.
AMT: The opposition calls this a threat to democracy. You call the referendum a victory for democracy. How so?
MERYEM İLAYDA ATLAS: Of course because this is making more power to the people. The parliamentary system in general is not producing democracy. It's giving more power to the other political issues. Now the political actors, the legislative actors, they will be more effective in legislative and executive, and the separation of powers will be completely separated from each other. So this will be based on more power of the people and power of the politics.
AMT: How did you vote personally?
MERYEM İLAYDA ATLAS: I vote for yes.
MERYEM İLAYDA ATLAS: I vote for yes.
AMT: And so you say that it gives people more power, but it also gives Mr. Erdoğan more power. Does he not have too much power?
MERYEM İLAYDA ATLAS: He has too much power and he is not responsible from the power. He's not the head of the execution. This is the problem. Now today, the Turkish system, existing system is creating a leadership—two leaders actually—president and prime minister. President has got too much power because it was established by the [unintelligible] officials for their [unintelligible]. And now you see that the prime minister, on the other hand, has got also most of power.
AMT: What is your response to the continuing dispute though over irregularities in this result?
MERYEM İLAYDA ATLAS: Yes. I don't know and I'm very much concerned about these irregularities. As a “yes” voter, I don't want these kind of bureaucracy overshadow my vote. But I will say that the problem that we are living in and the objections of the opposition parties are because of the existing system of Turkey—existing system of Turkey giving too much power to bureaucracy. That’s why we are leaving.
AMT: Ms. Atlas, we have to leave it there. Thank you for your thoughts.
MERYEM İLAYDA ATLAS: Thank you very much.
AMT: That is Meryem İlayda Atlas. She's the opinion editor of the Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah and she's in Istanbul. For opponents of the Turkish president, this vote has put into question the future of Turkey as a functioning democracy. It's also laid bare the intense divisions in the country. Sanem Guner is a manager of a profit non-governmental organization. She's asked we not identify her employer for fear of government reprisal. Sanem Guner joins us from Istanbul. Hello.
SANEM GUNER: Good morning, Anna Maria.
AMT: Well, as it stands, President Erdoğan has come away with a victory. How satisfied will he and his party be with this result, do you think?
SANEM GUNER: They're not very satisfied because as Nil Koksal pointed out, the margin of the win was very narrow despite the very un-level playing field, despite the AK Party and Erdoğan having more access to the media, many more platforms to be able to make their cause and also oppress any sort of explanation from the from the “no” camp, any sort of meaningful campaign from the no camp. And despite that, this narrow margin concerns the party. The foremost reason being that in 2019 when Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is up for re-election, he doesn't think that he will have a landslide win anymore which was what he was hoping that this referendum’s results would show.
AMT: Hmm. So now you have people really divided on these lines. How is that going to play out, do you think, in day-to-day life?
SANEM GUNER: Well, it's a very polarized country, not unlike other countries that we're seeing in Europe, in the West and the US, not unlike those societies. It's a very polarized country and it's one where as your segment just before, Nil’s segment showed, it's one where the Turkish society sees Turkey's future as being on two very different paths, whereas the “no” camp voters think that this is the last nail on the coffin of Turkish democracy as we know it, of Turkish democracy as Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the republic founded it. Supporters of AK Party and supporters of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan think that this is the new Turkey. Some have even called him the founder of new Turkey. And so there are two very conflicting opinions about living in this country now. The “no” camp is very much disenfranchised and these results, once they go into effect, will put an end to our parliamentary participatory democracy as we know it. And that has been the sentiment on the “no” side and on the “yes” side, people are thinking that this will bring more stability. It will make Turkey a more powerful country, being able to stand up to the west.
AMT: Hmm. I think it's really telling that you cannot say who you work for because you're afraid of reprisals. What does that say? You talk about democracy. What does that say to you? How worried are you?
SANEM GUNER: Well, I personally am very worried because of certain sectors being targeted more than others. The media, the non-governmental sector, civil society—any sort of opposition voice—these are kind of sectors that are being targeted and especially under the state of emergency and even more so after the attempted military coup that happened last July. So this is the current atmosphere of oppression, intimidation, is very worrying. International non-governmental organizations, international aid organizations are being targeted, shut down even and there is no real recourse to constitutional rights because we are in a state of emergency. And so this is very worrying and a lot of people fear that this will get worse under a presidential system.
AMT: And you have so much going on in your country. You have ISIS on your border with Syria. You have the Syrian war. You have refugees coming in. You have insurgencies inside the country. You have what the government calls terrorists, what others do not. You have people speaking out who are dissidents, who are jailed. If you wanted stability, where would you go? What are your options?
SANEM GUNER: Well, unfortunately Turkey cannot choose its geopolitical place on the world map. So as long as the security situation continues as such in Turkey, as long as wars continue across our borders in Syria and Iraq, as long as the threat of ISIS continues, Turkey will never be able to become a stable, prosperous, sort of, I would say normal country in the sense that we understand it, because it will always have challenges. What matters is if the country was more open, if society was more open, if there were more opportunities for politics, that would mean better policies—better policies on many fronts—including security. And that's what would make this country, the society a lot more stable and it would bring it back to being closer to Europe for the European Union if we were to anchor ourselves in those sort of human rights freedoms, freedom of expression, opening up of the political space—that would mean a much more stable country.
AMT: Okay. Well, Sanem Guner, thank you for your observations on this.
SANEM GUNER: Thank you, Anna Maria.
AMT: That is Sanem Guner. She's the manager of a non-profit non-governmental organization. She joined us from Istanbul, Turkey. And stay with us. The CBC News is next and then—
I wish I would have had daycare choices that worked for our little family. Every moment of every day, I wish that I could turn back time and bring Mac home to me. Every second without my son is a second in the most unimaginable pain.
AMT: Death at a daycare and a mother's plea to the premier of British Columbia. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.Back To Top »
'I promised Mac I would protect him': Grieving mother's plea to B.C. premier for daycare reform
Guests: Shelley Sheppard, Paige MacPherson, Sharon Grayson
AMT: Hello. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.
AMT: Still to come, the case of the disappearing e-mails and calls for more transparency in government. But first, the search for safe and affordable daycare in Canada.
VOICE 1: It started when my wife was four months pregnant and we got on a waiting list for a daycare here in Squamish and we are currently still sitting on that wait list. And my mother-in-law comes up from the city to take care of our kids three days a week and she's 70 years old.
VOICE 2: I went on a list when I was pregnant. I did hear back from one very recently. My daughter is 14 months old now but it was too late for my start of work.
VOICE 3: I’ve chosen to work two jobs and have my wife stay at home with our children. We waited on a list for almost two years before deciding for my wife to stay home.
VOICE 4: We'll be paying $30,000 a year in daycare fees next year which I think is pretty crazy.
AMT: Those are parents in BC talking on CBC Radio's The Early Edition about the struggle to find daycare spots. They're particularly vocal now that daycare is front and centre in the BC election and they are not alone. Parents across Canada are facing long wait lists and often hefty rates for daycare spots. There is a patchwork of daycare solutions across the country—from Quebec’s universal child care which has its own wait lists—to provinces where there is a mix of private and public daycare with subsidies for lower incomes. Earlier this month, Alberta announced a pilot for a $25-a-day child care program. In BC, the issue came to a head when one grieving mother wrote a letter to premier Christy Clark asking her for massive reform to the province’s daycare system. The BC Liberal Party has committed to creating 13,000 new childcare spaces by 2020, but Shelley Sheppard says that is not enough. Her 16-month-old son Mac died in an unlicensed day care in January. And Shelley Sheppard joins me from Vancouver. Hello.
SHELLEY SHEPPARD: Hi, Anna Maria.
AMT: I know you don't want to talk about the circumstances around his death because you do not want to imperil the investigation that is underway. So without going into any specifics, do you believe Mac’s death was preventable?
SHELLEY SHEPPARD: Yeah, I do. It was absolutely preventable. I mean eventually we will talk about what happened once the investigation is over and we can inform parents about what was kind of going on. But right now we're not able to.
AMT: Can you tell me what role you think the current daycare system played in the death of your son?
SHELLEY SHEPPARD: Well, in our situation and with many other struggling parents around BC, we could not find a spot. We looked and looked and looked. I called countless places and the only two people that called me back, I felt were really not able to care for children. So when we found this one spot, it was almost a rush to get it because we knew that there were other people looking at this one spot that was available. So we made the decision based on what little information we had and kind of our gut feeling and we went with it. Unfortunately what we thought about this daycare wasn't accurate, I guess—it’s the only way I can really put it right now—and Mac ended up dying. We are two working professionals and we can't afford for one of us to stay home with Mac. We couldn't afford a nanny unfortunately. So that's why we ended up where we did.
AMT: Tell me about Mac. What was he like?
SHELLEY SHEPPARD: Mac was just kind of—his little personality was just blossoming. He was so funny and smart and a sweet little guy who was just very, very cuddly. He loved his books. That was his first favourite toy, was a book and he would make you read the same books a million times over. I think I have them all memorized. But he loved to dance and run. He was just learning how to walk in his winter boots. He was the light of our lives He was everything.
AMT: Was he talking yet?
SHELLEY SHEPPARD: A little bit. He was saying “bye-bye” a lot. That was one of the first things he really got a hold on. He tried to say our dog's name a few times and Grandma and Dada, of course, was the word that he used a lot. One of the things that was really hard for me—he never learned how to say Mama. I have a hard time with that. I can never hear his voice or have a conversation with him. One of the things we were really looking forward to most as a parent was just talking to your child and getting to know them and you know it's not fair that we're missing out on that.
AMT: I’m so sorry for what you're going through, Shelley. And in the midst of this and all of the grief that you have, you write a letter to Christy Clark. Why did you write that letter?
SHELLEY SHEPPARD: Well, first of all, it was so difficult to write. Grief is such an all-encompassing thing and losing a child is the worst thing that a parent can ever go through. So putting our pain out there for the public to read, I felt like it was inviting people to watch our very private nightmare. Except that you know it's the worst nightmare you can imagine. You can't wake up. So I wrote the letter because I wanted Christy Clark to look at the daycare situation as a mother, not as a politician. This isn't just about political votes. This is about our children and our struggling families. If she knows the incredible love that we have for our children and I had hoped that she would hear what I have to say and seriously rethink her stance on daycare.
AMT: Would you be able to read a little bit of what you wrote to her?
SHELLEY SHEPPARD: Yes. Dear Honourable Christy Clark, I'm writing this letter as you are one of the most powerful women in a province and your voice dictates the direction of our public policies. This letter is a personal appeal from one mother to another. My beautiful son Macallan Wayne Saini, my only child, the most precious person in my world died at an unlicensed daycare on Wednesday, January 18th. No, I will never get over it. No, time does not heal all wounds. And no, I will not get through this. There are no words or platitudes that will make this tragedy go away. I am Mac’s mommy and I now have to live the rest of my life without my son. The bond between a mother and child is the strongest bond that there is. As a woman and a mother, take a moment to think about my life now that Mac is no longer by my side.
AMT: And you go on, of course, with the letter. Christy Clark did respond to you, Shelley, saying how sorry she was for your loss but she rejected the $10-a-day daycare proposal from the BC NDP, saying it's too expensive. What did you think of that response?
SHELLEY SHEPPARD: I did not hear from her or her office personally. The only response I did hear was her press conference where she did send her condolences. But to be honest, I cried while watching her speak. In her press conference, she stated that BC parents want options and that is one of the reasons why she's not going to reform BC daycare. But that was the very point of my letter is that there are no options and I just, I wish she would hear that. I wish we would have had options when looking for daycare but we didn't.
AMT: And in the midst of this, you think it's important to fight for this.
SHELLEY SHEPPARD: Yeah, I do. I am a social worker. I work in the child welfare system and so over the past 10 years, I've seen the cuts and the gaps in the system and the people that are being left behind. Daycare is just another long list of people, vulnerable people that we're neglecting in our province and I think it's time for a change. It’s not okay.
AMT: Shelley, I'm so sorry you lost him.
SHELLEY SHEPPARD: Thank you.
AMT: I'm sorry we have to be having this conversation this way.
SHELLEY SHEPPARD: Yes. Me too.
AMT: But I thank you very much for speaking to me.
SHELLEY SHEPPARD: Thank you so much, Anna Maria.
SHELLEY SHEPPARD: Bye.
AMT: Shelley Sheppard—her son Mac died in an unlicensed day care in Vancouver three months ago. The daycare operator has not been charged. Vancouver police have called the toddler's death not suspicious but are still investigating. The coroner has not released a cause of death. Vancouver Coastal Health also confirms it followed up on a complaint at the address of the daycare where Mac died in 2010. A licensing officer found the office operator was not in compliance with the number of children permitted and directed them to reduce the number of children. They say they will continue their investigation of what they say was “illegal operation of a daycare” after police conclude their investigation. Well, successive federal and provincial governments have been grappling with the daycare issue for decades, but the problems persist. Depending on where you are in the country, the per year cost of daycare can be more than university tuition. That's if you can find a spot in the first place. Wait lists can be months if not years and that's for families looking for regular nine to six daycare. For families working shifts or nights or who want part time care, it is more difficult to find childcare. That's why there are more than 800 names on a waitlist for one daycare north of Toronto in Barrie, Ontario. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
[Sound: Daycare children]
VOICE 1: My name's Leslie and I'm the centre coordinator here at Little Star Childcare in Barrie, Ontario. It's a 24 hour centre seven days a week and the only day that we are closed is Christmas Day.
VOICE 2: Take your shoes off. Take this off.
VOICE 1: This is one of our little ones getting dropped off. Hi, Grayson.
VOICE 3: Neither my husband or I have typical hours, so this allows us to work our jobs that we have. I work two late nights a week and my husband works evenings, so this has been great. It was very much a relief because we were concerned we were going to probably try the home daycare route and after interviewing a few of those, it wasn't the route we wanted to go. So that's how we ended up here.
VOICE 4: I'm a grandpa. I have four of my grandkids living with me. Twenty-four hour care is probably the best thing going because everybody is working shift work and everybody needs daycare 24/7. But it's greater that they have an afternoon pick up from school, so not only the family but grandparents.
[Sound: Children giggling]
VOICE 1: So the centre as a whole, we can have 72 children at one time. For our overnights, we have two rooms that we use for our overnights. So we have this room as our middle class room. What ends up happening is we have full single size mattresses and they get brought out at 7:30. All the mattresses are laid strategically in the classroom and they get fitted with full bedding, pillow, sheets and comforter. At 7:30, the kids get in their pajamas and they get on their beds and they get a bedtime snack. Usually our bedtime snack is cheese and crackers or an apple or a piece of fruit. And then at that time once their bedtime snack is done, all of our lights are usually out at eight o’clock. Are you ready? Let’s go upstairs. Say hi.
[Sound: Children saying “Hi” in unison]
VOICE 1: What are you guys having for lunch?
MANY VOICES: Pizza.
VOICE 1: Is lunch good?
MANY VOICES: Yes.
VOICE 5: Papa.
VOICE 1: Yeah? Papa dropped you off?
VOICE 6: My daddy dropped me off too.
VOICE 1: Your daddy dropped you off too?
VOICE 7: My mommy picked me up.
VOICE 1: Your mommy?
VOICE 7: And dropped me off.
VOICE 1: Here at the centre, instead of a traditional daycare where there's one set fee per week or per month, here at the centre you only pay for the days that you book in. We have a lot of families that sometimes drop off at four o'clock, five o’clock in the morning because they work in Toronto. And so they drop their children off here at four o'clock in the morning in their pajamas and we have a bed made for them and so that's also an option for some of our families, is that they necessarily don't have to use our overnight care. They can use our early morning care. Okay, we’ll see you later. Can you say bye?
[Sound: Children saying “bye”]
AMT: Well, all those byes from the kids at Little Star Childcare in Barrie, Ontario with its 24/7 service with more than 800 names on the wait list. Despite that kind of need, not everyone agrees governments should fund universal daycare.
VOICE 1: Parents should ensure they have financing in place to hire a nanny, share a nanny or heaven forbid, take turns to take time away from work to raise their own children until school age. Ten dollar-a-day daycare? No way.
VOICE 2: As a family, we look after our own. I’ve got grandchildren. My daughter just started work and my wife goes over to her house or they come to our house. It’s a family unit.
AMT: Well, those are a couple more listeners who called CBC Radio in Vancouver about daycare. With both BC and Alberta debating the merits of universal childcare, my next two guests have strong opinions on this. Paige MacPherson is the Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. She's in Calgary. Sharon Gregson is a childcare advocate and program director and the spokesperson for BC’s $10-a-day daycare campaign and she is in Vancouver. Hello to both of you.
SHARON GREGSON: Good morning.
PAIGE MACPHERSON: Hello.
AMT: Hi. Paige MacPherson, let's start with you. Alberta’s piloting a $25-a-day child care program. What's your concern with the universal daycare program?
PAIGE MACPHERSON: Well, there's several concerns that we have. I mean of course the costs from a taxpayer perspective, these programs are unsustainable and Quebec has really demonstrated that. Just to put it in perspective, since 1997, the share of Quebec’s daycare costs have risen more than 700 per cent for tax payers but the total number of spaces have only increased by 166 per cent. And we're concerned as well about the effects that the Quebec daycare system had. In general, you know you want your policies to solve the policy problems at hand. So in this case, you know in the lead up to this interview, you talked a lot about options and wait lists. In Quebec, the wait lists are a constant problem. Universal daycare hasn't solved that problem and frankly when Statistics Canada has looked at this and surveyed parents across the country, parents in Quebec were actually the most likely out of parents anywhere in the country to say that they choose their daycare centres based on it being the only option available. So the universal daycare system in Quebec has not delivered those policy solutions for parents but it has been very expensive. So we think that you need to look at other options.
AMT: And do you think that Quebec is the only universal system in existence?
PAIGE MACPHERSON: Well, Quebec is a universal system in Canada that we can look at as the model. So in Alberta as an example, we are following that system that Quebec has laid out. We're following in those footsteps in terms of the government policy.
AMT: What would you suggest instead then?
PAIGE MACPHERSON: Well, I think that you know if there is a needs gap there, it is up to the government to demonstrate that there is an needs gap and frankly if parents are saying that that's there, then that's good enough for me. Affordable child care is a noble goal and yes, we can agree that there is a role for government to play. We think that it should really go to the parents who really need it. So an income-tested voucher system, a needs-tested voucher system because it's not only parents who don't have the income. In many cases it's the parents who might have kids with special needs that are having problems finding spots, so maybe you want to do a needs-tested funding as well. The problem in Quebec is that it subsidizes wealthy parents and actually wealthier parents that were in the top 25 per cent income were twice as likely to get a spot in one of the government daycare centres than parents in the bottom 25 per cent. So it doesn't go to the needy and that's not a good allocation of those precious childcare dollars.
AMT: Okay, and how do you define wealthy?
PAIGE MACPHERSON: Well, we were using the top 25 per cent, so the top 25 per cent of income earners. When Maclean’s magazine did a report on the Quebec government daycare system, as I mentioned, were twice as likely than parents in the bottom 25 per cent of income earners to get those spots. So that's certainly the top one quarter of families and certainly those are the wealthier folks.
AMT: Do you have a number? How much do they make?
PAIGE MACPHERSON: In terms of income?
PAIGE MACPHERSON: I don’t know what the income threshold would be. But I mean that would differ in every province. So as an example in Alberta where I am, we've got the highest salaries in the country on average. And I'm not sure that there is a case to spend those precious childcare dollars on families who quite frankly are quite wealthy and don't need it. Just as we allocate our tax dollars to things like feeding the needy or libraries, over corporate welfare or certainly at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation we think that that's where the money should go instead of things like funding wealthy executives through corporate welfare, we should make sure that we're funding the people who actually need it with those with those dollars and not subsidizing the wealthy who again, in a universal system—the one that we have in Canada to go off—were more likely to get the spots than the low income parents who still are waiting on wait lists that are long and confusing, based on parents’ surveys.
AMT: Okay. Sharon Gregson, let's get you in here. You're advocating for a $10-a-day universal daycare plan in BC. It's backed by the provincial NDP Party. It is rejected by the BC Liberals. Why do you believe that's the solution given what Paige MacPherson is saying?
SHARON GREGSON: Well, I disagree with much of what Paige has put forward this morning. It's just absolutely outrageous to think that we would only be targeting our so-called precious childcare dollars to those who need it the most. Just listening to Shelley Sheppard at the outset of your show, probably Shelley wouldn't have qualified for the voucher system that Paige is talking about and yet she found herself with no options. If in fact the voucher system was the way to solve the childcare crisis that exists across most of our country, we wouldn't have childcare chaos at the moment. We would have solved the problems. And when we look at other services that we provide through our tax dollars like our K to 12 system, like our libraries, like our emergency services and our health care, those are services that we all contribute to that we don't income test people at the door. And so it doesn't make sense that we would income test people at the door of their childcare centre in order to determine how much they would pay or if they get a space. The subsidy system or a voucher system, the US model is not the way I think we should be moving forward in Canada and certainly not in British Columbia. And it isn't just Quebec that we look to for their experience in childcare. We actually look around the world and we did a literature review and looked at other jurisdictions, other countries around the world. Some of the happiest countries in the world actually have better childcare than Canada does. So we can learn from those countries. We can learn from Quebec. Nobody is suggesting in British Columbia that we try to duplicate the Quebec model. We can learn from Quebec and our $10-a-day plan is a made in BC model to solve the childcare crisis here.
AMT: Sharon Gregson, what do you think of the argument that a universal childcare system restricts parental choice?
SHARON GREGSON: It's a ridiculous argument. Right now, families don't have choice when they're in a position of having to choose between not going to work or using an unlicensed childcare provider. In British Columbia, we only have enough licensed child care for about 20 per cent of families. The Quebec system is far from perfect but they have enough childcare for 60 per cent of children. So they're further ahead than we are in creating spaces. But it isn't just about affordability. It isn't just about the number of spaces. It's also about quality and that's where in British Columbia, we're focused on developing the workforce or the early childhood educators who provide care to make sure that we're providing not just affordable care but that it's quality care.
AMT: Paige MacPherson, I want to pick up on the quality care issue. We heard Shelley Sheppard talking about the death of her son in an unlicensed daycare. Wouldn't a universal childcare program of licenced spots insure quality?
PAIGE MACPHERSON: Well, unfortunately when we went the route of government daycare in Quebec, quality declined. Over 60 per cent of daycare centres in Quebec received a quality rating of minimal. A 2015 comprehensive study showed that year after year, children who went through Quebec’s daycare system showed worsened social skills and health and life satisfaction. So you know even proponents of Quebec’s system agree or universal childcare agree that childcare quality in Quebec has to be raised. The problem is that that money overall does not grow on trees and in Quebec, where the daycare plan was supposed to cost $290 million a year when it was announced, the costs have risen to $2.6 billion a year. And they're getting equalization payments that BC and Alberta are not getting to help pay for those programs. So I think that you know in the example that we have where wait lists have gone up, quality has declined versus according to Statistics Canada, in Canada overall, 69 per cent of parents indicating that they're very satisfied with the overall quality of their childcare arrangement.
AMT: Okay. So let me just get Sharon get in here because we’re almost out of time. Sharon Gregson?
SHARON GREGSON: Well, the reality is that 75 per cent of mothers with children under the age of five in Canada are in the work force. We only have enough licenced child care for 20 per cent of children. We've got a massive gap and the worst crisis is for children who are infants and toddlers. They're in the unregulated sector with no quality controls. We publicly invest in a K to 12 system. We don't income test people before they send their seven year old to grade two. There's no reason we should do it for younger children. We invest in lots of things as provinces, whether it's roads to drive on or emergency services. We don't just look at the cost. We look at the returns.
AMT: Okay. We have to leave it there. We are out of time. But thank you both for your points. We hear you. Paige MacPherson, Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation in Calgary. Sharon Gregson, childcare advocate, program director and spokesperson for BC’s $10-a-day daycare campaign in Vancouver. Over to you. Tell us your daycare stories. Let us know what you're thinking. Tweet us @thecurrentCBC. Find us on our site, www.cbc.ca/thecurrent. Stay with us.Back To Top »
Do politicians avoid leaving an email trail to dodge freedom of information requests?
Guests: James Aylward, Graham Steele, David Loukidelis
AMT: Hello. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.
VOICE 1: I move the following resolution. Be it resolved that the public school’s branch accept recommendation number one of the Montegue Family of Schools Category 2 Study Report to close Georgetown Elementary School and that the Public School Branch request the approval of the lieutenant governor in council to close Georgetown Elementary School permanently effective June 30, 2017.
VOICE 2: Is there a seconder?
VOICE 3: I second the motion.
AMT: Well, try to close a rural school on Prince Edward Island and that is what you will get. That was the scene at a public meeting earlier this month to discuss the proposed closure of two public schools. It's been one of the most controversial issues facing the province’s liberal government. Yet when Progressive Conservative opposition MLA James Aylward filed a freedom of information request for all emails on the topic between the education minister and his deputy, he was dismayed by what he found out—nothing.
VOICE 1: The Honorable Member, Stratford-Kinlock.
VOICE 2: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Again, to the minister of education. Minister, do you honestly expect us to believe that not one single email existed between yourself and your deputy relating to your eight-month school review saga?
VOICE 1: The Honourable Minister of Education, Early Learning and Culture.
VOICE 3: I talk with my deputy and I sit in standing appointments with her and we review and discuss when issues arise. But I don't do a back and forth email conversation with my deputy. It's not how I work.
AMT: Well, that was the exchange in the PEI legislature between Liberal Education Minister Doug Currie and opposition MLA James Aylward. The PEI government has since backed away from the school closures but questions remain about what happened to those e-mails or if those e-mails existed. James Aylward is in our Charlottetown studio. Hello.
JAMES AYLWARD: Good morning.
AMT: What were you looking for in your freedom of information request?
JAMES AYLWARD: Well, essentially what we were trying to do was just ascertain what direction the government's was taking with regards to the school review process.
AMT: And not a single e-mail was produced?
JAMES AYLWARD: No. We submitted a FOI request for all emails and written correspondence between the minister and the deputy minister and it came back that there was absolutely nothing.
AMT: And why do you think your request produced no emails?
JAMES AYLWARD: Well, that's, I guess, the question of the day. This was a long drawn out process here in Prince Edward Island. There was many meetings held from tip to tip in many communities here on PEI with regards to potential school closures, a rezoning, and it would lead me to think that the minister and the deputy minister would have some type of correspondence into at least how the process was going. So I was quite shocked when it came back that there was absolutely nothing.
AMT: And we heard the education minister say that these conversations happen in person rather than over email. Do you accept that explanation?
JAMES AYLWARD: I don't, due to the fact that at some of the public meetings, the deputy minister who was actually one of the trustees of the board as well, stated publicly that she and the minister had no face-to-face meetings on this process.
AMT: Oh okay. Now we did request an interview with Mr. Currie, the education minister. He was not available. A spokesperson for his department confirmed there were no emails about school closures exchanged between the minister and his deputy. The spokesperson also said the minister's office is in close proximity to the deputy so most of the business is done in person.
JAMES AYLWARD: Well again, I'm going by what the deputy minister stated at some of the public meetings.
AMT: That they didn't meet.
JAMES AYLWARD: Correct.
AMT: Okay. So did you look for any other paper trails between others and the minister?
JAMES AYLWARD: We did. We also FOIPed a request for any e-mails that may have come from the minister's office to the other board members and those FOIP requests also came back with nothing.
AMT: So there's no paper trail.
JAMES AYLWARD: Apparently not.
AMT: Okay. You say FOIPed.
JAMES AYLWARD: Freedom of Information Process.
AMT: And so they're saying there's absolutely no paper trail at all and yet the board had originally said to close this school. This three person board commission had said close these two schools and it was overturned by the government. So you're looking for where the information would have gone in the exchange of information.
JAMES AYLWARD: Correct. Again there was an exhaustive process taking place here in PEI in many communities. Public meetings were held, looking for presentations and input from the general public. These recommendations came forward to actually close five schools. The recommendations were put forward on a Monday night from the three trustees and the following morning, cabinet met and then had a press conference and completely reversed the decision of the recommendations of these board members.
AMT: And so what do you make of this?
JAMES AYLWARD: Well, it's troubling due to the fact that I'm also the chair of public accounts here in Prince Edward Island. And we have also just gone through a major issue here with regards to the e-gaming file that the auditor general did a special audit on and she discovered that there was actually e-mail accounts that were deleted and she wasn't able to retrieve correspondence related to this file from government officials.
AMT: And so are you suggesting that the same thing might have happened?
JAMES AYLWARD: I'm not suggesting but I'm questioning the process of this government.
AMT: And so what do you do now?
JAMES AYLWARD: Well, the legislature’s still sitting. We're still asking questions and we're going to continue to do so.
AMT: What are your constituents telling you?
JAMES AYLWARD: They're continually telling us that they're very concerned with how this whole process played out, especially with regards to one of the board members Pat Mella, who is a very distinguished individual here in PEI—she was a former politician as well—and she essentially resigned a day or two after these decisions were made because she felt that she was thrown under the bus.
AMT: And so again, there was a recommendation and the closures were going to happen. It was reversed. But there's nothing on paper.
JAMES AYLWARD: There’s nothing on paper. But I mean it's clear to everyone that this was just a political move because the government was feeling the heat from these communities.
AMT: Okay. Mr. Aylward, thank you for talking to me today.
JAMES AYLWARD: Thank you, Anna Maria.
AMT: James Aylward, opposition Progressive Conservative MLA in Prince Edward Island. He was in our Charlottetown studio. Graham Steele has some thoughts about these empty email boxes on the computers of some Canadian politicians. He's a former NDP finance minister in Nova Scotia who made headlines after he resigned his cabinet post in 2012 to sit on the backbench. He now teaches law in the faculty of management at Dalhousie University and he admits to dodging freedom of information laws by avoiding use of government email back when he was in public office and he says he wasn't alone. Graham Steele joins me from our Halifax studio. Hello.
GRAHAM STEELE: Good morning, Anna Maria.
AMT: How do politicians avoid freedom of information requests?
GRAHAM STEELE: They do it in three broad ways and one is what you might call back channel communications and the key to this is staying off government servers. Now when I started in politics about a little over 15 years ago, everybody had a BlackBerry and it was widely believed that if you used the private BlackBerry Messenger Service, that that was not findable under Freedom of Information. Now as has things evolved and it became apparent that maybe it wasn't just quite as on findable as we thought, then people moved to using private e-mail and it's become very widespread, like Hotmail, Gmail. Personally I used a Yahoo account. And again the idea is to keep it off the government servers. Now as technology is developing, I'm sure that politicians are using you know apps like Signal and other encrypted ways of just keeping things private. So that's one, back channel communications. One is just what we heard about from James in PEI and that is verbal communications, not reducing anything to writing. And then the final thing, Anna Maria, is just claiming very broad exemptions under Freedom of Information laws for things like advice to ministers—you know which is a legitimate exemption—but it's cast far too widely. So the common theme of all these methods is to not make public the thought process behind public decision making.
AMT: And why?
GRAHAM STEELE: Well, it's politics and politics is messy and I'm not sure that people fully understand just how messy the political decision making process is. You know what's going on behind the scenes, the personal issues, you know the tensions within a government. There's a lot of that going on in politics where there's this team ethic of at all costs protect the team and especially protect the leader. And that means you don't tell everybody everything that's going on behind the scenes.
AMT: And how widespread is that?
GRAHAM STEELE: Oh, well I would say everybody does it. Now of course, I can only say what I saw and what I heard. But you know regularly across the country, I'll see stories in other provinces in a federal level where for one reason or another, these back channel communications pop out. And one of the most prominent ones was the Mike Duffy trial recently of course, which got huge attention and one of the reasons I found that trial so fascinating was what it showed about the inner workings of the prime minister's office. You know the central agency of the federal government and we had Mike Duffy, senator, using an AOL account to communicate and Nigel Wright, the prime minister's chief of staff using a Gmail account. Both of them would have government accounts and there's a reason why they're using these back channel methods and I want to emphasize to—
AMT: Of course that came out in the end.
GRAHAM STEELE: This is the thing, is that it came out because that was a criminal trial and there are much tougher, more rigorous methods of enforcement and everybody understands that for example, if you don't respond fully and completely to a warrant, that you're going to get yourself into big trouble. But it takes something like a criminal trial for the reality of public decision making to leak out. But I want to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with using private e-mail. What's wrong is that if there's a freedom of information request and these e-mails exist, saying well, they don't exist or we're not going to release them and the difficulty is that freedom of information commissioners don't really have the means to enforce the rules that exist. The rules that exist are fine. They're just not enforced.
AMT: And so what's your personal experience in avoiding requests in cabinet? Did you do that? Did you use your private email?
GRAHAM STEELE: Well, let me put it this way. I never violated the Freedom of Information laws because nobody ever asked me if I had private e-mails on this or that topic. And I would have been in a real pickle if I had been because then I would have had to decide you know what side do I fall on. I've been involved with freedom of information from every side for 25 years. I really believe in it. I believe in the importance of it. But I was a politician too. So I was using email. Everybody that I knew was using email. Everything I've seen and heard suggests to me that that continues widely throughout Canadian politics. But nobody ever said to me okay Minister, we have this request. Do you have any private e-mails on it? And if somebody had, I would have had to decide what to do. And the challenge, Anna Maria, is that these back channel communications exist but it's not enforced. So politicians know that they're reasonably safe. And what we need is we need to either recognize that there are things that politicians just need to keep to themselves—all the messiness of the dressing room that I was talking about.
AMT: Well, fair enough. But the public also has a right to know what how the decision unfolded, right?
GRAHAM STEELE: Right.
AMT: It doesn’t have to get messy. But it's also just following a paper trail for accountability.
GRAHAM STEELE: Right. What I was going to say is we either have to carve out a space and say look, politicians are always going to have conversations that don't need to be public or where you were going with your question is we need to rigorously enforce it. We need to say look, these are the rules. This is not a hockey game. This is not a theatre performance. This is public policy and the only reason you are in that office is because you are serving the public interest. And politicians have to know that they will be caught and know that the punishment is severe or their behaviour will not change. And right now we're in this really unsatisfactory middle ground where we have the rules on the books but the politicians know that they won't be or can't be enforced.
AMT: Right. Was there any type of directive within your party to avoid using work e-mail when dealing with politically sensitive issues?
GRAHAM STEELE: Oh goodness, no. There didn't have to be a formal directive. We were all politicians. We all understood. You don't have to be in politics for long to know that the team is the most important thing. Protect the team. Protect the leader. And so it kind of went without saying. Nobody had to sit me down and say okay look, now that you're a minister, here's what you do to avoid freedom of information because it sort of is part of the culture. It's part of the political culture is keeping things to yourself. So no. No formal directives.
AMT: What about civil servants?
GRAHAM STEELE: Oh, they did it too, particularly the most senior ones and I would say deputy ministers are doing this back channel communication as much as anybody. And I know the civil servants would instruct the people you know below them in the hierarchy—on this kind of communication, don't send me an e-mail. So the civil servants are using BlackBerry PINs a lot—they’re called PINs, PIN, Personal Identification Number—that peer to peer communication and or using private e-mail. Now the Freedom of Information administrators are good, decent, hardworking honest people. They are trying to do their best. But when their boss, their civil service boss and their political bosses are deliberately trying to keep things out of the freedom of information net, it’s very difficult for them to do their jobs.
AMT: And so where should the line be between what should be private and what should be public?
GRAHAM STEELE: I wish I knew. There's not an easy answer to that and I've been involved in freedom of information for 25 years and I'm not sure I know where the line is. What I do know for sure is there will always be conversations that politicians want to keep private, the messiness of the back rooms. And maybe we should respect that, but there is a line somewhere where you just say this is public business, this is in the public interest. And we need to ask our politicians to be a little bit more braver and to admit a little more often about how difficult some of the decisions are that they're facing and allow them to be human. And if we were able to draw that line somewhere, we'd be in a much more satisfactory position than this place where we are now where you know we have our politicians essentially acting like Mafiosi where decisions are being made like in stairwells or in whispered conversations in corridors. That's no way to run a government.
AMT: So if you do have these freedom of information pieces of legislation in place across the country, if public servants are found to cross a line or elected politicians, should there be some kind of punishment?
GRAHAM STEELE: Sure, if we make that decision that we are going to enforce it. We need to enforce it as toughly and as rigorously as the criminal process where people know there are real consequences and in politics, Anna Maria, the ultimate consequence is being stripped of office. And if the politicians knew that that was a real possibility for violating freedom of information laws, they would find a way to comply.
AMT: Okay. Graham Steele, thank you for your thoughts today.
GRAHAM STEELE: Thanks very much.
AMT: Graham Steele, former NDP cabinet minister in Nova Scotia, author of a book about his time in office. It's called What I Learned About Politics: Inside the Rise and Collapse of Nova Scotia’s NDP Government. Graham Steele now teaches law in the faculty of management at Dalhousie University in Halifax. In 2015, the BC government was also confronted with this issue in what was known as the triple delete scandal. David Loukidelis is the former information and privacy commissioner for BC. And after that scandal, he produced recommendations for how to overhaul record keeping in the province. David Loukidelis is now a lawyer who specializes in freedom of information and privacy law. We have reached him today in Geneva, Switzerland. Hello.
DAVID LOUKIDELIS: Hello and good morning to you.
AMT: What are you thinking right now?
DAVID LOUKIDELIS: Well, a lot of what Graham Steele had to say about the challenges that elected officials face but also that information and privacy commissioners and FOI administrators in government face in terms of trying to make sure that any of these private e-mail or other back channel communications are captured by FOI requests and therefore are possibly accessible to the public for accountability and openness reasons. I agree with much of what he said and it is a great challenge I think for administrators to be able to enforce these laws if you don't have in place clear directives and if you don't also instill a culture that encourages and supports openness. So that if a request comes in, somebody who is using a back channel e-mail account will at least be put to the choice—the ethical choice if you will—of coming up with those records so they can be reviewed and appropriately disclosed or protections applied to them. And I guess the second point I'd make is that in the recommendations I made to the government in BC had a lot to do with creating a duty to document so that there is in place a framework so that appropriate documentation exists for the important decisions. And there's a record of actions taken in deliberations made by government, not just for openness and accountability through FOI, but also frankly for archival and historical reasons and good management reasons.
AMT: The BC government has considered the duty to document legislation. Is it legislation now?
DAVID LOUKIDELIS: It is, yes. Just before the end of the last session a couple of weeks back, they enacted a duty to document and it has to be fleshed out through directives from the chief records officer in government which I personally think is the appropriate way to go. That's the recommendation that I made because you have to have a very granular and thoughtful approach to what exactly do we have to document. You can't document absolutely everything because then you would just be buried in paper and in fact wouldn't be able to find relevant information at the right time. But it's also a cultural shift that has to happen and as they say, culture eats policy for breakfast and so in a lot of the points that Graham Steele is making, the importance of culture and leadership, it can't be underestimated.
AMT: And just remind us briefly. The e-mail issue in BC was the triple delete. What were they doing?
DAVID LOUKIDELIS: Well, there was some evidence that at least one staffer in a minister's office had triple deleted e-mails so that they weren't backed up at all and so they weren't archived in the ordinary course and the government servers. And there was also some concern around do staff know what is a transitory record or not. Because of course there are hundreds of millions of e-mails created every year in an average provincial government, certainly in BC, and so again you have to have some really clear rules around and knowledge on the part of the individual public servants so that they know what to keep and what not to keep. It was a large part of the report.
AMT: Right but in this case, they were deleting once, they were going into trash and deleting and then they were manually deleting off the server. Right? Like you had to go to a lot of trouble to do that.
DAVID LOUKIDELIS: Yes, that's right.
AMT: So they kind of knew, didn't they?
DAVID LOUKIDELIS: Well, at least in that one instance and certainly as a result of the report—the investigation that was done and then the follow-up report that I did—that's been stopped. It’s no longer possible to do that. That's been disabled and some guidance was given around when to appropriately delete or not in terms of double deleting.
AMT: In your experience, how common is it for politicians or their staff across this country to avoid using proper channels of communications?
DAVID LOUKIDELIS: Well, it's the kind of thing where in some cases you know there's an absence of evidence. You know it's hard to show that it's happening but there's certainly been lots of anecdotal reports of it. We've heard several today. So you know I would agree that it is a concern, that it is something that happens in various governments across the country. You know when I first started as information privacy commissioner almost 20 years ago in BC, I met with all the deputy ministers, you know introductory meeting and one of them—and this is a long ago government and a long since retired deputy minister—said problem with Freedom of Information laws, we can’t write anything down anymore and that gets in the way of good recordkeeping and good decision making because everything will get disclosed. And of course that's just not true. There are appropriate protections there. But again it goes to the question of culture and leadership to try and ensure that people don't do those kinds of things. Don't fail to write down things. Don't fail to use the appropriate channels of communication.
AMT: I have a clip I want to play for you of the Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister. He was in the news earlier this year when he said he doesn't use e-mail, not even on his lengthy working vacations in Costa Rica. Here he is talking to the CBC in January.
I prefer direct contact by phone or face-to-face ahead of e-mail because e-mail sometimes can be misunderstood, misinterpreted. There's the opportunity for I think more understanding, better understanding. Everyone has a different work style and I won't let myself become a tool to technology. I want technology to be a tool for my use.
AMT: David Loukidelis, what if someone is just old fashioned, says they don't like email? They want to talk in person?
DAVID LOUKIDELIS: Well, I have run into that and Graham I think touched on this, that you know some conversations, it is frankly easier to sit down and talk face to face. But what we need to be able to have some assurance around is that you know if as a result of that meeting you know a decision’s taken to go down a particular policy road or we'll take this action, that as early as possible a stage, good records are made of that whether it's a briefing note, a memo to file, some sort of you know documentation of that discussion when appropriate. Will some conversations happen that needn't be recorded? Of course. I mean none of us in our individual lives—it's a different context, I know—but we don't record everything we do. But again, we have to make sure that we have in place systems that ensure that appropriate documentation exists so that we know what decisions are taken by whom and for what reasons.
AMT: The federal government last month said it was putting off proposed changes to its own access to information laws that would have made government agencies more transparent. What do you think needs to change federally?
DAVID LOUKIDELIS: Well, I think you know the federal legislation is amongst the earliest in the country. I think this year is the 30th anniversary of the first All-Party Parliamentary Review of the Access to Information Act and you know we're still waiting for those recommendations to be implemented how many governments later. The act could use the modernization for sure, amongst other things. For example, the information commissioner of Canada has recommendation power only, not order making power. The scope of coverage of some of the institutions I think could be improved upon and perhaps some of the exemptions to openness could be reviewed with a view to maybe modernizing those, including in light of the development of modern communications technologies like email, which of course didn't really exist when the legislation was first put into place.
AMT: Right. So they have to kind of bring themselves up to date. David Loukidelis, thanks for speaking with me.
DAVID LOUKIDELIS: Thank you so much.
AMT: David Loukidelis, a lawyer who specializes in freedom of information and privacy law. He was BC’s information and privacy commissioner for a decade. He spoke to us today from Geneva, Switzerland. That's our program for today. Stay with Radio One for q and remember you can always take The Current with you on the CBC Radio app. You can browse through past episodes of our show, start listening in a few seconds. You can search for stories you missed, stories you want to hear again. You can listen live to your local CBC station right from your smartphone or tablet. Hear the day's top stories. You can even make your own playlist of your favorite stuff. It is free from the App Store and Google Play. Now as you heard earlier on the show, The Current was in Barrie, Ontario at the Little Star Childcare to talk to the people who run it and the little kids who use it. Our producer Shannon Higgins got to know some of the youngsters there and we thought we would leave you with some of their insights on the issues of the day. Here they are. I’m Anna Maria Tremonti. Thank you for listening to The Current.
VOICE 1: What are you guys going to play after nap time? Max, what were we playing with before lunch? Do you remember?
VOICE 2: What?
VOICE 1: What? Pardon? Say “pardon”.
VOICE 2: Pardon?
VOICE 1: What were you playing with before lunch?
VOICE 2: I play the microphone today.
VOICE 3: Yes, you did touch a microphone and you played with a microphone today. What else did you do?
VOICE 1: What were you pushing around the classroom?
VOICE 2: He pushed me.
VOICE 1: No, nobody pushed you.
VOICE 3: Okay, we’re not tattling. We got it, you guys.
[Sound: Children talking]
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