P.E.I. freedom of information review resulted in few changes

The leader of the P.E.I. Green Party says it's ironic that a five-year-old internal review of freedom of information by the province has only now been made public, following a freedom of information request by the Office of the Third Party.

2013 document released last week, following access request from P.E.I. Green Party

'I think [the recommendations] should have been public and they should have been acted upon,' says Peter Bevan-Baker. (CBC)

The leader of the P.E.I. Green Party says it's ironic that a five-year-old internal review of freedom of information by the province has only now been made public, following a freedom of information request by the Office of the Third Party.

"It's been incredibly difficult to get, out of a government that purports to be all about openness and transparency, a review from that government on how to improve openness and transparency, and we just couldn't get our hands on it," said Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker. 

'We just couldn’t get our hands on it,' says Peter Bevan-Baker of the report. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

"You just have to let the irony of that sink in a little bit."

Government has recently launched another review process asking Islanders to weigh in on what changes should be made in the way freedom of information requests are handled in the province.

The internal review, completed in 2013, resulted in 36 recommendations for change, but government says P.E.I.'s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act was never amended as a result.

Among the review's recommendations:

  • Eliminate the $5 fee for filing freedom of information requests and increase the amount of free processing time for from two hours to three.
  • Increase the rate claimants are charged for processing requests from $10 per half hour to $15.
  • Proactive disclosure of government contracts and grants.
  • Proactive disclosure of all freedom of information requests and their results.

The review also included 23 specific recommendations to make changes to the legislation, some of which date from a previous 2009 review by P.E.I.'s Standing Committee on Community Affairs and Economic Development.

Bevan-Baker only became aware the review existed when it was mentioned in passing last October by Privacy Commissioner Karen Rose in a presentation to a provincial standing committee, he said.

'Nothing startling'

He then asked the premier to table the report during question period in the fall 2017 sitting of the legislature, then submitted a written question asking for the report before his office filed its own freedom of information request.

"I think [the recommendations] should have been public and they should have been acted upon," said Bevan-Baker.

Whenever we're talking about taxpayer dollars, we need to have clear, concise, open, transparent options to see where tax dollars are being spent.— James Aylward

"There was nothing startling in there," he added. "They were all very solid recommendations in line with other jurisdictions, and I don't see any reason why government should not have already acted upon them."

PC Leader James Aylward pointed to a motion from his party which passed in the legislature with unanimous consent from all parties during the 2016 fall sitting calling for a review of Freedom of Information.

Not mentioned during debate

He said his party wasn't aware at the time government had concluded an internal review and he doesn't understand why, during that debate, "the government, for some reason, didn't disclose that they had 36 recommendations sitting on their desk to actually review this." 

Aylward said he supports the 2013 report's recommendations to provide proactive disclosure of government spending in the form of contracts and grants.

James Aylward, P.E.I. Progressive Conservative leader, says government needs to provide more proactive disclosure of spending, as recommended in a 2013 internal review of freedom of information legislation. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"Whenever we're talking about taxpayer dollars, we need to have clear, concise, open, transparent options to see where tax dollars are being spent."

Government has followed through with one of the recommendations from the 2013 review — proactively disclosing expenses of deputy ministers. The legislative assembly itself has followed through with a recommendation to post expenses for backbench MLAs.

Government said it's also changed its staffing to better handle freedom of information requests as a result of the review.

As for making changes to the legislation, a government spokesperson said changes would be tabled after the current consultation process, which ends Feb. 23.

Read the 2013 review here.

About the Author

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature. kerry.campbell@cbc.ca