Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault declines to reapply for her job

After eight years, Suzanne Legault says she will not reapply for her job as information commissioner when the term ends June 28. She points to the Liberal government's new appointment process as a major reason for leaving, saying it does not feel "respectful to myself" to have to submit an application.

Federal info watchdog offers to stay until replacement found, but refuses to submit to new process

Suzanne Legault says she will be leaving her job as information commissioner, partly because of the Liberal government's new appointment process. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Canada's information watchdog says she's decided to leave her job largely because of the Liberal government's new process for vetting candidates for top public-service jobs.

Suzanne Legault announced Thursday she will not be reapplying for her position, whose term ends June 28, although she's prepared to stay on until the government finds a replacement.

Legault has been a frequent thorn in the side of government, pressing for reforms to the Access to Information Act and often heading to court to enforce the information rights of Canadians.

But in an interview, Legault said she will be stepping down because she doesn't want to go through the new job application process launched by the Liberal government last year.

"I just wasn't prepared to go through an appointment process for my own position," she said.

"It's just not something I feel comfortable doing. I don't feel that would be respectful to myself to go through that kind of process.… I think I can be judged on my record."

New appointment process

Legault joined the office of the information commissioner in 2007 as assistant commissioner, became acting commissioner two years later and full commissioner in 2010 for the standard seven-year term.

Last year, the Liberal government instituted a new cabinet appointment process intended to make job applications for boards, commissions and other bodies more transparent and available to more candidates, rather than being decided behind closed doors.

Legault said she respects the government's decision, but will not participate.

"The process involves psychometric testing and having to file documents to explain why you're qualified for the job," she told CBC News.

I just didn't feel it was appropriate for me to go through this process.- Suzanne Legault, information commissioner, on why she declined to reapply for her job

"I just didn't feel it was appropriate for me to go through this process at this point, after having been in the job for eight years."

Legault informed Treasury Board President Scott Brison and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould of her decision several weeks ago, and told her "emotional" staff on Thursday morning, she said.

There's no job or project lined up, and she has not applied for any position outside government, she said.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison has been criticized by Legault for failing to delivered promised Access to Information Act reforms by this spring. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Legault leaves at a critical juncture, as the Liberal government has indefinitely delayed a series of promised reforms to the Access to Information Act, including giving the information commissioner the power to order the release of documents. The touted reforms were part of the Liberal election platform in 2015.

She said the delay, announced in mid-March, was "extremely disappointing."

At the same time, Legault said she has seen progress in her nearly 10 years at the office of the information commissioner, with more timely responses to Access to Information requests, reductions in fees, and new restrictions on the extensions that departments can take in handling requests.

However, she said some adverse court rulings allowing departments to withhold documents declared to be advice to ministers have underlined the need for legislative reform of the act, which has not been overhauled since coming into force in 1983.

'Happy' to remain

Legault, a lawyer who once worked for the Competition Bureau, said she would prefer to remain in her job until a replacement is found. "I'm perfectly happy to look after the place."

Legault informed Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould of her decision several weeks ago. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The information commissioner is an officer of Parliament, though the agency's budget is set by the government through the Justice Department. Any proposed candidate appears before parliamentary committees for review, though the committees do not have a veto.   

Canada's Access to Information Act allows citizens, residents and corporations to apply for records controlled by the federal government for a $5 application fee. The act allows some classes of information — under the rubric of security, personal data and cabinet confidences, for example — to be withheld.

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About the Author

Dean Beeby

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Bureau

Dean Beeby is a CBC journalist, author and specialist in freedom-of-information laws. Follow him on Twitter: @DeanBeeby


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