Inside Politics

UPDATED: Info watchdog to report on political interference later this fall

Federal transparency watchdog Suzanne Legault says she will reveal the results of a three-year investigation into alleged political interference within the access to information system, as well as a special report on the use of "text-based messaging" -- particularly, but not limited to, BlackBerry's PIN-to-PIN protocol -- when the House returns this fall. 

UPDATE (10/17/2013) - Earlier today, Legault tabled her annual report on the state of Canada's access to information regime. According to her office, she fully intends to hand over the results of her special investigation into political interference later this fall. 

Legault confirmed the tentative release date during a special online chat hosted by to mark International Right to Know Week.

During the hour-long discussion, Legault fielded questions on a wide variety of issues, including the current complaint process, proactive disclosure and how she thinks the laws could be changed to improve access.

A few highlights from the conversation:

Senate expense scandal could bring the access to information regime to Parliament Hill

Although Legault acknowledges the frustration felt by Canadians over the lack of accessible information on House and Senate expenses, she believes that the ongoing expense controversy may finally galvanize MPs to give up the precinct-wide exemption that puts themselves, as well as Parliament itself, outside the scope of the access regime -- a move that she has been recommending for years, for the record.

Voluntarily posting expenses as the Liberals have promised to do is "a good start," she says, "but a real leadership approach in this regard would have Parliament covered by the Act with appropriate protection of parliamentary privilege."

More members of the public exercising their right to know

One interesting trend that Legault noticed in the latest batch of statistics on who uses the ATI system: "Requests from the public are up quite significantly."

Unfortunately, complaints are also on the rise, which is putting a strain on her already austerity-trimmed office budget. "We are getting inundated this fiscal year," she notes. "If the trend continues, we will not be able to absorb the demand."

Missing records a "worrying trend."

Another "worrying trend", according to the commissioner: Missing records, another area where complaints are on the upswing, but which poses obvious difficulties. "It's difficult to investigate something that doesn't exist," Legault pointed out.

Government employees, she notes, "have a duty to record information of business value," although at the moment, "that obligation is found in policy and not in the law," which is another change that she'd like to see. "It should be specifically legislated."

Open data focused on "entrepreneurship", not accountability

Finally, on the government's much-vaunted open data initiative, Legault pointed out that so far, "the focus seems to be mostly on publishing data to stimulate entrepreneurship."

She'd like to see the scope broadened. "The focus should also be on proactive disclosure that enhances government transparency and accountability."

Read the full chat here

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