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July 20, 2009

Government Hangs on to Emails

What is it about the Campbell government and emails? On the day Justice Elizabeth Bennett ordered the Premier and several of his ministers to produce emails in the BC Rail corruption case, I too encountered problems in getting copies of emails.

In June 2007 I attempted to get information on MSP premium subsidies with a freedom of information request to the Ministry of Finance. It referred me to the Ministry of Health which extended the time for responding to my request on the grounds that it had to confer with another public body. It turned out that other public body was the Ministry of Finance; the Ministry of Health conferred with its own Director of Communications who as part of the Public Affairs Bureau (PAB) was in the Ministry of Finance and that was used to justify further delays in answering my query. I am experiencing déjà vue all over again!

I discovered, as a result of an FOI, that PAB was responsible for suppressing the release of welfare case statistics during the election campaign. When the statistics were finally released they showed that temporary assistance caseloads were increasing by 50%, something that would have caused further questions about the accuracy of the government's budget if the statistics had been released during the election. In a subsequent FOI, I asked for: 1) Any general policy statement issued since May 2005 regarding delaying the release of information during the election, the interregnum period, 2) Any statements regarding the authority of the Public Affairs Bureau, or its staff, to delay the release of information, and 3) Any emails between November 1, 2008 and May 13, 2009, suggesting or directing that information not be released during the interregnum period (similar to those sent to the Ministry of Housing and Social Development). The deadline under the Act for PAB to respond to that request was July 28, but today I received noticed that the deadline would be extended because my request requires consultation with another public body. That delays the deadline to September 10.

A further FOI has been submitted asking for copies of all emails concerning my initial request, copies of all emails and other documents involving consultation with respect to my initial request and the names of any public bodies that are consulted with respect to my initial request.

You might ask why an open and honest government wouldn't promptly provide this information in the first place, but as is being learned in the BC Rail corruption case, openness is not a hallmark of the Campbell government.


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