Monthly Archives: February 2015


Government spin doctors control what information government does and doesn't release. (Graphic by

Spin doctors control what information government does and doesn’t release. (Graphic by

Dear government spin doctor

I am working on a story about how the job you’re doing is helping to kill Canada’s democracy.

I know that your role, as a so-called communications professional, is to put the best spin on what the government is or isn’t doing.

That means you often don’t respond the questions I ask, you help elected officials do the same thing and you won’t let me talk to those who actually have the answers.

While this may work out very well for you, it doesn’t work out so well for my audience who, by the way, are taxpayers, voters and citizens.

So your refusal to provide me with information is actually a refusal to provide the public with information.

And if the public doesn’t know what their government is actually doing, it can continue doing things the public wouldn’t want it to do.

That just doesn’t seem very democratic to me. Does it seem democratic to you?

I understand you’re just doing your job.

I did that job before myself before I became a journalist, working as a communications officer for the British Columbia government.

So I don’t think you’re a bad person.

But you should know a few things about me.

My job isn’t to help you put the best spin on what the government is or isn’t doing.

My job is to tell the truth.

And, because that’s my job, you should know a few other things about how I’m going to report this story.

First, if you don’t respond to my questions, I’m going to let my audience know that.

Second, if you respond to my questions with non-answers, I’m going to let my audience know that too.

Third, I’m not going to put those non-answers in my story for the sake of false balance.

That’s because me asking questions about what the government is doing wrong isn’t an opportunity for you to simply tell the public about what government is doing right.

You have a big advertising budget for that.

Instead, it’s an opportunity to explain to the public why the government is or isn’t doing that thing I asked you about.

And, finally, if you refuse, ignore or interfere with my requests to interview public officials, my audience will also find out about that.

This may sound like hardball at best and blackmail at worst. But it’s actually the last and only defense I have against you and your colleagues.

Public relations professionals outnumber journalists more than four to one in this country – and for good reason.

It pays to promote and protect the powerful but it doesn’t pay to hold them to account.

My hope is that more journalists will also start routinely telling their audiences about the strategies and tactics you use to frustrate the public’s right to know.

If that happens then the public might start caring about the damage that’s doing to our democracy.

And, maybe, just maybe you might start rethinking what you are doing.

After all, there was a time when journalists could actually talk to public officials without having someone like you always watching over their shoulder and telling them exactly what to say.

I know it’s a long shot.

But it’s the only shot I can take against the tyranny of your talking points.


Sean Holman, Journalist


• Maclean’s magazine reports the Department of National Defence is withholding information from the Parliamentary Budget Officer about Operation IMPAC – Canada’s mission in Iraq – on the grounds of cabinet confidentiality. (hat tip: BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association)

• The National Post reports a Federal Court judge has ruled “media fighting for access to Omar Khadr have failed to show a prison-interview ban was politically motivated and violated their constitutional rights.”


• CBC News reports, “Alberta Premier Jim Prentice has personally ordered that documents from all general freedom of information requests be publicly posted, despite serious concerns from the civil servants responsible for implementing the new policy. Critics say the plan – if implemented – represents a major policy change that will seriously undermine the ability of opposition parties and the media to hold the government accountable.”

• “The province is not tracking how many inmates are overdosing in jails across Ontario,” according to the Hamilton Spectator.

• The Vancouver Sun reports, “Soon-to-be mandatory ‘independent’ review boards for tailings dams at B.C. mines may not be answerable to government or open to scrutiny by the public.” The boards were recommended by a government-appointed panel that was struck following the breach of a tailings pond at the Mount Polley Mine.

• The Telegram hopes a committee reviewing Newfoundland and Labrador’s controversial right to know law will recommend a “much needed laissez-faire approach to the release of information.” That committee, led by former premier Clyde Wells, “has missed a couple of promised deadlines. At last check, it was supposed to release its report by the end of January.”

• Kinder Morgan Inc., the company that is looking to expand a pipeline that carries crude oil to the West coast, “has engaged in a protracted fight with the province of British Columbia in an effort to keep its oil spill response plans a secret.” But, according to DeSmog Canada, Kinder Morgan has “willingly disclosed” such plans “south of the border for portions of the pipeline that extend to Washington State.”

• The Globe and Mail reports, “B.C.’s Ministry of Health is withholding the results of scientific research on how oil and gas operations in the province’s northeast communities are affecting human health.” Independent MLA Vicki Huntington’s freedom of information request for that research was denied because its release could be harmful to the financial interests of a public body.

• CBC News reports Saskatchewan’s information commissioner has ruled a 15-page proposal to create a premier’s library in that province can stay secret because it would disclose a cabinet confidence.

• Saksatchewan NDP MLA Warren McCall has told the Regina Leader-Post that the creation of lobbyists registry in that province as proceeding “slower than molasses, uphill, in February.”

• Manitoba’s “Opposition Progressive Conservatives say they’re getting the runaround in finding how much taxpayers have paid to put up at-risk youth in hotels,” according to the Winnipeg Free Press. (hat tip: Ian Bron)

• CBC News reports DemocracyWatch founder Duff Conacher’s concerns that “New Brunswick’s right to information law is weak and the fines for breaking the laws are so low, they are meaningless”


• Winnipeg’s interim chief administrative officer has resigned after the mayor claimed he had lost confidence in the bureaucrat. But, according to the Winnipeg Free Press’s Dan Lett, no further details have been provided because the resignation is a personnel matter – a “trump card” that is “played way too often in situations in which government doesn’t want people to know what happened.”

• 24 hours Vancouver’s Kathyrn Marshall writes that White Rock, B.C.’s city council has “voted to scrap question period. Just like that, White Rock has obliterated a hallmark of liberal democracy. White Rock residents will no longer have the opportunity to pose public questions to their elected representatives following council meetings.”

• In October, TransLink – Vancouver’s regional transportation authority – began “re-examining current [freedom of information] practices and exploring options for easing the burden on staff.” That review, which was expected to take three months, was announced in a memo signed by the authority’s then-chief executive officer Ian Jarvis and obtained by freelance journalist Bob Mackin.

• The Vancouver Courier reports, “When the provincial government set the rules for the non-binding plebiscite on a sales tax hike for TransLink expansion, it didn’t include any campaign fundraising or reporting regulations.”

• “Toronto police met the mandated [freedom of information] response deadline of 30 days in 52 per cent of requests last year,” according to the Toronto Star. “That’s nearly a 30 per cent drop from 2005 – when 80 per cent of FOI requests were completed within the 30-day timeframe – and down almost 15 per cent from 2013, which saw a compliance rate of 65 per cent.”

• Alberta’s information commissioner has ruled Cold Lake, Alta. was right to release records that disclosed unit prices and hourly wage rates for the companies responsible for a highway twinning project. According to the Cold Lake Sun, a third party had argued that disclosure was harmful to business interests.


Liberal MP Ted Hsu's bill to reinstate the mandatory long-form census had no real chance of passing. Too bad not every news outlet let their audience know that. (Photograph by Ted Hsu)

Liberal MP Ted Hsu’s private member’s bill to reinstate the mandatory long-form census had no real chance of passing. Too bad not every news outlet let their audience know that. (Photograph by Ted Hsu)

Small, tiny and slim: these are all words that describe the chances of an opposition private member’s bill actually becoming law. Yet, when reporting on those bills, news outlets don’t always tell their audiences that, potentially giving a mistaken impression of how much democracy we have in Canada.

The government sponsors most of the bills that become law. But parliamentarians can also propose their own bills without government backing. These so-called private member’s bills could be a powerful means of dealing with issues the government doesn’t want to deal with.

I say “could” because few of them ever become law.

For example, according to the Parliament of Canada’s LEGISInfo research tool, 3,224 private member’s bills have been introduced or re-instated in the House of Commons between Jan. 17, 1994 and Friday last week. But, by my reckoning, only 69 or 2.1 percent of them bills received royal assent.

If that sounds bad, just wait because it gets even worse.

Opposition MPs sponsored just 21 of the bills that received royal assent, with over half of them concerned with issues of little controversy – such as renaming constituencies or creating commemorative days.

In part, that’s because parliamentary rules make it difficult to debate and vote on such legislation.

But, thanks to rigid party discipline, MPs rarely against their own party anyway. And, thanks to rigid partisanship, governing parties rarely vote for legislation introduced by their competitors. Which is why so few opposition private member’s bills get passed when a governing party holds a majority of seats in the House of Commons.

Nevertheless, not all of the reporting on private member’s bills lets Canadians in on that open secret and some even inadvertently cover it up.

For example, according to the Canadian Newsstand database, newspapers and the Canadian Press wire service have published at least 25 articles covering Liberal MP Ted Hsu’s proposal to restore the mandatory long-form census.

Thirteen of those articles dutifully reported that there was, in the words of a Globe and Mail editorial, “almost no chances it would pass.” But others didn’t mention that possibility or led readers to believe there was a chance it would pass.

One major daily published an editorial describing Hsu’s bill as a “golden opportunity” that the Tories should “jump on” to make amends for eliminating the long-form census. Meanwhile, another ran an op-ed lamenting the loss of “granular data on jobs and wages” that came with that survey but stating, “Not all is lost” thanks to Hsu bill.

Of course, that bill went on to be defeated earlier this month by a vote of 147 to 126, with all but one Conservative MP opposing Hsu’s bill.

But much more is at stake here than getting Canadians hopes up before dashing them.

Most MPs, especially those who belong to an opposition party, don’t have much say in making our laws. As a result, those who voted for them (in other words, Canadians) don’t have much say either, making democracy between elections a bit of a sham.

That has everything to do with our system of government and nothing to do with our sitting prime minister, who is just exercising the power afforded to him under that system.

One way reporters can help Canadians better understand that is by simply remembering to add an extra line in their coverage of opposition private member’s bills.

It could even be something like this: “A snowball has a greater chance in Hell than this legislation does of becoming law.”

Well, maybe not quite that. But you get the idea.


•, a Website that will fact-check the 2015 federal election, has succeeded in crowdfunding the $5,000 it needs to launch. The Website’s team includes RainCity Housing and Support Society community support worker Jacob Schroeder, Democracy Watch coordinator Tyler Sommers and Ryerson University senior research associate Dana Wagner.

• CBC News reports, “U.S. legislation requires American universities and colleges to be open about the number of sexual assaults on their campuses, warn students when they could be at risk and provide adequate security and prevention measures.” But no such legislation exists in Canada. (hat tip: Bruce Gillespie)

• The Toronto Star reports a lawyer for the media is arguing that “barring journalists from interviewing Omar Khadr, a federal prison is violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

• CBC News’s Dean Beeby tweets that he’s received 84 blank pages from the Department of Finance in response to a request for the cost of the government’s expanded child fitness tax credit. The reason for that redaction: it’s a cabinet confidence.

• Beeby tweets the Canada Revenue Agency is now responding to access requests with “password-protected CDs. But password failed – one more [freedom of information] obstacle.”

• CTV News’s Jon Woodward tweets that Health Canada “claims a new record for latest ATIP provided to me! Two years, 6 months, 25 days. Way older than my daughter.”

• Journalist David Akin tweets that it’s ironic that the federal government has announced $143,288 in funding for Self-Counsel Press Ltd. – which recently published an access to information guidebook.

• Planned Parenthood Ottawa president Lauren Dobson-Hughes tweets this interaction with an access to information officer: “Your ATI is 1,000 days late. Can we just drop it? If you don’t reply in five days, we’ll take that as a yes.”


• The British Columbia government has introduced legislation that will see government records digitized and stored in an electronic archive. But the BC NDP and information commissioner Elizabeth Denham are concerned the bill doesn’t legally require government to document key actions and decisions.

• The Toronto Star reports a court-ordered publication ban is preventing the media from naming a 45-year-old mother who was sentenced to 20-months in jail for pressing a hot iron against the arms of her 10-year-old son.

• The Tyee reports British Columbia’s former lobbyists registrar is now lobbying that province’s government on behalf of a company that publishes school yearbooks.

According to the Regina Leader-Post, the Saskatchewan government has amended its freedom of information legislation to allow the release of “personal information included in a report stemming from a Municipalities Act inspection or inquiry.”


• “The three hospitals caught up in the Rob Ford privacy breach saga boast they are ‘transparent and accountable.'” But, according to the Toronto Star, those hospitals are “refusing to disclose how many staff members snooped into his records or how they were disciplined.”

• The Georgia Straight reports on nuggets from the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games’s archives – much of which is still under lock and key.

• Kitchener, Ont. Coun. Frank Etherington writes that fellow politicians “across Waterloo Region are in the process of abandoning voter accountability, government transparency and the public’s unquestionable right to know how $8 million of taxpayers cash will be spent.”

• “The secret documents behind a secret deal to build an NHL-size arena in Markham will stay secret – even though the project was defeated by council more than a year ago,” according to the Toronto Star.

• The Vaughan Citizen has renewed its call for the Ontario city to introduce a lobbyist registry.

• Maple Ridge, B.C.’s council has voted to increase the number of meetings it broadcasts on the Internet and disclose all of the contracts the city has entered into, according to the Maple Ridge Times.

Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.

Author’s note: Publication of this column was delayed due to Family Day. Its regular publication schedule will resume next week.


Conservative cabinet minister John Baird's resignation got more coverage than a bill that could potentially turn Canada's spies into "secret police." (Graphic by Government of Canada)

News of Conservative cabinet minister John Baird’s resignation got the same amount of coverage as a bill that could potentially turn Canada’s spies into “secret police.” (Graphic by Government of Canada)

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING? Few Canadians can pick John Baird out of a lineup and even fewer can be certain of the influence he had as our foreign affairs minister.

Yet many news outlets appear to have paid around the same amount of attention to his resignation as they did when the government’s controversial anti-terror bill was first introduced – another example of how our ailing and flailing media have a tendency to put personality and politics on par with or ahead of policy and the public interest.

News of that resignation broke on Feb. 2 with CBC News’s Terry Milewski getting the jump on the announcement.

Between that date and Feb. 7, at least 115 columns, editorials and reports were published about Baird’s departure by news outlets listed in the Canadian Newsstand database.* Eight of those articles were given front-page treatment and there were five segments on CBC’s The National covering Baird’s exit.

Yet that coverage was likely the first time many Canadians had even heard of the Ottawa-area MP. After all, in 2011, 64.6 percent of the Canadian Election Study‘s more than 4,000 respondents said they didn’t know who the country’s current finance minister was (Jim Flaherty, if you’re too embarrassed to ask).

The study didn’t quiz respondents about the name of our foreign affairs minister. But if a majority of Canadians can’t identify who holds the purse strings attached to their tax dollars, what are the chances they know who commands Fort Pearson – the nickname for the headquarters of our country’s diplomatic corp.

Moreover, it’s unclear whether Baird was just another actor on the world stage or if he actually got to pen his own lines.

Following his resignation, he was variously described as being a “transformative” foreign affair minister, having “tilted Canada strongly towards Israel” and “played an important role” in “seeking warmer and more profitable relations with the Asian giant.”

But since much of our government is practiced in secret – with policy advice and cabinet records being kept under lock and key – can we really be sure which parts of that supposed legacy were authored by Baird and which parts were ghost written by his boss Stephen Harper or someone else?

What we do know for sure is the government’s proposed new anti-terror law has been described in the media as a “dangerous policy” that could create a “secret police force” and raises “worrying questions about freedom of expression.”

We also know that, between Jan. 29 – when the bill’s details started rolling out – and Feb. 3, there were 111 articles in the Canadian Newsstand database covering it.** Nine of them made front pages, while The National broadcast three segments on the law.

I make this comparison not to throw stones from my glass house but rather to hold a mirror up to a habit that is also a dangerous addiction.

When I was at British Columbia’s legislature I, like many other political reporters in this country, spent too much time writing about personality and politics and too little time covering policy. It’s easy and of interest to the audience we’re most familiar with – the bureaucrats, lobbyists, politicians and staffers we cover.

But the consequence is a public that’s less and less informed about our government and less and less interested in what journalists report on. We’ve helped turn a subject that should be the concern of the many into something that’s a concern for the few – political partisans and profiteers.

In doing so, journalists are undermining both our audience and what passes for democracy in this country. And that’s a legacy that going to with us long after Baird is gone.


• “The federal environment minister’s office tried to hide the fact a grizzly bear was struck on the Canadian Pacific Railway line in Banff National Park in May 2014,” according to the Rocky Mountain Outlook. (hat tip: Ian Bron)

• “With a $10,000 per week per reporter price tag to follow political parties on their election campaigns and limited access to their leaders who are tightly scripted,” the Hill Times reports, “media outlets are reassessing how they will report on the upcoming election with smaller budgets.”

• The Canadian Press’s Steve Rennie tweets that it took the Canadian Border Services Agency “826 days to respond” to an access request he filed on Oct. 30, 2012. The irony: that response stated the agency is “committed to providing the highest level of client service.”

• Byran Smith, a former policy advisor to Treasury Board President Tony Clement, is looking to cash in on the open data movement. The Globe and Mail reports Smith’s company, ThinkData, “collects and cleans up government datasets which in their raw state can arrive in any number of conflicting formats. The service parses each one, and hosts a clean copy on its servers, which clients can access.”

• Maclean’s reports Liberal MP Ted Hsu’s bill to reinstate the mandatory long-form census was defeated “by a vote of 147 to 126. Every opposition MP voted in favour, but nearly every Conservative voted against  – Michael Chong was the only Conservative to vote in favour.”


• The Rocky View Weekly reports Chestermere, Alta. officials are “working with a number of groups, including the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, to push through some changes” to the province’s freedom of information law. According to the newspaper, the proposed changes would allow governments to “recoup some of the costs associated with expensive requests.” Mayor Patricia Matthews is quoted as saying, “The average person like me wants to be able to keep taxes down, so we are hoping that by bringing this to the attention of our residents, it puts some pressure on their elected officials to say it can’t continue.”

• The Globe and Mail reports police allegations that “former premier Dalton McGuinty’s chief of staff took steps to keep government information secret – ‘double deleting’ e-mails and communicating by BlackBerry messenger to avoid leaving public records of his discussions” According to the newspaper, “Livingston, through his lawyers, has maintained that he did nothing wrong. No charges have been laid and the allegations have not been tested in court.”

• IntegrityBC executive director Dermod Travis writes that, since July 1, 2013 there have been only two references to “open government” on the B.C. government’s Website – even though Premier Christy Clark promised she was going to lead the most open and accountable government in Canada.

According to the Province, the B.C. government “says legal and privacy considerations prevent release of a full version of a scathing report into the mistaken firings of several health researchers in 2012.”


• Freelancer Bob Mackin tweets that Vancouver transit authority executives met to discuss its upcoming electronic fare card but “kept no minutes.”

• Concerned Residents Association of North Dumfries executive director Tamara Brown tweets that Cambridge, Ont. is asking for more than $60,000 in response to an access request for “info that should normally be public” regarding urban sprawl.

• CBC News reports several Winnipeg, Man. civic corporations aren’t subject to the province’s access law.

• Surrey, B.C. is “rolling out its ambitious Open Data Calogue” which “gives residents and business owners access to “economic indicators, business licences, commercial and industrial vacancy rates, population projections and availability of employment broken down into specific areas.” In an interview with Business in Vancouver, the city’s information technology Geoff Samson said the catalogue is the largest offering of this type of information by any city in Canada.

• “On the heels of criticism of its secret budget meetings,” the Waterloo Region Record reports Waterloo, Ont.’s local government is “pledging to get the public more involved in its 2016-2018 budget.”

Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.

* = Canadian Newsstand features articles from 270 of the country’s newspapers, as well as the Canadian Press wire service. Among the papers are those published by Postmedia Network Inc. and Brunswick News Inc., as well as FP Newspaper Inc., Glacier Media Inc., Torstar Corp.’s dailies and some of the properties owned by Black Press Group Ltd. Among those excluded are papers owned by Quebecor Inc. and Transcontinental Inc.

** = I searched Canadian Newsstand for the terms “Bill C-51,” “anti-terror law,” “anti-terrorism law,” “anti-terror bill,” “anti-terrorism bill,” “anti-terror legislation,” “anti-terorism legislation” or “Anti-Terrorism Act.”


Government cameras follow Prime Minister Stephen Harper everywhere but who is actually watching? (Photograph by Government of Canada)

Government cameras can follow Prime Minister Stephen Harper everywhere but who wants to watch what they record? (Photograph by Government of Canada)

MASS MEDIA? Stephen Harper’s taxpayer-funded 24 Seven Internet infomercial has been ridiculed for its minuscule audience. But the prime minister can take comfort in the fact a similar weekly program produced by United States President Barack Obama’s White House doesn’t seem to do much better with viewers.

24 Seven was launched just over a year ago to propagandize Harper’s accomplishments. Three bureaucrats in the Privy Council Office are usually responsible for producing that program, which – between Jan. 2, 2014 and Jan 1, 2015 – received an average of 2,592 YouTube views per episode as of this past Saturday.

That may seem small, working out to 7.3 views per 100,000 people in Canada. But, over a similar period, Obama’s West Wing Week received just 7.8 views per 100,000 people in the United States.

DEAFENING SILENCE Last week, the Washington, DC-based Centre for Public Integrity launched a new blog to shine a light on how often public officials refuse to answer questions from journalists – something that has “lately” become a problem in that country. But, even in a smaller country such as Canada, recording those refusals would be a voluminous task.

A search of newspapers in the Canadian Newsstand database shows that between Monday and Friday last week journalists reported at least 24 instances of public officials not responding to questions or being unavailable to answer them. Those instances include:

• Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt’s office not answering specific questions from the Canadian Press about a contract to come up with different ways of providing a food subsidy for northerners;

• Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s office not responding to a request for comment from the Globe and Mail about a decision to refuse the City of Toronto’s request for financial relief;

• Alberta Health Minister Stephen Mandel not responding to a request for comment from the Calgary Herald about a decision to shelve the building of a new cancer centre in Calgary;

• B.C. Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson being unavailable to answer questions from the Times Colonist about a decision to allow “hunting guides and their foreign clients a larger share of wildlife across the province;” and

• B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett not being reachable by the Globe and Mail for comment on the upcoming release of a report into what caused the collapse of a tailings pond at the Mount Polley Mine.

CENTRAL QUESTIONS The blame for the federal government’s non-answers to reporters could have less to do with “department media relations officers and more the result of centralized message-control by the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister’s Office.”

That analysis, which was penned by CBC News’s Kady O’Malley earlier last month, might leave Canadians thinking that, without such centralization, reporters would start getting real responses from the government. But, in my estimation, that’s extremely unlikely likely.

After all, overly broad, boilerplate answers are also provided by local and provincial governments across Canada, as well as corporations and non-governmental organizations.

I got them for nine years as a reporter covering the British Columbia government, whose Public Affairs Bureau was jokingly-known for serving PABlum to journalists. I also cooked up some of that PABlum myself as a communications advisor for the province’s Liberal and New Democrat administrations. And let me assure you, it wasn’t the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister’s Office that was behind that boilerplate.

Nor are such talking points and message boxes peculiar to Canada.

In a recent letter to Obama, 48 American journalism and open government groups complained that journalists are now getting “written responses of slick non-answers” rather than being allowed to communicate with federal government employees. Appropriately, White House press secretary Josh Earnest responded to those complains with his own non-answer, which failed to directly address the groups’ concerns.

Such public relations tactics threaten the public’s right to know. But no mere change in government, in this country or in the United States, will stop their deployment. They’ve become an embedded part of our political system – something that has just as much to do with departmental media relations officers as it does with the centralization of that system.


• The Tyee reports a government “briefing on proposed anti-terror legislation was light on information and heavy on restrictions,” prompting protests from parliamentary reporters.

According to the Globe and Mail, planners and researchers say, “The cancellation of the mandatory long-form census has damaged research in key areas, from how immigrants are doing in the labour market to how the middle class is faring, while making it more difficult for cities to ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.”

• The Ottawa Citizen reports, “The federal government has spent approximately $57 million on outside consultants over the past nine years to help decide which government records Canadians are allowed to obtain.”

• Information commissioner Suzanne Legault is concerned Bill C-520 may impact her ability to “recruit and retain the best and brightest.” That private members bill, which was introduced by Conservative MP Mark Adler, would require anyone working for or applying to work for an agent of Parliament to publicly disclose if they have held a politically partisan position in the last 10 years. Those agents include Legault, as well as Canada’s auditor general and its chief electoral officer. According to the information commissioner, that disclosure “could be used to assert the existence of a possible bias in the conduct of an investigation or audit” by her office. (hat tip: BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association)


• “Two recent decisions from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario provide some guidance” about when aggregated or anonymized information can be released under the province’s access law.


• In his most recent report on Ontario’s open meetings law, ombudsman André Marin has once again criticized its lack of teeth. The law, which was passed in 2008, requires municipalities to hold most of their meetings in public. But there’s no penalty for not following that rule. Moreover, just 196 of Ontario’s 444 municipalities choose to use the ombudsman’s free services to investigate open meetings law complaints. By comparison, “134 municipalities use Amberley Gavel, under contract with Local Authority Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, an organization which promotes municipal interests.”

• The Record’s Luisa D’Amato writes that Waterloo, Ont. residents “love the idea of their city as being innovative, efficient and businesslike.” But after an “ill-advised decision” to “limit questions from elected officials, and cut down on public access to discussion on the city’s budget,” those residents have learned that being businesslike is “not as important as openness and public scrutiny.”

• The code of conduct for Waterloo city councillors means that one of them had to “seek a majority vote for council for detailed answers on budget questions.” The Record quotes Mayor Dave Jaworsky defending that code, saying, “[If] you want council or the board as a whole to function as one…you can’t have one person instructing staff to do work.”

• “A record number of access to information requests at [Waterloo] city hall last year may mean more staff could be required to handle the extra workload in the future,” according to the Waterloo Chronicle. The newspaper reports, “The majority of the requests are related to searches for private property information and staff believe the increase is partially driven by the city’s rental housing bylaw, passed in 2011. Under the program, landlords must apply for a licence and renew it annually by April 1. If a rental property sells, the new owner must apply for a new licence, which includes getting all the necessary documentation and inspections.”

• Neal Yonson, who contributes to a Website covering the University of British Columbia, tweets, “Sigh. I want to like UBC’s FOI people, I really do. Delaying 60 days to send an $800+ fee estimate is not how we become friends.”

Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.