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Freedom Of Information review launched by P.E.I. government

Premier Wade MacLauchlan is shown in the provincial legislature Wednesday. The latest Corporate Research Associates poll shows the P.E.I. Liberal party has dropped to its lowest level of support in 13 years. MacLauchlan’s personal popularity stayed almost the same as last quarter with 27 per cent of Islanders listing him as their preference for premier.
Premier Wade MacLauchlan is shown in the provincial legislature. ©THE GUARDIAN - Mitch MacDonald

Opposition parties voice skepticism over promises to strengthen access to information law

The province is launching its long-promised review of freedom of information law and is looking for Islanders' views on how to strengthen access to government information.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan tabled a discussion paper Thursday that goes through the various aspects of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPP) Act, listing the ways it works and asking for public feedback or proposed changes.

MacLauchlan said modernizing this law will “ensure that public bodies continue to be transparent and accountable” while also strengthening the protection of personal privacy in P.E.I.

“This discussion paper will encourage a principled dialogue on how to strengthen this important legislation,” MacLauchlan said.

The review was promised in the 2015 throne speech, as part of a pledge by MacLauchlan when he first was elected premier to increase transparency within government.

In anticipation of this, the province’s privacy commissioner, Karen Rose, conducted her own review of the legislation and presented five recommendations to a standing committee in October.

Two of her key recommendations were that municipalities and post-secondary institutions be brought under freedom of information law.

Currently Islanders do not have a legislated right to access information in the custody of towns and cities across P.E.I. and there are no obligations to protect the privacy and personal information currently in municipal care.

But other concerns were voiced about freedom of information and the right of access to government records in the legislature Thursday.

Opposition MLA Steven Myers pointed to information his office has asked for during the budget process during the last two years that has not materialized. He also noted to frustrations over lengthy delays to written questions that have been tabled by MLAs and FOIPP requests that have come back with redactions and pages of withheld information.

“These things are important to people,” Myers said.

“We believe in transparency, we want to have openness for all Islanders, that’s why we’re bringing this stuff forward… open everything up.”

Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker pointed out recommendations were made by the previous privacy commissioner in 2009 that were never acted upon and also that government has yet to table an internal review done of the act in 2012, despite requests for its release.

“Now you tell us you’re going to have another review, further delaying the process,” Bevan-Baker said.

“Given the almost decade of inaction, multiple reviews and the continued procrastination, it’s really hard to be anything other than deeply skeptical that this administration will actually do what needs to be done – and that is to do a fundamental review and strengthen this act.”

The discussion paper is online now and public input is being requested. Once this consultation process is complete, government “intends to table amendments to strengthen access to public information and strengthen the protection of personal privacy in our province,” MacLauchlan said.

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