The B.C. government will begin proactively releasing several new categories of records commonly requested through Freedom of Information (FOI), Finance Minister Michael de Jong announced today.
Government will now start proactively releasing information on directly awarded contracts, ministers’, deputy ministers’ and associate deputy ministers’ calendars, regular summaries of gaming grants and the status of all active FOI requests received after April 1, 2016. By July 30, government will begin releasing receipts for ministers’ travel expenses on a quarterly basis.
The new disclosure adds to the information and data already released on a routine basis, such as purchase and travel card expenses, regulatory requirements count, class-size data, provincial surgical wait times, post-secondary operating grants, motor-vehicle collisions and contributing factors, hourly air pollutant monitoring, community-safety and crime-prevention grants and annual disclosure of executive compensation.
Other new measures to improve transparency and disclosure include responses to the recommendations by former privacy commissioner David Loukidelis:
- A new FOI search process, in which public servants in each ministry have been designated to help respond to requests directed to ministers’ offices. Ministers, political staff and select employees in deputy ministers’ offices have received updated training on records management, privacy and FOI. Additionally, a new policy of presumptive sign-off will help speed up responses to FOI requests.
- An updated Open Information website now gives the public easier access to records already published through FOI or proactive release.
- All active FOI requests from April 1, 2016 onward are now being published on Open Information, a measure aimed at increasing government accountability, and also providing applicants with a means to track the status of their requests.
- The Information Management Act is being brought into force May 10, 2016, replacing the Document Disposal Act of 1936. This new legislation lays the foundation to bring government records management practices into the digital age. The legislation will make government’s information management practices more efficient and will help government provide quicker and easier access to public archives.
The B.C. government’s new proactive disclosure is authorized by ministerial directives requiring that government routinely release several new categories of records regularly requested through FOI. These are the first directives ever issued under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that establish categories of records that must be proactively disclosed.
Finance Minister Michael de Jong –
“In this first phase of our efforts to improve the way government manages and releases records, we are making systemic changes to the way we facilitate citizens’ access to public records. There are now more dedicated and trained public servants available to handle those requests and we are increasing the volume of records proactively released to include those routinely requested through FOI. This is all about increasing access to government information, and improving the user experience because people will now be able to track their own FOI requests.”
- The B.C. government receives between 8,000 and 10,000 FOI requests per year.
- Over the last five years, government has responded to more than 45,000 FOI requests. The number of yearly FOI requests B.C. receives is comparable to Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba combined.
- DataBC provides more than 3,600 high-quality datasets from sources across government. Other documents government already releases through proactive disclosure include data on: schools satisfaction surveys, surgical wait times, patient counts/expenditures, quarterly FOI statistics, class size data, active files under Civil Forfeiture, internal financial forecasts, post-secondary operating grants, verified hourly air pollutant monitoring data, regional geochemical stream water sampling, data on motor-vehicle collisions and contributing factors, liquor sales by region, community-safety and crime-prevention grants, traffic volumes, purchase cards, travel cards and executive compensation.
- Today’s announcement marks the first time ministerial directives have ever been issued under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to establish categories of records that must be proactively released.
A backgrounder follows.