Langley Advance view: Freedom from information at heart of Liberal document issue

The B.C. Liberals aren't the first ones to skirt Freedom of Information rules, many of which they put in place.

The provincial Liberals have had trouble with their backroom staff before, but their latest scandal should trouble everyone in the province.

B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s report of last week discovered a culture of concealment in several government offices.

The most troubling issues were related to Highway 16 in northern B.C., a.k.a. the Highway of Tears.

Requests for information on the highway, where a significant number of women have been killed or vanished in recent years, were met with mass email deletions or deliberately narrow interpretations of Freedom of Information requests – interpretations designed to exclude any information of value.

The problems have reached into the office of Premier Christy Clark, and the Ministries of Transportation and of Advanced Education.

Even Transportation Minister Todd Stone admitted that he triple-deletes some of his emails but pooh-poohed Denham’s “interpretation” of the law.

Here’s a tip: Never trust anyone who’s first instinct when confronted with scandal is to suggest that it all comes down to “interpretation.”

Notably, Denham found that the major problem email-deleters were political staffers, party hacks rather than actual civil servants.

The Liberals have been in power in B.C. for 15 years now. They have improbably survived the complete implosion in popularity of former premier Gordon Campbell, leadership changes, controversial referendums and a major recession.

Unfortunately, their long tenure seems to have convinced many of the party hacks within the Liberal machine that they are not beholden to anyone. Not the press or the public, certainly.

When a government decides to control and conceal information for political purposes, they have given up the right to govern. Clark needs to clean house, or step down.

– M.C.

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