How deep is the Clark government culture of delete and deception?
“How deep does it go?” was my question to the BC Liberal minister responsible for British Columbians’ freedom of information laws when we discovered that senior staffers in ministers and the premier’s office were breaking the law.
Two hours earlier, B.C.’s independent information and privacy commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, had released a report explaining the BC Liberal government’s practice of triple-deleting to fully expunge the public record of important government decisions — like the decision to not put buses on the Highway of Tears. Triple deleting contravenes the laws of the land, and it was clear from the report that we had only hit the tip of the iceberg, which sparked my question, “How deep does this go?”
As it turns out, it goes very deep. Over the last few weeks in Victoria, my New Democrat colleagues and I have been digging into this scandal because it isn’t the first time Christy Clark’s Liberals have been caught failing to obey our freedom of information laws.
Back in 2013, Ms. Denham raised the alarm that the premier’s office had the worst rate of disclosing information about government decisions. It seemed that no one kept records in Ms. Clark’s office. Then we found out that her staff was using Gmail accounts to hide their partisan work on the taxpayers’ dime in the quick-wins scandal.
And now, after four reports and years of advice and recommendations on how to be open and transparent, we learn that the premier’s staff still chooses Post-it Notes and daily triple deletion of emails instead of disclosing what they are doing on the public’s behalf. This doesn’t look like some accidental mistake where staff just doesn’t know the rules.
But it doesn’t stop at the premier’s office. Denham’s report pointed to similar practices in the Ministry of Advanced Education under Amrik Virk, who Clark has since appointed the minister responsible for freedom of information. When he was minister of advanced education, we uncovered attempts to conceal his misdeeds from his time as a board member of Kwantlen Polytechnic University. That’s when Clark shuffled him to his current post.
The minister of transportation, Todd Stone, has since admitted that he too triple deletes. A few steps over to the next computer, his staff thought that deletion rather than disclosure was the appropriate course of action in responding to a request for information about the Highway of Tears. Having lied about his actions under oath, the staff person now faces an investigation by the RCMP.
In response, we’ve seen denials, diversions and deflections. Christy Clark has reassigned all freedom of information requests to an office headed by someone who to date has not produced any records on some of the most notable decisions under his purview, such as the firing of seven health researchers and the departure of Clark’s former chief of staff. How does someone who fails to produce records on decisions that impact the public be responsible for disclosing information about decisions impacting the public? Perhaps fixing the problem is the problem for Ms. Clark, and so she does her best to deflect it.
However, this is your information. You have a right to know the reasons and rationale behind government decisions — decisions made on your behalf. That is the law. So when government has created a culture of deleting those records, you are facing a culture of secrecy and deception. That’s not OK, as our now former prime minister recently learned.
Michelle Mungall is the member of the legislative assembly for the Nelson-Creston provincial riding, and is the Opposition critic for social development.