The Non-Partisan Association has launched its election campaign with a pledge to create “the most open government of any in Canada” if it wins at the ballot box in November.
According to the party’s mayoral candidate, that regime would include requiring the regular disclosure of documents.
“If you have a requirement that material be disclosed routinely, and as a default position rather than a matter of holding records and requiring people to demand them, that alone is a fairly big change in the culture,” Kirk LaPointe said in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight July 15, a day after he announced his candidacy.
LaPointe, who teaches journalism at UBC, has worked for various Canadian media outlets, including positions as managing editor at the Vancouver Sun and as ombudsman at CBC.
He noted that in his career as a journalist, he has filed “well over 3,000” access to information and freedom of information requests.
“I teach a little bit about the law, and it’s frustrating, it’s glacial in its speed, and it can often be cumbersome and very costly, and in the end, what you have to remember is that this belongs to the citizens, it doesn’t belong to the government,” he said.
“It’s not the government doing the public a favour to release this, and so we’ve got to wipe that culture out, and quickly.”
LaPointe indicated he also intends to change media-access policies to allow reporters to speak directly with city staff rather than directing requests through the communications department.
“I don’t know which adjective to use to describe how sorry I am with the current state—it’s not right,” he said. “I’ve certainly heard from enough current and former public servants about their own frustration with this, and I think they should have the muzzle taken off. It’s not a good situation in 2014.”
LaPointe explained that in order to make Vancouver "the most open government", he would bring in an organization that specializes in the idea of openness to institute the system—much as Hamburg, Germany, did by bringing in Transparency International.
“I was there a couple of months ago and looked at what they were doing,” he noted. “They brought about laws that require disclosure and far greater transparency around those conducting business with the government. And they had a very good slogan, which was, ‘Transparency builds confidence.’ And I think there’s a great deal of truth in that.”
Another idea LaPointe has spoken to candidates about is bringing some city council, park board, and school board meetings into the community.
“Even though City Hall is an important place for the community, it need not be the only place where meetings are held,” he stated.
In response to LaPointe's comments about open government, Vision Vancouver councillor Heather Deal said this year's city budget is "full of details" and metrics, and reflects "an enormous amount of input from the public".
"We disclose all documents at every opportunity, in fact whenever there’s an in-camera meeting, as soon as it is legally possible to do so, all documents are released," Deal told the Straight by phone.
"We have an open data forum for all of our data, we have an enormous amount of input from the public, there is more information available to the public about the city now than there ever has been, and again I point to our budget, which is the most thorough budget that has ever been presented in the city of Vancouver."
The NPA is expected to release its slate of candidates soon and further details of its platform over the coming weeks.
The Vancouver election takes place November 15.