Jordan Bateman: To be considered truly open, Christy Clark government must be proactive


Every election cycle, in every campaign from school board to prime minister, two sets of vows are made: incumbent politicians promise to continue listening to the public, while their opponents promise to change government by throwing open its doors.

The B.C. Liberal leadership race was no different, with candidate Christy Clark leading the charge for change. “Taxpayers need to know how their money is being spent and if their elected officials are meeting their promises,” Clark said in her platform, noting her desire to “rebuild public trust and reconnect people with government”.

Unfortunately, unless Premier Christy Clark takes action, she might miss a golden opportunity to walk out her commitment to open government.

Under Gordon Campbell, the B.C. government spent $124,522.48 on a legal battle to prevent the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) from getting a copy of a $300-million government services contract with IBM. FIPA requested the contract eight years ago under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act (FOI).

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) uncovered the legal price tag through its own FOI request. The B.C. government, which has been ordered by both the information and privacy commissioner and a B.C. Supreme Court judge to release the IBM contract, has instead decided to appeal the matter in court in March, which will cost taxpayers even more money.

In a $43-billion provincial budget, $124,522.48 may not seem like a big deal. After all, it wouldn’t even cover Pamela Martin’s annual salary (whose job description includes helping Clark’s “vision of creating open government by reaching out to British Columbians”). But the principle of democratic transparency is one that must be fought for, every day, lest governments forget they serve the citizens—not the other way around.

The B.C. Liberal government has improved its transparency since Clark came in, posting open data sets, hosting Twitter town halls with cabinet ministers Mary Polak and George Abbott, and bringing in an auditor general for local government.

But the systemic secrecy around government contracts and MLA expenses should still trouble taxpayers.

The simplest solution is for Clark to order proactive disclosure of as much information as possible. In a digital age, there is no reason why the provincial government can’t post a database of the contracts it has signed on behalf of taxpayers, or itemized lists of expenses incurred by its officials.

Recently, through another FOI request, the CTF discovered that the premier’s year-end, four-minute-long YouTube video cost taxpayers $8,960 to produce—$35.56 per second, or $3.38 per YouTube view. This relatively simple request took two letters from Victoria, along with a government staffer tracking down the relevant invoice, checking for legal issues and forwarding us a copy. It certainly isn’t the most efficient way to get information out to taxpayers. The government could have saved time and money by proactively putting the contract up online.

FOI is an important tool for citizens to get a hold of records and documents produced by the government, to better understand why and how decisions are made in our democracy, and to hold those in authority to account for their actions.

But for Premier Clark’s government to truly be considered open, it must go beyond FOI and become proactive. Post government contracts and MLA expenses as they are signed and incurred—and start with the infamous IBM contract.

Jordan Bateman is the British Columbia director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Comments (2) Add New Comment
glen p robbins
If I were elected, I would let all of this information out. If the contract is good enough to enter into - then it is good enough for all to see. At some point instead of doubting the government's intentions and motivations which to some extent at least 3 in 4 in this province do - after letting all of the information out - for all to see - the majority of the citizens won't bother to ask - because they would trust again.

What government has becomes is this: A small group of people looking for attention and power - who gravitate through a small number of political party's with ties to special interest money - who are willing to trade their integrity and principles for a decent salary and a nice pension.

Campbell didn't have a history as an honest person - but he controlled the guts of the system including the Board of Trade (still does) and to some extent the media. Nobody expected Christy Clark to have integrity - she has (or had) some pizazz and she was the right choice the BC Liberals figured to distract the public long enough to finish Campbells and corporations agenda. In return, Christy gets her picture on the wall of the Legislature, gets a nice salary some perks and has a friend in Pamela to get loaded with.

Her boss Gywnne Morgan and others from back east give her a shopping list of instructions and others around her tell her how to implement.

It isn't perfect work - even the worst among us know they are liars - but this is all part of the change that needs to take place in a short period of time. Christy is destined to fail, her only political goals are to serve her bosses. All she can do is try to keep the BC Liberals from dying - and trying for 30 seats.

The plan is that the NDP will win - and the opposition is hoping that after a decade of going without - they will try to make it all up with their insiders in one fell swoop. The media is already siding with the NDP in anticipation of the money hand outs hoping the NDP's election will keep the great unwashed quiet for a while. Business will try to convince the NDP to keep a few robberies on the front burner - and to keep these a secret in return they will pretend to find the NDP bearable until they have a chance to reload for 2017.

Christy will get a job with the Fraser Institute or Wisers.

That my friends is the future for the next five years
Rating: +5
Please, Please, Please
Jordan, did you write this with a straight face ?

As a member of the CTF, I cant get an answer from either the BC or the national office as to why members of the CTF arent allowed to vote for directors, or even any current documentation on who funds the CTF, by source.

Look, the BC Liberals are a disaster when it comes to FOI.

What I dont need is a member of a secretive private interest group (that has the audacity to position itself as a spokesperson for Canadian taxapayers yet doesnt allow members to elect its representatives) getting on his high horse when it comes to the issue of transparency.
Rating: -3
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