Documents released this week in response to a freedom-of-information request have returned attention to B.C. Liberal government communications—or, rather, a lack thereof.
The records obtained by CKNW reveal that last October, the office of Premier Christy Clark emailed a memo to ministers and senior staff with instructions to relay that message down the chain.
Finance Minister Mike de Jong could not follow that order, according to his chief of staff, Brian Menzies. So Menzies said he would relay the message instead.
“Minister de Jong does not participate in email,” Menzies wrote to a colleague, “so I will forward this to you on his behalf.”
(Ironically, Clark’s memo was an instruction for staff to stop deleting emails, prompted by concerns the destruction of records was a violation of B.C.'s Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act.)
The Ministry of Finance refused to grant an interview. Spokesperson Jamie Edwardson supplied a statement confirming the claim de Jong does not use email, calling it a “personal preference”.
Clark defended de Jong while speaking to reporters in Vancouver on March 8.
“Some people are more comfortable with modern technology than others,” she told the Province. “Mike is a farmer. And I know that some farmers use email, I know that some don’t. And he is one of them. I’m not going to force him to use email. I’m not going to force him to stop using his rotary phone.”
In a telephone interview, David Eby, NDP MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey, said de Jong’s aversion to email adds to a pattern he’s observed extending well beyond the finance ministry.
“We are talking about a government that is going to a great deal of trouble to avoid freedom-of-information rules,” he said.
Last December, the Straight reported on information that suggested Clark similarly shies away from email.
The NDP had filed FOI requests that asked for all correspondence to and from Clark’s email address for a two-week period in October 2015 and for a similar period of December 2014.
The first request turned up just one message. The second produced nothing at all.
Interviewed for that story, Eby said the Opposition would continue to question the Liberal government about communication practices that might fall on the wrong side of transparency laws.
"It is hard for me to imagine how you could be the premier and have one email over two weeks," Eby said then. "It just doesn’t make any sense to me, and strongly suggests she is either deleting her own emails or she is not using email to avoid creating records that could be FOI’d.”
The Straight has begun compiling a list of senior members of government who either claim they do not use email or who have been caught routinely deleting their emails. It has grown to include nine names since the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of B.C. first brought the issue of deleted emails to the public’s attention last October.
Eby joked that de Jong’s approach was an improvement on that of his colleagues who have deleted emails.
“I guess you don’t have to delete an email you’ve never sent,” Eby said. “So the finance minister’s system has that advantage to it.”
Vincent Gogolek, executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, similarly told the Straight he was suspicious of de Jong’s office claiming the minister doesn’t use email.
“There seems to be a whole lot of very senior people, through various ways, apparently either not using email or deleting it,” he said. “It’s part of a pattern.”