The government Couillard proposes the first major reform of the Law on access to documents for the past 35 years by adding a clause of the “primacy of the public interest”.
This clause, which would have been the subject of several debates in the house, will allow the State to make documents accessible, where exceptional circumstances will special order.
The draft law presented by minister Kathleen Weil Thursday, also shortens the time before that secret documents are not accessible to the public, in order to match the canadian provinces that have shorter deadlines. The decisions of the executive Council and treasury Board will be kept secret for 15 years instead of 25 years. Recommendations and opinions made by a member of a public body, will be inaccessible for 5 years instead of 10.
If the bill is adopted, all decisions of the governments of Quebec prior to 2003 will be made public. Two years after the adoption of the draft law, the decisions of Lucien Bouchard, Jacques Parizeau and Bernard Landry would be accessible all at the same time for example.
At the present time, it is the minister who has the highest authority in matters of access to documents. In order to make the process more impartial and less political, this authority is transferred to high-ranking officials, i.e. deputy ministers. Ministers cannot interfere in the process.
Those who deal with requests for access to information, whether in the government or in towns, should have less tools at their disposal for the refuse. For example, the fact that a document has been transmitted to the office of a mayor or a minister will no longer be a reason to deny the public release. The fact that a third party is involved in a contract does not have to be a reason either.
The draft law will force ministries and agencies to disseminate certain information automatically.
This bill was highly anticipated, the government Couillard committed itself in 2014 to be the most transparent in history. The parliamentarians, however, may not have the time to adopt it by the end of the session, on 15 June.
More details to come…