Reform of access to information: the next government to act

Réforme de l’accès à l’information: au prochain gouvernement d’agir

Made too late, the great reform of the access to information of the government Couillard risk of dying on the order paper. Minister Kathleen Weil is aware of it, but said all the same proud to be “a high bar” in terms of transparency.

This reform of the Act respecting access to documents held by public bodies is the first to be presented since 1982, a time when Quebec was seen as a “precursor”, which is no longer the case today, ” says Ms. Weil.

Kathleen Weil believes that its reforms will have the effect of “setting the table for a change of culture within public bodies”, because the time has come to “kick bar”. “The mission of the servant, is to protect the State, but the State, it is the public interest also. And that, we often forget.”

To return in “the first class in Canada”, the bill adds a clause to the primacy of the public interest, for which the minister Weil tells of being beaten. This clause would allow the State to make documents accessible when exceptional circumstances dictate.

The bill also requires that any information that poses a serious risk to the life, health or safety of a person, and a serious threat to the quality of the environment, must be made public, without waiting for a request.

The reform shortens the time before that secret documents are not accessible to the public. 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.

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 less political, this authority is transferred to sub-ministers.

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 will not be a reason either.

The Fédération professionnelle des journalists du Québec (FPJQ) believes that this reform has advanced, but deplores the fact that it is filed at the end of the term of office of four years the government Couillard. “The government wants to give a good figure, but what there is, is that it is two steps forward, one step back,” says Monique Dumont, an expert in access to information at the FPJQ.

According to her, some measures do not go far enough and still left arbitrary. “Yes, it sets a bar. The next government will not be able to go lower than that.”

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CONTEMPT OF PARLIAMENT

The Parti quebecois believes that the minister Kathleen Weil has committed a contempt of Parliament on Thursday, because the journalists had access to the content of the draft law on access to information an hour before the deputies.

The minister Weil began by denying in the room that the journalists have been able to have access to privileged information, before you recognize it in the press conference that his team had made “an error in good faith”, in which she took on the responsibility.

A briefing session for technical embargo had been held at 9am on Thursday, before the house is seized of the bill, around 10 am, which is contrary to the parliamentary privilege.

Mp pq Pascal Bérubé has asked the national Assembly for an investigation on this situation, to do more than it happen again.

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