Liberals redefine key transparency promise in new bill

OTTAWA—The federal Liberals are breaking with the spirit of one of their promises to increase government transparency and declining to extend the access to information system to cabinet ministers’ offices. Instead, Treasury Board President Scott Brison said ministers’ offices, including the Prime Minister’s Office, will “proactively disclose” certain information under new access to information rules. That redefines a Liberals’ 2015 election promise that they would extend existing access to information law to the ministers’ offices, allowing any Canadian to request documents for a $5 fee.“Canadians should not have to go through a request-based system for information that should be proactively disclosed,” Brison told reporters at a press conference Monday afternoon.“We are strengthening both proactive disclosure, expanding it across government. (and) investing to strengthen the request-based system. Both are important in a modern access-to-information regime.”So instead of being able to access documents cabinet ministers would rather keep secret, Canadians will be allowed to request documents the government knows in advance will be made public.Article Continued BelowBut because the Liberals have added a new proactive disclosure section to the Access to Information Act, Brison claimed they were making good on their promise to “extend” the legislation.The Liberals are, however, making significant changes to the access-to-information regime — a 34-year-old system that has not been substantially updated since most government business was conducted with pen and paper.Most significantly, Brison is granting the system’s watchdog the power to compel government departments to release information. Currently, information commissioner Suzanne Legault’s office can only recommend a department or agency release documents. The change has long been sought by Legault, who is to leave the watchdog’s office later this year.