New bill would boost information watchdogs powers, reshape Access to Information Act

OTTAWA—The federal information watchdog would have the power to order release of government records under newly tabled legislation.But the Liberal bill unveiled Monday doesn’t close loopholes that often keep files locked away and it backpedals on a campaign promise to fully apply the Access to Information Act to ministerial offices.The legislation would place the burden of showing why a record must remain secret on the shoulders of the government or others who object, giving the information commissioner a stronger hand.Currently the commissioner, an ombudsman for users of the access law, has to argue the case for release of government files.Read more: Upcoming Liberal bills to reform Access to Information, national security measuresArticle Continued BelowThe legislation also proposes extending the law — though only in a limited way — to the offices of the prime minister, cabinet members, senators, MPs and administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.These offices and institutions would not be required to answer access requests filed by individuals, which most agencies and departments must do. Rather, they would be legally bound to regularly release certain types of records, such as hospitality and travel expenses and contract information.The new, proactive publication requirements would apply to all institutions covered by the access law, though the type of documents that would have to be disclosed would vary. For example, ministers’ offices would be required to publish lists of briefing notes as well as materials prepared for parliamentary committee appearances.