NDP catch­ing up to Lib­er­als on lack of trans­parency

The Prince George Citizen - - Opinion -

Who’s got the most cav­a­lier at­ti­tude to­ward trans­parency in gov­ern­ment – the B.C. Lib­er­als or the NDP? The pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment was the odds-on favourite as the cor­rect an­swer. But the NDP is catch­ing up.

B.C. Lib­er­als’ ap­proach to the rules on doc­u­ment­ing and pre­serv­ing gov­ern­ment records vac­il­lated be­tween ca­sual dis­re­gard and open contempt.

It cul­mi­nated in the triple-delete scan­dal, where premier’s of­fice staff were coached in how to ex­punge emails per­ma­nently (or so they thought).

Over the years that at­ti­tude de­vel­oped, the NDP in Op­po­si­tion would ex­press out­rage about the hor­ri­ble vi­o­la­tions of the sa­cred prin­ci­ples of free­dom of in­for­ma­tion.

Then they took power, and dis­cov­ered what a pain it is to fol­low all those pesky rules.

By last spring, the Lib­er­als in op­po­si­tion were ask­ing ques­tions about the mass dele­tion of emails. They had filed re­quests for rou­tine emails to and from key staff and got back noth­ing.

Was the new gov­ern­ment mirac­u­lously run­ning the prov­ince with­out us­ing any form of text com­mu­ni­ca­tion?

They were mes­sag­ing, of course. They just weren’t keep­ing the mes­sages, mostly by us­ing the fa­mil­iar old dodge of con­sid­er­ing them “tran­si­tory.”

Even the min­is­ter re­spon­si­ble for abid­ing by FOI law, Cit­i­zens’ Ser­vices Min­is­ter Jinny Sims, was caught delet­ing and had to apol­o­gize.

Premier John Hor­gan even­tu­ally had to apol­o­gize for the en­tire gov­ern­ment, and a new round of train­ing was or­dered on how to fol­low the rules. Af­ter a gen­er­al­ized prom­ise to do bet­ter, the is­sue faded.

Un­til this week. Op­po­si­tion Lib­er­als re­turned to the theme and dwelled on the con­tin­u­ing ab­sence of any gov­ern­ment emails from a briefly ap­pointed spe­cial ad­viser – Maria del Mat­tia.

Her spe­cialty is com­mu­ni­ca­tions and mes­sag­ing ad­vice and she was re­tained dur­ing the tran­si­tion pe­riod, but left lit­tle record of her time.

Then she switched to con­tract work, and asked to have her gov­ern­ment email ad­dress deleted, pre­fer­ring to use her pri­vate Gmail ad­dress.

Her re­quest was speed­ily ap­proved by a deputy min­is­ter. She was no longer a civil ser­vant, but us­ing pri­vate email raises a lot of Op­po­si­tion sus­pi­cion.

Her emails were re­tained – Lib­er­als read from them in high­light­ing the is­sue. But some of them il­lus­trate what a murky path the gov­ern­ment is on.

“Con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion is only be­ing shared with me in per­son, not via email,” she wrote at one point.

Wed­nes­day there were more ques­tions about how the for­mer spe­cial ad­viser-turned-con­trac­tor com­mu­ni­cated the gov­ern­ment busi­ness she was do­ing.

Lib­er­als quoted a note she sent in March to a group of com­mu­ni­ca­tions peo­ple about set­ting up a group email. One of them was us­ing a “bc­ndp” ad­dress.

Ear­lier, she had dis­cussed strat­egy and rec­om­mended for­ward­ing her note to all con­stituency as­sis­tants and “maybe some of those Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Pub­lic En­gage­ment folks that are do­ing po­lit­i­cal stuff. ”

GCPE staff are nor­mally con­sid­ered to be han­dling gov­ern­ment pro­gram com­mu­ni­ca­tions, more than “po­lit­i­cal stuff,” al­though the line is very elas­tic.

The point is that all her com­mu­ni­ca­tions – many of them benign thoughts about lead­er­ship and time man­age­ment – are ping­ing through an as­sort­ment of gov­ern­ment and pri­vate email users, from her pri­vate ac­count.

Sketch­ing out an idea for a tip of the day email, she wrote: “If we think of it as sell­ing our agenda and help­ing oth­ers do the same, we can send it a bit wider and ben­e­fit from that word of mouth ef­fect.”

Ob­vi­ously, her emails still got re­tained and were pro­duced on de­mand to the Lib­er­als.

But they say the notes should be sent from an of­fi­cial ac­count, and are cross­ing po­lit­i­cal-gov­ern­ment lines.

Sims kept tread­ing wa­ter on the is­sue, cit­ing the Lib­er­als’ mis­er­able record on the same never-end­ing is­sue.

“We all know that good record man­age­ment re­quires that we go through our emails and we delete the tran­si­tory emails that gunk up the sys­tem.

“The other side has the in­for­ma­tion they were look­ing for. There is no other story here.”

That’s what the Lib­er­als used to say.

LES LEYNE

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