Suspended B.C. legislature Sergeant at Arms Gary Lenz (left) and Clerk of the House Craig James make their first public statement from their lawyers’ office in Vancouver, January 2019. (CTV) Suspended B.C. legislature Sergeant at Arms Gary Lenz (left) and Clerk of the House Craig James make their first public statement from their lawyers’ office in Vancouver, January 2019. (CTV)

Extend freedom of information law to B.C. legislature, watchdogs say

Changes will be implemented as soon as possible, Mike Farnworth says

The B.C. legislature will open up its secret operations as suggested by the top independent watchdogs of the provincial government, NDP house leader Mike Farnworth said Tuesday.

B.C.’s ombudsperson, privacy commissioner and merit commissioner have recommended changes to require public disclosure of B.C. legislature expenses, in the wake of the suspension of the top two managers for financial irregularities.

On top of the audit being commenced this year by Auditor General Carole Bellringer, and a police investigation supervised by two special prosecutors, the changes will help in the long term, the independent officers say in a letter to Speaker Darryl Plecas released Tuesday.

Farnworth, who is also public safety minister in the NDP government, said Bellringer’s audit will likely recommend further changes as she examines practices from previous years, but making the legislature’s administration subject to freedom of information disclosure is a good first step.

Farnworth said the legislative changes may have to wait for the fall session to present to MLAs for a vote. The NDP government is preparing its budget and priority legislation, with a Speech from the Throne set for Feb. 12 and a budget a week later.

“We wish to emphasize that we are making these suggestions regardless of the resolution of the status of the suspended permanent officers,” Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy, Merit Commissioner Fiona Spencer and Ombudsperson Jay Chalk say in the letter.

RELATED: B.C. legislature managers accused of excessive travel, personal expenses

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Their changes are for the “corporate Legislative Assembly,” historically controlled only by the Speaker, the letter adds.

Recommendations include extending the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to the legislature, which has a $70 million budget to run MLA constituency offices and the parliament buildings, including everything from a restaurant to security to the chamber itself.

“There is no reason why the Legislative Assembly should not, in respect of its institutional, administrative functions, be subject to the same transparency and accountability rules as the more than 2,900 public bodies across the provinces are,” the letter states.

“The executive branch of government, all local governments, universities, schools and many other institutions have complied with the access to information rules in place for more than 25 years in British Columbia. It is time for the Legislative Assembly to meet the same standards.”


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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