Fire issues managers, free up money for processing FOIP requests, Wildrose says

Fire issues managers, free up money for processing FOIP requests, Wildrose says

The Wildrose has made 10 suggestions for improving Alberta's broken freedom of information system, including firing issues managers in the premier's office and Public Affairs Bureau to free up cash for processing requests.

The Official Opposition says that would give the government $1 million to hire additional staff to manage and process requests under Alberta's Freedom of Information and Privacy (FOIP) Act.

The Wildrose also wants to end the practice of ministerial staff deliberately delaying the release of information by not signing off on it.

The party wants the government to adopt the system used in British Columbia, where information is released after five days if no one signs off.

Other suggestions to fix the system include publishing response time by ministry and increasing penalties for government staff who deliberately create delays.

Nathan Cooper, the Wildrose critic for democracy and accountability, said access to information is a critical tool for the opposition, media and the public to hold the government to account.

He said the government needs to change its attitude.

"It speaks to the government saying one thing and doing another," Cooper said. "They were elected on a platform of accountability, more open government, more transparency, and what we're seeing is the exact opposite."

Scathing assessment

Earlier this year, Alberta privacy and information commissioner Jill Clayton issued a scathing assessment of the government's attitude towards the FOIP act.

Clayton said the government has a "lack of respect" for freedom of information and needs a culture change that starts at the top.

The government is already making some of the changes recommended by the Wildrose, said Stephanie McLean, the minister in charge of FOIP. 

She said processing times are improving and the government has hired six people to help with requests in the Justice ministry which was investigated by Clayton.

Although her government has been in power for two years, McLean says it is challenge to undo the years of secrecy under the previous Progressive Conservative government. 

"It's not the kind of thing you can change overnight. It absolutely is a culture change and it's something that requires initiative from the top and I have been taking that initiative."

Last year, the government responded to 82 per cent of requests within 60 days.

According to this year's business plan, Service Alberta wants to increase that to 95 per cent this year.