Justice minister says freedom of information overhaul will take longer than planned

·2 min read
Brad Johns is Nova Scotia's justice minister. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Brad Johns is Nova Scotia's justice minister. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

In politics, as in many things, the view can be different depending on where you sit.

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Brad Johns acknowledged as much on Thursday when asked about his department's progress reviewing and updating the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

"It's easy when you're in opposition, before you have the full understanding of what the work is required," Johns told reporters following a cabinet meeting in Halifax.

"Once you're in government and you find out what needs to happen, sometimes you find out, 'Yeah, OK, this isn't as easy as I thought it was.'"

The Tories promised during last summer's provincial election to overhaul the act, which hasn't had a substantive change since 1993, and give the privacy commissioner order-making power.

The latter is a promise previous governments made, but then backtracked on. Right now the commissioner can only make recommendations, and the government is not bound to follow them. Johns's mandate letter calls for him to change that.

The former Liberal government only followed about a third of the privacy commissioner's recommendations in 2020 and former premier Stephen McNeil openly acknowledged in 2016 taking steps to avoid FOIPOP rules.

In November, Premier Tim Houston said he hoped to have legislation ready for the spring sitting of the legislature, but that did not happen. On Thursday, Johns said it's unlikely any change will happen this year.

"I am committed that it will be done before our term is over. I think saying by the end of 2022 is not realistic."

The Tories' term ends in 2025.

Because it's been so long since the act was updated, Johns said there are many things that must be considered including changes in technology and the hundreds of organizations subject to the act.

New Democrat MLA Claudia Chender said the government needs to act with more urgency in granting order-making powers to the privacy commissioner, something the Tories routinely called for while in opposition.

"They hammered on that. They went to court over things like that. They made that a hallmark of their opposition," she told reporters.

Chender said every government benefits from less scrutiny, but "that's not what democracy is supposed to look like."

Johns said the review will include setting new criteria and time frames related to the appeals process. Right now, the backlog for reviews is so long it takes several years before an appeal can even be considered.

In the meantime, Johns said he's encouraging departments "to be a little more flexible with what's coming out" in application responses.

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