Amidst criticism from journalists, universities and B.C.'s privacy commissioner, Premier John Horgan defended his government's proposed bill Thursday that would force those filing freedom of information requests to pay a fee.
Since announcing proposed changed to B.C.'s Freedom of Information and Privacy Act earlier this week, Horgan's NDP government has faced criticism from those saying the changes will decrease government transparency and add roadblocks for those seeking info about the government.
Minister of Citizens' Services Lisa Beare said the proposed changes could see each individual freedom of information request cost $25, although a fee has not been set yet.
“It's not our intention to restrict people's individual access,” Horgan said. “There has been an extraordinary proliferation in requests for information from political parties, and full disclosure, when I was in Opposition, we used the Freedom of Information Act effectively to understand why governments were making decisions.”
In a bizarre performance during Thursday's press conference, Horgan showed the home screen on his iPhone, in an apparent attempt to show his government has nothing to hide.
“I don't know if you want to zoom in on that, that's my telephone screen,” Horgan said. “You'll see from that that I play Scrabble, I have Spotify, I check my heart rate, I know what the weather's going to be like in Prince Rupert, and I have email, I have text messages, and I have a telephone, and a host of other things that I don't even know what they are.”
The stunt was in apparent reference to a B.C. Liberals FOI request for data from government officials' phones.
The stunt ignored the fact that journalists, businesses, opposition parties, activists and other British Columbians use the FOI system to uncover important information about the government's workings that may not be included in government press releases.
During Thursday's press conference, Horgan touted his government's “proactive disclosure” of information. But throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the B.C. government has been criticized for withholding COVID-19 information that other provinces have regularly provided.
Former B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said the NDP is “using fees to keep people’s noses out of the government they own.” B.C.’s independent information and privacy commissioner Michael McEvoy called the bill a “step backward.”