Dan Davies – Weekly Column – The NDP’s controversial bill is attempting to restrict our access to information

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – As we continue our fall legislative session in Victoria, MLAs are hotly debating an NDP …

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – As we continue our fall legislative session in Victoria, MLAs are hotly debating an NDP government’s Bill 22 that has stirred up massive public outcry from the media, advocacy groups, and the general public — and for good reason.

If passed it will have significant impacts on how information is accessed, stored, and shared by our government institutions, and it will also impact the public’s access to key government documents and information.

For decades, British Columbians have received vital information using Freedom of Information (FOI). Throughout the challenges of the pandemic and the recent wildfire season, FOI has revealed all sorts of NDP government activities that would otherwise have not been made available to the public.

For example, a recent FOI request has revealed the NDP government ignored warning signs at E-Comm 9-1-1 that showed B.C.’s Emergency Health Services were drastically under-resourced and ill-equipped to handle the flood of emergency phone calls leading up the heat wave that claimed the lives of 569 British Columbians.

FOI keeps government transparent to the people they serve, which would explain why the NDP is trying to make it more difficult and costly to request and access information via FOI,including applying a newly proposed $25 fee to access FOI applications.

Although this fee may seem small in scale, it will create a significant barrier for the media’s access to information and will mean steep fees for someone trying to gather information from multiple organizations.

On top of this, this bill expands the scope and jurisdiction of how government can collect and store our personal data through social media engagement with the government. This means government can gather and store our personal information from government applications, as well as through social media posts and comments on government videos. It also removes the ability of the independent Privacy Commissioner to have oversight over this process.

These are dangerous waters to wade into, especially when the NDP hasn’t made it clear why they need to expand their data collection into our social media. Major events in recent history like the Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2018 show us that our data can be used for unethical political gain.

The whole tenet of democracy is based on trust and transparency, and we need legislation that protects and promotes it, but Bill 22 seems to be designed to stifle and restrict it.

I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Opposition caucus to help amplify the growing opposition to this bill from across the province and country so that we can keep our government open and accountable to the people they are sworn to serve.

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