Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Proposed amendments to Alberta's access law slammed

Critics are urging citizens to call and e-mail legislators about proposed amendments to Alberta's access to information law that will keep certain government information unreachable for a longer period of time:

The Calgary Sun - Canada's 'private' province slammed:

New secrecy laws irk Alberta critics


EDMONTON -- Critics say the most secretive government in Canada is about to get even worse with new legislation it hopes to ram through the House this week.

They say Alberta's Freedom of Information and Privacy law is already so restrictive that even government MLAs have joked FOIP actually stands for (expletives deleted) It's Private.

Liberal Government Services critic Mo Elsalhy says new amendments to exclude ministerial briefing notes from being accessed for five years would have prevented the uncovering of the AdScam scandal.

'Everyone is talking about openness and transparency. This government is going in the opposite direction.

'They're adding more layers of secrecy to a government that's already too secretive.'

The FOIP amendments also will delay access to documents from the government's chief internal auditor for 15 years and include other measures to delay the release of information, Elsalhy said....

Here's some coverage from the Canadian Press (via Yahoo!):

Alberta government forcing through changes on contentious info law - Yahoo! Canada News:

EDMONTON (CP) - Alberta's freedom of information law, once described by a journalism group as the most secretive in Canada, is about to get even more restrictive.

The Conservative government is pushing through changes this week to Alberta's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to put a five-year blackout on briefing documents and other records that show how Premier Ralph Klein ran the province for more than a dozen years. "This Conservative government seems hell bent to ram through legislation this week to make Canada's most secretive government even more tight-lipped," Liberal Leader Kevin Taft said Monday in the legislature.

Taft accused the Tories of putting the interests of two dozen cabinet ministers ahead of three million Alberta residents.

But Klein said the Liberals are complaining because they won't be able to make political hay with cabinet briefing documents.

"There is no way that the opposition is going to get this briefing book," Klein, waving his notes in the air, told the legislature.

"They will use it for purely political purposes."

Klein's Conservatives are using their majority to limit further debate on Bill 20 as the spring sitting of the legislature winds down this week.

Klein has said cabinet briefings are sometimes brutally frank and sharing this anytime soon with the public might be embarrassing for his staff and other bureaucrats.

"There are some sensitive pieces of information that were put together by the administration," Klein told the assembly.


"Noxious! That's the word used by a top expert in government secrecy when asked to describe this government's Bill 20," said Taft, who was referring to Alasdair Roberts, a Canadian author and professor teaching at Syracuse University in New York state.

Frank Work, Alberta's information commissioner, has also criticized Bill 20, saying the restrictions are unnecessary, since most cabinet documents are already kept confidential for an infinite period.


Raj Pannu, information critic for the NDP, said Klein is trying to cover his tracks before retiring later this year.

Pannu said people need to remember that Tory leadership contender Lyle Oberg was fired from cabinet recently after saying he knew about the "skeletons" in the government's past.

"There are lots of skeletons in the closet for this government and they want to keep them in the closet for as long as they can," Pannu said Monday in an interview.


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