Setting the record straight

Setting the record straight Further to the comments made by MLA Jan Stick in last week's paper regarding the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, I feel I must set the record straight. While I respect Ms. Stick and her right to hold view

Further to the comments made by MLA Jan Stick in last week’s paper regarding the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, I feel I must set the record straight. While I respect Ms. Stick and her right to hold views different than mine, I must respond when she is spreading misinformation and maligning my reputation.

It is apparent that Ms. Stick has either not read the amendments to the act or doesn’t understand them. Ms. Stick asked many questions about the act amendments during the recent sitting of the legislature, and it is deeply disappointing that she used this opportunity to cast doubts and spread fear, rather than to seek genuine understanding of the changes.

The amendments achieve three things: providing a limited exception of access to briefing books prepared for cabinet ministers, providing an exception for documents prepared to inform cabinet decisions, and clarifying what is meant by policy advice.

Every jurisdiction in Canada protects cabinet confidences to some degree. While it is possible that Ms. Stick was confused by wording differences, the fact remains that our amendments are broadly consistent with equivalent cabinet confidence exceptions in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The amendments clarify that documents prepared for cabinet are for the use of cabinet ministers only. The intent of the original act was to protect cabinet discussions and the information that informs these discussions; however, in practice, the previous legislation did not accomplish this.

With respect to briefing books, ministers are briefed on topics every single day. Some jurisdictions protect all ministerial briefings that inform government decisions and policy development. In Yukon, we are limiting access for a short period of time to a very small number of briefings – the notes we use during question period and debates on the budget, and the notes we receive when we first become new ministers.

The third group of amendments clarify what we mean by policy advice, which has some degree of protection in every jurisdiction in Canada. The original intent of the legislation was to ensure that ministers receive confidential advice from the public service during the policy development stage. There has been ongoing confusion about what is meant by policy advice and the recent amendments clear up this confusion.

During his review of the proposed ATIPP Act amendments, the Information and Privacy Commissioner observed that one particular section used language not seen in any other jurisdictions. I would like to point out that we used this language because it is less restrictive than that used by the seven other jurisdictions with similar provisions. I would also like to note that we made several adjustments to the amendments to address the IPC’s concerns and took note of other unrelated suggestions for the overall act review set for 2015.

In conclusion, I stand by my comments in the legislature that the current ATIPP Act amendments are consistent with the legislation in many other Canadian jurisdictions, and that they do not dramatically change the intent of the original legislation. To suggest that the changes are draconian is misguided and irresponsible.

Thank you for the opportunity to clarify the government’s position on the recent amendments. I assure you that we remain committed to an open and accountable government and that we will continue to work with the IPC to ensure that we meet public expectations.

Wade Istchenko

Minister of Highways and Public Works