It would be pricey — that’s what most Yukon mayors are concerned about when they consider the possibility of being included under the Yukon’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (ATIPP).
At the moment, municipalities aren’t covered by the act. However, a recent set of proposals for an overhaul of the act, makes nine recommendations.
In addition to proposals including repealing 2012 changes made by the Yukon Party to restrict access to briefing notes for ministers, the executive council and committees, and evolving the role of records manager into a more centralized oversight position, the ninth proposal suggests more clearly defining what constitutes a public body under the act.
In a report published December 2016, Diane McLeod-McKay, the Yukon’s information and privacy commissioner, suggested that definition include Yukon municipalities.
A public survey, done in the summer of 2016, found that 46 per cent of respondents agreed the act should expand to include public bodies beyond its current definition of “a government department, secretariat or executive agency (with some limited exceptions) plus a list of other bodies and agents of Yukon government.”
“Clarifying the scope of whom the Act applies to is meant to ensure that bodies who serve public functions, and which gather and hold personal information are held to the same standards for protecting and providing access to information,” reads the new proposal, online at yukonatipp.ca.
There’s no fee for filing access to information requests in the Yukon, however, if a request requires a department employee to work more than three hours, the individual requesting the information must pay photocopy fees as well as an hourly rate.
This is one of the concerns for Yukon mayors.
“I agree totally that municipalities should be subject to the provisions of ATIPP,” says Michael Riseborough, mayor of Haines Junction. “We are obviously funded and, in my view, any entity that’s funded by the taxpayer should be subject to scrutiny.”
He said one of his concerns is the expense. Haines Junction has four administrative employees. He said even a relatively simple ATIPP request could take one employee out of commission for a full week because of the time it takes to go back through storage and archives.
“My suggestion, if the government is considering doing this, is that it would be worthwhile to define eligibility criteria,” he says.
He doesn’t know what those parameters would look like, but says the value of the information gathered should outweigh the cost to the municipality of producing it. In part, this could help guard against vexatious requests, or people abusing the system.
Bev Buckway, former Whitehorse mayor and current executive director of the Association of Yukon Communities, agrees that the costs could be considerable for municipalities.
Certain things are easy enough, and are already made available by city staff, she said. Producing documents such as meeting minutes and maps aren’t a problem. More onerous requests might include someone asking how much each department budgeted for pencils in a given year — an actual request Buckway has fielded in the past.
“Those are the types of things you can’t just go and look that up,” she said.
Lee Bodie, mayor of Carmacks, had similar concerns.
“Carmacks will not be standing in line to join this program,” he told the News in an email.
“We have a very small municipal staff and simply do not have the resources to do this job. It could cost the Village a lot more than it’s worth.”
He said all public information, with the exception of land, labour and legal matters, is public, and meeting minutes are published on the village of Carmacks website.
“So, we hide nothing other than the three things we’re regulated to remain silent on under the municipal act.”
Bodie said Carmacks would refer other inquiries to the Yukon government because it’s likely the municipality wouldn’t have the answer, or the fiscal capacity to respond properly.
“As I understand, most if not all communities, will not be exercising this option because of the expected cost and potential drain of already small resources.”
Wayne Potoroka, mayor of Dawson City said he thought some places might welcome that sort of scrutiny.
“It’s hard to get people interested in municipal affairs,” he said, though he also echoed cost concerns. “If, for example, if municipalities are required to, if they are sort of captured by this legislation, would we have to make sure that every elected official has a publicly provided laptop or e-device to make sure that every time a request does come in, it’s the city’s property?”
Dan Curtis, mayor of Whitehorse, said that if the legislation does come through, Whitehorse will abide by it. He did say he has concerns about the one proposal which specifically concerns municipalities. Curtis did not respond to emails or phone calls asking for clarification on the nature of those concerns.
Alicia Debreceni, spokesperson for the Department Highways and Public Works, which oversees the government’s ATIPP office, said the government doens’t expect any changes for the municipalities.
“However, the proposed draft bill provides flexibility to include municipalities and other entities under the ATIPP Act in regulation at a later date and may provide the option to only apply certain parts of the act,” she said.
She also said that if municipalities became subject to the act, the department would help municipalities meet the bill’s requirements.
Debreceni said nothing will happen until after the act is tabled in the legislature this fall. From there, it would take one to two years for any changes to come into effect.
Contact Amy Kenny at email@example.com