Globe and Mail
August 5, 2002
Extending the Access to Information Act to Crown corporations and other institutions not currently covered by the law will be among the major changes introduced this fall by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, sources have told The Canadian Press.
Ottawa: Extending the Access to Information Act to Crown corporations and other institutions not currently covered by the law will be among the major changes introduced this fall by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, sources have told The Canadian Press.
The change, an attempt to make the government and its arms-length bodies appear more accountable, would place a large amount of information now secret under public scrutiny, sources said.
“Should you have Crown corporations, such as the Export Development Corp. and Canada Post, which are exempt [from the law]? No, you shouldn’t,” said a senior Chrétien adviser last week, on condition of anonymity.
The change will likely see the creation of a new list of Crown corporations and other federal entities that will be subject to the law, the adviser said.
Only eight Crown corporations are currently covered by the Act while many others are not, a situation the source called a double standard.
“Why the dichotomy? They’re distinctions without a difference.”
One senior bureaucrat who also requested anonymity said the Prime Minister’s Office is now working overtime in order to bring in the changes, which could appear in a Throne Speech announcement or as a bill tabled in the Commons.
Protections are being designed for some information, the release of which could jeopardize the competitiveness of Crown companies, the source said.
Currently exempt from the law are key entities such as the CBC, Canada Post and the Canadian Wheat Board along with other recently created bodies such as Canadian Blood Services and NavCan, the air-traffic control agency.
Alasdair Roberts, an expert on Canadian Access law at the University of Syracuse, said the changes will be meaningful only if the government is required to include all bodies that meet a mandatory set of criteria.
He said the recommendation of a government task force report tabled this spring did not go far enough because it called for a provision that would give the government a choice over which corporations to include. “That is a pretty ineffective recommendation,” he said. “What makes us think the government is going to include more [newly created bodies] in the future.”
Sources said the changes this fall would target specific Crown corporations in order to make accessible their financial transactions, as well as the salaries and benefits of top staff.
The push has created resistance within more than one government department because some bureaucrats feel they are not being adequately consulted prior to a major overhaul.
Officials at some Crown corporations would not comment last week on whether they had heard of the changes.
Rod Giles, a spokesman for the Economic Development Corp., said there are already ample provisions in place to ensure public transparency without jeopardizing the business interests of public companies.
“We’re quite concerned [about any potential changes] because our mandate itself is potentially threatened,” he said.
The Access to Information Act currently protects commercially sensitive information from release. But some Crown corporations have said they need the additional protection of complete exclusion from the reach of the law.