The B.C. NDP government wasted no time imposing its new fee on freedom of information requests, after the amendments to the law requiring a non-refundable fee for all but personal information were pushed through with little debate last week.
Citizens’ Services Minister Lisa Beare at first said the fee would be about $25 per application, which she described as the mid-point of fees charged in other jurisdictions to compile it and check it for privacy rules. The fee is aimed at speeding up service in an FOI system that has been bogged down for years, Beare said in October.
Opposition MLAs joined Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy in objecting to charging a fee for public information. After repeatedly arguing that the law hasn’t been updated for 10 years, Beare and NDP house leader Mike Farnworth stopped putting up speakers as the bill was passed.
B.C. Liberal jobs critic Todd Stone led the charge against the fee up to the last day of the legislature sitting Nov. 25, revealing through an FOI application that Beare’s briefing notes showed cabinet approval for the changes was given March 31, 2021. That’s before McEvoy and others were asked about a fee, Stone said.
“From the impacts of COVID-19 to the devastating fires and floods B.C. has endured, the opposition has spent the entire session pushing this government to respond more quickly to emergencies and get support into the hands of those who need it,” Stone said Nov. 29, the day the fee was imposed. All they have done is dither and delay — yet when it comes to slapping a fee on FOI requests, suddenly the NDP is capable of acting swiftly.”