NS Election issue: FOI access
Re. below, for reference by APLA Nova Scotia Members.
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Subject: [CPI-UA] People have Right to Know By DARCE FARDY, the province's former review officer, is a founding member of the Right to Know Citizens' Coalition of Nova Scotia (FOI - Nova Scotia)
Halifax Chronicle Herald may 25, 2006
The current election campaign provides all voters with an excellent opportunity to gauge candidates’ commitment to accountability and transparency in government and to the Nova Scotia Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
The province’s Right to Know Citizens’ Coalition is calling on voters to demand this commitment from candidates and to remind them that seeking information under the act is more expensive in Nova Scotia than in any other province or territory in the country, or at the federal level ($25 for an application, another $25 for an appeal to the review officer added to fees for processing).
Information from government is not truly accessible if the cost of getting the information is beyond the financial reach of so many people.
The independence of the review officer is also in question. The Nova Scotia legislation is the only one in the country which allows cabinet to appoint and remove the information commissioner, as they are known elsewhere. In other jurisdictions, they are appointed and removed by the provincial and territorial legislatures or, in the case of the federal commissioner, by Parliament. In effect, the Nova Scotia review officer is the first line of appeal of decisions of government, including the Department of Justice, which administers the act.
Candidates should also be asked to address this contradiction.
All politicians will tell you they espouse the principles of accountability and transparency. They couldn’t hope to get elected if they said they didn’t. But, as we all know, actions speak louder than words. Too many of our members of the legislature pay too little attention to this essential democratic tool.
Of course, part of the problem is that citizens themselves are unaware of the importance of this act and, consequently, campaigning politicians hear little if anything about it on the doorsteps.
Without questioning the integrity of our politicians, it’s a given that they are more likely to act when they are under some pressure from their constituents to do so. So, let us at least require from them, during this campaign, a commitment to see to it that the fees for using the Freedom of Information Act will be dropped or considerably reduced during the first session of the legislature following the election.
It is to address these issues that the Right to Know Citizens’ Coalition has been formed. The board of this non-profit agency represents the law, labour, the journalism school, business and citizens active in their communities.
Thousands and thousands of Nova Scotians do not bother to vote. Many of them believe they have "nowhere to turn." We believe the Freedom of Information Act can show them a way.
The coalition’s mission is to get our citizens re-engaged in the political process by educating them about the importance of this essential democratic tool and showing them how to use it.
Its vision is a better informed electorate, re-engaged in the political process and more likely to vote and even, perhaps, to seek public office.
The coalition urges citizens to go to the candidates’ meetings or meet candidates on their doorsteps and raise these important matters. A responsible candidate will listen and react.
And be sure to vote, and do so while taking into account your candidate’s response to questions about the Freedom of Information Act.
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