Friday, March 28, 2008

Good luck Team MetisMama!

Tansi/Good Day Folks:

A recent statement posted on caught our attention:

We are also having some of our contacts work on the Freedom of Information application for the release of the contractual agreement.

Here's why:

(1) For starters, there's the article (below) which appears in today's Winnipeg Free Press. It doesn't paint a very healthy picture for the administration of the Access To Information And Privacy Act Team MetisMama will have to use. A couple years ago, the National Post ran a two part double spread comparing how both federal and provincial legislation is applied and administered. Result - significant discrepancies going from jurisdiction to jurisdiction

(2) The Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada has been chronically underfunded. Even Mr. Marleau's predecessor was complaining about it years ago.

Robert Marleau
Information Commissioner of Canada

If the OICC believes a Department is needlessly withholding information, it can take the request before the Federal Court of Canada on behalf of the applicant at government expense. Sounds good but get this. Former Commissioner, The Honourable John M. Reid, P.C., constantly complained about the Chretien government cutting its funds for court challenges

(3) While having information access legislation looks and sounds nice, problem is in reality it's not very user friendly. Here are but two examples, there are several others, based on our experience:

(i) A few years ago we tried to confirm David Chartrand's taxpayer funded salary. At the time we knew it was at least $104,000 annually not including expenses and perqs. Simple question - right? Wrong! The Federal Commissioner said sorry, you'll have to contact the MMF. Huh?

Next it was Manitoba's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Same answer. Even contacted Greg Sellinger the province's Finance Minister and my MLA. He also claimed he couldn't do anything - a lot of good he was!

Like Ontario, Manitoba publishes a yearly "Blue Book" kept in the government archives. All one need do is go there and the names of provincial civil servants earning over $50,000/year and their Departments are listed (was curious how much my lazy boss was making) yet we couldn't find out the amount Canadian taxpayers were giving David Chartrand

Irony of ironies. After all that, a reader following what we were trying to do unmarked brown enveloped us a Federation document with the information we were seeking. So much for access to information legislation!

(ii) About 15 years ago, Aboriginal Business Canada (embedded within Industry Canada) funded Winnipeg's Louis Riel Capital Corporation to the tune of over $7 million (operational plus initial loan capital start up) and to this day is responsible for overseeing its operations although many would say it doesn't do a very good job

During early 2000, the federal government's arm's length Audit and Consulting Services at the request of LRCC's then Board Chairman Alphonse Ducharme did a review. However, ABC's Executive Director (Ottawa) was not prepared to release a copy so we petitioned the Access to Information Act. Although we eventually obtained the final report on at least six occasions multiple paragraphs had been blackened. We appealed requesting a clean version but lost

In conclusion, the federal government is a huge, inert object which moves at a glacial pace and usually acts only after situations have become such a public embarrassment it has no alternative. So to Team MetisMama we say, "Good Luck!" The process on which you're about to embark can be fraught with frustration.

Clare L. Pieuk

P.S. If someone could quietly and anonymously slip Team MetisMama a copy of the contractual agreement it wouild be a lot faster and easier!

Transparency Troubles for Tories
by Jack Aubry
Updated: March 28 at 02:00 AM CDT

OTTAWA - The federal Access to Information process appears to be in crisis as the rising number of requests, along with the pressure of the Harper government's promises of increased transparency, are not being met with additional funding and resources, a new government report indicates.

The assessment, based on focus groups with ATIP employees, reveals that one department is so overwhelmed that it automatically implements one-year extensions for every request it receives "regardless of the pressure" and the Access to Information and Privacy Act's target of 30-day responses.

It says government employees who process access requests are facing "some significant challenges" reflecting the priority being placed on increased accountability and transparency by the Harper government, but resources "have yet to be put in place to match this increased priority and focus."

Mike Storeshaw, a spokesman for Treasury Board President Vic Toews who oversees the ATIP Act, said Thursday that it is premature to comment on the report, which is only Phase 1 of a larger project examining the government's access community.

The $52,000 project, which is being conducted by the Strategic Counsel, is currently completing an on-line survey of ATIP employees this month and the result will make up the main part of the final report.

But Anne Kothawala, the president of the Canadian Newspaper Association, said the report's findings accurately reflect the serious frustrations in the access community with a "broken-down, outdated system." She said the problem has been heightened by the government's failure to fulfil its promise to reform the Access to Information and Privacy Act and bring in new resources.

"There are two issues. First of all, the government not only has to talk the talk - it has to walk the talk. And, of course, it should at least make sure the current Act is upheld," said Kothawala.

"Let's put it this way: If employees at Revenue Canada were reporting these kind of problems, they would be fixed immediately."

But Storeshaw said reaching any conclusions from the report is premature: "Drawing broad generalizations from this particular sample, as some seem to be doing, is neither an appropriate nor accurate way to interpret the report."

The ATIP employees reported a growth in requests, not only in number but in complexity "requiring more time for research, analysis, documentation, consultation (both within and outside government) and decision-making."

As well, they said requests are requiring more interdepartmental consultation and co-operation "which many say is fraught with frustration and slow response times" with some departments taking up to a year to get back to them.

"Moreover, many said that the high pressures and constant deadlines are a significant deterrent to people considering ATIP positions," the report found.

Based on two focus groups involving 17 ATIP employees held in Ottawa in December 2007, the report also found that the problem is being heightened by a lack of respect from executive-level bureaucrats in the government.

"There is widespread agreement among participants that ATIP suffers from a poor image and reputation. In fact, many feel that non-ATIP public servants characterized them in a negative manner as 'just the ATIP people' or 'Oh, it is ATIP again'," said the report.

"There is a general reluctance to release information. There was a broad consensus among participants that non-ATIP public servants...need to have much greater awareness and training about the requirements and importance of ATIP."

Canwest News Service


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