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On Tuesday I rose to speak at second reading on Bill 5 – Government Information Act.

Bill 5 would create new digital archives and eventually make it mandatory for ministries to keep most records electronically. These digital archives will be open to the public and searchable online. The legislation also creates a new chief records officer position, responsible for overseeing retention, digitization and archiving of government information. This position would oversee the transition from the current paper-based archiving system to the new digital platform – proposed to begin this spring and last about three years.

It is argued that digital archives will better preserve the province’s heritage while allowing people to search and retrieve historical information from anywhere in the world.

If approved, this new legislation will replace the Document Disposal Act, which was enacted in 1936 and viewed as out of date.

Below is the text of my contribution to the debate.

My contribution to the debate at second reading

This bill before us, in my view, is a step in the right direction for how we manage government records in British Columbia. I do understand that the member for Nanaimo–North Cowichan does plan to, either himself or someone else from the official opposition, introduce duty-to-document legislation. I recognize that’s not the discussion of this bill here, but I believe that that is an important step to be coupled in with this legislation as it is brought into this chamber.

It is important not only to document digitally but have a duty to do such documentation. So in this regard, I very much look forward to seeing the official opposition’s bill in this area.

Elizabeth Denham, the Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C., has written a rather detailed letter concerning recommendations for this bill. I find her comments on this legislation to be a rather huge public service, things that I truly believe are important to reflect upon as they help shine light on the best practices concerning government information.

Before I highlight some of her recommendations, perhaps I could read a couple of sentences from her introduction in the letter. This what she said:

“Information rights are of vital importance to citizens. Access to government information and to an individual’s own personal information are essential elements of a transparent and accountable democracy. The rights of citizens to control and access information and records is regulated by a carefully balanced legal framework that guarantees these rights, subject only to narrow statutory exceptions.”

These are profound words, profound words that I think we should reflect upon as we move to committee stage. The passage is critical because it frames how we must approach any legislation that impacts government information — that is to say, with an eye to ensuring transparency and accountability.

In general, I’ll have two broad areas of inquiry that I hope to explore in committee stage. The first of these is the question: why does this bill not firmly establish independent oversight for the information management systems? The second: why does it not address the massive backlog in records that currently exists?

I think that if the purpose of this bill is to update how government manages records and information, ensuring that their approach is modernized, then both of these issues will be critical to address as we move forward. Government records, whether of historical value or information sought through information requests, should be managed under the eye of an independent office that can ensure that the principles of transparency and accountability are protected.

I look forward to committee stage and further deliberations on this bill in the days ahead

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