BC Fees for Access to Information Requests

Lisa Beare under scrutiny for how she introduced fees for freedom of information requests

Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Raj Chouhan, will soon make the first call on whether a Cabinet Minister has managed to sidestep the truth in the rules of the game or record it from behind.

Either way, Citizen Services Minister Lisa Beare has a mark on her record that’s hard to erase. While Chouhan’s decision is a key point, Prime Minister John Horgan’s assessment of his conduct will be more important.

During a lengthy debate last fall, she gave every indication that she was going to consult more people before setting the actual amount of the new fees that the NDP government is charging for many access requests information.

Then, after the NDP cut off debate on the significant controversy and forced the House to pass legislation providing for the new fees, she quickly signed a directive that set them at $10 per request.

This prompted a coordinated objection from the BC Greens and BC Liberals at the earliest opportunity last week, through a motion of parliamentary privilege alleging that it had misled the House. Some of the ammunition in the opposition case was provided through an access to information request, which lends a level of procedural irony so rich you could choke on it.

Based on the records obtained, Liberal MP Mike de Jong read a minute-by-minute account that he says shows how the fee was on track to be established even during debate on the bill. Emails from staff in Beare’s office sent him a decision memo on the “recommendation of fees” on Oct. 27, weeks before the bill was due to get its rushed final reading. Beare wrote “approved” three minutes after it was sent to him.

Two days later, there was a reference to the “updated fee issue document” for his approval. Then, as CHEK-TV’s Rob Shaw reported, on the day the bill passed, Beare signed a quick directive to impose the fee that turned into a formal cabinet order.

De Jong’s objection is that “while all this was going on…the minister was pretending and letting it be known at home that no decision had been made…She deliberately sought to give the impression that ‘no decision had been made’.

During this period, Beare insisted that she would not speak about the fees during the debate. The bill only put in place an enabling framework, she said. The actual costs would be determined later.

“I think it is very important to hear these comments on what the potential charges should be… I thank everyone who has written to my office to share their thoughts, because our government is listening.

Green Party House Leader Adam Olsen said the breach of privilege lies in Beare’s repeated assurances that she was going to listen to comments on the charges, “and then kind of had an executive order ready to go with it.” an amount already determined…”

For what is worth, Chouhan dismissed an earlier objection to a different aspect of the same bill last fall.

He spoke out against the complaint on a technical point, but added that Beare’s treatment of the bill “could be” considered discourteous. She had introduced the bill just as a committee was supposed to begin a review of the legislation, which was clearly beyond her job.

This one goes way beyond “discourteous”.

Beare is from Maple Ridge and was part of the NDP swell in metro Vancouver that brought the party together enough to topple the BC Liberals in 2017 and won again as part of a strong majority in 2020.

She was previously a flight attendant, trained as a commercial pilot and entered politics through the school board. She was appointed to the cabinet as a rookie MP and spent three years as tourism minister dealing with the catastrophic effects of the pandemic there.

She returned to government services after the 2020 elections.

Beare gave a two-minute preemptive defense last week, saying the case was based on misrepresentation and that she listened to comments on the charges throughout, then decided. Chouhan’s appeal will determine whether the argument is elevated to a formal committee investigation.

Horgan’s reaction to the decision will give a clue where his thresholds lie when it comes to cabinet ministers who find themselves in traffic jams of their own accord.

Her story is a variation of that cliched complaint: “It’s not the money, it’s the principle.”

lleyne@timescolonist.com