Government openness can’t wait for access to information law

Information and privacy commissioner prods municipalities, but councils can act immediately

Iqaluit city council says it will work to bring the city under the territory’s access to information act by January 2023. But there’s plenty they can do to embrace openness immediately. (File photo)

By Corey Larocque

Raising a hand for openness in government isn’t enough.

Elected officials and government workers need to embrace it. To live it. To voluntarily make it part of how they do business.

Nunavut’s information and privacy commissioner, Graham Steele, called on Iqaluit city council Tuesday to be the territory’s first municipality to ask to be added to Nunavut’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. That law requires Government of Nunavut departments to release written records when people ask for them. But it doesn’t apply to municipalities. Yet.

“Maybe Iqaluit could set the standard,” Steele said during a presentation to council. “If anyone can do it, it is Iqaluit and maybe Iqaluit can put their hand up first and say, ‘We’re ready.’”

Steele, who was named to the post earlier this year, wants councils to ask the GN to bring their municipality under the umbrella of the law.

Access to information laws have applied at the municipal level in all 10 provinces for about 40 years. But not in the territories.

Steele’s using the carrot to persuade municipalities to get on board, calling it “fundamentally the right thing to do.”

But politicians and bureaucrats everywhere are always worried about the stick — the prospect of citizens using access laws to find out about their embarrassing mistakes and punish them.

Government openness is vital to fixing the social and economic problems Nunavummiut face, including housing, food shortages, poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse and racism.

Those problems are best addressed when people have informed conversations about them. But they can only do that when they’re equipped with the facts.

Iqaluit councillors unanimously voted to work with the GN on bringing Iqaluit under the access to information act by January 2023. Coun. Kyle Sheppard said he would “fully support” the law taking effect in Iqaluit while Coun. Sheila Flaherty called the access law “a vehicle to achieve and maintain transparency.”

But from the time any municipality raises its hand, it might take two years for it to come under the access law.

In the meantime, there’s an effective and cheap way to embrace the spirit of openness the law prescribes.

Never mind the law. Start now. Any municipality can simply make information available whenever people ask for it. A council can instruct its staff to talk the public — including the media — and give straightforward answers to questions they ask.

There’s so much more any government can do simply by making openness part of its culture.

Unresponsive bureaucrats, muzzled government experts and communications departments that don’t truly communicate are all part of a problem.

A good example is how the City of Iqaluit did not answer Nunatsiaq News’ questions about its rental of a hydrocarbon monitoring system in response to the month-long water emergency.

It’s hard for councillors to say they “fully support” openness as a “vehicle for transparency” when the city won’t answer a reporter’s simple question — “how much did that cost?”

If a municipality wants to commit to openness, it can start right away by baking it into its culture.

It sounds great that Iqaluit councillors threw their “full support” behind having the access to information law apply to them. But they don’t have to wait. There’s plenty they can do to embrace openness immediately.

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(10) Comments:

  1. Posted by Local? on

    The paper so local they run photos of council chambers that no longer exist.

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    • Posted by content on

      The picture only serves to make it clear that the story is about local government. I’m more concerned about the contents of the article. I’ve criticized Nunatsiaq in the past, but so far they have been the ones who have been unafraid to probe and ask questions rather than just regurgitating what the City has told us about the water situation. I really don’t care where the writers are from right now. They are asking the questions that I want answered and are calling the City out for things that seem obvious but no one else is acknowledging.

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      • Posted by Local? on

        Disagree. Accuracy and knowledge of both the story you’re covering and the location of that story are both important. Nunatsiaq News USED to be a local paper. Now, as far as I can see, they’re largely remote clickbait vendors pitching outrage and misinformation.

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        • Posted by no question on

          Disagree all you want, but they have been accurate and have a good knowledge of the what is going on. I don’t care where they are from if they are getting the story right, which they are. And they are asking questions that are making the City uncomfortable, but they are the good and fair questions and they have every right to ask them. Part of the responsibility of the media, wherever they are based out of, is to provide checks and balances. Nunatsiaq is doing this better than anyone so far.

        • Posted by no question on

          Also, you sound like the same guy that referred to Nunatsiaq’s comment section as a cesspit. The same guy that calls Nunatsiaq a tabloid. If you aren’t him and you aren’t his hired help, you sure do a good impression:) Not sure where the clickbait is in this story.

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          • Posted by Welcome to the cesspit mayor on

            The mayors logic is that if it doesn’t praise him and he can’t retweet it for all his southern friends to see, it is clickbait. He has been using the same logic throughout his term…hence the enormous amount of issues.

  2. Posted by Up or down? on

    The reasoning behind this move is ridiculous. The mayor is trying to cover up the fact that he is not being transparent by calling for transparency. This guy has no clue what way is up or down. Monday’s heavily rehearsed council meeting should be interesting.

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  3. Posted by Let’s Go Brandon on

    Mayor Bell wants to be transparent? Don’t hold your breath Iqaluingmiuts.

    Just resign already Kenny!!

    Let’s Go Kenny!

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  4. Posted by Necessary vs Sufficient on

    “Government openness is vital to fixing the social and economic problems Nunavummiut face, including housing, food shortages, poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse and racism.”
    .
    Openness is necessary, but it is not sufficient.
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    Look at the GN.
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    It is covered by the Access to Information Act, but still provides very little information. Perhaps it has no accurate information to make available.
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    MLAs ask questions in the Legislature and the Ministers repeatedly give non-answers. How can the rest of us expect any better treatment from “our” government?
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    As to “fixing the social and economic problems Nunavummiut face, including housing, food shortages, poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse and racism”, what progress has the GN actually made?
    * Are their fewer homeless Nunavummiut today than there were 10 years ago?
    * Are there fewer children going to bed hungery in Nunavut today than 10 years ago?
    * Has the disparity between Nunavut’s richest residents and its poorest residents been reduced during the past decade?
    * Has domestic violence decreased in Nunavut over the past 10 ears?
    * The use of cannibus has been made legal, but is there less substance abuse in Nunavut now than there was 10 years ago?
    * Has racism diminished in Nunavut during the past decade?
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    Access to Information is necessary, but it is far from sufficient to end Nunavut’s most serious problems.
    .
    Taima

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  5. Posted by Access to Information on

    ATIPP, from my perspective inside the GN, is a waste of time and money. 99.9% of requests are from crazy, angry people looking to get emails about their former coworkers or bosses. 0.05% comes from valid media requests, and 0.05% comes from invalid media requests. This burns 1000’s of man hours a year and frankly Iqaluit cannot manage our water, let alone ATIPP, with its staffing levels.

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