Categories

A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.

Scripturient: Your $350,000 wasted

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request I filed recently shows a disturbing abuse of your tax dollars. Money was wasted that could have been spent on doing something good, something positive, something useful for Collingwood. Download the report here. In the two-year period between mid-2014 and mid-2016, the town’s administration spent $340,000 of your tax dollars on … Continue reading “Your $350,000 wasted” . . . → Read More: Scripturient: Your $350,000 wasted

In-Sights: Guest post: Paying for Information and Influence

I invited Chris Alemany, a councillor for the City of Port Alberni, to write of his effort to gain information about a subject of broad public interest. It is unfortunate the BC Liberal Government demands that concerned citizens pay exorbitant amounts … . . . → Read More: In-Sights: Guest post: Paying for Information and Influence

In-Sights: Guest post: Paying for Information and Influence

I invited Chris Alemany, a councillor for the City of Port Alberni, to write of his effort to gain information about a subject of broad public interest. It is unfortunate the BC Liberal Government demands that concerned citizens pay exorbitant amounts for information that should be routinely available. What’s even worse is that often times, Freedom of Information applications yield little useful information. What is not hidden or destroyed gets redacted for no reasonable purpose. It is too much for one person to pay thousands of dollars for a response that may be of little value. Unless government policy changes, we should act together when a situation demands. I believe this is one of those occasions and, if you agree, please visit the GOFUNDME site and make a small contribution.

I am no philosopher, nor am I even a scholar in democracy or politics, but I do like to know the numbers… and as a politician, I like to see transparency. So I like to submit freedom of information requests when I see a need.

Pay for Information

I submitted a somewhat detailed FOI Request to the BC Government for information on Wildfire contracts. You can see it further down this post. I did expected a modest handling charge, maybe $100 or so. However, when I received a response back from the (very helpful) FOI officer handling my file I was given this bombshell:

As it stands the fee estimation is at $1,210, but inclusion of all contracts would multiply that amount by seven in terms of hours required.

Obviously there is no way I, as an individual concerned citizen and elected representative with a family and no budget for this kind of thing, can pay $1210-$8500 for some binders of paper or trove of PDFs.

I question even whether a media organization, local newspaper or opposition party would be able to swing that kind of money.

Is this a way to block information? Why are contracts signed with public entities not readily available for the public to scrutinize? Why would this cause so much extra work for an individual in a ministry if we have an expectation for transparency and access to information by default in our public institutions? Or do we actually have that expectation?

Rather than abandon my request, I decided to try something different. A GOFUNDME donation drive to raise the required $1200. It is at:
gofund.me/bcwildfireinfo

Thanks to the surprise and common interest of dozens of other citizens I have managed to raise the minimum $1200 needed to pursue the request. Many donations were given ‘under protest’ at the very notion of having to pay for public information to be released. I hope to raise enough to cover up to the $8500 that was suggesting by the FOI office. If I raise more than needed, the surplus will go to the BC Burn Fund.

Please donate. And please ask your MLA why public information is subject to exorbitant fees in order for it to be seen by the public.

Aerial Firefighting and Political Donations

So what was the information request and why did I put it in? Well, say what you will about one plane or another (I’ve said enough), one fire or another or one company or another, when you see a Minister stand in an Airplane hanger (used by ConAir Aviation) and award a contract (and post it on his MLA webpage) you would expect that that is being done on the basis of its merits alone.

What are the merits of this plane? What are the merits of the company? What basis was this decision made and what is the history of aerial firefighting and the historic cost and performance of aerial firefighting groups working for the BC Wildfire Service?

In a time of increasing fire activity and increasing fire budgets, these seem to be critical questions. However, it seems they are questions largely without public answers aside from very broad numbers about the total cost of wildfire firefighting in any given year.

So with that front of mind after the awarding of the ConAir contract for the new jet plane, I submitted this information request to the Province of BC:

Records indicating the number of firefighting aircraft the province had on contract since the 2010 forest firefighting season, broken down annually by company and model and whether it was signed in advance, on call or on a master standing offer basis; The costs associated with each of those aircraft, including the initial contracts, costs to run and fuel the planes, crew costs and any additional costs; A copy of the contract(s) that Conair has signed with the province for the 2016 firefighting season.

The request is roughly in two parts. The first portion is to determine the actual costs of aerial firefighting in BC so that there is some hard data on what each type of aircraft can do, and perhaps how the current strategy and operational mentality helps or hinders the budget and the effectiveness of firefighting.

The 2nd portion has more to do with the relationship between ConAir and the Provincial government based on persistent conversations and concerns brought to me, particularly after someone passed me this link to the BC Elections Campaign Donation website that shows political donations from ConAir and Coulson.

And then a further link to provincial ministry of finance payment records that, when compiled together look like this:

The discrepancy in payment from the government could come down to a number of things that do not have anything to do with favouritism but it does seem something worth investigating. That is why I put in the freedom of information request.

We’ll see if the information I receive answers any of the questions, but at the very least the request has already proven that given a topic of enough public interest, a pay wall, as unjust as it may be, will not prevent the public in the age of the internet and social media, from attempting to gain access to that information. Whether it should be forced to through things like a GoFundme drive should be a matter of debate.

. . . → Read More: In-Sights: Guest post: Paying for Information and Influence

In-Sights: Truth does not serve needs of crony capitalists

SNC-Lavalin Inc. is the kind of ethics-light corporation that BC Liberals likes to have as a partner.

With considerable public flourish, after departure of Chairman Gwyn Morgan, the company announced an amnesty program, effective from June to August 2013, to encourage senior employees “to report potential corruption and anti-competition matters in which they may have . . . → Read More: In-Sights: Truth does not serve needs of crony capitalists

Northern Insight / Perceptivity: He can’t handle the truth

Laila Yuile uncovered an indication that Stephen Harper has new plans for Gordon Campbell. It involves a telephone pollster with Conservative ties asking a call recipient if Gordon Campbell was trustworthy. In politics today, fact matters less than perception. The former Premier’s trustworthiness could be determined from the record but the PMO cares not about . . . → Read More: Northern Insight / Perceptivity: He can’t handle the truth

Cowichan Conversations: John Horgan Files FOI Request Over Ethnicgate. The Plot Thickens!

 

Richard Hughes-Political Blogger

John Horgan BC NDP House Leader and MLA for Juan de Fuca has filed what could be an explosive FOI request into the BC Liberal scandal over identifying ethnic voters using pubic servant staff and taxpayers money to do it.

Province reporter Cassidy Oliver filed this report.

. . . → Read More: Cowichan Conversations: John Horgan Files FOI Request Over Ethnicgate. The Plot Thickens!

Northern Insight: No news is likely bad news

With the first quarter of British Columbia’s current fiscal year ending, public agencies and crown corporations will soon release annual reports and audited financials for the year ended March 31, 2012.

A vast quantity of money is wasted, filling these PR publications with purple prose and graphics that few persons read, beyond the creators. Serious . . . → Read More: Northern Insight: No news is likely bad news

Northern Insight: Keeping corporate tyrants at bay

Freedom of information…, George Monbiot, The Guardian

“Modern government could be interpreted as a device for projecting corporate power. Since the 1980s, in Britain, the US and other nations, the primary mission of governments has been to grant their sponsors in the private sector ever greater access to public money and public life.

“There are . . . → Read More: Northern Insight: Keeping corporate tyrants at bay

Northern Insight: Canada’s most transparent government

Ian Reid is reporting that thousands of pages of BC Rail documents are newly released under FOI rules. All but five are blank.

The word ‘five’ is not a misprint but I think there was a misprint in the BC Liberal platform document that said:

“It’s time for a New Era of Accountability. Our plan . . . → Read More: Northern Insight: Canada’s most transparent government