Secrecy is a sign of a sick government

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John Horgan Premier Designate, B.C. New Democrats

By John Horgan, Leader of B.C.’s New Democrats

John Horgan Leader, BC New Democrats
John Horgan
Leader, BC New Democrats

A government obsessed with secrecy is one that has been in power too long. When elected officials and senior staff become pre-occupied with hiding and destroying records of their actions, they have clearly forgotten who they work for.

Over the past months, New Democrats have exposed the widespread practice of destroying public records in the government of Premier Christy Clark.

Last month, whistleblower Tim Duncan wrote to the independent privacy commissioner. Duncan says while he was the executive assistant to the minister of transportation, he was ordered to destroy any emails he had received regarding missing and murdered women along the Highway of Tears in northern British Columbia . According to his written complaint, when he refused to destroy them a political staffer physically seized his keyboard and deleted the emails in front of him.

In 2015, this is the same thing as keeping the paper shredder running all night in the backroom. It’s a clear sign that something is very wrong.

Duncan says when he expressed his discomfort with this practice, another Liberal staffer told him he was expected to do “whatever it takes to win.”

What counts as a “win” for Christy Clark? At least 18 women have gone missing along the Highway of Tears. People in the communities along the highway believe the real total of missing and murdered women is closer to 30. But if you want to see what, if anything, your government is doing to prevent another woman from vanishing, no records exist. And for the government of Christy Clark, that’s a win.

Duncan was demoted and ultimately left his job in disgust. He describes the Clark government as a “cesspool.”

In 2012, seven researchers in the Ministry of Health were fired, and the government put out a media release falsely suggesting they were the subject of an RCMP investigation. The allegations against them were never substantiated, and each person was either rehired or compensated. The government later described the affair as “a regrettable mistake.”

Tragically, one of these people, Roderick MacIsaac, took his own life before he and his colleagues were exonerated. The premier apologized, and promised a full investigation.

Who made the decision to fire these people? Who decided to issue the press release claiming the RCMP were investigating? Why were these people never given a chance to defend themselves? The investigation could not answer any of these questions because there are very few records to be found. That is the sick culture of the Christy Clark government, where covering up your tracks is a win.

The MacIsaac family deserves justice. I have pressed the premier to call a public inquiry. She refuses.

Over the past year, your Official Opposition has asked for all sorts of routine public documents, from emails and briefing notes to training manuals. Often, our official requests come back with a denial that these emails, notes and training manuals even exist.  And just as often we are then able to find them through other sources.  So they do exist, the government just doesn’t want to admit it.

New Democrats have had to battle for months to see documents that, under the law, should be freely available to any British Columbian who wants to see them.

After the privacy commissioner intervened, we found documents that revealed the Liberal firesale of public land in Coquitlam, a giveaway of prime development real estate at $43 million below its value. One 16-acre parcel of land worth $5.6 million was sold to a Liberal insider for only $100,000. For Christy Clark’s government, keeping that deal a secret from the public is a win.

Premier Clark must answer for the culture of secrecy that she has made standard practice in her government. I strongly believe that an elected leader must remember at all times that the public pays the bills, and the public is the boss. If those basic values are forgotten, it’s time to clean house.

Your New Democrat Official Opposition has developed a series of reforms to make your government more open, more transparent, and more accountable to you. We will keep public documents public, and we will protect whistleblowers.

British Columbians deserve leaders who work honestly and out in the open. With your help, we can elect a government that puts the public interest first. That’s what I call a win.