On 28 September 2016, Catherine Tully, Nova Scotia’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, marked International Right to Know Day by calling for public servants to avoid using private communications devices to conduct government business, in order to ensure that correspondence is properly documented and preserved in accordance with the law. In response, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil stated that his approach to transparency follows precisely the opposite tack, and that he routinely used phones, rather than email, in order to ensure that there would be no paper trail left behind. This statement, which goes directly contrary to the spirit of Nova Scotia’s transparency rules, demonstrates the need for the province to pass a rule imposing a duty to document. Today, the Right to Know Coalition is releasing a Report supporting this reform, including a suggested provision which should be incorporated directly to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPOP).
“Every right to information law necessarily relies on officials making a good faith effort to create accurate and complete records,” the Coalition said. “Where public officials are not doing so, as Premier McNeil has admitted he does not, democratic accountability requires clear rules to mandate that records are kept.”
A legally enshrined duty to document is not a radical idea. Indeed, it has been in place in many Australian jurisdictions for nearly twenty years. The United States has had a duty to document in place since 1968. Although it is by no means the only improvement which is necessary to bring the FOIPOP up to modern standards, it would solve a glaring and ongoing problem and, at the very least, be an important step by which Premier McNeil could show the people of Nova Scotia that he is not openly hostile to the public’s right to information, that there is at least some political will which underpins his professed belief in transparency.