Manitoba’s ombudsman is calling on the provincial government to release more information about how it operates, and penalize workers who wrongly conceal information.
Charlene Paquin says some aspects of the province’s freedom of information law are too broad and keep government documents secret when they should be released.
The current law allows the government to keep hidden most documents provided to cabinet ministers, departments and other public agencies for 20 years.
Paquin says the restriction should only apply to advice and recommendations, while background documents such as reports and studies should be released in many cases.
She also says it should be illegal for anyone to conceal the existence of documents in an attempt to thwart a request for information.
The recommendations are in a 56-page submission Paquin made as part a government review of its freedom of information law.
The law “should enable background information to be disclosed if the decision has been made public, or has been implemented, or five or more years have passed since the decision was made or considered,” Paquin’s report states, noting the changes would bring Manitoba in line with other provinces including Alberta and Nova Scotia.
And all cabinet documents should be available after 15 years instead of 20, she added.
Paquin also calls on the government to release more information about its contracts with businesses. The law currently forbids the release of commercial or financial information of a third party that might harm the third party’s competitive position.
“The exception … is too broad,” the report states. “This provision should more clearly require justification of harm that would result from revealing confidential information.”
The freedom of information law is used by opposition politicians, reporters and the general public to shed light on government activities, and there have been controversies over information that has been withheld from public…