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Municipalities taking steps to keep out of access to information law

Bruce MacDougall, president of the Federation of P.E.I. Municipalities, says bringing municipalities under freedom of information law would be too costly for smaller towns and communities.
Bruce MacDougall, president of the Federation of P.E.I. Municipalities, says bringing municipalities under freedom of information law would be too costly for smaller towns and communities.

The Federation of P.E.I. Municipalities is taking steps to help towns and communities become more proactively transparent in an effort to keep municipalities from being brought under access to information law.

The federation has issued a request for proposals for an open municipal government toolkit, which would be an online resource for municipalities to use to develop more open government practices.

Bruce MacDougall, president of the Federation of P.E.I. Municipalities (FPEIM), says the initiative is the result of a challenge by Premier Wade MacLauchlan for municipalities to be more proactive in releasing information to the public.

“We’ve gone out looking for a toolkit to set up a framework where it will be easier for municipalities to not only put the information out there, but also easier for people to get information,” MacDougall told The Guardian.

In 2015, MacLauchlan gave municipalities and post-secondary institutions a two-year window to develop more transparent policies prior to a review of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPP) Act, which is to be conducted later this year.

Prince Edward Island is the only province in Canada where municipalities are not subject to freedom of information law. The province's publicly funded university and colleges are also not covered.

But that’s something municipalities would rather not see changed, MacDougall said.

“It could be really costly for municipalities. Many of them are struggling and we believe, with the toolkit that we’re coming up with, that this will take that place,” he said.

“The accountability is going to be there, the transparency should be there, and I don’t really see the need to go as deep as FOIPP does.”

P.E.I.’s privacy commissioner Karen Rose told a provincial standing committee in March she will likely make a formal recommendation to bring municipalities and post-secondary institutions under FOIPP legislation as part of a number of recommended changes and updates to the act that she is set to deliver to government.

While access-to-information policies are useful, without being under the FOIPP act, municipalities lack oversight by an independent commissioner, Rose told the committee.

But MacDougall pointed to major changes on the way for all towns, cities and communities when the new Municipal Government Act comes into effect. It will see the establishment of mandatory minimum services that all municipalities will be required to provide, including greater disclosure of information.

A mandatory access to information bylaw will make a whole list of documentation compulsory for public release by municipalities, including: contracts, all expenses and compensation of councillors, permits and approvals granted as well as all grants, contributions and donations, with names of all recipients.

The federation hopes their new toolkit will help municipalities approach this new level of disclosure more uniformly.

“After the new act comes into play, municipalities have a year to come up with a bylaw for accountability and transparency, so this is going to help all municipalities to do this,” MacDougall said.

“Basically what we’re trying to do with this toolkit (is) to make it more consistent across municipalities.”

The deadline for submissions to the FPEIM’s request for proposals is July 11.

Teresa.wright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

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