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B.C. cabinet minister didn’t mislead legislature over FOI fee, speaker rules

Dispute over NDP setting $10 fee for information requests
B.C. NDP house leader Mike Farnworth takes a question in the B.C. legislature as Citizens’ Services Minister Lisa Beare listens, June 16, 2021. (Hansard TV)

Citizens Services Minister Lisa Beare was cleared Tuesday of allegations that she intentionally misled the B.C. legislature.

Speaker Raj Chouhan issued a ruling Feb. 15 regarding debate on the NDP government’s controversial bill to impose a fee for non-personal freedom of information requests. He said he could not “conclusively” find that Beare intended to mislead the house with statements that the $10 fee had not been decided upon, when documents dated before that indicated the decision had been made.

Chouhan noted that documents provided by opposition MLAs did not include the actual decision note referred to in emails as being signed by Beare.

The accusation that Beare deliberately misled the legislature, called a “question of privilege” under parliamentary tradition dating back to the 14 century, was presented Feb. 9 by B.C. Green MLA Adam Olson and B.C. Liberal MLA Mike de Jong.

Olson recounted how Beare first said she was recommending a fee of about $25, and that further consultation would be done before a final amount was decided on. Bill 22 was pushed through at the end of the fall legislature session with the NDP majority cutting off debate, and a cabinet order setting the fee was signed hours later by Beare and Environment Minister George Heman.

De Jong reviewed emails in October between Beare and a staff member, including a “decision note” on the fee recommendation to which Beare replied, “approved.”

At the same time, de Jong said Beare “was pretending and conveying to the House that no decisions had been made, after she had signed the decision notes making the decision. She purposely sought to create the impression that no decision had yet been made.”

Beare said the opposition “misrepresented” her answers to questions and the documents they received through their own freedom of information application, which where “interim approvals” leading up to a ministerial decision to set the $10 fee

“Bill 22 enabled the creation of the fee. It did not set the fee,” Beare told the legislature Feb. 10. “This was done through regulation, and cabinet could not and did not approve the application fee regulation until after the bill received royal assent, which occurred on November 25.” Cabinet approval came on Nov. 26.

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