When the Nova Scotia government passed the latest edition of the Municipal Government Act it was supposed to be very specific when it came to transparency and openness among elected officials and paid staff in towns, villages and cities across the province.
Expectations are one thing, reality is quite another as the most recent Newspapers Canada Freedom of Information audit has shown. Halifax and other municipal governments surveyed in Nova Scotia – including Truro and Bridgewater – received an F grade in the audit that measured all levels of government’s response time and completeness of information provided for standard freedom of information requests.
The audit, in its sixth year, found that only three of 15 FOI requests were met in full in the five towns and cities in which they were made. On the flip side, the province received an A for its response time completeness to 17 requests.
It appears as though the provincial government has done a good job of increased pressure to be more open and transparent. While it can still be difficult to weave your way through the provincal bureaucracy it would appear as though the task of securing information is less onerous than it was even a few years ago, when fees and other factors could sometime make information gathering nearly impossible for those who make it their business to find out the story behind the story.
It’s a completely different case when it comes to many municipal units across the province. For many, requests are met with suspicion with those asking for the information looked upon as potential troublemakers with some municipal officials sitting on the information or being unco-operative in the hope the person making the request will either forget or go away.
The days of secretive closed-door dealings at the municipal level must come to an end and the people who do the electing need to send a strong message to city hall that continued failure on this could result in their being removed from office.
As much as municipalities don’t like Big Brother in the form of the province sticking its nose in their affairs, in some cases it may be needed – especially when all that’s going on behind those closed doors may not be as pretty as those we elect may want it to be.