Public Records Must Be Freely Available
I discovered by attempting to research New Brunswick’s fixed-date election law that the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick has not uploaded its Debates, Journals, or committee transcripts online. All the other provincial and territorial legislative assemblies make these records freely and publicly available online. Worse still, the Legislative Library of New Brunswick has failed even to send hard copies of its Journals to university libraries since 2005, and it hasn’t sent copies of the Debates since long before then. In other words, New Brunswickers cannot access basic information that would allow them to hold their government and legislative assembly to account. I e-mailed the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick and requested all records pertaining to the province’s fixed-date election law, which entered into force in 2007. The library did indeed send me all this information promptly. Consequently, Speaker Chris Collins took to Twitter in a vain attempt to shame me publicly for my earlier jokes about the inadequacies of New Brunswick’s record-keeping. He said:
The issue is not whether the Legislative Library responds quickly to requests; the issue is that the library has failed to publish these records so that all New Brunswickers and Canada, or anyone, can access them freely. I should have been able to access all those records myself at 12:07 am or any other time of day that I damn well please. I would go as far as to argue that legislative bodies have a fiduciary duty to publish all records of all proceedings not conducted in camera or in secret sittings. All the other provinces and territories have done their duty; only New Brunswick has not. And the fact that the legislative library sent me these records so quickly — in the form of clean, searchable PDFs, by the way — means that they exist in-house and that the Legislative Library has properly indexed them. It should now simply publish them online. Publishing these records online promotes accountability and neutrality, and it would also unburden the staff at the Legislative Library from carrying out these requests themselves. Furthermore, journalists in New Brunswick ought to care more about this issue and should champion the freedom of information, since their trade depends on it.
Only an informed citizenry can sustain a liberal democracy.
James – The NB Legislature has a serious long-term problem. While they do arrange for the production of Question Period transcripts, they do not provide for the keeping of a daily Hansard record of proceedings. As an officially bilingual province, the Legislature has a responsibility to provide a bilingual record of proceedings – or provide no record of proceedings at all. They have chosen the latter because of the expense and effort required to produce a bilingual record.
Now, the Legislature does video tape its proceedings and it does provide simultaneous translation to MLAs and to people in the gallery. It does not create an transcript that would be available online.
I have been concerned that the unavailability of a written transcript of proceedings makes the Legislature less accountable to the people of New Brunswick. However, the MLAs, who are the masters of the Legislative Assembly, appear to be fine with the current situation.
Right on, James! One shouldn’t have to make a Freedom of Information request to see the legislative debates!!!
I didn’t have to submit a formal freedom of information or access to information request, but I did have to e-mail the Legislative Library, one of whose employees, in turn, forwarded me the records that I sought.