Greater transparency in public matters needed

It often is noted that a free and open press ensures the government represents its people. The press is free to tell the truth about the government and its citizens hold the government accountable.
This applies to any level of government and the committees of the government.
However, governments have the right to distinguish which materials are public, or protected from disclosure to the public, based on classification of information.
In the rankings of worldwide press freedom, “Reporters Without Borders” had Canada near the top in press freedom. In their report “Reporters Without Borders” found that in countries where democracy did not exist, there was little or no press freedom.
In fact, reporting can be hazardous to a journalist’s health.
Last Wednesday, publishers descended upon Queen’s Park in Toronto to talk to MPPs about the need to create greater transparency in public matters. MPP Kim Craitor has brought before the legislature a private member’s bill to increase the openness of all public bodies.
More importantly, the proposed legislation provides a process for the media or the public to contest any breaches, with clearly defined consequences.
As a newspaper, we believe that it is part of our responsibility to create an informed citizenry.
Presently, the Municipal Act lays out the requirements where open meetings are required, as well as the exceptions. However, it lacks any real means to challenge a council or board’s decision without costly legal action.
The new procedure would allow any person who has probable grounds to believe a designated body has contravened, or is about to contravene, a provision of the Municipal Act may make a written complaint the Information and Privacy Commissioner appointed under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy act.
The commissioner can choose whether or not to review the complaint. The commissioner can try to have the issue mediated, or choose to make an order that would void any action, legislation, or recommendation made by the body.
We believe this private member’s bill is good for all media in Ontario and especially the public. It creates a clearly-defined procedure for the public to seek more openness in government.
It enables the public to understand more issues, and that will make them better citizens and participants in governing themselves.
In this election year, it is important for all citizens to be better informed to cast their ballots wisely. It is worthwhile for all municipalities, school boards, hospital boards, police service boards, and other governing boards to be as open as possible providing the public with as much information as possible.
This private member’s bill will, if it is passed, hold all Ontario and municipal governing bodies more responsible to the public.
We recognize there are important issues of privacy, safety, and negotiations that should remain the exception. But the list of exceptions should not grow.

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