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Five years to see major IBM contract too long: FIPA

A representative of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association of British Columbia said he's pleased with yesterday's court ruling on the release of the government's contract with IBM, but still wonders when they'll see the document.

“We'll see if the government appeals it,” said Vincent Gogolek, FIPA's policy director, noting his organization is grateful to lawyers Brent Olthuis and Tam Boyar who worked on the case pro bono.

A spokesperson for the Citizens' Services ministry did not return a call by posting time.

Yesterday's ruling by B.C. supreme court justice Christopher Grauer found that information and privacy commissioner David Loukidelis was right to order the release of sections of the IBM contract. Lawyers acting for the government had argued none of the contract should be released until disputes about releasing certain sections IBM wants kept private are resolved.

FIPA has been fighting since 2005 to have the contract released under the province's freedom of information legislation. “Here we are at year five trying to get a contract,” said Gogolek. “We haven't seen the information. I think that kind of speaks for itself.”

The IBM contract is for computer support services. By the time it is released, said Gogolek, “This is going to end up being historical in nature.”

In November Loukidelis asked a budget committee for an extra $400,000 to cover court costs for the increasing number of decisions the government is forcing him to defend in judicial reviews. The Liberal-dominated committee yesterday reported it had allocated $300,000 for the purpose.

While the committee's votes on the matter were made in camera and are not publicly available, the NDP put out a news release saying they voted against the recommendation.

“It is the height of hypocrisy for the B.C. Liberals to increase costs for the commissioner’s office by taking him to court in an attempt to keep information secret while at the same time restricting the commissioner’s ability to defend his decisions,” the release quoted Stikine MLA and deputy chair of the finance and government services committee Doug Donaldson saying.

The NDP members on the committee were also opposed to how the committee's recommendations “shortchanged” the Ombudsperson's office and failed to provide Elections B.C. with money to conduct an enumeration program.

UPDATE, 3 p.m. Dec. 11: “The Liberals on the committee are always citing economic circumstances,” said Donaldson in a phone interview. “If you really want to save money you could do it by not pursuing frivolous court challenges.”

Even better, he said, they could just release things like the IBM contract, at least the parts that don't break corporate confidentiality. Withholding it just raises questions, he said. “It leads people to believe they're trying to hide something.”

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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