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NDP Criticizes Choice of Bureaucrat Tasked with Premier's FOI Responses

Deputy minister has questionable history of maintaining records, opposition charges.

By Andrew MacLeod 28 Oct 2015 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, April 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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NDP MLA Katrine Conroy asked in the legislature: 'How exactly is a man who produces no records, while working in the premier's office, going to ensure that that same office starts keeping records?'

The senior bureaucrat given responsibility for improving the response from Premier Christy Clark's office to freedom of information requests himself has a questionable history when it comes to maintaining records, the NDP charged today.

"John Dyble's record in this government is well known, and transparency is not a word most people would associate with him," NDP MLA Katrine Conroy said during question period.

Dyble's involvement came up on Oct. 22 after the release of Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham's report Access Denied: Record Retention and Disposal Practices of the Government of British Columbia.

The report examined the deletion of emails by officials in the offices of the premier, minister of transportation and infrastructure and minister of advanced education, practices Denham found contravened the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Government officials routinely "triple delete" emails by wiping them from their inboxes, their trash folders and the server, she found.

Denham said she was "deeply disappointed by the practices our investigation uncovered" and in one case had asked the RCMP to investigate.

Fourth critical report

It was the fourth report Denham has released since Clark became premier criticizing the government for improperly destroying or failing to create records.

In the government's prepared response to Denham's report, Citizens' Services Minister Amrik Virk said, "The office of the premier has confirmed they will strengthen their process of documenting and tracking freedom of information requests. The office will also assign responsibility for freedom of information co-ordination to the deputy minister's office."

That office is headed by Dyble.

In questioning Dyble's role, Conroy referred to a 2014 NDP request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act for "all emails, memos, briefing notes, correspondence reports or other documentation regarding the firing of health researchers Mr. Dyble sent or received over a two-year period."

Dyble, a former deputy minister of health, was Clark's deputy minister when the government fired seven health ministry employees and froze research contracts as part of an investigation it said involved data management, contracting irregularities and potential conflicts of interest.

While former health deputy minister Graham Whitmarsh has said Dyble was involved in the process ahead of the firings, the NDP's FOI request received a response saying "although a thorough search was conducted, no records were located in response to your request."

"The head of the public service didn't have a single record over two years about the biggest human resources scandal in B.C. history," said Conroy. "Forgive us if we find that a bit hard to swallow."

She asked, "How exactly is a man who produces no records, while working in the premier's office, going to ensure that that same office starts keeping records?"

Facts are wrong, premier says

In the legislature, Clark accused Conroy of having her facts wrong. Former information and privacy commissioner David Loukidelis, not Dyble, "is going to be making sure that we implement the recommendations."

While Dyble will now be responsible for how Clark's office responds to FOI requests, Virk has said Loukidelis' role will be to advise the government as a whole how to address Denham's recommendations and improve FOI training for staff.

Clark said officials have been told not to delete any more emails until Loukidelis is finished his work.

Dyble has served B.C. for two decades in governments led by different parties, she said. "I think to impugn his reputation today is really completely unnecessary."

The Tyee's call to Dyble's office was returned by a finance ministry spokesperson who took questions but did not provide a response.

Health ministry spokesperson Sarah Plank said in an email that "it is an expectation that appropriate government documents and records be retained according to the appropriate retention schedule outlined in legislation."

BC NDP leader John Horgan pointed out in the legislature that Dyble also oversaw the investigation that led to Ken Boessenkool, Clark's former chief of staff, leaving the government. An FOI request for related records generated a response saying none had been found.

Horgan said the public is unlikely to be satisfied with Clark's explanation that most emails are deleted because they are deemed transitory.

"There is a sucker born every minute, but it's not the people of British Columbia," he said. "They smell a rat. They know something's amiss here."  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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