EDITORIAL: Running out the clock

EDITORIAL: Running out the clock

City of White Rock’s hardline stance against OIPC order difficult for layperson to figure out

The City of White Rock’s hardline stance against an order by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C. is difficult for the layperson to figure out.

For most of us, it’s all about the public’s right to know about publicly elected officials’ decisions to spend public money on a public utility.

Yet city leaders persist in maintaining it is an issue to remain private, refusing – for now, at least – to make public the documents pertaining to their decisions that ultimately led to the purchase of the city’s water utility from Epcor 21 months ago for a yet-to-be-determined price and that included a three-year confidentiality agreement they say was sought by the seller.

They refused back in 2015 when first asked by resident – and frequent council critic – Ross Buchanan; they refused that same year when faced with an official freedom-of-information request; they refused last month when the OIPC adjudicator ruled against them; and they refused last week when the same adjudicator would not reopen the case, standing by her decision that the public has a right to the information.

Monday, the city requested a judicial review, which stays the OIPC order for another 120 days, under provisions of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act (FIPPA).

Opening themselves to much speculation from an increasingly weary and suspicious electorate, one can only imagine whoever’s calling the shots in the City of White Rock feels that withholding such information is well worth the price of having a pall of cynicism cast over the small city.

Ergo, there must be a sound, coherent legal argument that is for the betterment of all, particularly White Rock taxpayers. (Given the absence of facts, perhaps one should speculate the city has reached a stalemate in final negotiations with Epcor in which the release of the information – however innocuous it may be – could tip the scales against White Rock.)

Either that, or those in power simply don’t like their own orders to be questioned.

Given that a court date has yet to be set for the lone other OIPC case set for judicial review so far this year – not to mention no court dates for the four other such cases from 2016 – it appears that White Rock’s leaders would prefer to run out the clock on the judicial stage rather than face the court of public opinion here at home for their past decisions.

Even if, in the end, the city winds up winning in court, it may well feel like a loss for White Rock as a whole.