Halton Hills and North Halton newspapers
Editorial: Let there be light
Independent & Free Press (Georgetown, ON), 7 Feb 2007, p. 6

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Recently the Ontario Legislature passed Bill 130 which made sweeping changes to the way municipalities operate by giving them new powers and responsibilities. It also gave the citizens of Ontario a power they've never had before; a method to challenge the legality of a closed-door council meeting. While this is an excellent first step, it does have some major shortcomings. For one it only deals with municipal councils and their committees-- no hospital boards, school boards, police services boards, library boards etc. These public institutions, which have a huge impact on the lives of people either operate under rules which allow them to exclude anyone they want from meetings for any reason, or offer the public no way to challenge the decisions of these groups. Although Bill 130 allows us to challenge a decision, it offers no consequences for a council that breaks the law other than a public report that confirms it. To address these concerns Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor has introduced a Private Member's Bill, the Transparency in Public Matters Act, that would force meetings of these bodies (as well as municipalities) to be open to the public and would allow citizens to stand up for their right to access how decisions are made. Like Bill 130 it gives the public the right to challenge the closure of a public meeting; but unlike Bill 130 it allows the Information and Privacy Commissioner to disallow any decisions taken during an improperly held secret meeting. It also standardizes the list of reasons the public could legitimately be kept from the process, which is important given the hodgepodge of regulations that currently apply. People, who are interested in being involved in the decisions that shape their communities, get frustrated when they are stonewalled by the very organizations created to work on their behalf. The Transparency in Public Matters Act goes a long way towards improving the situation but without the support of concerned and involved citizens, the Private Member's Bill may die. Its death would continue the disenchantment with our political process which will only lead to greater public sector secrecy and further alienate people from those who supposedly work on our behalf.

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7 Feb 2007
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Editorial: Let there be light