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Premier Christy Clark looks out her office at the Provincial Legislature in Victoria, B.C., in Dec. 2016.

CHAD HIPOLITO/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The B.C. government, which has faced criticism for failing to document its work and "triple deleting" e-mails, is asking the public to weigh in on new rules for how the province handles its records.

But critics say the exercise is meaningless without requiring the government to create records in the first place – a so-called "duty to document" that has been repeatedly recommended but ignored by the province.

Finance Minister Michael de Jong announced the first in a series of online consultations earlier this month. Each round of consultations will ask for feedback about how the government should handle specific types of information under the Information Management Act, which was passed two years ago.

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The act deals with retention of records, but it has nothing to do with the creation of those records in the first place, nor penalties for failing to do so. The Opposition New Democrats and a group that advocates for greater access to government records say any reform must do both.

Doug Routley, an NDP MLA, notes that a legislative committee he sat on recommended last year that the province implement a duty to document. The legislative committee reviewed the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, or FIPPA, which outlines how members of the public and media can access government records.

"I think it's absolutely ridiculous that Christy Clark thinks a promise of a consultation website is something she should be congratulated for, when [she's] ignoring a constituted committee of the legislature that appealed to people all over the province to come and give us submissions, both individuals and organizations," Mr. Routleysaid. "It's disingenuous, and that's the kindest word I can use."

The former privacy commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, also called for a "duty to document" requiring government workers to keep records, after discovering that many Freedom of Information requests were coming back empty.

Vincent Gogolek, executive director of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA), said he doesn't understand the government's consultations when far more expansive reforms are long overdue.

"It's puzzling, I'm not sure what useful input they expect the general public to provide them with," Mr. Gogolek said , noting there are a lot of nuances to the government's document categories the average person wouldn't be aware of.

He said if the government really wants to improve access to information, it should instead act on the numerous recommendations to reform FIPPA.

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Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland, the province's chief records officer, said there are no changes being considered to FIPPA at this time, but that "the government has expressed they are interested."

"This is just part of our ongoing practices to continue to strengthen what we are doing," she said.

"It's the most transparent process in Canada around information keeping."

The current provincial government has been criticized numerous times for its record keeping, most notably for "triple deleting" e-mails to shield them from Freedom of Information requests.

In 2015, B.C.'s privacy commissioner released a scathing report on the government's actions to frustrate public requests for information, including the deletion of records related to safety consultations of the Highway of Tears, where RCMP were investigating the cases of 18 women who were murdered or went missing. A former government staffer was later charged and pleaded guilty.

Ms. Clark appointed a previous privacy commissioner, David Loukidelis, to review the commissioner's report. Mr. Loukidelis made 27 recommendations, including penalties for destruction of records. He, too, recommended a "duty to document."

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A 2016 Ipsos poll, conducted on behalf of FIPA, found that 96 per cent of British Columbians say it is important that provincial government officials be given a "duty to document," among other FIPPA reforms. It also found that 85 per cent wanted action before the 2017 provincial election.

"People want to see this work done, they want to see it fixed, soon," said Mr. Gogolek. "So the fact that the government won't do it, there comes a point where the claims you have to consult or it's really complicated don't cut it any more."

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