Sask. NDP hit with $107,280 FOIP bill from province

Angela Amato, Regina Leader-Post

After receiving a $107,280 bill for a Freedom of Information and Protection (FOIP) request on details about the province’s drainage policy, the Saskatchewan NDP says the provincial government is keeping its citizens and journalists in the dark.

At a press conference on Thursday, Official Opposition Ethics and Democracy Critic Meara Conway and Water Security Agency Critic Erika Ritchie called out Premier Scott Moe and the Saskatchewan Party, saying rising charges for FOIs prevent fair and easy access to public documents.

“This is the least transparent government in Saskatchewan’s history,” Conway said on Thursday.

“Scott Moe and the old boys club have been in power for 16 years. Lately, they seem more interested in hiding problems than fixing them.”

A statement from the Government of Saskatchewan says that additional fees may apply when individuals are given access to a record that is part of a record. Extra fees may include charges for copies of record, including $0.25 per page for a photocopy, where time in excess of two hours is spent searching for a record or preparing it for disclosure, a fee of $15 for each half hour (or portion of a half hour) will be assessed for that additional time, and if a search and retrieval of electronic data is required, a fee equal to the actual cost, including machinery and operator costs, will be assessed.

The Opposition on Nov. 1, 2023 requested that the Sask. Party government provide details about its provincial drainage policy and the effectiveness of its flood risk assessment efforts. The FOIP request was returned with a $107,280 bill from the province, asking the Opposition pay half in advance.

NDP said the Sask. Party claims to have exactly 100,000 pages of relevant information, and estimate the time needed to search and retrieve paper versus electronic documents would take a total of 3,606 hours to complete. The Opposition was offered two hours, valued at $60, free of charge.

“Scott Moe and his ministers have frequently been caught misleading the public. That’s why the freedom of information process is so important,” Ritchie said.

“Saskatchewan people deserve to know what the government is doing with their tax dollars. They deserve to know if this government is working for the people or working for the Sask. Party’s out-of-province donors.”

According to the independent Information and Privacy Commissioner, estimated FOIP fees have skyrocketed since Scott Moe took office, the Opposition said in a statement.

During the 2018- 2019 fiscal year, total FOI fees were estimated at $130,200. Last fiscal year, total estimated fees were $2,359,322. Saskatchewan NDP says that over 200 fewer FOI application were received last year compared to 2018-2019.

Last month, the Saskatchewan NDP accused the provincial government of drawing out two FOIP requests submitted on Dec. 12, requesting documents from the Ministry of Social Services on temporarily housing clients in hotels or motels as emergency shelters.

Conway rang the alarm in November with transparency and ethics concerns, alleging Sunrise Motel, owned by Saskatchewan Party MLA Gary Grewal, was charging Social Services clients more on nightly room rates.

After hounding from NDP members on the floor of the assembly in November, Minister of Social Services Gene Makowsky revealed that Sunrise Motel was paid $172,000 by Social Services in 2022, of a total $2.25 million spent on hotel accommodations that year.

Conway said the level of transparency around the Sunrise Motel incident creates “serious questions” about whether government is “politicizing and interfering in the Freedom of Information process.”

In September, the Ministry of Education quoted a fee of more than $1,600 to release records related to the volume of public support and development process of the pronoun consent policy that was rolled out in August.

Two separate FOIP requests submitted by the Regina Leader-Post returned a combined cost estimate of $1,680 to process.

The first request, asking for correspondence with the Minister of Education’s office between June 19 and Aug. 25, was in response to a sex education-related incident at Lumsden School. It was quoted at 20 hours to search and 16 hours to process records for disclosure.

At $15 per half-hour, that tallies a fee of $1,020.

The second request, asking for correspondence with the minister’s office over the same timeframe related to “pronouns, gender and the development of the Use of Preferred First Name and Pronouns by Students policy,” was quoted 16 search hours and six processing hours, for a fee of $660.

Neither request included costs for printing requested records.

Fee estimates are provided after a request has been filed, and the institution completes a preliminary track on the relevant files. Some details cannot be shared per privacy legislation, and so processing includes work to redact materials line by line before delivery.

– With files from Larissa Kurz.