The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s mandate letters to his cabinet fell under an exemption of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) on Friday. The request for the mandate letters by a journalist from the Canadian news outlet Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) was denied by Ontario’s Premier after the 2018 elections.
Mandate letters detail goals and objectives that ministers will attempt to tackle in their upcoming terms and have more recently become somewhat more common for them to be made public in the name of transparency. Here, the court unanimously found that Section 12(1) of FIPPA exempts information that qualifies as “substance of deliberations.” Justice Karakatsanis noted in the decision that these letters would have been too “revealing of the substance of Cabinet deliberations.” She also stated:
Cabinet confidentiality both enables the proper functioning of responsible government by promoting collective ministerial accountability to the legislature and affords the executive the operational space it needs to function effectively.
In other words, the court concluded that forming a policy in the initial stages of governance should be a confidential process with the freedom to debate before announcing a more formal policy before the public. CBC attorneys and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) argued that the court would err in broadening the meaning of the “substance of deliberations” in the exemption of FIPPA. They argued the court instead should interpret it more narrowly in limiting the exemption to exclude names of those making policy suggestions.
The call for mandate letters to become public comes in the wake of allegations made against Ford in his alleged involvement with the Greenbelt scandal. The Greenbelt is the world’s largest stretch of protected land, and Ford, along with Ontario’s Housing Minister, has been accused of taking parcels of land from it to enrich developers.