Information Access, Transparency, and Good Governance: the Alberta record
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Access to information is recognized worldwide as a crucial component of a democratic state because transparency helps to expose corruption, ensures due process in law, and encourages the citizen engagement that is central to citizen participation (Stefanick 2011). For newly emerging democracies, the concept of “open government” challenges previously accepted notions that the interests of society as expressed through the power of the state take precedence over the interests of individual citizens. Institutions such as the World Bank and the UN Development program identify transparency as a critical component of good governance (Shrivastava and Stefanick 2011); access regimes are where the “rubber hits the road” for creating transparency. An evaluation of the functioning of access to information regimes provides not only an indicator of the “openness” of any particular government; it also can be used as an indicator of democratic health. Alberta has a long history as an early adopter of mechanisms to support government transparency – in 1967 it became the 3rd jurisdiction in the world to establish an administrative Ombudsman, and it established an access to information law a decade before the UK, Switzerland, and Germany. Nonetheless, the province has not escaped the criticism that it receives poor grades with respect to openness and transparency. This paper will evaluate the success of the Access to Information regime in Alberta in fostering the accountability that is crucial to good governance.