On November 6, 2014, the Québec Government announced that the schedules of cabinet ministers would be posted on the website of each ministry. These schedules provide two types of information.
- Since January 15, 2015, Quebeckers have been able to see what public activities cabinet ministers engage in.
- Moreover, starting on April 1, 2015, meetings solicited by non-government stakeholders (such as lobbyists or the representatives of corporations or organizations) in which cabinet ministers participate will also be posted.
This initiative will include the creation of a private workspace for ministers. This measure's goal is to promote effectiveness and efficiency by giving ministers the opportunity to work with their main collaborators without necessarily revealing the timetable of that work or what discussions take place.
These new measures do not change any of the obligations under the Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Act to register a mandate in the registry of lobbyists when doing so is required.
1. What kind of information is posted?
Here are just a few examples of the cabinet ministers' public activities that will be posted on the Internet:
- Activities that are announced to the media, such as press conferences, cabinet sessions or caucuses, photo sessions;
- Public speeches or participation in a public event;
- Public activities that are part of parliamentary business, including National Assembly sittings, question periods, National Assembly Committee sittings;
- Ceremonial events, such as awarding medals or distinctions and welcoming dignitaries or foreign guests;
- Official travels: participation in an economic mission, meeting with a representative from another province or foreign State;
- Public events held for supporters, such as partisan conventions, nomination assemblies, annual assemblies of constituency association members and funding activities.
Consequently, the schedules of the premier and cabinet ministers will be published the day before on the web pages of the ministries in question. Such information as the time, geographical location and a description of the activities will be included. Where applicable, the information will also include public speeches and official travels.
2. Meetings solicited by non-governmental stakeholders
Each month starting on April 1, 2015, and this within no more than 90 days after the event, ministers will also be required to publish an account of their meetings that were solicited by non-governmental stakeholders, regardless of whether that meeting was held in person, by telephone or by videoconference. The information disclosed about the meeting must include the date, place, topic to be dealt with and name of the corporation or organization represented.
Here are a few examples:
- meetings solicited by the representative or spokesperson of a corporation, non-profit organization or group of citizens (even if that group has no existence in law). This person could be an officer, a member of a board of directors, a self-employed worker or his representative, or even a lobbyist hired for the purposes of meeting with the cabinet minister;
- meetings solicited by the mayor of a municipality;
- meetings solicited by a school principal, a member of a board of commissioners, a rector or the executive director of a school commission or CÉGEP;
- meetings solicited by the CEO or a member of the board of directors of a health and social services establishment.
3. Dissemination of information
Information on the schedules of cabinet ministers will be posted:
- on the Québec premier's website, in the case of the Québec premier;
- on the websites of their respective ministries, in the case of ministers and delegated ministers. For example, the schedule of the Minister for Transport should be available for consultation on the Ministère des Transports' website;
- on the cabinet's website, in the case of members who are authorized to sit in on cabinet sessions even though they are not ministers, such the government's chief whip and the president of the cabinet caucus.
It should be noted that if a cabinet minister combines several department functions, he or she may post the information on the websites of each of these ministries.
All this notwithstanding, exceptions that are in the public interest have been provided for in those cases where disclosure could:
- compromise security;
- hamper an investigation or legal process;
- adversely affect the economy by revealing a project; or
- harm relations with another government or international organization.
Other items that will not be posted include:
- meetings between fellow ministers. This will help protect the privacy of cabinet ministers;
- meetings with people acting on their own behalf or who were solicited by the minister personally. This is designed to protect the privacy of citizens.
Information will also remain confidential if it is deemed that the disclosure thereof could have an impact on government relations, the economy, security, or the administration of justice. This restriction is based on sections 19, 21, 28 and 29 of the Act respecting access to documents held by public bodies and the protection of personal information (CQLR, c A-2.1).
This initiative paves the way to the larger reform that is already underway, that of consolidating the access to information legislation.
Finally, the Minister responsible for Acces to information and the Reform of Democratic Institutions was mandated by the premier to prepare a guide to the implementation of new practices (PDF - available in French only).