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Minister defends FOI concerns as InBC Crown corporation appoints first CEO

$500m fund not subject to FOI legislation
Ravi Kahlon, B.C.’s minister for jobs, economic recovery and innovation, holds responsibility for new Crown corporation InBC | Photo: Submitted

The B.C. minister responsible for a new Crown corporation is defending concerns over InBC Investment Corp.’s transparency as the multimillion-dollar fund appoints its first CEO.

InBC, which is managing $500 million in public funds for strategic investments, faced harsh criticisms from Information Commissioner Michael McEvoy back in May for not being subject to the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).

Instead, the Crown corporation faces annual reporting in addition to independent audits.

“Its annual reports are to be in a form and manner specified by the minister and external reviews will occur only every five years,” McEvoy said at the time.

“These accountability mechanisms fall far short of what is needed and lack the ongoing transparency afforded through the access to information regime.”

Ravi Kahlon, B.C.’s minister for jobs, economic recovery and innovation, told BIV that making InBC subject to FIPPA would have a “chilling effect” on the fund.

“We feel confident that there's enough public transparency there to ensure that both the public get the information they need as well the fund is able to have success,” he said Thursday, shortly after Jill Earthy was named InBC’s first CEO.

Kahlon noted the fund’s predecessor corporation, the B.C. Immigrant Investment Fund Ltd., was not subject to FIPPA.

“That's the very reason why the previous government – the BC Liberals – when they created the immigrant investor fund, they also precluded the FOI [freedom of information] rules because that was the feedback they had gotten at the time,” he said. 

“We have also gotten similar feedback and we want to make sure that we built in the public transparency so the public could see what the fund was doing, but also see good investment deals come forward.”

Concerns over the government’s approach to transparency have heightened in recent weeks. On Monday, the province introduced $10 application fees for FOI requests, which has faced significant backlash from journalists and business groups. 

British Columbians previously faced no fees to file FOI requests. The government has said the fees are being put in place to mitigate against abuse.

InBC describes itself on its website as being “guided by the social, economic and environmental policy objectives of the government.”

Kahlon said policy work is currently underway regarding the exact mandate of the fund. 

“The board is leading that consultation and they'll be making suggestions on what the investment policy statement might look like,” he said.

“We're going to be seeing some patient investment to address climate change. We have huge opportunities in agri-tech, with biotech. We have huge opportunities with companies in the AI and AR/VR space.”

Meanwhile, the minister is in the process of hiring a chief investment officer who will not have contact with him or anyone else in government. The chief investment officer will also not have contact with InBC’s board, which includes deputy finance minister Heather Wood and former BC NDP finance minister Carole James.

“That gives, I think, the private sector some confidence that the decision-making is being made independently and gives confidence for investments to be made alongside of it,” Kahlon said.

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