Bill 29 re­view needs broader man­date

The Compass - - OPINION -

I write to ask a cou­ple of ques­tions pub­licly about the Bill 29 re­view com­mit­tee just an­nounced by the govern­ment. I do so be­cause I can’t seem to get the an­swer from our newly open and trans­par­ent govern­ment di­rectly, so maybe they might re­spond through the me­dia. The first con­cerns the terms of ref­er­ence. While the com­mit­tee, which I think is ex­cel­lent, can clearly ex­am­ine any­thing re­lated to all the clauses of the ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion act it­self, I won­der if they are per­mit­ted to ex­am­ine the broader no­tion of whether or not it is ap­pro­pri­ate to have pro­vi­sions in other pieces of leg­is­la­tion that ex­empt them from the ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion leg­is­la­tion.

It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to re­view the rules by which pub­lic in­for­ma­tion can be ac­cessed and/or dis­closed while, at the same time, say­ing the rules will not ap­ply to all pub­lic in­for­ma­tion in all govern­ment de­part­ments.

A case in point is Nal­cor, the en­ergy cor­po­ra­tion that we all own as res­i­dents of New­found­land and Labrador. Un­der the En­ergy Cor­po­ra­tion Act, it ba­si­cally states that re­gard­less of the rules that ap­ply to in­for­ma­tion held by and known to the govern­ment, none of these rules will ap­ply to Nal­cor. Nal­cor can act in com­plete se­crecy with­out any re­gard to the cur­rent rules or new rules sug­gested by the com­mit­tee.

Un­less the terms of ref­er­ence al­low the com­mit­tee to at least ex­am­ine this mat­ter, it seems like a some­what less than thor­ough and mean­ing­ful ex­er­cise.

The other re­lated is­sue is the propen­sity of this govern­ment gen­er­ally and Nal­cor specif­i­cally to use “commercial sen­si­tiv­ity” as the rea­son why in­for­ma­tion can’t be re­leased, es­pe­cially as it re­lates to ten­der­ing is­sues and cost up­dates on projects. Is the com­mit­tee al­lowed to ex­am­ine who ac­tu­ally de­cides that a mat­ter is “com­mer­cially sen­si­tive”?

To­day it ap­pears to be left to Ed Martin to de­cide and his judg­ment is then be­yond ques­tion.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see the out­come of the com­mit­tee’s work, but they can only be ef­fec­tive if their man­date and terms of ref­er­ence are broad enough to let them do a thor­ough job.

— Roger Grimes writes from St. John’s

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