Op­po­si­tion strug­gles for an­swers in the era of ‘Open Govern­ment’

The Southern Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - BY JAMES MCLEOD TC ME­DIA

In the House of As­sem­bly Thurs­day, the Lib­er­als de­cided to put the ‘Open Govern­ment Ini­tia­tive’ to the test. It didn’t go so well for the govern­ment.

Again and again, Lib­eral MHAs used Ques­tion Pe­riod to ask for spe­cific in­for­ma­tion they’ve been try­ing to get for months, or even years.

In re­sponse to mul­ti­ple spe­cific re­quests for con­crete in­for­ma­tion, cab­i­net min­is­ters were largely un­able to come up with con­crete an­swers.

In the case of Jus­tice Min­is­ter Darin King (Grand Bank MHA), he promised to re­lease two govern­ment re­ports, only to be con­tra­dicted two hours later by an of­fi­cial in his depart­ment.

Lib­eral jus­tice critic Jim Ben­nett asked Mr. King about two stud­ies done about sher­iff ’s offi- cers and le­gal aid in the prov­ince.

“Now that the govern­ment claims to be open, will the min­is­ter im­me­di­ately re­lease these re­ports he’s been sit­ting on for the past month?.”

Mr. King re­sponded “Yes, Mr. Speaker.”

But a cou­ple of hours later, when The Tele­gram con­tacted the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, the min­is­ter’s prom­ise wasn’t enough to al­low re­lease of the re­ports.

A spokesman said, “I’m not go­ing to pro­vide them to you right now.”

Lib­eral House leader Andrew Parsons asked for spe­cific in­for­ma­tion about autism wait times and treat­ment for chil­dren. He did not get a firm an­swer from the min­is­ter.

A few hours later, though, a spokes­woman for the Depart­ment of Health an­swered the ques­tions Mr. Parsons said the Lib­er­als couldn’t get an an­swer on.

The spokes­woman said 393 chil­dren are on the wait list for pe­di­atric as­sess­ment of autism. There were 60 pe­di­a­tri­cians prac­tic­ing in the prov­ince as of Mar. 31 of last year and no chil­dren have been sent out of the prov­ince for autism as­sess­ment.

Lib­eral MHA Christo­pher Mitchel­more asked for spe­cific in­for­ma­tion about which govern­ment build­ings are not cov­ered by the govern­ment broad­band ini­tia- tive, and which com­mu­ni­ties do not have broad­band In­ter­net.

In­no­va­tion, Busi­ness and Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Terry French re­sponded by ex­plain­ing how much the govern­ment has spent on broad­band In­ter­net in the past few years, but did not di­rectly an­swer Mr. Mitchel­more’s ques­tions.

The Tele­gram fol­lowed up on the is­sue af­ter Ques­tion Pe­riod. On the govern­ment broad­band Ini­tia­tive, no re­sponse was re­ceived by dead­line, and as far as which com­mu­ni­ties don’t have broad­band, The Tele­gram was told that in­for­ma­tion came from the tele­com car­ri­ers, and it could not be re­leased be­cause it’s com­mer­cially sen­si­tive.

Again and again, Lib­eral MHAs pref­aced their ques­tions by ask­ing the Tory cab­i­net min­is­ters to live up to their ‘ open govern­ment’ ethos.

They did get one firm an­swer, shortly af­ter Ques­tion Pe­riod ended.

Lib­eral leader Dwight Ball asked re­peat­edly about the cost as­so­ci­ated with an event held in the lobby of Con­fed­er­a­tion Build­ing that morn­ing to launch the Open Govern­ment Ini­tia­tive.

Pub­lic En­gage­ment min­is­ter Steve Kent told the Leg­is­la­ture the event cost $4,566.

St. John’s Tele­gram

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