Justice minister Felix Collins and his colleagues are having a bad week. Felix and his buds want to limit public access to government information. They want to make it harder for people to find out what they are doing with public money.
People don’t like it and they’ve been making that clear to them.
Felix and his friends got especially angry when an assessment of their new secrecy rules showed that what Felix and company were claiming wasn’t true. far from being a model of openness, transparency and accountability, the Conservatives were taking massive steps backward.
So infuriated did the Conservatives get that they issued a statement late Wednesday night taking issue with the CBC report. The statement. It read, in part:
The Department of Justice has reviewed the global ranking of countries assembled by the centre. What the news story does not make clear is that most countries that ranked the highest or strongest on this list are third world countries. Many of these countries are listed on travel alert watch lists, have known human rights abuses and high crime rates.
After all, that was the point of the assessment by the Center for Law and Democracy: countries in the developing world have better access laws than a province in Canada.
“Globally, there is a clear trend towards greater openness,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy. “These changes would drop the Newfoundland law behind countries like Bulgaria, Peru and Moldova. The people of Newfoundland [and Labrador] deserve better, and to know what their elected government is up to.”
If Felix and his associates found that comparison embarrassing, then that was the point.
According to the short statement Collins issued:
Newfoundland and Labrador has numerous pieces of legislation and provincial strategies, which in combination with the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, demonstrate that we are an open, safe and democratic province. It was this government that proclaimed ATIPPA into law. We have numerous officers of the House of Assembly that perform an oversight role – the Auditor General, the Citizens’ Representative, the Child and Youth Advocate, the Chief Electoral Officer and the Information and Privacy Commissioner – all of whom work towards putting in place important protections for the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The current administration inherited the old access law from their predecessors. The current crowd may have proclaimed it, but that doesn’t mean they abided by it in either letter or spirit. They have also made promises – like a law to protect public interest disclosure, also known as whistleblower protection – and then ignored them or refused to honour their commitments using flimsy excuses to justify their inaction.
And, even if what the statement said about proclaiming the Act was was the whole story, it doesn’t matter. Felix Collins’ latest move guts the old Act, anyway. Likewise, the current bill limits the powers of those other statutory offices mentioned in the statement to review government business and do the work earlier legislatures set them up to do.
And again, that is pretty much the point of the people who are opposed to Bill 29: it is a gigantic step backwards.
What is more, Collins and his colleagues have made it abundantly clear during the marathon debate on Bill 29 that their intention was to limit public access to government information. They want to keep things secret. They want to frustrate the House of Assembly from finding out what the government is doing.
If it were otherwise, then Felix Collins could have given plain examples of how his bill will improve public access to government information. People asked him repeatedly for an example. He’s never given one.