Rarely does one cabinet minister put on not one or two spectacular displays of incompetence in one session of the legislature, but justice minister Felix Collins has done that this spring in less than a month.
First, there was Collins’ pathetic effort to explain why he and his colleagues would not fulfill their promise to deliver a bill to protect public servants who, in the public interest, disclose wrongdoing.
Collins had no idea what he was talking about.
Not a clue.
That was May.
Now there is Collins’ media briefing on Bill 29, a piece of legislation that the media could generously describe as an assault on the public’s right to know what its government is doing.
Again, CBC has done the world an invaluable service by posting Collins’ performance in its entirety.
Once he finishes with the words someone else wrote for him, Collins starts to flail about. David Cochrane asks a pointed question about why a cabinet minister will get to decide what is a frivolous request rather than the access to information commissioner.
Collins clearly doesn’t know.
Cochrane tries again.
The question is simple.
Collins babbles again.
Cochrane’s colleague Rob Antle gives it a try. Antle is a veteran of the access wars with Collins and his colleagues. What is a frivolous or vexatious request? asks Collins.
He does not answer the policy question Cochrane asks
He is not dancing. Collins clearly has no answer. No one prepared him for it, nor did they prepare Collins to avoid it any better than he does. And Collins is evidently so completely lacking in either the awareness of his own about the legislation or the facility to wing it, that he cannot do anything but stutter and stammer.
Mike Connors has a go by asking about the new restrictions on what the Auditor General can see. Collins babbles.
Bear in mind that at this point, Collins and his officials still had not given the reporters a copy of the Act itself. They were gutting him based only on the vague briefing Collins’ officials gave the reporters.
Cochrane asks Collins to give one indication of where the act improves the right of access. Collins can’t give one. Antle asks for an example of how the existing Act had failed. Collins can’t give one.
And around it goes for 21 of the most painful minutes imaginable. The most painful, is around minute 20, incidentally when Collins tries to dance around a question from Rob Antle about specific recommendations from the access law review commissioner’s report. The whole thing is reminiscent of the Abbott and Costello routine about baseball.
Collins is bad enough. What’s worse is that people at the highest levels of the provincial government – the cabinet secretariat and the Premier’s Office – presumably approved Collins’ briefing materials and the information used to get him ready for the briefing. Not only did they send Collins out in such a poor state, they decided to withhold a copy of the bill from reporters, contrary to established practice. All that did was make a very bad situation that much worse. As your humble e-scribbler put it in May, “we’ve seen the provincial government go from having one of the most efficient and effective communications systems in the country to one that is crumbling before everyone’s eyes.”
With cabinet ministers as inept as Collins and with officials as bumbling as the ones who got him ready for this media encounter, there’s no surprise the politicians are clamping down on the public’s right to know anything.