29 September 2006

Shakylegs Rideout's access to info shakedown

Current fish minister and deputy premier and former Premier Tom "Shakylegs" Rideout (left) is being more than a little disingenuous when he claims that he was only following the letter of the law in charging opposition politicians a bill of $400 for processing an access to information request on Rideout's travel and expense claims.

To put it bluntly, Rideout is following the standard practice of the Williams' administration to claim one thing and do something entirely different. In this instance, Rideout is claiming accountability and transparency while actively seeking to frustrate efforts to find out even the most routine of information.

In a news release today, Rideout said, among other things, that:
The Opposition chose to activate the ATIPP process. Once that process is activated, there is a legal requirement that the individuals requesting the information be charged for the work required. That is the law, and we must follow it.
There's a word for this and the word is bullshit. Had they asked for it in any way except under the Act, they would be lucky to see a single paperclip. If this administration was so intent on following the law, then it would never have engaged in the pathetic Ruelokke fiasco using every second-rate legal dodge in the book to try and keep a man out of a job he had won fair and square.

For those who may not know, I served for seven years as a political aide in the administration that ended Rideout's mercifully short tenure in the Premier's Office. Contrary to his practice and that of his predecessor, we undertook to respond to access to information requests without using the fee schedule as a way of frustrating or blocking people seeking access to what is public information.

We followed the intent of the law.

Expense and travel claims were a popular request and it fell to me to co-ordinate the replies.

We did.

Without charge.


The fee schedule for information access requests is not an absolute requirement that must be ruthlessly applied in all cases. It is there to cover some complex requests - expense claims are not complex by any means no matter how much Rideout's nose has to grow as he tries to say otherwise.

What is more, Rideout has the ability - given his position - to waive any fees and simply hand over the documents.

It is that simple.

And what is more Rideout knows that the comments contained in the news release are merely another way of trying to hide things that otherwise can and should be in the public domain. The information can be retrieved relatively easily and without the elaborate and painful process Rideout claims it to be.

What Rideout tells us - both in his initial decision on this request and in his ludicrous defence - is that he is committed to obfuscation wherever and whenever possible. He is, in short, the embodiment of the kind of politics access to information legislation was intended to send to the rubbish tip of history.

Perhaps Rideout recalls the 1980s when Opposition access requests revealed that some of his colleagues were frequenting strip clubs and billing the "gentlemen's entertainment" to the unsuspecting family in Ming's Bight or Arnold's Cove via the public treasury.

Perhaps, he is simply following the arrogant example of the current Premier who has on more than one occasion fought tooth and nail against releasing information the release of which is specifically authorized in the legislation Rideout now uses to excuse his questionable behaviour on this access request.

No matter the reason.

Those familiar with the Williams administration in practice - as opposed to its self-massaging news releases - understand that accountability and transparency are nothing more than stock phrases to fill up the word count in already verbose news releases.

There is no meat in them any more than there is any flesh in Rideout's ability to actually implement his own policies. Bill Barry proved the severity of Rideout's impotence just this week while Rideout enjoyed gallivanting about in Norway.

Rideout is correct on one point. The current members of the Opposition did do things just as bad as he has now done when they occupied the government benches. But two wrongs do not make a right as surely Mr. Rideout knows.

To borrow one of his own malapropisms, what Rideout has shown in his flounting of the intention of the freedom of information act is that you cannot get a skunk to change its spots.

Rideout is used to saying one thing and doing another.

So too is his current boss.

Too bad Tom wasn't paying attention to the policies of the guy who replaced him, the guy who not only talked about accountability and openness but who ensured the talk was turned into action.

Too bad that Tom can only talk about it but not do it.

Too bad, that is, for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.