12 February 2009

Freedom from Information: Nat Res Two-fer Thursday

The province’s natural resources department had rough day Thursday when it came to answering straight questions with straight answers.

As Dunderdale herself might say, the openness “piece” was missing, “big time.”

First, there was the bizarro refusal by a department spokesperson to discuss anything to do with the expropriation compensation process because there was an expropriation compensation process.

Then the Telegram had more on the recent trip by natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale to Ottawa.  Readers will recall the minister – also the deputy minister – turned up in the gallery of the House of Commons this week.  She got a courtesy acknowledgement from the Speaker.

There’d been no public release that she would be in Ottawa so her sudden appearance raised a few eyebrows.

Dunderdale was attending a meeting of federal and provincial ministers responsible for agriculture. She ducked out of the obligatory team photo at the end claiming she had other meetings.

She did manage to find time to scoot to the Commons though.

Other than that, all her department spokesperson would say is that she “took the opportunity to meet with a number of federal ministers who were available while she was there on issues pertaining to Newfoundland and Labrador and that is the extent of it. She is not commenting further."

No further comment.

It’s becoming the departmental mantra.

Turns out – according to the Telegram’s Rob Antle – that Dunderdale met with federal natural resources minister Lisa Raitt and the province’s representative in the federal cabinet, Peter Mackay.

MacKay's communications director, Dan Dugas, confirmed that MacKay and Dunderdale discussed a variety of issues, including unemployment in central Newfoundland. The AbitibiBowater paper mill in Grand Falls-Windsor is expected to shutter within days, throwing hundreds out of work.

That “shuttering” turned out to be today, incidentally.

As the Telegram notes, Dunderdale’s mission to Ottawa comes shortly after the Premier’s latest Equalization tirade. Maybe they kept her trip quiet in order  to maintain the appearance that things are still tense between the feds and the province.  Maybe they kept their lips zipped at natural resources to avoid building up any expectations that Dunderdale might find some way to ease the tensions or even come up with the missing $400 million from the federal budget Dunderdale’s boss had been banking on.

All in all, the whole thing is a wee bit odd.

At least Dunderdale and her handlers learned a lesson.  When in Ottawa don’t take the minister to hang out in the visitor’s gallery of the Commons. 

Leave that job to the Premier’s personal emissary, a.k.a. Our Man in a Blue Line cab.