12 February 2009

Freedom from information: no comment on process because the process exists

On January 8, your humble e-scribbler sent an e-mail to the natural resources department seeking some clarification of issues related to the Abitibi expropriation in December.

One of the questions sought clarification of the expropriated hydro assets:

5.  The legislation is explicit in section 5 in that the water rights, land and assets of both Star Lake and Exploits River partnership are forfeit to the Crown. Section 7 voids all the agreements and licenses associated with those projects.

At the same time, the Premier indicated in the scrum outside the House that Fortis, for instance, would continue to "maintain ownership".

Those two things can't exist in the same space.  If the Crown has expropriated the assets of the projects, the former proponents can't still have ownership of those assets.

Are you able to clarify this for me: Who owns the expropriated assets - dams, generation equipment, transmission facilities etc?  A written statement is fine or if there is someone I could speak with, then I am at your disposal.

The response – received yesterday – was that the department would offer no comment beyond what was in the public domain already since compensation discussions are outstanding.




So who is the government in compensation discussions with? went the reply.

No further comment beyond what is the public domain came the response.


Confusion is preferable to information.


Denying comment because of “outstanding” compensation talks isn’t comment – now we know there are outstanding talks – but actually telling the public if talks are underway, who is party to the talks and all the other stuff that logically flows from the fact that you just confirmed talks exist or are at least “outstanding” is comment…

and is therefore verboten.

Surely the parties to the talks know they are talking or going to talk.

So finding out that they are in talks wouldn’t come as a surprise to them nor would it materially affect the talks to say something even as ambiguous as “the companies subject to the expropriation” when asking who was talking or with whom talks were outstanding.

Surely the parties to the talks – whoever they might be – know the issues well enough such that clarifying the discrepancy noted in question five wouldn’t actually affect the compensation talks.  For instance, if Fortis, Sun Life and others actually still do own stuff supposedly expropriated – as the Premier himself said - then they wouldn’t be party to the compensation talks because there’d be nothing to compensate them for.

And just to give a sense of how straightforward the questions are, here are a couple of others the government won’t comment on because of the outstanding talks:

6.  Bill 75 does allow cabinet to enter into arrangements (permissions and licenses) for the use of the assets.  Has this taken place?  If yes, what are the arrangements, with whom etc, for what term etc?

7.  Under section 10(2), persons affected by the expropriation of Schedule C assets are entitled to compensation in  a manner determined by the LG in Council:

-  Has the provincial government received representation from any parties for compensation under this section?

-  If so, who are the parties?

-  Has the LG in C  determined a manner for compensating parties affected by the hydro expropriations?

Factual questions about the process can’t be answered because the process exists.

And a government that prides itself on being open, transparent and accountable prefers confusion to factual information about a major public issue.

You just can’t make this stuff up.