No one could have picked a better panel of three people to review the provincial government’s access to information law than the three announced by Premier Tom Marshall on Tuesday.
The panel will be chaired by former premier and retired chief justice Clyde Wells. The other two panellists will be Doug Letto, a former producer at CBC television, and Jennifer Stoddart, the federal privacy commissioner from 2003 to 2013.
The terms of reference – included with the release – are comprehensive and will allow the panel to review the operation of the provincial access law in all respects.
A panel with such unimpeachable credentials and the mandate to conduct a thorough review will produce the right result even if no one makes a submission. As it is, the panel will likely have submissions from far more people than would normally be the case. Your humble e-scribbler will be one of them.
That’s because the last time a commission reviewed the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, people outside government were generally content with the Act and the way government was applying it. Public servants were not and their submissions to the commissioner - apparently serious and not made public until it was too late – recommended serious restrictions on public access to government information.
What eventually emerged as Bill 29 actually went much further in restricting public access than what the review commissioner recommended. Those restrictions matched neatly with the views of the politicians in government and thus was born a political disaster.
For a governing party trying to recover public trust and confidence, the provincial Conservatives have done a very smart thing in this access to information review. The smart thing was treating it as an exercise in governing rather than their usual way of treating everything as a partisan political struggle in the Permanent Campaign. Not everything is partisan or needs to be partisan, although the current species of provincial Conservative invariable thinks it is or must be.