22 March 2016

Resettlement story wrong #nlpoli

Access to documents from government are one thing.

Understanding what they say is quite another.

CBC requested batches of documents from the provincial government about efforts by the people of Little Bay Islands to relocate from their isolated community to other places.

“No government money in budget for rural relocation program” ran the headline on the story last week.  The sub-head claimed there was “no way to pay up-front costs” of relocation.

Unfortunately for the folks at CBC, the documents didn’t say that.

On page 558 of an enormous pile of documents released to CBC one briefing note includes this sentence:
“There is no dedicated budget for relocation funding.”
The same sentence appears in other notes within the pile.

It is literally true:  the annual budget does not set aside cash for relocations.  There is an amount of around $2.0 million in the Municipal Affairs departmental vote to cover costs of a bunch of things related to local government, including discussions about resettlement.

Since the department never knows how many communities might request resettlement and therefore doesn’t know what the costs would be,  they don’t set aside money in advance.

Besides, it’s not like the government officials could get everything done related to a relocation in less than 12 months anyway.  They’d plan ahead.  If cabinet approved a resettlement plan, then they’d also approve cash at the same time.  You see, the cost-benefit analysis that has to be done before cabinet makes a decision includes a detailed calculation of costs. 

In Little Bay Islands, the documents show a relocation fraught with political problems.  The last vote taken  included a controversy over who was qualified to vote in the first place. Chunks of the cabinet documents released have blacked out sections but the stuff that is there, including a consultant’s report, show a potentially very tangly  problem.  Media reports confirm that.

The real problem in Little Bay Islands is local politics, not cash.  After all,  in the current environment, government could cough up the cash now to save in the long run.  That would be sensible..That’s what the cost-benefit analysis shows.

Access to government information is a wonderful thing but you really do have to understand what the documents reveal in order to get the story right.