Adventures with ATIPPA…
Back in late February, I filed a few ATIPPA requests to Nalcor. Some of them are still working their way through the process and you’ll probably hear more about them later, but I just wanted to post a quick note about one weird one.
Naively, I requested the following documents from Nalcor: “Text of all signed procurement contracts by Nalcor Energy or subsidiaries related to the Muskrat Falls and/or Labrador Island Link project.”
Hoo boy. A couple weeks later I got a call from the access to information co-ordinator for Nalcor. There was a little problem, or rather, a very, very big problem. At the time of my request, there were more than 2,400 procurement contracts related to Muskrat Falls and the island link, totalling a whopping 93,000 pages.
As the act is currently structured, at least one person would have to go through all of those pages — paid at a rate of $25/hour — and redact the juicy bits. I told Nalcor that I absolutely did not want to pursue this request; there’s no way The Telegram would pay what would literally amount to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. But, I said, I wanted to see the formal cost estimate. I just wanted to see the really, really, really big number out of a perverse sort of curiosity.
Last week, I got another email from Nalcor. They were formally refusing to even provide me a cost estimate. In a nutshell, here’s their explanation of why:
“Nalcor Energy attempted to prepare an estimate of costs that accurately reflected the amount of work required to process this request. In our attempt to do so, it became apparent that due to the complexity of the contracts and volume of pages, that this would require a significant amount of time and resources and that: i) Nalcor Energy would likely not be able to process this request without unduly interfering with the operations of the company as it would take countless hours and a tremendous amount of resources to review and process 93,000 pages; and ii) based on the foregoing, Nalcor Energy was unable to provide an estimate of costs that was meaningful or accurate.”
All right then.
Nalcor refused to fulfill the request or even provide a cost estimate for the request under section 43.2(1) of ATIPPA, saying that what I was asking for was “excessively broad.” Nalcor can’t make this call on its own, and so it referred the file to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. Under the circumstances, I’m inclined to agree that the request is pretty damn expansive, and I’ve told the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s office that I won’t be contesting this.
While I was talking to the fine folks over at that office, I was told one more little fun fact about all of this: this case is the first time that any government department or agency has used the 43.2(1) “excessively broad” clause in ATIPPA. That clause was added as part of Bill 29, but in the past year and a half since it was passed, it’s never actually been used until now.