Premier Tom Marshall acknowledged something Friday that should already be plainly obvious to anybody who follows politics: the government’s recent openness and transparency kick is all about wooing back the voters who have turned on them.
Tom Marshall. — Telegram file photo
But Marshall also said that if the legacy of his five-month stint as premier is a more open and accountable way of doing business, he’s happy with that.
“We feel that we’ll do a better job than the alternatives that are out there. But we have to regain and renew the confidence of the people of the province, and we’re trying,” he said.
“Where we’ve gone wrong, let’s fix it and let’s try to regain the goodwill of the people of the province.”
Marshall sat down with The Telegram for a lengthy interview about the economy and the future of the province for The Telegram’s upcoming Horizons business publication, which will roll out in four editions of The Weekend Telegram, starting with the Innovation edition today.
But the conversation also drifted to government’s current political situation, and Marshall’s forceful push for a more open government that does a better job of listening to citizens.
Earlier this week, he held an event in the lobby of Confederation Building to launch an “Open Government Initiative” that he promises will make more information available to the public and include “collaboration” and “dialogue” with people about public policy decisions.
Before that, he announced an all-star panel would review every line of the province’s access to information legislation, led by former premier and chief justice Clyde Wells.
And last week, Marshall announced the government will finally introduce whistleblower legislation, more than seven years after the Tories originally made an election commitment to do so.
In the past two years under then-premier Kathy Dunderdale, the government developed a reputation for being secretive and out of touch with citizens.
In the spring of 2012, the government passed Bill 29, a suite of amendments to the province’s access to information law which vastly increased the ability of ministers and bureaucrats to keep things secret. Bill 29 became the symbol for government secrecy, even as Dunderdale and her ministers tried to defend their decisions.
“We never saw us as being secretive. We’re too busy working,” Marshall said. “We’re working hard for the people, and then (upon becoming premier) I said, maybe we’ve got to work with them better. More emphasis on the ‘with.’”
Speaking to The Telegram Friday, Marshall left no doubt that the push for increased transparency was coming directly from him, since he came into the premier’s office.
He said that when he was first elected, he wanted to make changes to an aspect of the workers’ compensation legislation, but was told that he couldn’t just do it. As justice minister, it wasn’t part of his portfolio, and only the minister responsible can initiate new legislation.
“If you’re premier, you can make it come forward,” Marshall said. “So, as premier, I said, ‘Whistleblower. We’re going to do whistleblower.’”