It appears any documents influencing cabinet decisions on the billions of dollars the province spends on infrastructure are not for the eyes of the public, no matter the requests of the Office of the Auditor General.
According to his annual report, released Wednesday, government refused to provide acting auditor general Wayne Loveys with any documents on how the government departments identify, evaluate and rank potential infrastructure projects.
This came about after the acting AG’s office determined a formal infrastructure strategy document did not exist, despite the fact such a strategy had been referred to for years by the government and had billions of dollars attributed to it in recent budgets.
The acting AG went to government departments with the five biggest infrastructure budgets for 2010-11 — Transportation and Works, Health and Community Services, Education, Municipal Affairs, and Justice — to see what processes they used for prioritizing infrastructure needs.
Early discussions were held with officials from all five departments looking at the nature and scope of the acting AG’s review.
The report says some preliminary information was received, but concerns were raised about releasing documents.
The Department of Justice informed the acting AG it would assess the requests for information on behalf of all departments.
Deputy ministers for Health and Community Services and Justice later contacted the Office of the AG. Both offered the same response to requests for documents — that doing so would reveal cabinet confidences protected from disclosure under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
“At this point it became clear that it was not worthwhile proceeding with any further requests to the departments,” wrote Loveys.
In the acting AG’s view, government interpreted the Act too broadly. The Auditor General Act states the office should have “unrestricted access” to conduct its work, except in cases where another government act specifically says otherwise.
Such is the case in Section 18 of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, but Loveys believes government interpreted the Act too broadly. He expressed doubts in the report that all documents his office requested would reveal the substance of cabinet discussions.
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Loveys also said the refusal is not consistent with similar requests for information made by the Office of the AG in previous years.
Development of an infrastructure strategy was first referenced in the 2004 Speech from the Throne, government said it would “develop a comprehensive infrastructure strategy to guide investments in public infrastructure in a manner that promotes growth.”
In the 2007 budget, the infrastructure strategy was valued at $2 billion. Four years later, that budget figure jumped to $5 billion.
However, when the Office of the AG asked for a copy of the strategy at the beginning of its review, it was informed by government that no formal document existed.
Further research found a working group to prepare a strategy on prioritizing investment was established. It prepared a draft report dated November 2004 that was never finalized by government. It identified a lack of centralization for planning, acquisition and maintenance of infrastructure among department and Crown agencies.
The draft report suggested there was a need for a planned and dedicated approach in the long-run with increased multi-year funding for infrastructure.
Requests were made by The Telegram to speak with Minister of Health and Community Services Susan Sullivan and Minister of Justice Felix Collins, but neither were available for comment.
In an email, a spokeswoman for Sullivan’s department said information related to repairs and maintenance and medical equipment projects was provided to the Office of the AG. She went on to affirm certain information requested was deemed to reveal the substance of cabinet deliberations, therefore it was not released.