Government doing 'pretty good' at being open, Ring says

Steve
Steve Bartlett
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Charges the Tory government is secretive don't jive with the information and privacy commissioner.

Ed Ring told The Telegram Friday he thinks the province is doing well when it comes to openness and releasing information.

"Overall, I think we are doing pretty good in this province," the independent commissioner said.

Ring's comments come in the wake of the release of the annual Auditor General's Report.

In it, acting AG Wayne Loveys noted his office wasn't given access to records on departmental decisions involving the province's $5-billion infrastructure strategy.

Two departments reasoned the files were protected by access to information laws because the contents might be deliberated by cabinet.

Loveys expressed concern about the precedent being set, and then the government's lack of openness took a beating from critics.

Ring wouldn't comment on the specifics of what transpired between the AG's office and the department because he didn't have the details. But the commissioner did speak generally.

"There is a very specific section in the legislation that deals with cabinet confidences. The fact the information was not provided to the auditor general could be a very legitimate exception that was appropriately claimed."

He noted his office has previously dealt with that section of the act, and in most cases, the public body's reasoning was substantiated.

Ring says he understands Loveys' concern, but he doesn't necessarily share it.

"I have no reasons to believe (the act) wasn't appropriately applied. ... Without me having access to the file or conducting an investigation, on the surface (cabinet confidence) is a very legitimate claim."

As for the questions about the government's openness, Ring said the statistics show the province is doing well at being open.

He said data is released in the majority of the roughly 600 access to information requests made to government departments annually.

"The fact that maybe 15 per cent of requests end up in our office (on appeal) is a clear indication that the other 85 per cent of individuals are likely satisfied, which means they are getting information," he said, adding 75 to 80 per cent of the cases that reach the commissioner are resolved through discussion.

Dwight Ball was surprised to hear Ring applauding the province.

The Liberal leader noted there were two instances in October where the commissioner had to take the government to court because it wouldn't release information.

Openness and accountability, Ball said, aren't always about compliance to access laws.

Sometimes, he said, it's about the issue involved, such as the non-release of department infrastructure information flagged by Loveys.

"Yeah, you can have a high compliance rate," Ball said, "but if you have ... a number the size of $5 billion, that kind of number begs a question that should get extra attention."

sbartlett@thetelegram.com Twitter: @SteveBartlett_

 

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Recent comments

  • ranter
    January 29, 2012 - 08:06

    Mr Ring is a prime example of the problem with our province and its government - it's towed along by weak people, who help their buddies out before anything else. Ring is too afraid to stand for anything of principle as he notices the crew are already aboard the life rafts, while the passengers are left to sink or swim. This province is full of those who tow the party line.

  • ranter
    January 29, 2012 - 08:05

    Mr Ring is a prime example of the problem with our province and its government - it's towed along by weak people, who help their buddies out before anything else. Ring is too afraid to stand for anything of principle as he notices the crew are already aboard the life rafts, while the passengers are left to sink or swim. This province is full of those who tow the party line.

  • Charles
    January 28, 2012 - 12:57

    DO BALL REALLY UNDERSTAND WHATS HE'S TALKING ABOUT?

    • Dave
      January 29, 2012 - 00:18

      More importantly, does Ed Ring?

  • Don II
    January 28, 2012 - 10:55

    The comments of Mr. Ring are very strange indeed. If I recall correctly, didn't Mr. Ring have to take the Government of Newfoundland to Court recently to get access to Cabinet protected files? In that case the Court agreed with Mr. Ring. The fact is that the Government of Newfoundland will be open and transparent if you have the resources to haul it into Court and get a judgement against it. Otherwise, the Government types will tell you to your face like they apparently told Mr. Lovey's, the acting Auditor General: "We don't have to show you anything, there's the door, get out!"

  • MBC
    January 28, 2012 - 08:18

    Mr Ball.... Mr Ring wants to keep his job !