The government is getting ready to introduce legislation into the House of Assembly that would broadly reduce the public's access to information, and expand the documents that are off-limits to public disclosure.
The text of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy legislation has not been made public yet, but opposition parties are already reacting strongly.
New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael told reporters that the bill's intentions are “scary” and that her party – potentially in co-ordination with the Liberals – plans to filibuster the legislative process.
Justice Minister Felix Collins held a news conference at lunchtime today to formally lay out the policies that the new bill will bring into place.
In a break with normal procedure, reporters were not given the text of the legislation. All of the information publicly available at this time – including the information in this story – is based on statements made by government officials, not the actual text of the legislation.
Collins reaffirmed the government's commitment to “openness and transparency.”
He argued that provisions which will exclude wide swaths of government paper from public scrutiny are necessary. For example, he said that if cabinet ministers' briefing notes are available to the public, it “creates a chill” on what kind of information bureaucrats are willing to write.
Liberal Leader Dwight Ball called the bill a “secrecy act.”
The legislative changes are the result of a review done by bureaucrat John Cummings. The government has accepted 16 of his 33 recommendations.
Amongst the most controversial is the government's ability to dismiss “frivolous and vexatious” access to information requests. The discretion over what constitutes such a request lies with the head of a public body – in most cases, the cabinet minister.
If a person disagrees with the government's choice to deny access to specific information, in many situations they will not be able to appeal the decision to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner anymore. Instead, any appeals must go directly to the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court.
Debate on the legislation is expected to take place in the House of Assembly starting this afternoon. With the NDP promising to filibuster the bill, the legislature could be forced to stay open all night.
The government held a news conference today outlining legislative changes to the province's Access to Information legislation.
The government is broadly expanding cabinet secrecy, making sure documents previously available to the public are now off limits.
The government can now also refuse requests for information that are "frivolous or vexatious."
The government has outlined the broad goals of the legislation, but the text of the new law has not been provided to the media.
Justice Minister Felix Collins said that the new act upholds the government's commitment to be "open and accountable."