Debate shuts down on access legislation

James
James McLeod
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After a gruelling four days of debate in the House of Assembly, the government shut down debate in the wee hours

this morning, and forced through am-endments to the province’s access to information legislation.

Since Monday afternoon politicians have debated amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, a record-breaking debate that lasted more than 60 hours.

But the last day of debate was dogged by accusations of racism in the House of Assembly.

Government House leader Jerome Kennedy moved to shut down debate Thursday evening by bringing in a closure motion.

The bill will expand the realm of cabinet secrecy to include any documents prepared for ministers’ deliberations — even if they’re never actually used to make cabinet decisions.

The legislation will also allow cabinet ministers to dismiss access to information they deem to be “frivolous or vexatious” or anything they consider to be “trivial.”

In the course of debate, opposition parties accused the government of drafting a law that allows them to refuse essentially any government document that they don’t want to release.

Thursday evening’s debate began with an ongoing side-controversy about allegations of racism in the House of Assembly.

During the course of late-night debate Wednesday, Justice Minister Felix Collins blasted the CBC for comparing the province to Uganda, Mexico and Bulgaria. According to the Centre for Law and Democracy, the government’s proposed law would make information less accessible than many developing countries.

“To equate the province of Newfoundland, our pine clad hills that we love, behind countries such as Mexico, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Bulgaria, Uganda, Moldova and Guatamala, countries where every day people kill women and children, where human rights atrocities are happening all the time,” Collins said Wednesday night. “We have a charter of rights and freedoms. I don’t know about Ethiopia. I don’t know if they have a charter in Uganda or Nigeria.”

New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael said his comments smacked of racism. Michael was forced to apologize, as the comment was deemed to be “unparliamentary,” but speaking to reporters, she didn’t back down.

“I still have my understanding of what systemic racism is, and I hope that it has helped that I’ve said this,”she said.

Michael Karanicolas, Legal Officer for Centre for Law and Democracy took umbrage at Collins’ comments as well, and sent an open letter to him, urging him to withdraw Bill 29.

“In response to your remarks about the Charter, and the state of human rights in the developing world, I would point out that many of the countries you cited do, in fact, have their own equivalents of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Karanicolas wrote. “ I would draw your attention to the constitutions of Mexico, Ethiopia, Uganda and Bulgaria, all of whom recognize access to information as a human right, and all of whom have stronger access to information frameworks than Newfoundland’s will, if Bill 29 passes.”

Speaker Ross Wiseman will deliver a ruling next week on whether to censure Michael; Government House Leader Jerome Kennedy argued that the comments were a breach of parliamentary rules.

Kennedy told The Telegram that ultimately, the racism comments were a signal that debate had descended to a point where it just needed to stop.

“It was the right thing to do,” he said. “It was pretty continuous debate. The opposition members certainly had their opportunity to debate the bill and they did so vigorously.”

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball dismissed that, saying that Kennedy was just using the racism issue as a distraction.

“We just see thing really as a diversion tactic to just bring closure to this bill,” he said.  

Shortly after 11 p.m., Michael wrapped up her final speech discussing the legislation, and she noted the one silver lining was that the four-day filibuster has aroused public reaction.

The legislation and the filibuster have drawn national attention, and on Thursday night, there were 30 people sitting in the public galleries at one point.

“People are interested in this,” Michael said. “We have been able to make public how weak this bill is.”

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: House of Assembly.Government House, House of Assembly.During, CBC Rights

Geographic location: Uganda, Mexico, Bulgaria Ethiopia Newfoundland Nicaragua Nigeria Canada Government House

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Recent comments

  • Dan
    June 15, 2012 - 14:20

    What bothers me is that I know a few PC MHA's personally and I truly believe that they do not believe or want this Bill to pass. And I am disappointed to know that they voted with the party instead of their conscience. Thanks fellas.

  • We can't afford to have Accountability and Transparency stifled in our province with the enactment and passing of Bill TWENTY-NINE in this present enviornment
    June 15, 2012 - 11:32

    I have to agree with W McLean that Dunderdale isn't doing anything that Danny wouldn't have done. Also a lot of people think like Liz, who commented above, who think that Danny is not in on any of the political stuff we see percolating today. I have to say that I was all in favor of Danny before I figured out what was going on over the past year or so. I avowed after being fooled by Tobin that I would never take on another politician as a Savoir, but I did, I took on Danny. My opinion is that we have been witnesses to a ruse every since the mid 1990s. I think the arrangement of the stars started a long way back during Tobins reign. I also believe that neither Danny Williams or Steven Harper are bad friends with each other, I think the ruse we have seen, where everybody seemed like they abhored each other was just that a RUSE. I feel ALL that all we have seen come down the political chute in recent years was all a collaboration between both the Federal Government of Canada and the Provincial Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. I also feel some of the other provinces are in on it,too. Over the years Danny was in power I saw him being severely abused and maligned by the National Media, namely the Globe and Mail and the National Post, as well as some of theother Province's News Media, but that has stopped since he abdicated as Premier. I defended my Premier with Gusto as I thought he was being unnecessarily maligned and abused by everyone. I now believe the National Media was in on it, as well, and inflicted a ruse of their own upon us Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. I say this because Danny never ever took umbrage to any of the awful things that were written about him, after second thought it appears that it was all a collaboration to get things done. NOW it seems they are all ONSIDE with each other, despite no apologies were openly offered to plcate matters. I make my decision by asking myself a question. After so many onslaughts on one's person how can a person seem to be doing so well and in tune with those who inflicted so much unnecessary angst on that person? As far as I am concerned everything that was done to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador was done to devise a plan to rejuvenate the Canadian Economy with Newfoundland and Labrador's natural resource base and again Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will be the ones left holding the bag, by being pilfered again out of their natural resources, without having built the economy that should have existed here from the beginning; and besides we will be responsible for paying off the mortgage on Projects like Muskrat Falls over 57 years, so as to supply cheap electrical power to the industries that will be created in the Mining Sector by ex-politicians and again sent off to markets in the raw state. I feel our province will profit very little from all of this. We don't need to have accountability and transparency stifled in such an environment, that which is being done by Bill 29 which just got passed in our Legislature.

  • Coat Tail CoverUP
    June 15, 2012 - 09:26

    I guess its nothing left to do in the house of assembly now is to give themselves a great big fat raise! Everyone who voted for this Muskratfalls view on our access to info should be paid in Peso's, Uganda shillings or Nicaragua cordoba's. Because thats all they are worth to the people in this province.

  • Liz
    June 15, 2012 - 08:58

    Danny Williams relaxed the restrictions on access to information and it seems that our new government sees fit to reverse this. Our government is elected and paid by us, the people of this province and I believe that we should have access to anything that happens within our government. I will not be voting for this government in the next election. This bill should not be passed.

  • Harvey
    June 15, 2012 - 08:04

    Just censure Lorraine Michael and watch the polls for the P.C. bunch. This gov't...following in the steps of Harper...is appalling !!! Simply covering their own rears. Danny made us proud NLers. Dunderdale has destroyed it in short months.

    • W McLean
      June 15, 2012 - 08:33

      Dunderdale isn't doing anything Danny wouldn't have done. He started the clampdown on ATI; in fact he started the sham 'review' which led to this bill. Yet people cheered him on, every step of the way, as he and his government retreated into secrecy and paranoia. There are none so blind as those who will not see.

    • David
      June 15, 2012 - 09:28

      Correction: Danny just made us (even more) obedient Newfoundlanders. If anyone is 'proud' of that, then they certainly aren't from anywhere else.

  • Ash
    June 15, 2012 - 07:53

    What do you mean....the countries cited have no human rights...therefore, I guess citing access to information as a human right means nothing!!!! Honestly!!!

    • M. Alexander
      June 15, 2012 - 11:47

      Regardless if one is a Liberal, a PC, or an NDP supporter, this legislation is a bad thing for the people of this Province. There is no political party which should have that power to block freedom of information like the current Dunderdale government has done. Well done...you have successfully turned me (generally a supporter) against voting for your party in the next Provincial election (no, I will not forget)...I think others may not forget either. This is fundamental for me and that Bill is a deal breaker regardless of any other positives they may be able to boast from now to election year. I guess we will eventually see in the next electionif it was worth it for your government.