Paul Antle releases plan to change access to information
It was blowing a gale in front of the Confederation building in St. John’s Monday afternoon, as Liberal leadership candidate Paul Antle offered up a plan to improve access to information law in Newfoundland and Labrador.
© — Photo by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram
Liberal leadership candidate Paul Antle presented a 10-point plan for changing the province’s access to information legislation in front of Confederation Building in St. John’s on Monday.
His lead-in was an endorsement from Liberal Avalon MP Scott Andrews, who acknowledged the sporadic, muffled roars of wind swirling around the handful of politicians and reporters on hand.
“The winds of change are certainly blowing through this province,” he said. “Paul Antle represents that change and that’s what we need in our province right now.”
Key to Antle’s plans for the future: the repeal of Bill 29, the controversial amendment to provincial access to information laws passed by the government in 2012 despite Liberal and NDP opposition.
“Bill 29 is the most regressive piece of legislation to have been passed by the House of Assembly since Confederation,” Antle said, flanked by fellow Liberals Andrews, Scott Simms, George Baker and George Furey, and amidst the loud, frantic flapping of nearby flags.
Antle said he would task the province’s information commissioner with developing replacement legislation for Bill 29.
An all-party committee would review it every three years and offer recommendations for changes.
“I want people to know that I, as premier, will reach out, not shut you out,” he said.
He said he has heard from municipal leaders who have not received infrastructure funding for certain proposed projects, saying the PC government will not tell them why their projects were unsuccessful in being awarded funding.
Pressed on the comment, Antle said “many municipal leaders” have expressed the complaint of being frustrated in a search for information, but he refused to provide specific examples.
He also did not offer an example of an improperly handled access to information request, or specific failure of the current government to provide information to the satisfaction of an individual, business or organization since the passage of the controversial Bill 29.
He pressed broad strokes. “Like when you request a document now under the Access to Information (and Protection of Privacy) Act, it’s completely redacted. There’s hardly anything in it. It’s just all black lines,” he said.
He highlighted the multibillion-dollar Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, saying Bill 29 is being used to block the release of information, specifically details about project contracts.
“The government has kind of taken the approach that they don’t have to respond to anyone anymore,” he told The Telegram.
He was asked if he had spoken to current information and privacy commissioner Ed Ring about his plans.
“The information commissioner is put there for a reason and it is to monitor how access to information is being managed. With the restrictions that we have right now on what can be released and what can’t be and what’s captured and what’s not captured, I mean there’s very little that goes out the door now that’s not redacted. So, I think it would probably be a breath of fresh air for the commissioner,” he responded.
Messages left requesting Ring’s response were not returned as of press time.
Provincial NDP leader Lorraine Michael and the minister responsible for Access to Information and Privacy Protection, Keith Hutchings, were not interested in engaging with the Liberal candidate. Through communications staff, both declined comment.
Meanwhile, despite Andrews’ endorsement, the majority of endorsements for the Liberal leadership from Liberal politicians in the province still sit with MHA Dwight Ball. Cathy Bennett, Jim Bennett and Danny Dumaresque are also in the running.
The 10-point commitment
Here is Paul Antle's 10 point commitment to a more open government — directions for the information commissioner in drafting new access to information and privacy protection legislation.
1. Independence from ministers’ offices — no involvement in the process;
2. Protect people's personal information;
3. Timely responses to those requesting information;
4. All government agencies and Crown corporations fall under and must comply;
5. All major agreements with government open to members of the public;
6. Cannot hide behind “corporate sensitive information”;
7. Cabinet has to make all orders in council public in a timely manner;
8. Protect cabinet confidences, but limit cabinet exceptions;
9. Ensure that all ministers and their offices are open to access requests;
10. All-party committee to review legislation every three years.
(Source: Paul Antle leadership campaign news release, Sept. 9, 2013.)