Opposition balks at $1,662 charge for information

James
James McLeod
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Request would require large amount of time, minister says

The Liberals are crying foul after they were told it would cost $1,662.50 to reveal the amount of money the government spends on marketing and communications.

But Steve Kent, minister responsible for access to information, told The Telegram that what the Opposition asked for is so broad and detail­ed it would take weeks for government workers to pull it all together.

“That’s a very, very broad request and it will require significant amounts of time to assemble all of that,” Kent said. “It feels like a bit of a fishing expedition, to be frank. When you go through that list of items that they’re looking to be included, it’s a broad request and there’s significant time and resources involved.”

In late January, a Liberal researcher fil­ed an access re­quest for “the amount of money spent on marketing and advertising in Budget year 2012-2013 (budget and actual) and 2013-14 (budget and actual to date).”

The request was made to 13 different government departments.

When officials clarified what exactly the Liberals were requesting, though, Kent said the sheer volume of work involved was staggering.

“It was clarified that they wanted the totals to include a number of things — all forms of advertising, whether program promotions or job postings, for example; all marketing costs; all product promotions; policy notifications; awareness campaigns; trade show costs; consultant costs; and the list goes on,” Kent said.

“It’s not in one particular line item in those 13 departments.”

Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons said the Liberals are looking for a sense of how much the government spends on advertising and marketing, because some of that spending seems pretty questionable.

He pointed out, for example, the ubiquitous “OutrageNL” TV ads that have been running. On Saturday evening, the government paid for advertising time during “Hockey Night in Canada” to promote the www.OutrageNL.ca website.

But the website itself has been not working for several weeks.

A spokeswoman for the Women’s Policy Office, which is responsible for the campaign, said the website had been down for a couple weeks, but they’re working to get it fixed.

The government spent $12,000 on the television ads in February.

“I’m here on my computer looking at a website that I was told to look at — that we paid to be told to look at — and the website doesn’t work,” Parsons said. “Perhaps if they did a little more doing the work rather than promoting it, it might be a different story.”

Parsons said it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that the government is deliberately putting up roadblocks because it’s the Liberals asking for the information.

“Either there’s an inefficient system accompanied by incompetence, or they’re not giving us the full story,” he said. “Either one of them is not acceptable.”

But Kent said the Liberals’ access request is just a very unusual, very broad request.

Kent said that, as a rule, people don’t have to pay a cent for access requests. Of the 285 requests the government fielded last year, only 23 involved cost estimates. And in several of those requests, bureaucrats found a way to get the applicants the information they were looking for without charging for it, he said.

Kent said the Liberals’ request is the relatively rare outlier which is so broad, and would require so much work on the part of public servants to draw it all up, that they need to charge for it.

“What we’re talking about is not simply one particular line item in a given department. They wanted information related to all forms of marketing and advertising,” he said. “It’s not a simple calculation. It’s not a simple request.”

 

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: The Telegram, Policy Office

Geographic location: Canada

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Corporate Psycho
    March 07, 2014 - 21:46

    Kent is hiding something. He is all about misleading.

  • W McLean
    March 06, 2014 - 14:04

    Umm... why did he go through ATIP - which is aimed at getting access to pre-existing records - in order to get a response to a simple factual question?

  • Scott R
    March 06, 2014 - 09:11

    @ Joker, Sorry I mean Dolf. I have to agree with Dolf on this one. Mr Parsons we are concern where our tax dollars is going. So me and Dolf would like to know how are you earning our tax dollars? Besides popping your head up every now and then. just to lets people know your still alive...

  • Doug
    March 06, 2014 - 08:50

    Two beauties going at it there. lol

  • Dianne
    March 06, 2014 - 08:23

    Mr Parsons do something useful, Trying helping your district, to build their community. so they can make a living. Instead of being a part time MHA. Yes its your responsible to build your district. If you can't do it, walk away like a lots more should do. Instead becoming a burden to society..

  • Brenda
    March 06, 2014 - 07:45

    OUR money is being squandered so much, including politicians' expenses, it's absolutely sickening. If we only knew the whole deal on how our hard earned taxes are being wasted, while (for instance) a lot of us are worried about how we are going to pay our high heating bills this past few months. And no wonder our Health Care System is in the mess it's in. I had to be admitted to hospital last month from the Emergency Dept. and they didn't even have gowns! The state of our hospitals should be first priority; not petty foolishness. There are Civil Servants who have lots of free time sittting around doing nothing, so get them together to work on this. Give them their usual paycheque; nothing extra. At least they will be actually working to earn it.

  • Jay
    March 06, 2014 - 07:16

    I'm not sure why Parsons is so upset about this. This type of charge has been standard procedure for this type of request for years, so it can't be a surprise to him. In fact, I think the Liberal wrote the guidelines for it.

  • Joe
    March 06, 2014 - 07:07

    To Steve Kent: Its what we pay you and all government for Obviously you have something to hide by not fulfilling the request. Only a few more months and you and the rest of the Dunderdale flunkies will be out on your coollective ar*es.

  • Joe
    March 06, 2014 - 07:07

    I am sure Steve little get a better response to his request in 2016? Or then again Mr. Parsons may feel he is the best person to oversee his performance like Steve does now.

  • Darlene
    March 06, 2014 - 06:20

    Now Stevie...just because you got a promotion doesn't make you any smarter...what a crock you just let out of your mouth..true politician..lies ..lies and more lies...how stupid do you really think people are...it's not the 30's anymore ..although with the blackouts and all...seems we are going backwards...people are educated ..something the PC's seem to forget...but after the next election they will remember ..I know I will...cheers

  • Glenn Stockley
    March 06, 2014 - 06:20

    Mr. Kent is wrong in this instance. $1700.00 is not an amount that jives with a tremendous amount of labour. It's a democracy. The people of Nl deserve a government that is willing to go beyond "simple " requests...which this one is..the ministers comments notwithstanding.....

  • Scott R
    March 06, 2014 - 05:28

    My question to Mr Parsons, Sir do we have a opposition party, if we do . I have to say they are doing a very poor job. Maybe Mr Ball is busy trying to keep the in fighting under control . Don't you think the leader of the Zebra Party would lets the people know, where do they stand on Muskrat Falls, Or are ye saving that for a Xmas gift for everyone.

    • Dolf
      March 06, 2014 - 06:58

      Go back to sleep Scott. It's a slim chance but you might make some sense when you wake up.

    • Mike
      March 06, 2014 - 08:12

      I think the opposition party are doing just fine, Scott. Check the CTA poll coming out today.

  • hua mulan
    March 06, 2014 - 05:24

    self-advertising at tax payers expense, obfuscation, cover-up, non-disclosure, as the House idles, wrapped in prophylactic symbolism..............our little situation seems like a twice-told tale of Harpo's PMO and its dubious nigel wright, bruce carson, tom flanagans characters who must have been selected on the basis of the most successful in an amorality entrance exam

  • Crazy
    March 06, 2014 - 04:59

    Parsons, their only doing the same things the Liberals did in the pass. So what's the big deal? Mr Parson if you keep up the way your going, Sir your going to find yourself in court for slander. Your not in the HOA now, just running of at the mouth. And by the way, where is Mr Dressup too? Don't you think he should come out of hiding, and face the public, Or is that why he keeping Danny D around?