Hands tied by Bill 29

James
James McLeod
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Legislation forces government to keep Muskrat Falls oversight reports secret

Premier Tom Marshall has signalled he’s close to announcing beefed-up government oversight of the Muskrat Falls project, but the vast majority of it will remain totally secret because of provisions in the Bill 29 access to information legislation.

Marshall told reporters last week he plans to set up a committee of senior bureaucrats to review Muskrat Falls spending by Nalcor.

He also told reporters some additional information will be made public as part of the process.

But the government’s hands are tied by the Bill 29 amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Back in the spring of 2012, the Tories made it illegal to release any information which is used to inform cabinet deliberations.

When Bill 29 was passed, it greatly increased the scope of cabinet records, which now includes any ”discussion paper, policy analysis, proposal, advice or briefing material, including all factual and background material prepared for the cabinet,” as well as “a record created during the process of developing or preparing a submission for the cabinet.”

All cabinet records must be kept secret; the government doesn’t have any leeway to decide whether or not to make them public.

So if the Muskrat Falls oversight committee reports to cabinet, then its reports cannot be made public.

That seems to run counter to what Marshall said on Thursday, when he explained the broad outlines of how the Muskrat Falls oversight system would work.

“It will go through the officials and then come to cabinet. Through cabinet, of course, different ministers will get their instructions,” Marshall said. “One part of it, as the minister will outline as well, is that Nalcor’s independent auditor does the annual report, as you know. But also, the independent auditor will be providing special reports to the government officials, and that report will released publicly.”

But by law, either the independent auditor’s report will go to cabinet, or it will be made public. It would be illegal under Bill 29 for both to happen.

When The Telegram contacted the premier’s office about this apparent contradiction, a spokeswoman for Marshall issued a brief statement.

“There will be a new oversight protocol put in place with a reporting structure that will require a public report. We will not contravene the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Minister (Derrick) Dalley will announce full details next week.”

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball said he remembers debating the cabinet confidentiality section of Bill 29 very well, because the debate over that section lasted more than 24 hours.

Ball said he remembers former Government House Leader Jerome Kennedy walking in after an all-night debate during the filibuster, and asking deputy House Leader Darin King what part of the law they were debating.

“He lost it,” Ball said. “He couldn’t believe we were still on clause 6.”

During the epic debate, the Liberals actually proposed a specific amendment which would have changed the word “shall” to “may” which would have allowed the government the discretion to release cabinet information if it wanted to. The Tories defeated that amendment.

Now, Ball said his reading of the law is that all Muskrat Falls oversight work must be kept secret if the committee is reporting to cabinet.

“They have no choice but to keep it secret under that piece of legislation,” he said. “It’s one of those two things. It’s either you really don’t have any intention at all of making it public, or No. 2, you don’t understand the impact or scope of Bill 29.”

New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael said it really doesn’t matter what’s released, as long as it’s all still happening within the core government bureaucracy, because that’s not true oversight.

“Oversight for me means an open and transparent process that is independent, so that we can trust the objectivity of the oversight,” she said.

 

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: Muskrat Falls oversight committee, Government House

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Recent comments

  • Janice Spencer
    March 18, 2014 - 16:38

    How much is this going to cost? Who pays for it?

  • Charles
    March 18, 2014 - 06:31

    Lets go back in time, When Tom Marshall was talking to Bill Rowe, Tom told Bill if there a law they don't agree with, they would write a new law to out weight the first law, As for Bill 29 , it don't have the government hands tied, Just that this project got to go ahead, no matter what. Hardtimes for the people or not. Besides where is this one liner Dwight Ball, still hiding. Get of your ass man, and do your job. Or get the hell out of the way, and lets some one else stand for the people.

  • GJB
    March 17, 2014 - 18:35

    A Canadian seismic company looking for answers to who has its seismic data, and what NALCOR did with it, is the offshore Muskrat Falls. For any person or business if there is evidence of something not right, you'll never see it 'cause it's a secret? Will Marshall really unlock the access to information vault. Bill 29 is bad for business! Private business that is, like Geophysical Service Incorporated in a fight to find out if its seismic data used to promote the offshore was a violation of copyright and interfered in the companies contracts. Bill 29 is good for government business! Especially when the government doesn’t want the public to know what business it is up to, ending up in huge conflicts of interest, wasting taxpayer dollars and creates too many opportunities for government to end up abusing its power. That’s what appears to be happening. Not only should these laws to reduce oversight and transparency be thrown out but the powers of the information commissioner and ombudsmen needs to be greatly expanded to protect citizens from massive conflicts of interest, and obvious acts that constitute abuse of power on behalf of the Newfoundland government.

  • Crazy
    March 17, 2014 - 17:22

    Everyone is jumping all over the PC;s, why don't you take the time and ask Mr Ball where do he stand on Muskrat falls, Then ask him about the 100 acres of crown land, someone is hoping to have open up in Deer Lake. Then you will get a understanding why he on the fence concerning this project.. Just saying, Maybe I can put its this way, Like Gerry Byrne would say, I heard it on the street.

  • Tony Rockel
    March 17, 2014 - 12:21

    "Beefed-up" oversight??? What Marshall is offering is a lot more like very watery chicken broth, with emphasis on the "chicken". What kind of hold does Nalcor have over this bunch of PC boneless wonders?

  • We are NOT living under a Democracy!
    March 17, 2014 - 11:00

    Our politicians like to call our system of government a Democracy. In my opinion it is not a Democracy, it is far from a Democracy, it only ever simulates a democracy during the period of the election that occurs about every 4 years. Even during the election process nothing democratic ever gets demonstrated, especially, when, during that process only those hand picked by the 3 political parties and their leaders can run for the individual parties. Once they are elected into government, it is then secrecy all around. We cannot forget the process of enacting "Bill 29" by the present Conservative Government that was put into place so that no light could be shone on the Muskrat Falls Project. Accounting and Transparency is off limit to the electorate because of Bill 29. They even took away the powers of the PUB. All dealings that are swirling around NOW in the Muskrat Falls cesspool will be covered up and the processes of creating many more multi-millionaires among the business class and government politicians and bureaucrats are safely and securely merrily on their way. Despite the fact the electorate/hydro consumers have to pay the hydro bills for the next 57 years, they will never know the below board dealings that went on in the process.

  • joebennett
    March 17, 2014 - 10:29

    And Bill Barry or Frank Coleman wants to take over this sorry excuse of a party. They just don't know where they are better off.

    • Be Careful Mr. Coleman, we, the electorate, are more Aware than ever.
      March 17, 2014 - 14:05

      If Mr. Frank Coleman decides to be the voice of the present government, if he is successful in being elected to be the PC Leader, to preserve the Muskrat Falls Contract in its present structure, I will make a bet that his wonderful vibrant businesses that he has grown and preserved thus far will suffer a terrible economic upheaval not far down the road. Be careful Mr. Coleman what you take on, you have a lot to lose should things go wrong. Also we are sick of being duped by ex politicos by interfering in who should run our province. We have been bitten so often by our politicians we are now like critically injured animals, we are going to bite back.

  • hua mulan
    March 17, 2014 - 10:04

    "But by law, either the independent auditor’s report will go to cabinet, or it will be made public. It would be illegal under Bill 29 for both to happen."............................ .......................... So, this is what we do byes; says the 1%ers, say that we will change the law, don't change it, and then say we changed it......................................................................... de commoners are too busy trying to pay the bills to see the wool being pulled over their eyes, sure

  • Our system of Government cannot be called a Democracy!
    March 17, 2014 - 09:56

    Our politicians like to call our system of government a Democracy. In my opinion it is not a Democracy, it is far from a Democracy, it only ever simulates a democracy during the period of the election that occurs about every 4 years. Even during the election process nothing democratic ever gets demonstrated, especially, when, during that process only those hand picked by the 3 political parties and their leaders can run for the individual parties. Once they are elected into government, it is then secrecy all around. We cannot forget the process of enacting "Bill 29" by the present Conservative Government that was put into place so that no light could be shone on the Muskrat Falls Project. Accounting and Transparency is off limit to the electorate because of Bill 29. They even took away the powers of the PUB. All dealings that are swirling around NOW in the Muskrat Falls cesspool will be covered up and the processes of creating many more multi-millionaires among the business class and government politicians and bureaucrats are safely and securely merrily on their way. Despite the fact the electorate/hydro consumers have to pay the hydro bills for the next 57 years, they will never know the below board dealings that went on in the process.

  • Jack
    March 17, 2014 - 09:47

    Premier Marshall, if you don't like Bill 29, why don't you and the Tories just simply repeal it. To say one thing in changing Bill 29, and then do another in making one excuse after another means that you're no different than Kathy Dunderdale in using one lie after another. As long as you keep lying to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, the Tories will be voted out in next year's general elections. If you don't want that to happen, then practice what you preach instead of making one excuse after another. Besides, as the second Jewish Premier in Canadian History, the first being David Barrett, you're supposed to be the symbol of change, not the symbol of status quo.

    • saelcove
      March 17, 2014 - 10:18

      Before voting for the Fiberals ask if they will repeal bill 29 and the answer is no. Because nalcor is the government

  • Don II
    March 17, 2014 - 09:19

    The Government's hands are tied by Bill 29? What unmitigated nonsense! It appears that the Government of Newfoundland has nefarious secrets that it does not want revealed. How does Cabinet confidentiality apply if the matters being discussed in Cabinet are designed to mislead the public, are unlawful, unethical or involve collusion to unjustly enrich some other party or result in a breach the laws of the Province? The masters and employers of the Government of Newfoundland are the people of Newfoundland and Labrador! It is the people's money and the people's freedom that the Government is dealing with. The people should be able to see and review any document that is in the possession of the Government at any time that they want to! The people must know what their Government is really doing with their money and their freedoms. The secrecy of the Government of Newfoundland is similar to that which was practiced by the Soviet Union spy agency KGB! The solution is to immediately repeal Bill 29 and replace that repressive legislation with legislation to truly make transparent access to Government information a reality. The immediate passage of real Whistleblower legislation would also assist in changing the secretive, incompetent, unethical and corrupt culture of the Government of Newfoundland.

  • Bert
    March 17, 2014 - 09:14

    No the government isn't perfect or anywhere close to it, but a message to Dolf and Maurice Adams.. You cannot expect to be taken seriously! Whenever there is a government story you two are here doing the only thing you ever do Condemn. Never a word of critizism for the opposition parties. If you want to be respected than be objective to all. In the meantime I will read every government story and read your well known responses.

    • Maurice E. Adams
      March 17, 2014 - 10:25

      BERT:-- you will note my reference to an "impotent opposition" that just can't wait for the mantle of power and who are not putting the best interest of NL citizens first...... Is that not being fair and objective?... I even offer a potential remedy.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 17, 2014 - 09:10

    Our democratic government has been hijacked by Nalcor (designed by Danny, implemented by Dunderdale, and covered up by Marshall)...... Aided and abetted by an impotent opposition (that is prepared to sit by, say little or nothing, and wait --- NO --- long for --- the mantle of power)....... If the the opposition were putting the best interests of NL citizens first, it would not be sitting back for another 12-18 months, and allow Nalcor to ruin this province........... It would increasingly pressure THIS government to put a hold on further Muskrat Falls expenditures pending an"independent" review and then put the matter (by referendum) to the people.

  • JD
    March 17, 2014 - 08:46

    Surprise surprise. Another little PC dog and pony show meant to skew public opinion didn't work. Now what?

  • EDfromRED
    March 17, 2014 - 08:24

    More proof that Nalcor gives the orders to this government, not the other way around. Has there been one single request made by Nalcor that their PC lackys have said no to? Such blatent corporate control of government is obscene.

  • Darlene
    March 17, 2014 - 08:17

    Well Folks....HERE WE GO AGAIN....LIES ...LIES AND MORE LIES...AND HOW COME ED MARTIN IS NOT RUNNING FOR PREMIER ..HE IS ALREADY RUNNING THE PROVINCE...WHAT A SORRY BUNCH THEY ARE...CHEERS

  • Darlene
    March 17, 2014 - 08:16

    Well Folks....HERE WE GO AGAIN....LIES ...LIES AND MORE LIES...AND HOW COME ED MARTIN IS NOT RUNNING FOR PREMIER ..HE IS ALREADY RUNNING THE PROVINCE...WHAT A SORRY BUNCH THEY ARE...CHEERS

  • Darlene
    March 17, 2014 - 08:12

    Well Folks....HERE WE GO AGAIN....LIES ...LIES AND MORE LIES...AND HOW COME ED MARTIN IS NOT RUNNING FOR PREMIER ..HE IS ALREADY RUNNING THE PROVINCE...WHAT A SORRY BUNCH THEY ARE...CHEERS

  • Tony Rockel
    March 17, 2014 - 07:21

    "Hands tied by Bill 29"? In other words, The PCs' much-vaunted "transparency" is a pathetic farce and Nalcor continues to operate as a rogue organization.

  • Dolf
    March 17, 2014 - 07:12

    So change the bloody legislation!

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 17, 2014 - 06:44

    Good to see some meaningful insight gleaned from the facts --- and not merely a rote reflection of what is being put forward, over and over and over again, by the spin doctors.