Former premier Clyde Wells to head access to information review

James
James McLeod
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Premier Tom Marshall is asking Clyde Wells to lead a full review of the province’s access to information system, alongside a retired political journalist and a former federal privacy commissioner.
Wells, a former Liberal premier and chief justice for the province, has the political clout to silence any potential critics, and Marshall said he was selected to ensure that nobody could question the review’s impartiality.

Public Engagement Minister Steve Kent (left) and Premier Tom Marshall speak to media Tuesday about an independent review of the access to information system which will involve former premier Clyde Wells, retired journalist Doug Letto and former federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram

“I wanted a judge so that people could be assured that the committee would be impartial and independent. He’s very highly respected. He’s the former chief justice of Newfoundland and Labrador, so he can give that assurance,” he said.

“People have expressed concerns, so we’re going to have this impartial committee take a look at our legislation.”

When Marshall took over as interim premier, following the resignation of then-premier Kathy Dunderdale in January, he announced almost immediately that he’d call a full review of

the access to information legislation.

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said without a doubt, this is a delayed response to the mess that the government created with Bill 29.

“I think there’s absolutely no doubt that this is an admission that Bill 29 screwed everything up for them,” she said.

 

Background

In spring 2012, the government passed Bill 29, which greatly increased its ability to keep information secret and refuse requests for documents.

Since then, the opposition parties and members of the public have consistently criticized the Tories for being secretive and out of touch with the public.

Neither Michael nor Liberal Leader Dwight Ball had any problem with the committee assigned to reviewing the access to information system.

Alongside Wells, the committee will include veteran CBC journalist Doug Letto and former federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart.

Taken together, Ball said it was pretty much beyond reproach.

“It’s a good committee. I think there’s a lot of balance in the committee,” he said. “These are not names that we would have any issues with.”

There’s no time frame on how long the committee will have to work, but the government is clearly hoping a report will be completed by the fall.

If that were the case, the recommendations would likely form the basis of a major amendment to the province’s access to information law.

But by then, Marshall will have handed off the premier’s job to whoever the PC Party elects as its new permanent leader, so he wouldn’t commit that the committee recommendations will be binding.

“I won’t be there then, so you’ll ask the new guy,” he said.

The committee process will almost certainly involve public hearings across the province.

Ball, however, said the government could simplify the whole process by just repealing Bill 29, something he’s been talking about for months.

But Information and Privacy Commissioner Ed Ring said that the current review is more extensive.

Ring said some parts of Bill 29 weren’t entirely bad, and by studying the whole law, the review can keep the good parts and fix the bad parts.

“I know that there’s been some outcry there (to)repeal bill 29, but I think this goes further. I think we’re going to get the full meal deal,” he said. “Bill 29 was not all bad. There were some portions of it that could be done much better.”

 

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: CBC, PC Party

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • P C or Libreal
    March 19, 2014 - 09:20

    Well it looks like the P C govt is going to get Clyde(the liberals) in to straighten out the mess they made in the last few years. I was starting to get a bit of respect for Mr. Marshall but this takes the cake. Shame on you Mr. Marshall, shame on you.

  • Leon
    March 19, 2014 - 09:13

    Why not just repeal the bill, and spend the millions that the committee will cost on something useful, for example a PET scanner for the new Corner Brook Hospital.

    • Happily Retired
      March 19, 2014 - 09:33

      I agree this expenditure would be unnecessary except for the hue and cry throughout the province over Bill 29. Basically the people are screaming for it. However, let's be careful before we jump on the PET Scan machine for Corner Brook. Why do we need two PET Scanners in Newfoundland, when the rest of the Atlantic Provinces only have two, one in Nova Scotia, and one in New Brunswick? While PET Scanners are useful, there are a lot more priorities in the Health Care System. We could spend the whole provincial government budget on health care if we bought every piece of equipment with appropriate staffing that was requested.

  • Jeff
    March 19, 2014 - 07:28

    This review is, obviously, going to be an enormous expense to be paid by the taxpayers of Newfoundland and Labrador. Why not just repeal Bill 29 and start all over again?

  • Investigative Journalism
    March 19, 2014 - 07:07

    Wells and Marshall were partners in a Corner Brook law firm - Barry, Wells, Monaghan, Seaborn and Marshall. This is the Old Boys Club taking care of its own. A little digging would have revealed that.

  • Joe
    March 19, 2014 - 07:03

    Is Tom sure his former law partner is up for this? Also there is a problem at Hydro so maybe we could try selling it off again1

  • Crazy
    March 19, 2014 - 05:38

    Government didn't create Bill 29, we the people did, by electing our so call leader, And the sad thing about its, we about to do it once more, If we put the Liberals in power. But that ways of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. We just like to hear ourselves talk..