Jim Keating wants people to know that he’s got no problem with the province’s access to information watchdog providing oversight when it comes to Nalcor Energy.
Keating, vice-president of Nalcor in charge of oil and gas, was front and centre Wednesday at the access to information review committee hearings in St. John’s.
The day after the presentation, Keating wanted to clear up a few things — for starters, that Bill 29 basically didn’t affect Nalcor at all, and also that the Crown energy corporation isn’t interested in putting words into the information and privacy commissioner’s mouth.
Normally, when somebody files an accesss to information request, if they don’t get the documents they think they deserve, or the government redacts certain information, they can appeal to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC).
Nalcor is subject to the access to information law, but its own enabling legislation — the Energy Corporation Act — has a special provision that allows the CEO and the board of directors to certify something as commercially sensitive information.
If Nalcor does this, the law says that even if someone appeals to the OIPC, Nalcor can force the OIPC to agree with it.
The perception that Nalcor can just certify anything as commercially sensitive and shut down any request may be part of the reason why it receives so few access to information requests every year.
The corporation received the same number of requests last year as the Town of Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, and fewer than the Eastern School District.
But Keating said Nalcor has never actually used that power, and is happy to give it up.
“We’d like to have the same opportunity to engage the commissioner’s office to review the decisions,” he said. “He can say whatever he wants.”
Keating’s presentation at the ATIPPA review committee made it clear that Nalcor’s primary focus when it comes to commercially sensitive information is in relation to the oil and gas side of the corporation.
When it is dealing with massive multinational oil companies, sharing information, the oil companies want to know for sure that their proprietary information isn’t going to leak out to the public.
At the same time, the public perception is that Nalcor is trying to be secretive because of Muskrat Falls.
“Right now we’re saddled. It seems that Bill 29 was written for Muskrat Falls — I’ve heard that — and nothing could be further from the truth,” Keating said. “If Bill 29 didn’t exist, it makes no material difference to what we do.”
At the ATIPPA review Wednesday, Nalcor did defend a couple of the provisions contained in Bill 29 — namely the clause which allows public bodies to dismiss “frivolous and vexatious” requests.
Keating said that’s because Nalcor has had to deal with one person who’s swamped them with nuisance requests — making massively broad requests, and making minor changes to the wording before submitting the same requests over and over again.
Twice in the past week, ATIPPA review committee chairman Clyde Wells actually congratulated Nalcor for the kinds of processes it has put in place when it comes to access to information and disclosing information to the public.