Opposition complains of ‘political interference’

James
James McLeod
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Recommendation from independent privacy watchdog ignored by government

The provincial government continues to force opposition MHAs to deal with political staff, a year after Information and Privacy Commissioner Ed Ring concluded that the policy is an undue invasion of citizens’ privacy.

Neither Public Engagement Minister Sandy Collins or Premier Tom Marshall would answer questions about why the policy persists, but Liberal and NDP politicians say the practice is blatant political interference and demonstrates a lack of respect for the officer of the House of Assembly.

In recent years, opposition politicians have complained that they can no longer take constituency issues directly to the front-line bureaucrats who can help solve problems.

Instead, opposition MHAs are forced to contact ministers’ executive assistants when they have constituency issues, and the EAs in turn contact bureaucrats to try to get a resolution.

New Democrat MHA Gerry Rogers raised this issue during public hearings of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (ATIPPA) review, which has been taking place over the summer.

Rogers said that the requirement to go through a minister’s political staff to deal with constituents’ personal issues is an unnecessary invasion of their privacy.

More than two years ago, Rogers raised the same issue with Ring, the Information and Privacy Commissioner who’s charged by the House of Assembly to monitor these issues.

In a submission to the ATIPPA review, Ring gave a bit of background about how things went when he tried to deal with Rogers’ complaint back in 2012.

At the time, Rogers was complaining that then-minister of Advanced Education and Skills Joan Shea was enacting this policy. Ring conducted an investigation, and wrote a letter to Shea, expressing concerns about this policy. Shea, who has since retired, ignored the letter entirely and did not offer a reply.

Since then, opposition MHAs say the policy hasn’t changed. It’s still in place.

Despite all of this, Shea apparently said back in 2012 that no formal policy exists, and what’s going on is just a continuation of practice that’s been in place since the Tories formed government in 2003.

Ring’s office specifically recommended that the policy be clarified “with special emphasis on limiting any unnecessary sharing or use of the identity of the constituent where possible, and limiting the number of individuals who are viewing the personal information to those who are necessary to the process of responding to the constituent’s request for assistance to his or her MHA.”

More than a year later, opposition MHAs say that all constituency issues still have to go through a minister’s executive assistant, and the government hasn’t changed a thing, despite recommendations of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Rogers said that aside from the political interference and the unnecessary breach of privacy, it makes resolving issues more complicated.

“I’m forced to call the minister’s executive assistant, who will call a regional manager who will call a worker,” she said. “There’s no opportunity for real, clear problem solving, and it’s ridiculous.”

Rogers said the only reason she can think of for the policy is additional political control by government ministers.

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball, who also presented to the ATIPPA review committee over the summer, said the fact that the commissioner’s recommendation has been ignored is emblematic of how the government operates.

“Government really doesn’t care about what people are saying to them, and in this case, doesn’t care what the OIPC has said,” he said. “If you’re truly committed to being open and transparent as a government, this needs to change.”

Ball said if the Liberals form government after the next election, the policy will be ended.

 

jmcleod@thetelegram.com Twitter: TelegramJames

 

This is a corrected version.

Organizations: House of Assembly.In

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