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James McLeod
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Liberals blanket Government Renewal Initiative under cabinet secrecy

The Liberal government is using cabinet secrecy to block public access to a broad swath of documents relating to preparations for the upcoming budget.

According to guidelines sent to all branches of government, any documents created as part of the “Government Renewal Initiative” are considered cabinet documents, and therefore can be kept secret under the province’s access to information law.

“Records should be treated with the same confidentiality and security as all other cabinet records,” the guidelines say.

This means that as departments and agencies submit proposals for how to increase revenue and cut 30 per cent of their operating budgets, members of the public will never be able to see those documents.

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The rationale for cabinet secrecy is that politicians must have the freedom to have a wide-ranging discussion without fear of public scrutiny, if they’re to come up with the best decisions.

Cabinet secrecy can extend to the documents which are used to inform cabinet deliberations, although the government can waive confidentiality and choose to release documents that have been discussed in cabinet.

Siobhan Coady, minister responsible for public engagement, said that because the new government will consider all of the Government Renewal Initiative proposals in cabinet, it is totally appropriate that they should be kept secret.

They said they were going to be open. What we’re seeing is a pattern where they’re contradicting commitments and promises they made during the election.” Opposition Leader Paul Davis

“We’re going to have full and frank and open discussion concerning this; that’s why it’s under the cabinet confidences,” she said.

“We have to have cabinet confidences, because it is a hallmark of democracy.”

In the lead-up to last November’s general election, the Liberal party built its political brand on openness and transparency. For years, Leader Dwight Ball castigated the government for secrecy, and overly broad use of the cabinet confidentiality justification for withholding information.

 

Back step

Since coming into government following the November election, the Liberals have been backing away from a lot of their major election promises. The Liberals promised not to raise the HST, something Ball now says they’re considering.

Similarly, the Liberals categorically promised not to lay off civil servants, something that the government now says might be necessary. The new government is also now considering public-private partnerships after lambasting the Tories’ own scheme for P3 long term care just a few months ago.

On government transparency, Opposition Leader Paul Davis says he just sees more broken Liberal promises.

“They said they were going to be open,” he said. “What we’re seeing is a pattern where they’re contradicting commitments and promises they made during the election.”

The Tories earlier this week put out a news release venting their own frustrations about the Liberals’ lack of transparency. In the release, the Progressive Conservative Party said that the government was blocking access to a report by consulting firm EY on the financial situation of Marble Mountain, which is owned by the government.

Davis said they know there should be a report, because it was commissioned in the final days of the Tory government.

“We asked for a report based on work that we started last year, and it wasn’t completed before the election,” Davis said.

But Christopher Mitchelmore, the minister responsible for Marble Mountain, said that it’s simply not true.

“I mean, there’s never been a contract entered into, or work commissioned in 2015 or 2016 with EY,” he said. “There is no 2015 EY report — or 2016 — so the Official Opposition is either confused or mistaken, but they are putting out inaccurate information to the public.”

Organizations: Progressive Conservative Party

Geographic location: Marble Mountain

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Recent comments

  • Craig Lewis
    February 20, 2016 - 17:33

    Most, maybe 80% don't know how the electoral system works. have been watching David Icke for years, as well as others and here he was in NL. How Government TRULY works. AMAZING insight https://vimeo.com/68318076 Make you think that you really don't have a choice. Well you DO! More to follow, on how, and what you can do, as citizen and to have your voices heard. MARCH 8, 2016 - Be ready to Travel to the Capital.

  • Craig Lewis
    February 20, 2016 - 13:31

    Most, maybe 80% don't know how the electoral system works. have been watching David Icke for years, as well as others and here he was in NL. How Government TRULY works. AMAZING insight https://vimeo.com/68318076 Make you think that you really don't have a choice. Well you DO! More to follow, on how, and what you can do, as citizen and to have your voices heard. MARCH 8, 2016 - Be ready to Travel to the Capital.

  • Denise
    February 20, 2016 - 05:20

    Just hurry up and do something. The longer you take the bigger the deficit is getting. You said you were ready to govern... So DO it.. NOW!!!!!

  • GeoffChaulk
    February 20, 2016 - 04:18

    Of course these discussions should be held in confidence until decisions are made by Cabinet. Otherwise, you get those 'open-line' shows and everyone with an opinion but few facts and the cowardly nameless trolls spinning their silly webs, and ad nauseum nonsense...helpful to no one.

  • craig
    February 19, 2016 - 21:21

    I thought this government was going to be "open and transparent?" Same old same old.

  • Chebucto
    February 19, 2016 - 20:14

    This new Liberal government is a joke. We thought the PCs were bad... we have no idea what we're in for in the next 4 years yet. Wow.

  • OTP
    February 19, 2016 - 17:42

    Hey, the cupboard is bare. There is nothing to eat. Even the PC s will starve because even what they have hidden will rot in secrecy.before they can eat it.

  • Political Watcher
    February 19, 2016 - 10:01

    Poo hoo, Const. Davis now wants to be the most open and transparent person in Gov't! Too bad he didn't have the same thoughts when he WAS in Gov't. This from the same person who had all his ministers briefed verbally and not with written documents so there wouldn't be any paper trail. Tough medicine to take hey Constable?

  • guy incognito
    February 19, 2016 - 09:24

    Paul Davis doesn't have the right to comment on anything the Liberals do. Would you listen to the sailing advice of a captain who ran around?

  • Graham
    February 19, 2016 - 09:16

    In my humble opinion this is a very smart move by our newly elected government. By the time the media and Constable Davis put their spin on things they don't like we never get the true picture of whats going on. Lately it's almost as frustrating listening to Constable Davis now as when he was Premier. He sounds angry all the time that our NEWLY ELECTED GOVERNMENT hasen't solved in a few short months the mess Constable Davis was part of creating when he was Cabinet Minister and Premier.

  • Maggy Carter
    February 19, 2016 - 09:01

    While it might involve a combination of public and private consultations, budget making itself is traditionally and logically a confidential process - the outcome of which is shared with the public on budget day. The Telegram article borders on a editorial in its assertion the Liberals have reneged on their election promises. To the extent that proves true, it is incumbent on the Telegram and especially on the Tory opposition to acknowledge the fact that at the time those promises were made, the most secretive government in the history of the province had deliberately withheld from the public the severity of the fiscal crisis it had created. The Ball government must make some tough choices - none of which are likely to please everyone. And while everything is said to be on the table, from a purely political perspective they might be well advised to leaves the HST where it is. This was the cornerstone of their platform and - despite the pressures all around them - it should be the last thing to go. To offset that revenue loss, Bennett should impose a substantial tax increase on gas as well as on liquor and cigarettes. The significant drop in prices at the pump paves the way for such an increase. As for public sector employees, government should budget a significant reduction in costs and allow subsequent negotiations with the unions to determine the balance of those savings between wage reductions and job cuts. The bottom line - as our AG and the bond rating agencied have underscored - is that the outgoing administration left this province in quite a mess financially and extricating ourselves from that mess - as much as we'd like - cannot be a painless process.

    • Miners53
      February 19, 2016 - 16:24

      You must be a provincial employee or get your someway from GVT. To say increase tax on the price of gas is redicilous.This is the only commodity that is somewhat reasonable right now. God help us when the price of oil goes up. The last time oil increased ,there were surcharges put on everything ,oil goes down ,nothing else does but only increase. Your analysis on how to help the economy is not reasonable. Glad you are not Cathy and I don't mean Dunderdale.

    • fed up
      February 19, 2016 - 17:52

      well maggy i for one think the libs pulled a con job on us. and they did'nt have to because they probably would have won anyway. fact of the matter is, if they did'nt know what shape wwe were in all they had to do was be honest about it and admit they could'nt promise anything. but having said that. if he did'nt know, apparently all he had to do was ask the AG. was'nt long after election that came out telling us we were that bad off that you would think we were about to sink to the bottom of the atlantic. where was he with all this information during the election. never thought i'd ever say this, but right now davis ,kent and the rest don't look to bad to me. and i have cast my last ballot in any election ever again.248

  • justin case
    February 19, 2016 - 08:58

    Members of the public will never be able to see the documents, yet they held several meetings across the rock soliciting public opinion. This red is the same colour blue when it comes to secrecy. Four more years of the same 'ole, same 'ole unfortunately. Politicians, what are they good for, absolutely nothing, huh!

  • Aaron
    February 19, 2016 - 08:14

    The joke is on us. The Liberals knew certain information is to be kept from the public, but they used Bill 29 as a platform to label the Tories as "secretive" which worked on the public like a charm. Now that they're in government guess what? They're doing all the exact same things. They played the public beautifully before and during the election. Too bad they seem to be only good at political games and not so much governing.

    • John Smith
      February 19, 2016 - 11:30

      well said....

    • McLovin
      February 19, 2016 - 14:33

      Nice post....except for the fact that you failed to mention that Bill 29 has been drastically changed to prevent governments from doing what its original authors attempted to get away with.

    • tony
      February 19, 2016 - 20:20

      McLovin, you missed his point. The Liberals would blast the Tories for blacking out any information, even if it really should be blacked out, trying to portray them as "secretive". Now that the shoe is on the other foot, all that info being held back is justified. They played people, and it was a great political strategy for them. Don't forget, the Liberals never enacted the Access to Information Act, the Tories actually did, improving access to info. So they were the most transparent government in NL history because of the law they enacted. Then Bill 29 came along and was a set back. But then they brought in an independent panel to review not just bill 29 but the whole Act, and then enacted all their recommendations, making NL one of the most open jurisdiction in the world. Sounds like you fell for the liberals strategies hook line and sinker.

    • McLovin
      February 21, 2016 - 09:58

      Tony, are you for real? If NL is one of the most open governments in the world then what is the problem? The government today is only withholding info as permitted under the improved Bill 29 which was only changed after major back lash from the media, the public and other experts around the world and due to the fact that the PCs were facing 10 year lows in the polls and knew they weren't going to form the next government.

  • Taxpayer
    February 19, 2016 - 08:05

    After delaying the release of the mid-year financial review in an attempt to get re-elected Paul Davis and the PCs surely can't be serious in attempting to take the high ground when it comes to openness and transparency.

  • mary
    February 19, 2016 - 07:58

    Never would have voted for the Liberals if I knew what I know now. The devil you know is better than the one you don't.

    • Gary
      February 19, 2016 - 13:52

      I AM WITH YOU ON THIS ONE

  • kev
    February 19, 2016 - 07:50

    Bill29 to Ball 29? It's gross. But sorry, PC's, you have ZERO credibility on this issue. NONE.

    • Robb
      February 19, 2016 - 09:50

      So Kev, you think the liberals will be any different? So who has the ZERO credibility now? Like other posts here, the liberals really pulled the political wool over the voters eyes. They are masters of innuendo, but absolutely no different than the PCs in most aspects. So you will get what you wished for, and that is the big ZERO that you mentioned.

  • Jrh
    February 19, 2016 - 07:28

    Oh, the irony. The PC's complaining about secrecy! !!!!

  • Liberal Renewal Intiatives
    February 19, 2016 - 06:17

    Remember when Siobhan Coady and Dean MacDonald headed up the Liberal Party's Renewal committee. Nothing was made public and Macdonald decided he didn't want the Leadership? Last year, Siobhan Coady , Paul Antle and ball announced the Liberal LEAP economic consultations. Nothing made public then either. Standard line from Coady: "meetings happening, action planned." and then absolutely nothing happened.