Department to ignore watchdog's findings

Rob Antle
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Business Secrecy stand contradicts premier's previous comments

The Department of Business says it will ignore a report from the government's openness watchdog recommending the release of records to The Telegram.

In a letter outlining the decision, deputy minister Ray Dillon wrote confidentiality is "paramount" when it comes to negotiations with businesses seeking to set up shop in the province.

The Department of Business says it will ignore a report from the government's openness watchdog recommending the release of records to The Telegram.

In a letter outlining the decision, deputy minister Ray Dillon wrote confidentiality is "paramount" when it comes to negotiations with businesses seeking to set up shop in the province.

"This confidentiality principle is a clear and fundamental expectation of companies that engage in these discussions with the department," Dillon wrote.

Dillon said "the department's policy remains that it will neither confirm nor deny whether it is in negotiations with a client."

Two years ago, The Telegram reported that Prudential Consult-ing Inc. (PCI) had opted against an expansion plan that could have created about 150 jobs in central Newfoundland.

Prudential - a Canadian company with offices in the U.S., U.K. and India - declined to say why, steering inquiries back to the Department of Business.

The Telegram applied for records related to the failed venture, using provincial access-to-information laws.

The department denied the request, and one for information on a sister company, the pharmaceutical firm Prudential Chem Inc.

A two-year investigation by the province's transparency watchdog recommended the release of many documents dealing with those collapsed talks.

By law, however, those recommendations are not binding.

Both the information commissioner and The Telegram have the right to file an appeal at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court.

There is a 30-day deadline to do so.

The department's stand - that even the existence of negotiations must remain secret - contradicts previous comments by Premier Danny Williams, who said in 2002, "there should be more disclosure to the public" about such talks.

Williams - then the Tory Opposition leader - made the comments in criticizing exemptions in the open-records law during debate in the House of Assembly.

"We feel that for an open, accessible, accountable and transparent government, as espoused by (then-premier Roger Grimes), there should be, in fact, open negotiations. By that, I do not mean that every single part of the negotiation has to be disclosed, but the people of this province have a right to know what the parameters of the negotiations are. They have a right to know what the government is seeking to accomplish."

Williams continued: "This clause hides negotiations. It was not in the old Freedom of Information Act. We are trying to have a more open act, and now what we have, is a more secretive act. That is what we have accomplished, which is sad.

"The people have a right to know. They have a right to know what the government is negotiating on their behalf."

Ironically, the exact same clause Williams criticized in 2002 is among the sections of the law his government is currently using to deny access to the records.

The department declined requests for an interview with Business Minister Ross Wiseman.

rantle@thetelegram.com

Organizations: The Telegram, Department of Business, Prudential Consult-ing PCI Prudential Chem Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court

Geographic location: Newfoundland, U.S., U.K. India

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  • gerard
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    80 percent of NL are either too stun, lazy, or blind to think for themselves. They think NL is so much better these days, but if they honestly took a look at why it is better for them as an individual, what would they really see. Lots of oil money, lots of jobs in St Johns, housing prices and rental prices through the roof, lots more drugs, crime, etc. etc. Now if these 80% were part of the 20% who are actually benifitting from the OIL prosperity, well great, but they are not. The fishery is in a shambles ,we have lost two papermills and the third is only alive because it's in Danny's district. What is this government doing for 80% of the people who think it's so great. I am willing to say money from Alberta turn around jobs bring in as much money to this province then any industry besides the oil and government services, so really what is this 80% thing all about, for God sake people open your eyes and your mouths, you think if you have a PC member in your district that you have a voice in gov, all you have are puppets with no voices, and if you as an individual speak out against your gov then it is quite possible that your member may attack you instead of helping you. 2011 will be another provincial election, look at yourselves and your families and ask the question, are you better off with this so called have status or are you still among the 80% who really did not benefit from this wonderfull, transparent, honest, fair, hard working, Corperation, sorry, I mean Government...P.S. i am nondenominational when it comes to political parties, oil prices and a federal minority gov put this gov at an 80% rating, I am willing to bet there are at least 20% of NLers who could also have been a 80% approval rating if they had no personnel financial worries and had the, it's my way or no way attitude, no matter how long it takes and no matter who loses while we wait..in the meantime could everyone make a few more trips out WEST, the province needs some more tax money..

  • Don
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    So much for Danny Williams promises to run a Government that is honest, open, transparent and forthcoming with information! Unfounded secrecy is the refuge of a dictator or a scoundrel. If we cannot see who is negotiating deals behind closed doors with our Government how can we ever know whether these deals are in the public interest? What if these deals are laced with kickback schemes, untruthful information, non-feasible proposals and requests for Government subsidies? How will we ever know if our Government is signing another Upper Churchill type of contract, another Sprung Greenhouse type deal or some other ill conceived and wasteful development plan along the lines of the questionable schemes cooked up between Alfred Valdmanis and Joey Smallwood in the 1950's? Wake up people!

  • gerard
    July 01, 2010 - 20:09

    80 percent of NL are either too stun, lazy, or blind to think for themselves. They think NL is so much better these days, but if they honestly took a look at why it is better for them as an individual, what would they really see. Lots of oil money, lots of jobs in St Johns, housing prices and rental prices through the roof, lots more drugs, crime, etc. etc. Now if these 80% were part of the 20% who are actually benifitting from the OIL prosperity, well great, but they are not. The fishery is in a shambles ,we have lost two papermills and the third is only alive because it's in Danny's district. What is this government doing for 80% of the people who think it's so great. I am willing to say money from Alberta turn around jobs bring in as much money to this province then any industry besides the oil and government services, so really what is this 80% thing all about, for God sake people open your eyes and your mouths, you think if you have a PC member in your district that you have a voice in gov, all you have are puppets with no voices, and if you as an individual speak out against your gov then it is quite possible that your member may attack you instead of helping you. 2011 will be another provincial election, look at yourselves and your families and ask the question, are you better off with this so called have status or are you still among the 80% who really did not benefit from this wonderfull, transparent, honest, fair, hard working, Corperation, sorry, I mean Government...P.S. i am nondenominational when it comes to political parties, oil prices and a federal minority gov put this gov at an 80% rating, I am willing to bet there are at least 20% of NLers who could also have been a 80% approval rating if they had no personnel financial worries and had the, it's my way or no way attitude, no matter how long it takes and no matter who loses while we wait..in the meantime could everyone make a few more trips out WEST, the province needs some more tax money..

  • Don
    July 01, 2010 - 20:01

    So much for Danny Williams promises to run a Government that is honest, open, transparent and forthcoming with information! Unfounded secrecy is the refuge of a dictator or a scoundrel. If we cannot see who is negotiating deals behind closed doors with our Government how can we ever know whether these deals are in the public interest? What if these deals are laced with kickback schemes, untruthful information, non-feasible proposals and requests for Government subsidies? How will we ever know if our Government is signing another Upper Churchill type of contract, another Sprung Greenhouse type deal or some other ill conceived and wasteful development plan along the lines of the questionable schemes cooked up between Alfred Valdmanis and Joey Smallwood in the 1950's? Wake up people!