Actions speak louder than words

Peter
Peter Jackson
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The editorial on page A6 of today’s Telegram addresses a report on the province’s access to information law by John Cummings.

Cummings, a former top provincial bureaucrat, was appointed to review the legislation last year.

A reading of the review — as revealed in today’s editorial and in Russell Wangersky’s column in the Weekend Telegram of Jan. 29, — demonstrates that, with respect to the goals of maintaining open and accountable modern governance, John E. Cummings QC has become Public Enemy No. 1. His appalling recommendations would turn the clock back decades and make this province’s government among the most secretive regimes among western democracies.

For almost 10 years, we’ve had a front-row seat to the charade of the current PC administration crowing about transparency on one hand and sealing reams of government documents  under lock and key on the other. If the current measures are accepted, it would be a fitting final chapter in this Orwellian tale: double-plus-good prattle about openness while putting a perpetual boot to the face of information access.

I recommend readers examine the Cummings’ report for themselves, then read the analyses mentioned above. But first, here are a few quotable quotes from the past 10 years of bold-faced hypocrisy.

“A comprehensive and effective Freedom of Information Act is the best safeguard against the tendency of governments to descend into official secrecy and elitism.”

— PC blue book, October 2003

“So, cabinet can change the legislation without having to go before the legislature. So, it really supercedes the entire act.”

— PC Leader Danny Williams, , November 2001, on the Liberal government’s proposed access legislation.

“It is absolutely incredible to me that the same party that sat on a new transparency act for years, leaving it for our government to finally proclaim, now has the hypocrisy to accuse this government of hiding information.”

— Premier Danny Williams, November 2006 on refusing to allow the auditor general exclusive access to cabinet documents on a fibre optics deal.

“Give the citizens’ representative the teeth to implement. Give that person the power to order or authorize that the information be produced. Otherwise, that person is gone on a fool’s errand and then has to go to the Trial Division of the Supreme Court in Newfoundland, end up in a court, have to pay the related fees.”

— PC Leader Danny Williams, Dec. 3, 2001, when access requests were handled by the citizens’ representative.

“If it means that, as a result of a court decision, confidential cabinet information will be made available that shouldn’t be, then I will change the legislation.”

—Premier Danny Williams, October 2005, after launching a court challenge to prevent the information commissioner from privately reviewing documents pertinent to an access request.

“We’re not running a covert government in there. We’ve got nothing to hide.”

— Premier Danny Williams, from same interview as above.

“No government is perfectly transparent. It’s impossible to achieve utopia when it comes to those goals. However … we’ve gone certainly further than any government has gone in Newfoundland and Labrador before, and I would say we’re an example in Canada.”

— Premier Danny Williams, May 2008.

“It’s a slippery slope in terms of encroachment (on) this independent oversight, and that’s why Canadians — in all provinces and territories — should be concerned, because we have to make sure that this independent oversight remains.”

— Former federal information commissioner Suzanne Legault, February 2010, after Williams’ government won its court challenge against the information commissioner.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s commentary editor. He can be contacted by email at

pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Trial Division, Supreme Court

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

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  • Frank Blackwood
    February 01, 2011 - 15:52

    Peter, Mr. Cabana burned his bridges the day he smiled for the camera. He is like a student who feels he should pass his provincial exams even though he never studied all year. Great article Peter. Frank Blackwood Ottawa, Ont.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    February 01, 2011 - 07:49

    When it comes to "descending into elitism", it appears that is what has happened to the PC party. It has, through its warped interpretation of its own constitution, become a "Conservative" Party. While the PC constitution clearly says (Article 5.2) that one must be (SHALL be) a member of the "party" if one is to be an individual member of an affiliated association or group, the party (as outlined in Mr. Robert Lundrigan's Telegram article of Jan. 24) has interpreted that article to say instead ---- the opposite ---- that is, that to be a member of the party, one must be a member of an affiliated association or group ---- that is, only members of the elite ---- members of the affiliated associations or group are "actual" members of the party. What a circular argument. You can't be a member of the affiliated association or group without being at the same time a member of the party (which makes sense and is what the relevant article actually says), and at the same time, the party is saying that you can't be a member of the party unless you are also a member of an affiliated association or group (even though article 5.2 doesn't say that). So therefore only the elite individual members of the affiliated associations or groups can now be "real" members of the party. If article 5.2 was intended to mean such a thing, the word "only" would have been inserted so that it would have said "only" individual members of affiliated associations or groups shall be members of the party. Yes. The PC Party has paid quite the price so that it could reject Mr. Cabana's candidacy ---- the price of "elitism". Maurice E. Adams, Paradise.