“Several excuses are always less convincing than one.”
— Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), English novelist
So, Premier Tom Marshall has called for a review of Bill 29, a piece of access legislation that former premier Kathy Dunderdale once hailed as being “better than freedom of information in most of the civilized world.”
Fact is, Bill 29 is one of the reasons Dunderdale is now the former premier.
You see, plenty of people in this province don’t like Bill 29, and didn’t from Day 1.
It is regressive, pure and simple.
Heck, even the minister fronting it at the time — Felix Collins — couldn’t find a way to make it palatable or sell it as an improvement over the previous law.
As the Nova Scotia-based Centre for Law and Democracy noted when the law was introduced, “The amendments to Newfoundland’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act contained in Bill 29 significantly weakened the legal framework by expanding the exceptions regime, limiting the power and efficacy of the information and privacy commissioner, and excluding practically all cabinet documents from disclosure.
“At a time when the right to information is on the march around the world, Newfoundland’s ... legislative changes present a dramatic step backwards for that jurisdiction.”
Collins gave it a far different spin. In a news release on June 11, 2012 the then justice minister and attorney general said, “When this government proclaimed the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act in 2005, we did so because the public have the right to information and it helps public bodies be more open and accountable.
“The amendments brought forward today uphold our continued commitment to this important piece of legislation while providing clarity on the right to information and the use and disclosure of personal information.”
Of course, his government’s commitment to that piece of legislation was never in doubt. They defended it to a man (and woman) as being the best thing since — why, since the last thing they had done.
The most amusing reaction to the news of the review of Bill 29 came from Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons on Wednesday — the same day Felix Collins was shuffled back into cabinet as Attorney General 2: The Sequel.
Parsons tweeted: “Wow. My only question now is whether Felix Collins will be in charge of the Bill 29 review.”
LOL, as they say.
But it’s nice to see that it’s more than the former premier who is tainted with residue from that draconian piece of work.
It was Collins’ legislation, too, and Marshall’s, and all the rest. Let’s not forget that.
Marshall, at least, has the sense to recognize that Bill 29 is one of the many albatrosses dragging his party down. I’ve also noticed he’s no longer waxing poetic about us living in a golden age.
Good thing, since he announced just days ago that we were in a fiscal position so perilous that we have to borrow money from the bank to stay afloat.
But not everyone in his administration seems to have had a healthy dose of reality check.
Listening to Advanced Education Minister Kevin O’Brien and Health Minister Susan Sullivan on CBC’s “On Point” last week, all you could do was shake your head and mutter, “They still don’t get it.”
Asked for their opinions on why the former premier didn’t connect with the populace, they let loose a spiel of excuses. Here are some highlights:
• The media was hostile.
• Kathy Dunderdale didn’t have enough time to get out to communities and connect with people.
• She has wonderful charisma and energy that people just didn’t see or appreciate.
• Dunderdale was the first Newfoundland and Labrador premier to have to deal with social media, which panders to a “mob mentality.” (Think, Tories, think: why, pray tell, were so many people disgruntled?)
• As a government, they have so many positive messages to convey but only so many “mediums” at their disposal. (That’s my personal favourite. So, let’s get this straight: some disgruntled civilians on Twitter are better equipped and can do more damage than a government with its own well-oiled communications machine? That’s laughable.)
• It wasn’t her leadership, it was the perception of her leadership.
To recap: aside from acknowledging that some of the communications could’ve been handled better, nothing that happened to Dunderdale was because of anything she or her administration did. Instead, her resignation was provoked by some agitators on Twitter and Facebook, and media organizations that were hostile just for the heck of it.
In her haste to turn the party’s black cloud into a silver lining, Minister Sullivan talked about how the Tories now have the opportunity to reinvigorate and refresh themselves, as if all the nasty bits went out the door with Dunderdale and all those left behind had nothing to do with any of it.
“We need that new energy,” she said.
Sigh. Someone had better tell Sullivan that “new energy” as a slogan has already been taken.
It was Dunderdale’s.
Perhaps “new material” might be more apropos.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email email@example.com.