Review panel: the clock is ticking

Randy Simms
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The panel the government announced this week to review  our privacy legislation is a good one. Many of us were concerned that the people chosen would be friends of the government and thus a little biased in their viewpoints. To his credit, interim Premier Tom Marshall avoided that trap nicely.

This panel is not comprised of friends of his administration and it would be difficult to criticize the pedigrees of its three members.

Former premier Clyde Wells was never given to any kind of overarching partisanship, even when he was the Liberal premier. His knowledge of the law and his stellar legal reputation will guide his actions here.

The same can be said for Doug Letto. His years as a journalist and TV news producer do nothing but add to his credibility.

I can’t speak with any knowledge about Jennifer Stoddard, but as a former privacy commissioner for Canada, she has worked with this kind of legislation. Her experience will inform the committee of what happens on a day-to-day basis.

The terms of reference for the review gives a wide latitude. Unlike reviews for Muskrat Falls, there will be little to limit the areas the panel can research and investigate. The entire access to information act will be reviewed, as it should be. But let’s be honest: if it wasn’t for Bill 29 and the amendments made to our privacy legislation, this review would get little ink, as they say in the news game.

The last time the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act went under the microscope, most people paid little attention. It was only after a group of unidentified civil servants made presentations behind closed doors that things started to get noticed. Bill 29 really stemmed from those closed-door gatherings.  

This review will work differently. Everyone appearing before the committee will do so with the full knowledge that everything they say will be reported in public. The terms of reference require the committee to make its final report public, with all of its recommendations attached. The government didn’t commit to adopting any or all of those recommendations, though, but we will get to see them.

There was one deliverable I expected to see in the terms of reference that wasn’t there. The committee was not given a timeline for completing its work. You’d hope such a review wouldn’t take a long time; it’s not the same as writing new legislation, after all.

“Take all the time you need” sounds nice, but there are political implications if it takes too long.

Let’s hope the panel is efficient and effective in its work.

It would be a travesty if the review and its subsequent recommendations are not released and available for discussion before the next provincial election.

There are those who would argue that Bill 29 should not be an election issue, but they would be wrong. This one government action — more than any other save the Muskrat Falls debate — may well determine the future of this administration.

Right now, I can imagine scenarios where candidates running for office will refuse to discuss the controversial legislation because a review is underway — kind of like  when we hear people say they can’t comment on some public issue because it’s “before the courts.” I would hope that the panel will finish its work long before new candidates for the premiership go to the polls.

It’s not that I think for a second that the Marshall administration failed to provide a deadline in the hopes of stymying further discussion of Bill 29, but one of the unintended consequences of projects without deadlines is that they never get done.

A deadline helps focus the mind, influences the work plan and leads to concentrated decision-making. The three independent panellists know that, right?

Six months should do it.

If they time it right, any proposed changes to the act — including what is to become of Bill 29 — should be debated in the House next fall.

Randy Simms is a broadcaster and political commentator. He can be reached at rsimms@nf.sympatico.ca

Geographic location: Canada

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  • SayWhat
    March 22, 2014 - 18:06

    In regard to your first paragraph, I think you need a refresher course on the past of Clyde Wells and Tom Marshall. After that faux pas, the rest of your comment was nothing but drivel. This panel is nothing but more feeding in the government trough..soo..wee...soo..wee.

  • Cyril Rogers
    March 22, 2014 - 10:14

    The lack of a deadline is troubling and may indeed be intentional in that it could be well after the next election that the report is completed. I believe it is an attempt by a tired administration to soothe the waters, so to speak, but welcome the outcome anyway. The real need is for an unfettered review of Muskrat Falls and why this government continues to throw away our financial heritage in constructing a dam that will simply be a severe drain on the entire province. The pitfalls are obvious, the changes in energy needs are obvious….what is NOT obvious is why they have buried their heads in the sand in light of major changes in energy supply and demand.