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 canât 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 letâs be honest: if it wasnât 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 didnât 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 wasnât there. The committee was not given a timeline for completing its work. Youâd hope such a review wouldnât take a long time; itâs not the same as writing new legislation, after all.
âTake all the time you needâ sounds nice, but there are political implications if it takes too long.
Letâs 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 â more than any other save the Muskrat Falls debate â 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 â kind of like when we hear people say they canât comment on some public issue because itâs âbefore the courts.â I would hope that the panel will finish its work long before new candidates for the premiership go to the polls.
Itâs 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 â including what is to become of Bill 29 â should be debated in the House next fall.
Randy Simms is a broadcaster and political commentator. He can be reached at email@example.com