It’s been interesting to watch the provincial Tories rushing around trying to undo some of the many things they’ve done.
Premier Tom Marshall speaks to government officials and guests as he gives details about the new Open Government initiative at Confederation Building on March 20. — File photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Bill 29? Now open to review and revision.
Muskrat Falls? By all means — let’s keep a closer eye on our spending.
Justice cuts? Perhaps we were a tad harsh.
So, what’s wrong with a government seeing the error of its ways and trying to make things right?
Well, it seems to me an administration that finds itself constantly backpedalling might need to take a good hard look at the direction in which it was riding its bike in the first place.
This government has consistently acted first and thought later — consequences be damned.
Due diligence was often not done.
Bill 29 slammed the window down on a lot of information, some of it fairly innocuous.
Why can’t reporters see cabinet briefing notes to get an idea of what a new minister feels are the priorities for a department? And why, by extension, can’t the public be privy to that information?
You want the honest answer? Because a government minister doesn’t want to show his or her hand to the members of the opposition, that’s why.
It has nothing to do with protecting sensitive information. It’s a political game, pure and simple, and the public’s right to know becomes a casualty of that.
Interim Premier Tom Marshall recently rolled out an “open government initiative” in what he said is a blatant attempt to woo back disenchanted voters.
Perhaps, then, he will answer this question: why were you so closed before? Why didn’t you try to avoid turning voters off in the first place by actually being transparent and open, instead just paying lip service to the idea?
By drastically changing course and attitude now, on so many fronts, the government is basically acknowledging it has screwed up big time, and in many ways.
And it’s a long way from earning a reputation for being open. There’s a big difference in posting reams of raw data online and offering up information that can actually affect taxpayers’ life choices.
Where are our online nursing home assessment reports? Our daycare inspections? Other provinces have them.
Where’s the report on the sex trade? By all means, redact any information that could put a sex worker at risk, but surely you could release enough information to educate youth about the perils of that work?
There’s a big difference, too, between talking and answering questions. So why is our newly “open” government refusing to answer direct queries from the media and the opposition?
Asked in the House of Assembly Tuesday by Opposition Leader Dwight Ball whether he knew ahead of time there were problems with the province’s electrical system, ahead of January’s blackouts, Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley refused to give a direct answer.
Asked the same day by Ball whether the government was doing anything to address problems within the ambulance system, Health Minister Susan Sullivan acknowledged the province had been given a list of recommendations, but would not say whether they were being acted upon.
And then we have the reversal of cuts to the Justice Department.
Last year, the province flayed the justice system to the bone, citing financial constraints. Now, almost exactly a year later, the government announces spending of $13.5 million for Legal Aid and the Sheriff’s Office over the next three years.
Asked by reporters about the sudden reversal of fortune, Justice Minister Darin King told them to ask the finance minister.
So explain that, Charlene Johnson. Be open.
I’d call it money well spent except it never should have been eliminated in the first place.
Discussing last year’s cuts, King said on Monday, “Never did I say that the decisions that were made at that time were because they were in the best interest of the court.”
No, not exactly, but he certainly didn’t acknowledge the harm his government was doing.
Here’s what Darin King said in The Telegram on March 30, 2013:
“I don’t see a problem. I have every confidence in the decisions we’ve made. We’ve looked at the case loads of all employees in the Department of Justice … (and) felt we could make some changes and still continue to provide a high level of service. If we didn’t feel we could do that, we would not have brought forward the changes we brought forward.”
And here’s what King told the CBC on April 4, 2013:
“I have no question, whatsoever, that I believe the justice system will be just as strong going forward as it has been.”
He called concerns raised by the Canadian Bar Association at the time “very alarmist.”
Well, clearly the system was not just as strong. In fact, it was left reeling in the budget aftermath.
Last year’s cuts were shortsighted and, in some cases, have lengthened the time it will take for justice to be served.
Open government? Let’s call it what it is — damage control.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: pam_frampton