Opening up

Pam
Pam Frampton
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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 pframpton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

Organizations: Department of Justice, CBC, Canadian Bar Association

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Recent comments

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 30, 2014 - 10:40

    Well said Pam ---- Damage control is what it is, nothing more.

  • W Bagg
    March 30, 2014 - 09:41

    Every action by govt is for teh benefit of MF. These cuts were to save money to forward to Nalcor. It's like you getting a cash advance on your visa to pay the line of credit payment. Cut justice, move savings to Nalcor. The budget proves it we are borrowing 1 billion, yes 1 000 000 000 dollars and giveing over 500 000 000 to Nalcor. That isn't right and should be the big issue with the budget

  • Dolf
    March 30, 2014 - 08:57

    And don't forget all the other closed mouthed Ministers and MHA's. i.e. is John Dinn, the Kilbride Saviour, still an MHA?

  • DWB
    March 30, 2014 - 07:28

    Truer words were never spoken...Damage Control! King has been in over his head from the time he was sworn into cabinet. Some regarded him as a serious candidate to take over the leadership of the party??? I think not.

  • Leo T
    March 30, 2014 - 07:23

    We desperately needed to slash and burn most services either by reducing communities, or by reducing services. They made the first real attempt I've seen in 25 years to balance income with expenses, and if we didn't have oil we'd be devastated.. and they are probably going to lose the election because of it. The new leadership is giving the people what they want: debt we'll never pay off, but services and the ability to live in the far reaches. As for the rest of this drivel, I know it's an opinion piece, but it still didn't seem very professional unless you have a LOT of inside information, and if you do, be OPEN about your sources.. oh wait, doesn't work that way for the press, right, because you're not elected, I guess?

    • Dolf
      March 30, 2014 - 13:45

      You take your meds this morning Leo?

  • Corporate Psycho
    March 29, 2014 - 13:38

    King has made a total fool out of himself again.

  • Joe
    March 29, 2014 - 07:55

    "it has screwed up big time" is this a professional expression now?