Democracy botch

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If the introduction of proposed changes to the province’s access to information legislation shows anything, it shows that the Tories are woefully unprepared to defend their own legislative agenda. And that is an extremely unsettling situation.

When Justice Minister Felix Collins first presented the new law, for example, he was asked about why the government was broadening the definition of cabinet document.

Under the old legislation, had there ever been an example of cabinet deliberations being released? He couldn’t answer.

Could he give an example of what would be classed as a “frivolous and vexatious” request for information? He couldn’t answer. Don’t take our word for it: if you want to hear a truly catastrophic performance directly from the horse’s mouth, go to http://www.thetelegram.com/media/flying/3696/FOI%20press%20conference.mp3 and listen for yourself.

The blunders have continued. Both Collins and Government Services Minister Paul Davis have talked about there being countless numbers of access to information requests somehow blocking up government. Collins put the numbers in the thousands: Davis was more vague, saying “You know, they make countless and countless requests for information.”

None of it is true.

In fact, as CBC News pointed out on Wednesday, the statistics are easily available and there are fewer than 600 requests a year, averaging out at 11 a week — across all government departments and agencies.

Other Conservatives have cast the debate about the idea that reporters and opposition politicians are looking for “cheap research.”

If you call paying hundreds of dollars for 40 or 50 pages of completely blacked-out documents “cheap research,” you’ve got a strange idea of value. Premier Kathy Dunderdale said this about the changes: “It means that people on the opposite side are going to have to do their work instead of having public officials do it for them, Mr. Speaker.”

By filing access to information requests, opposition parties are doing their work — and they are using their research budgets to pay for it. Turn that argument on its head: should the opposition simply pull unresearched questions out of the air? Would that improve our government?

The simple fact is that none of this was necessary. In a functioning democracy, the parties would work collaboratively at the committee level to fine-tune and improve the legislation. In a functioning democracy, the government might actually look at the concerns and address them with amendments, instead of just bulldozing forward.

But clearly, even as high as the provincial cabinet, some people don’t seem to understand a functioning, informed democracy.

Again, don’t take our word for it.

We leave the last word for Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O’Brien, arguing that the public actually does not have a right to know.

“Everything (would) be on the table each and every day for scrutiny, not only of the opposition, but scrutiny of government, scrutiny of the public at large and scrutiny of the media. Is that the way that a democratic society works? I say to the honourable members: that is not the way a democratic society works.”

Organizations: Collins and Government Services, CBC News

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  • Free Newfoundland and Labrador of nuisance politicians
    June 15, 2012 - 07:57

    Blake I agree with your post 100 per cent. In my opinion and from what I have read down through the past 12 years, Dean MacDonald was in the loop to follow as a preordained member of government, as the Premier. His name was touted for years in the following order of rule in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador: 1. Tobin 2. Williams and 3. MacDonald. Kathy Dunderdale's name was never mentioned, but I guess certain moves, like the scooting off in a hurry of former Premier Williams a few months before his term was up, with irons in the fire like the Muskrat Falls Project and the projected Iron Ore Mines Projects , made her shotgun marriage to the throne immediate so as to accommodate the matters at hand. Such moves are called manipulation of the first order or can we call it a Conspiracy? By the way I prefer my politicians to be elected in an honest manner, without the hands of the preceding politicial Gods doing it for me.

  • Blake
    June 15, 2012 - 00:20

    Collins should resign for his role in this fiasco. It is an utterly shocking display of incompetence. David Cochrane et al sure put him through the ringer... I also want to say very briefly that Dean McDonald is NOT the solution to Newfoundland's electoral woes. I support the NDP, but I could stomach a strong Liberal leader who emerges from the grassroots level. McDonald on the other hand is a parachute candidate of the first order - he is merely a puppet for higher powers, in my opinion. Ladies and gentlemen, McDonald has been on CBC defending the Dunderdale administration and their Muskrat follies more times than I care to count...

  • David
    June 14, 2012 - 17:49

    We sent a government into office without any opposition. The party and 'honourable members' we re-elected had been untouched, unquestioned and unopposed for years already. We've done this several times before, with similarly corrupt results each tme. What were we expecting, exactly?

  • Get REal
    June 14, 2012 - 15:31

    People can purposely bog down the information request system so bad that valid applications are done poorly or not quick enough. It is not as simple as a search engine that takes only a few seconds, it takes staff and time. These hostile applications are put in by members of the opposition or media for no other reason than to make themselves relevant for dirt digging and nothing ever becomes of them. The media said there are at least 10 requests made a week, we never hear the that many results so they are wasted resources. The opposition mentality and practice of this is now showing in the filibuster. No one else cares. The opposition is making themselves look bad.

  • Cold Future
    June 14, 2012 - 12:23

    Why has John Smith not commented? He wasn't in the house and had to dissappear to get some rest, surely?

  • Ed. Anstey
    June 14, 2012 - 12:10

    i am also a former tory supporter that now regrets ever having anything to do with that power hungry bunch of secretive dictators. there would be no cost to government if everything was done openly instead of government catering to the rich, business people of the province. like the scam that is being pulled about muskrat falls. if you take a close look at it you will see that it was only concieved to supply cheap power to danny and his mining friends in labrador along with his buddy tobins decision to put the smeltor in long harbor for politicial purposes rather than put it in labrador where it should have been built. i wonder how much all of this have cost the taxpayers of this province. i can assure you that we will never know after dunderdale and her merry band of cronies gets the secrecy act passed. unfortunately all the respect i had for premier williams is fading fast while he is in the background with his rich friends pushing these things forward. i now firmly believe that the conservatives in NL has exactly the same agenda as thier IDOL harper. dunderdale campaigned for him because she enjoys the same style of government as harper. the provincial cons are using the same speeches to justify cuts to services as the feds. (i.e. we are cutting to improve the services) where have we heard this BS before? bring on the next election.

  • Cyril Rogers
    June 14, 2012 - 11:55

    When Harper hijacked democracy, or what little was left of it, we conveniently forgot that, in Newfoundland and Labrador, the hijacking of democracy began long before this. The Liberals, and I do normally count myself liberal in my political leanings, started the process under Joey and various premiers since have pecked away at it, although not all were as flagrant as Danny and his minions. How they have continued to fool people in this province is a sad commentary on the lack of understanding people truly have of how democracy ought to work. It should be for the people, not to enrich the ones who have power. We are reduced to not knowing anything of what really goes on and Bill 29 is a further erosion of our right ot know. Shame on us if we sit and take it in future. It is not enough to simply throw out this incompetent bunch come October, 2015. We need, and must have, true reform to empower the ordinary members of the HOA, reform to recall members for dishonesty and incompetence, reform to ensure that each member truly represents an absolute majority of the people in his or her district, and reform to ensure that all eligible voters can and do vote. I am disgusted with the level of apathy and partisanship we have shown in analyzing political decisions and it is high time all critically important decisions such as Muskrat Falls are put to the people in the form of a referendum.

    • Ed. A.
      June 14, 2012 - 13:06

      cyril hit the nail on the head. i agree with every word on his post.

  • Virginia Waters
    June 14, 2012 - 10:54

    Sadly, this says as much about the citizens of this province as it does its government. Yes we have an incredibly backward, paranoid, secretive and autocratic premier and cabinet. But they could only have come to power and and retain power because we also have an extraordinarily docile electorate. This is not a new aspect of the Newfoundland psyche. It was in evidence throughout Joe Smallwood's 23 year dictatorship and you'd be hard pressed to say it is much different today. In any other country - probably any other province of Canada - the grass outside the legislature would be all but worn bare with ordinary people protesting the theft of their democracy by Dunderdale, Kennedy, Collins and the crowd in the middle of the night. Other than a few tweets, posts and open line comments, the once mighty Newfoundland spirit is conspicious by its absence. Too bad. I fear that like an alcoholic, things will have to get much worse before it gets better.

  • garrisongetar
    June 14, 2012 - 10:35

    What the Gov't. has done, bringing in Bill 29, is unbelievably stupid because it will come back to haunt them when election day rolls around. Gov't. has left the public with the perception that it can't be trusted.

  • We don't want a pseudo- Democracy, we want a real one, please restore transparency and accountability to our political system.
    June 14, 2012 - 09:54

    Dean MacDonald announced yesterday with a call to one of VOCM's Radio Talk Show hosts that he is interested in rejuvenating the Liberal Party of our province. A few years ago I read on a blog the sequence of how politicians would take power in this province. I think it was at the time of Brian Tobin's reign when I read the entry. The sequence the blogger reported was that Brian Tobin would be running the Liberal party, Danny Williams would running the Conservative Party and then back to the Liberals with Dean MacDonald. It appeared to me from reading the blog that all three of these gentlemen were friends and business acquaintances. At the time I was a wee bit skeptical about the blogger's futuristic comments, but at the moment everything seems to be falling into place. For the sake of our natural resource base, I am very frightened about of these seemingly preplanned moves of the past, that are now falling into place. When the foxes get together and guard the hen house we all know what happens. I want a real-Democracy operating in our province! I want transparency, accountability and our electorate to do away with complacency they practiced in the past in our province so that we, the people, can thrive economically the way we should have ever since we have inhabited this beautiful province. I also want the politicians to thrive, but I don't want them to arrange matters so that they become Billionaires and we become paupers as what happened here over the past 550 years, despite our perfect geographic, strategic location and our well endowed larder of natural resources.

  • Scott Daniels
    June 14, 2012 - 08:18

    I think it would be useful to know how long and how much it costs government to collect the information. That is a cost to us taxpayers. I would prefer to see more openness, just raise the cost to businesses that want it for financial gain.

  • W Bagg
    June 14, 2012 - 08:06

    People used to call this administration and the one before it a dictatorship.....................I USED to disagree, not anymore..................a self fulfilling prophecy. Even Harper wouldn't do this.

  • Steve
    June 14, 2012 - 07:50

    This editorial puts into words what the majority of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are now thinking after witnessing the debacle of the past few days.

  • George S.
    June 14, 2012 - 07:26

    If this was happening in a nation that once experienced repressive governments there would be riots. Try pulling a stunt like this in Croatia. However, since we acquiesed to a PC Gov't who assassinated the characters of people who crossed them, treated reporters with no respect unless they were doing fluff stories in condos in Florida, struck fear into anyone mentioning an inappropriate relationship within the premiers' office, sole sourced the billion dollar Muskrat Falls engineering contract, sole sourced the tobacco class action suit to the former law firm of the former premier knowing that the NL Bar code of conduct prevents other lawyers from slamming this decision, wrecklessly expriopriated a US corporation's property costing taxpayers of Canada (that would be us too) hundreds of millions....etceteras, etceteras...the mindless ABC toot-catchers sort of lost any talent other than to roll over and wish Danny was back. When will the Newfie joke end?

    • Scott Free
      June 14, 2012 - 07:47

      Well said George S.; you sir, have captured but a few of the monumental blunders of the Danny Damage Era and the Dunderdale dimwits which will bring suffering to our province for years to come.

  • William Daniels
    June 14, 2012 - 07:15

    In all farity O'Brien , Collins, and Davis's performances in the HOA were embarassing at best. Amateur hour. Don't hand me crap and tell me it smells like roses Ministers.

    • Heaven help us
      June 14, 2012 - 08:32

      Aaahh yes William Daniels! Kevin O'Brien, his "fairity".... and his travel claims. So much on his mind.

  • Holden
    June 14, 2012 - 07:14

    All politicians are and should be considered to be the least qualified persons to hold the positions that they do.

  • Scott Free
    June 14, 2012 - 07:05

    Democracy in this province took a deep plunge under Little Man Dan's dictatorial direction and then Dunderdale's dimwits dealt it a deciding blow. The current administration is adopting more of Progrougie Steve's distain for democracy and contempt of taxpayers. Out with the lot next time around and rebuild democracy. Lives are being lost in the fight for democracy all over the world; sadly, we had it here and swept it out. At least both the federal and provincial political cousins got their name right, the Con Party.