If anyone is wondering whether last spring’s changes to provincial access legislation have actually changed the roadmap for a government that used to boast it was the most “transparent and accountable in the country,” bit by bit, the future is becoming painfully clear.
Transparent and accountable is, well, looking an awful lot like a boldfaced lie.
It takes a while for the full effects of changes to access rules to trickle down, especially because, despite time limits in the province’s laws, it regularly takes months to even winkle a response from a government department, let alone the disclosure of any information.
But here’s the results of a request The Telegram made for the financial rationale behind the budgetary decision to spend $765,000 on the remediation of abandoned mines, including money to clean up the former Gullbridge copper mine site near South Brook. A simple request, really — but under the new rules, nothing is simple.
The cover letter that came with the released information sounds hopeful enough: “… (W)e have severed information that is excepted from disclosure and have provided you with as much information as possible.” The information, however, is sadly lacking.
To put the finest point possible on it, “as much information as possible” is now virtually no information.
Between the broadened exemptions for cabinet secrets, policy advice and claims that the information requested would harm “the financial/economic interests of a public body,” the new, Dunderdale-repaired legislation has completely neutered any response.
It’s almost comedic: the first page of information is a one-line email that reads “Hope this makes sense.” Everything after that sentence in the email is blacked out.
In the subsequent 54 pages, every single fact has been deleted, leaving only a smattering of comments like, “That’s it,” “I’m not really sure, to be honest,” “Let me know if you are missing anything,” and “Charles needs to get this sorted out ASAP, apparently …”
The strongest piece of information released? “We need an order of magnitude cost from Stantec for how they envision the ‘fix’ at Gullbridge. We would recognize the nature and broad assumptions required to do any kind of estimate.”
How complete is the comedy? Well, the government uses a section of the act to block out the name of a civil servant who signed a memo on behalf of finance deputy minister Terry Paddon because that’s “personal information” — but personal contact information for contractors working for the government, including their names and email addresses, have been released.
This, from an act that says in its preamble, “The purposes of this act are to make public bodies more accountable to the public … by giving the public a right of access to records.”
To add insult to injury, the information on the mine mess was requested on May 11. It was finally sent to The Telegram on Nov. 9. Six months to release 55 blank pages. Stellar work, folks.
Is the new act working well? It’s working spectacularly well — and just the way it was meant to, by the government that designed it.