Transparent, all right

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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.

Organizations: ASAP

Geographic location: South Brook

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Recent comments

  • Ron Tizzard
    November 16, 2012 - 22:35

    I agree totally with all comments posted above. Right on. That's as much as I can share.

  • Concerned
    November 14, 2012 - 16:53

    I could not listen to her, addressing our Veterans.

  • Winston Adams
    November 14, 2012 - 12:00

    This past weekend I read the Premier's ad re Rememberance Day, about all we owe to veterans who sacrificed for our democratic freedoms. To what extent our veterans fought for such freedoms, including freedom of information, surely policies and laws such as this serve to mock those sacrifices. Perhaps hypocrisy comes to mind as I read that ad and see her smile.

  • Scott Free
    November 14, 2012 - 08:30

    Corruption, deceit, lies and coverups; hallmarks of that Secret Society known as the Con Party of NL; a not-too-distant cousin of Prorougie Steve's Con Party of Canada.

  • Virginia Waters
    November 14, 2012 - 08:28

    Good editorial Russell. Just shows how little clothes the Emperor is wearing. It's not just Dunderdale of course. Any system that allows people like Harper - and in this province Dunderdale - to stymie the public's right to know, to ignore the will of the electorate, and to blaze ahead with monumental spending in the absence of public trust is fundamentally flawed. Today, MacDonald will throw his crown in the ring. It will be for a chance not so much to lead the Liberal party (which with MacDonald's money and Williams' support is a foregone conclusion), but rather to make sure that when voters decide to turf out Dunderdale in a few years they will have no choice but to replace her with more of the same. There is a third option, of course, that grows in credibility by the day. But will Michaels continue to carry that banner, or will the powers that be replace her as well with Harris as a guarantee that whatever way the electorate rolls the dice - it keeps coming up craps.

  • What a Government
    November 14, 2012 - 08:22

    It it not sad how much this government abuses its political power. This same process and others are being used to block and inform the public of the governments own propaganda on Muskrat Falls. The people will find out the facts as they say down the road when it is too late. I guess accountability will be by way of the reputations of the current senior people in Government,.

  • Ed Power
    November 14, 2012 - 08:18

    And, so it begins...