Cheers: to opening one door — and craftily closing another. The provincial government made much fanfare last week about its plan to put all completed access to information requests online, and began doing so almost immediately. Public Engagement Minister Keith Hutchings described it like this: “Proactive disclosure is a priority for our government, and we have a responsibility to ensure that our citizens have access to information and are well informed. … The disclosure of Orders in Council and information requested through Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act reinforces our commitment to openness and transparency.” Sounds like a good thing, right? Well yes — but it also applies a chill to those who use the legislation. Why? Because, after you ask for information, the government often claims hundreds if not thousands of dollars in fees to produce it — sometimes a huge volume of documents — and will now post the same documents you’ve paid for online and for free for everyone else. A journalist will now have as little as 72 hours to root though scores of documents and try and line up interviews with already-reticent cabinet ministers before those same documents go out at no cost to media competitors.
Cheers: to access tidbits. And here’s someone’s access request right now: a requestor asked for communication between former Quebec Premier Jean Charest and Premier Kathy Dunderdale between July 2012 and January 2013. The result? Two whole letters. A goodbye letter to Charest: “I suppose no one but a premier truly understands what a premier endures: the burden of responsibility that never eases” and Charest’s handwritten response: “I deeply regret that you and I were not offered the time and the circumstances to address some issues such as Churchill Falls … I hope for the sake of our country that this matter will one day be resolved.”
Jeers: to hot air. Bonavista North MHA Eli Cross in the budget debate: “This province of Newfoundland and Labrador has enjoyed and sustained economic growth for the last nine years. When you go through nine years of prosperity it sort of spoils you. Who does it spoil? It spoiled the electorate because they have gotten used to good budgets. It spoils the public servants; it spoils the politicians.” Now, hold up your hands if you are feeling particularly spoiled by the last nine years … And Cross managed to finish up with this: “We have the principles to move on. We have the right plan. We have and can maintain a vibrant economy. We have great potential. We have the right attitude. We have the right leadership. We have the right confidence. We are a have province.”
Cheers: to more hot air. It wouldn’t be a budget debate without puffing up the premier, would it? Here’s Baie Verte-Springdale MHA Kevin Pollard: “I am also proud to serve under our premier who has shown principled leadership, based decisions on a caring heart and sound policies, genuine person, a knowledgeable person, knows the issues of the day, knows rural Newfoundland, knows urban Newfoundland and understands all the issues. Just like JFK said years ago: when the going gets tough, the tough get going. This premier is resolute and sound in all that she does. I am proud of being a part of this team.” Wow: two mentions of JFK in the House in just two weeks. Watch out, Mr. Pollard: the last time someone said JFK, an MHA was thrown out of the House.