It’s time to step up and give credit where credit is due — and to take credit away where it’s not due.
At the PC convention in Gander last weekend, Premier Kathy Dunderdale lamented that the public is only getting one side of the story when it comes to her government’s achievements.
In particular, she says the media has skewed and twisted the significance of Bill 29, last year’s amendment to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (ATIPPA).
The Telegram, along with other media, has not hesitated to describe the act as being more restrictive. This is not skewed or biased reporting — it is fact. The law explicitly places more discretion into the hands of ministers. And the only means of appeal is the province’s court system.
And yet, Dunderdale suggests Bill 29 has somehow opened the floodgates.
“There is way more information going out now than prior to Bill 29,” she said. “Significantly more requests coming in than before; significantly more information going out.”
On Monday, Keith Hutchings, minister responsible for the Office of Public Engagement, highlighted the wealth of information that is now proactively posted online for all to see. This, he said, confirms the government’s commitment to transparency.
Yes, the government posts a lot of information online now. It posts restaurant inspections, bridge inspections, school repairs, departmental salary scales and tourism statistics, among other data.
It even posts responses to access-to-information requests, something Hutchings says no other province has done.
This is all good and laudable.
Except for one thing: in many instances, the information so happily yielded today had to be extracted like a stubborn tooth only a few short months or years ago.
Take orders in council, which are essentially “mini-laws” signed by the lieutenant-governor.
Up until April of this year, this province was the only one in Canada that did not offer any clear access to these documents, either online or by request.
It was only after The Telegram’s James McLeod wrote a series of articles on his own frustrations gaining access that Hutchings announced they would be posted online. Bridge inspections? Same thing.
Or take restaurant inspections.
In 2008, The Telegram reported that the government refused to follow the cue of most other jurisdictions by posting restaurant inspections online. In June 2012, Government Services Minister Paul Davis complained in the legislature that the CBC, too, had requested all restaurant inspections over the span of two months.
Try getting the perks and other supplementary amounts — beyond mere salary “ranges” — for heads of government agencies. And that’s information that actually was available before.
As for the amount of information redacted from documents, well, we’ll save that for another day.
The bottom line is this: the government can shovel more and more fodder into the public domain if it wants, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that when it comes down to the crunch, ministers are now entirely in the driver’s seat.
If they don’t want you to see something, you won’t.