It is, if nothing else, a remarkable turnaround in attitude — and a number of steps in the right direction.
Wednesday’s throne speech brought a series of commitments from the provincial government, including the promise of new whistleblower legislation, a reiteration of a review of the province’s access to information legislation, and promises of more oversight and transparency about the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
And just to prove it was serious, Premier Tom Marshall’s government tabled its whistleblower legislation in the House of Assembly, putting its legislation where its mouth is.
It’s all part of what the government is calling an open government initiative. This, from the speech itself: “We believe much more information should be disclosed to the public, even before it is requested. Government departments and agencies ought to disclose information as a routine way of doing business. To that end, this government is launching an Open Government Initiative, one purpose of which will be to share data and other information that anyone will be able to access freely online.”
This, from a government that, until Wednesday, had steadfastly maintained it was among the most open, accountable and transparent in the country. It has also maintained that, as far as the Muskrat Falls project goes, more information had been released publicly than had ever been released on a comparable project.
Not only that, but a series of justice ministers have insisted that whistleblower legislation was neither needed nor a priority — while it had been a Progressive Conservative platform promise for years, the ministers kept arguing the concept needed more study. Here’s Justice Minister Felix Collins in May 2012: “… until we are satisfied that any proposed legislation will adequately address disclosures of wrongdoing within the public service in this province, we will continue to rely upon the current whistleblower provisions found in other pieces of legislation including the House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act, Occupational Health and Safety Act, Environment Protection Act, and the Personal Health Information Act, the protection against reprisal section in the Criminal Code, and well-established human resource policies in place within government.”
All of that, however, is probably something that the current administration would like to think of as ancient history.
Is it fair to cut this government some slack, even though they’ve had 11 years to put real sunshine laws in place?
Perhaps — but only as long as the changes are rolled out quickly and efficiently.
Any government should be judged most on what it actually does. The only problem is that this administration has over a decade of its own reputation to overcome — a record of promising openness, while delivering its own particular interpretation of transparency.
When you’re doing the right thing, it doesn’t really matter what your political stripe is — what matters is that the right thing actually gets done.
So here’s to cautious optimism, keeping in mind it’s the delivery that deserves real credit, not just the promise.