I write to ask a couple of questions publicly about the Bill 29 review committee just announced by the government. I do so because I can’t seem to get the answer from our newly open and transparent government directly, so maybe they might respond through the media.
The first concerns the terms of reference.
While the committee, which I think is excellent, can clearly examine anything related to all the clauses of the access to information act itself, I wonder if they are permitted to examine the broader notion of whether or not it is appropriate to have provisions in other pieces of legislation that exempt them from the access to information legislation.
It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to review the rules by which public information can be accessed and/or disclosed while, at the same time, saying the rules will not apply to all public information in all government departments.
A case in point is Nalcor, the energy corporation that we all own as residents of Newfoundland and Labrador. Under the Energy Corporation Act, it basically states that regardless of the rules that apply to information held by and known to the government, none of these rules will apply to Nalcor. Nalcor can act in complete secrecy without any regard to the current rules or new rules suggested by the committee.
Unless the terms of reference allow the committee to at least examine this matter, it seems like a somewhat less than thorough and meaningful exercise.
The other related issue is the propensity of this government generally and Nalcor specifically to use “commercial sensitivity” as the reason why information can’t be released, especially as it relates to tendering issues and cost updates on projects. Is the committee allowed to examine who actually decides that a matter is “commercially sensitive”?
Today it appears to be left to Ed Martin to decide and his judgment is then beyond question.
It will be interesting to see the outcome of the committee’s work, but they can only be effective if their mandate and terms of reference are broad enough to let them do a thorough job.