Premier Tom Marshall is asking Clyde Wells to lead a full review of the province’s access to information system, alongside a retired political journalist and a former federal privacy commissioner.
Wells, a former Liberal premier and chief justice for the province, has the political clout to silence any potential critics, and Marshall said he was selected to ensure that nobody could question the review’s impartiality.
“I wanted a judge so that people could be assured that the committee would be impartial and independent. He’s very highly respected. He’s the former chief justice of Newfoundland and Labrador, so he can give that assurance,” he said.
“People have expressed concerns, so we’re going to have this impartial committee take a look at our legislation.”
When Marshall took over as interim premier, following the resignation of then-premier Kathy Dunderdale in January, he announced almost immediately that he’d call a full review of
the access to information legislation.
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said without a doubt, this is a delayed response to the mess that the government created with Bill 29.
“I think there’s absolutely no doubt that this is an admission that Bill 29 screwed everything up for them,” she said.
In spring 2012, the government passed Bill 29, which greatly increased its ability to keep information secret and refuse requests for documents.
Since then, the opposition parties and members of the public have consistently criticized the Tories for being secretive and out of touch with the public.
Neither Michael nor Liberal Leader Dwight Ball had any problem with the committee assigned to reviewing the access to information system.
Alongside Wells, the committee will include veteran CBC journalist Doug Letto and former federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart.
Taken together, Ball said it was pretty much beyond reproach.
“It’s a good committee. I think there’s a lot of balance in the committee,” he said. “These are not names that we would have any issues with.”
There’s no time frame on how long the committee will have to work, but the government is clearly hoping a report will be completed by the fall.
If that were the case, the recommendations would likely form the basis of a major amendment to the province’s access to information law.
But by then, Marshall will have handed off the premier’s job to whoever the PC Party elects as its new permanent leader, so he wouldn’t commit that the committee recommendations will be binding.
“I won’t be there then, so you’ll ask the new guy,” he said.
The committee process will almost certainly involve public hearings across the province.
Ball, however, said the government could simplify the whole process by just repealing Bill 29, something he’s been talking about for months.
But Information and Privacy Commissioner Ed Ring said that the current review is more extensive.
Ring said some parts of Bill 29 weren’t entirely bad, and by studying the whole law, the review can keep the good parts and fix the bad parts.
“I know that there’s been some outcry there (to)repeal bill 29, but I think this goes further. I think we’re going to get the full meal deal,” he said. “Bill 29 was not all bad. There were some portions of it that could be done much better.”