For their eyes only

Liberals blanket Government Renewal Initiative under cabinet secrecy

James McLeod jmcleod@thetelegram.com
Published on February 18, 2016

The Liberal government is using cabinet secrecy to block public access to a broad swath of documents relating to preparations for the upcoming budget.

According to guidelines sent to all branches of government, any documents created as part of the “Government Renewal Initiative” are considered cabinet documents, and therefore can be kept secret under the province’s access to information law.

“Records should be treated with the same confidentiality and security as all other cabinet records,” the guidelines say.

This means that as departments and agencies submit proposals for how to increase revenue and cut 30 per cent of their operating budgets, members of the public will never be able to see those documents.

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The rationale for cabinet secrecy is that politicians must have the freedom to have a wide-ranging discussion without fear of public scrutiny, if they’re to come up with the best decisions.

Cabinet secrecy can extend to the documents which are used to inform cabinet deliberations, although the government can waive confidentiality and choose to release documents that have been discussed in cabinet.

Siobhan Coady, minister responsible for public engagement, said that because the new government will consider all of the Government Renewal Initiative proposals in cabinet, it is totally appropriate that they should be kept secret.

“We’re going to have full and frank and open discussion concerning this; that’s why it’s under the cabinet confidences,” she said.

“We have to have cabinet confidences, because it is a hallmark of democracy.”

In the lead-up to last November’s general election, the Liberal party built its political brand on openness and transparency. For years, Leader Dwight Ball castigated the government for secrecy, and overly broad use of the cabinet confidentiality justification for withholding information.

 

Back step

Since coming into government following the November election, the Liberals have been backing away from a lot of their major election promises. The Liberals promised not to raise the HST, something Ball now says they’re considering.

Similarly, the Liberals categorically promised not to lay off civil servants, something that the government now says might be necessary. The new government is also now considering public-private partnerships after lambasting the Tories’ own scheme for P3 long term care just a few months ago.

On government transparency, Opposition Leader Paul Davis says he just sees more broken Liberal promises.

“They said they were going to be open,” he said. “What we’re seeing is a pattern where they’re contradicting commitments and promises they made during the election.”

The Tories earlier this week put out a news release venting their own frustrations about the Liberals’ lack of transparency. In the release, the Progressive Conservative Party said that the government was blocking access to a report by consulting firm EY on the financial situation of Marble Mountain, which is owned by the government.

Davis said they know there should be a report, because it was commissioned in the final days of the Tory government.

“We asked for a report based on work that we started last year, and it wasn’t completed before the election,” Davis said.

But Christopher Mitchelmore, the minister responsible for Marble Mountain, said that it’s simply not true.

“I mean, there’s never been a contract entered into, or work commissioned in 2015 or 2016 with EY,” he said. “There is no 2015 EY report — or 2016 — so the Official Opposition is either confused or mistaken, but they are putting out inaccurate information to the public.”