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Opposition questions Parsons’ lack of briefing documents

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons.
Justice Minister Andrew Parsons.

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons says there’s nothing weird about the fact that he received only a single briefing document in the entire month of May.

May was a month when Parsons announced a new pilot project for a drug treatment court. He went to Her Majesty’s Penitentiary to work for a day as a correctional officer. The House of Assembly was sitting for 15 days in May, so Parsons was liable to be asked at least a few questions in the legislature. And on April 30, clerk of the executive council Bern Coffey resigned amid controversy and questions about conflict of interest, so the government was handling fallout from that for a big chunk of May, too.

But according to a publicly disclosed response to an access to information request, filed by CBC reporter Peter Cowan, Parsons got only one briefing document in the whole month. And the details of that one briefing document are being held in secret, because they’re covered by cabinet confidentiality.

Parsons told The Telegram that when it comes to preparations for question period and media appearances, he mostly just talks with the executives in his department, as opposed to getting written briefing documents.

“Given that I can’t refer to sheets, I try my best to, we talk through the issue, we prepare, we look at different possibilities,” he said.

“Now, there would be communications materials, don’t get me wrong. But whether they are in that disclosure or not is not my decision.”

Parsons said communications prep documents that prepare him might not be considered briefing documents, but either way, that’s a decision for the departmental staff who actually fill the requests.

 

Daily documents

Opposition Leader Paul Davis said all this is nuts, and that when he was a minister and when he was premier, briefing documents were a daily occurrence.

“I would receive updated notes, essentially every day, going into the House,” Davis said.

Even for something as trivial as the photo-op at the prison, Davis said, there should be some sort of documentation — when to show up, what sort of clothes to wear, what to expect.

Parsons shrugged that off.

“No, why would I need it? Why would I need a briefing?” he said of the visit to Her Majesty’s Penitentiary.

On the question of Coffey’s resignation, Parsons said he might have received some briefing on it, but since Coffey was employed by Executive Council, a person would have to file an access to information request to the premier’s office, instead of to the Department of Justice, because the department wouldn’t have those documents.

More broadly, Davis said that since winning government, the Liberals have been unwilling to answer simple questions and provide public information, despite the fact they campaigned on a promise of greater transparency.

Parsons didn’t have much time for that criticism.

“He doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about,” Parsons said.

“The minute he knows what he’s talking about, I’ll respond to him, but I’ve got nothing to say to one of the authors of Bill 29.”

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