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Pam Frampton: Privacy argument a red herring

Finance Minister Tom Osborne speaks to reporters Monday outside the House of Assembly.
Finance Minister Tom Osborne. — Telegram file photo

Taxpayers have every right to know former NLC CEO’s severance payout

Our government respects the right of citizens to access information on how public funds are used. This includes the disclosure of public sector employee compensation information…”
—then Minister Cathy Bennett, in a June 7, 2016 government news release

Finance Minister Tom Osborne played the privacy card this week, when asked by Telegram reporter Ashley Fitzpatrick how much severance was paid to Steve Winter, former CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation (NLC).

Pam Frampton
Pam Frampton


“We can’t speak to that,” Osborne said. “There are privacy issues. I don’t think the government ever provides the details of those amounts.”

Wrong, Mr. Minister.

That information has been made public in similar circumstances in the past and should be made public now.

When, in 2016, Nalcor CEO Ed Martin quit/was terminated/spontaneously decided at the exact same time as the Liberal government that it would be best if he stepped down/lost a game of Rock Paper Scissors — pick whichever version you find more plausible — we knew his severance payout down to the cent.

"Mr. Martin’s contract entitled him to severance of two times his salary, bonus and vehicle allowance which is a total of $1,387,815.74,” Nalcor said in a statement. “Mr. Martin's severance payment is in accordance with applicable employment law requirements.”

In fact, it turned out Martin was entitled to other compensation under his contract, for a parting swag bag worth $6.2 million in total.

And you would expect the public to know that amount. It’s public money.

Even Nalcor, which enjoyed a heady period of tail-wagging-the-dog under previous Tory administrations, knows that, as a Crown corporation, its CEO is accountable to its shareholders — the people of the province. And whether it released the information on Martin because some of it had been leaked to the media or because it felt the public deserved to know, the point is, it was out there.

Was that a mistake? Was Martin’s privacy violated?

Did you hear any concerns about that expressed by the government back then? Of course not. If any laws had been broken in releasing Martin’s compensation information, he’d have a lucrative lawsuit on his hands in addition to his hefty severance nest egg.

His privacy comments are poppycock and were nowhere to be heard when Martin’s payout was dominating the headlines.

Provincial legislation stipulates that anyone working for government who makes more than $100,000 a year — with the exception of employees whose privacy and security might be compromised if the information were divulged (think undercover police officer) — had better be prepared to have the details of their compensation made public.

The Public Sector Compensation Transparency Act directs the government to publish annual sunshine lists with the names of employees who make more than $100,000 annually, “as well as a breakdown of base salary, overtime, shift premiums, retroactive pay, and bonuses, as well as severance where applicable.”

In 2016, for example, the acting CEO of Newfoundland and Labrador Housing, Thomas Lawrence, was paid $101,100 in base salary, $4,300 in overtime and $55,000 in severance, for a total of $160,400. It’s all recorded online.

Nalcor and the NLC are bound by that same legislation, so apart from the transparency that people of the province expect and deserve when it comes to public sector compensation, the province is compelled to provide it.

Just because the law says they will publish the information each calendar year doesn’t mean the finance minister couldn’t provide Steve Winter’s severance payout information now that Winter is no longer on the government payroll.

The finance minister knows that.

His privacy comments are poppycock and were nowhere to be heard when Martin’s payout was dominating the headlines.

As for the fact that Steve Winter appears not to have had an up-to-date employment contract in place at the time of his termination, well let’s hear the government’s reason for that. Why did the government have to pay legal counsel to find out how much they owed Winter when that’s the whole point of having a contract?

My guess? Winter probably received a tidy amount after 14 years in an executive position, and the government just doesn’t want the public to know how much.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email Twitter: pam_frampton

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