Keeping Secrets

Work in Progress by Ivan Morgan

Do you know what government doesn’t want you to know? Neither do I.

Politicians and bureaucrats are not known for being forthcoming with information, unless it’s going to make them look really good. That’s why we have freedom of information laws.

I have been filing access to information requests for a long time. (We in the biz call them ATIPPs after the long-winded title to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act

I have filed hundreds of such requests over the decades and have watched successive governments tie themselves in knots trying not to let me have the information I wanted. Information, I might add, I wanted to share with you. Suffice it to say I have been around the block on this subject more than a few times.

Years ago, I was sitting at my desk in the Confederation Building late on a Friday afternoon when I was handed a draft of the now infamous Bill 29, when Dunderdale and Co. rewrote the freedom of information laws to slam the door on freedom of information. Familiar as I was with the old legislation, as I read it, I realized something was going to hit the fan.

The Dunderdale Tories didn’t think it would be a big issue with the public. It was.

The Tories then tried a complete about face, bringing in excellent freedom of information laws, in a bid to save their political hides. It didn’t.

That’s why I have been watching with interest as various news media have tried, in vain, to access the Rothschild Report. That’s the report the provincial Liberals spent $5 million of your money on for a review of provincial government assets with an eye to what should be sold off.  In other words, your assets.

The Liberals now won’t let you see it. They are hoping this won’t become an issue. It won’t unless you make it one. 

As the report involves the selling of public assets, I think it is of great public interest.

An old government trick is to use big words and legalese to cover up what they are doing. I will try plain language to explain what’s happening.

Government says it won’t release the report because it contains “commercial sensitivities.” That means information that may help businesses eager to bid on government goodies, giving them an edge, so to speak.

The Official Opposition is howling in outrage, demanding the report be released. “Do the right thing” they say to government. The uncomfortable truth is there are many MHAs sitting in the Opposition who did not “do the right thing” when they were in government, which doesn’t help their credibility.

Media outlets filed requests for a copy of the report. Government refused. Media outlets complained to the Privacy Commissioner. He decided to see for himself and asked government for the report. That’s his job. Government said he didn’t need to see the report, he just needed a note from a top bureaucrat saying he can’t see it and that government is following the rules.  The Privacy Commissioner said not good enough. Government eventually gave him a copy of the report, which he looked at and then agreed government had the right to keep it secret.

They have the right, but is it right?

That’s your call.

I would argue we all should know what government plans to do with our assets. We should have a say. But unless a lot of you agree, then I am just here blowing smoke.

As I have said here before, successive governments have so spectacularly mismanaged the province that they must start selling off choice bits to pay our bills. They have a good idea what they are going to sell. You don’t because government won’t let you know.

Government says not to worry about what’s in the report. They say trust them; they know what they are doing and they have your best interests at heart.

That’s what they said about Muskrat Falls.

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