Tories try to get away from Bill 29

James
James McLeod
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Analysis

Premier Tom Marshall was asked Wednesday if he had any thoughts about how damaging
Bill 29 has been for the Progressive Conservative party.

“Any thoughts? Not that I can express in good company,” he said.

At the afternoon media appearance, Marshall offered the clearest signal so far that the Tories are running away from Bill 29 just as fast as they can.

The suite of amendments, passed in the spring of 2012, vastly increased the scope of government secrecy, allowing bureaucrats much broader power to withhold government documents, and in many cases making it flatly illegal for them to share information with the public.

Since the legislation was passed, Tom Osborne has ditched the PC party, saying that Bill 29 was one of the big reasons for leaving.

Earlier this month, Paul Lane also jumped ship, and took some shots at the government over Bill 29 on his way out the door.

The Liberals, the NDP and at least one PC leadership candidate have all taken aim at Bill 29, signalling that if they get to take the reins, the bill will be repealed.

Now, it looks like Marshall is trying to beat them all to the punch.

“Cabinet will be meeting (on Thursday) and

I’ll be asking my cabinet to give consideration to a review of Bill 29, and to consider some options that we have to look at amendments to the legislation,” he said.

See PREMIER, page A4

Premier may decide on judicial review

 

This shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. The access to information law contains a clause — hidden away right near the end — that requires the government to conduct a review of the legislation every five years.

The last review happened in 2010, and nearly all of the recommendations that commissioner John Cummings proposed were drafted into Bill 29.

That time around, access to information legislation wasn’t too controversial, and aside from a few journalists and policy wonks, the consultations didn’t draw much attention.

But five years down the road — in 2015 — the government was always going to be required by law to review the access to information system. All Marshall is really doing is saying that he wants to do it a year early.

To guarantee independence, Marshall said he wants to chat with Information and Privacy Commissioner Ed Ring, and he might get a judge to do the review.

This time around, everybody who follows politics in the province is fully immersed in the Bill 29 debate, so if you don’t show up to the meetings and make yourself heard, you have nobody but yourself to blame if you don’t like the final result.

Marshall isn’t convinced that people are going to find anything to hate if they actually read the legislation. He implied that Bill 29 as an idea is very controversial, but people don’t actually oppose the nuts and bolts of it.

“People I talk to about Bill 29, when I ask them, well, what parts of it were you concerned about? They didn’t say anything,” he said. “There was just a feeling out there that there was something wrong with Bill 29.”

Marshall might be right.

Most people never bother to actually read a piece of legislation, and most people will never have a reason to file an access to information request.

In the journalism world, people file access to information requests all the time, and many reporters, editors and producers were appalled by Bill 29.

But even in newsrooms across the province, most journalists will tell you that not all of the amendments in Bill 29 were bad.

The legislation was broken before the spring of 2012, and there were problems that needed fixing.

But among people who use the system, the common view is that certain provisions went way too far, especially when it comes to the realm of cabinet secrecy.

But aside from the specifics, it’s the overall idea of “Bill 29” that’s toxic.

Felix Collins, the justice minister who brought Bill 29 into the House of Assembly, was welcomed back into cabinet Wednesday, after a few months cooling his heels in the back benches.

When he was asked how it feels about Bill 29 being in the crosshairs, even Collins tried to distance himself from it.

He said that really, he was just one minister in the cabinet, and everybody shares the blame.

“Bill 29 was a total government bill,” he said. “All ministers and all departments had considerable input into Bill 29, and cabinet on a number of occasions considered it.”

In the end, that may be the problem.

No matter what the government does to try to reverse the damage, the big question hanging over it all is this: will anybody really trust the PC party to rewrite the access to information laws, after they went so wrong the first time?

 

 

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • gord pittman
    January 30, 2014 - 15:13

    Too little too late as far as I am concerned. They have been running this province like a dictatorship for the last decade and now they see the end of the line and are trying to do an about face. Bill 29 was the straw that broke the camel's back. Who the hell do these people think they are? Do they really believe they have a seat at the right hand of God when they check out of here? They work for the taxpayer and should be accountable to us. But that is not how it really works. It only works that way when they are trying to buy our votes. Once elected they become arrogant, pompous aholes who talk like they know what is best for all of us when all they really care about is what is best for them personally. I can't wait to vote in both provincial and federal elections in the near future. I will not be voting blue.

  • Oh what a tangled web they've weaved.
    January 30, 2014 - 12:44

    I had a reason to file two access to information requests. If this govt. is in power much longer, more and more people may have reasons to file them.

  • Go on
    January 30, 2014 - 10:07

    Funny how they want to review it with an election happening sooner than later and after Muskrat Falls was sanctioned and the loan guarantee locked up. Funny that.

  • Virginia Waters
    January 30, 2014 - 10:00

    Why waste time and money on another judicial review, complete with public hearings - the outcome of which we already know. Repeal the damn thing - it's as simple as that. The Secrecy Act and its companion cone of silence around NALCOR have done their job in any event. Muskrat has been pushed through in the dark of night - the public having been given no real understanding of the longterm costs and risks involved. Felix is right on one thing however, everybody in cabinet shares the blame for this assault on democracy. Something to remember during the next election as the Tories try their best to put it behind them.

  • Tom 29
    January 30, 2014 - 09:51

    So does Tommy Boy mean that the Bill is still good as it is and the people just don't understand it? OR, does it mean that the way they introduced and communicated the Bill to the people wasn't good enough? Or does it mean that enough contracts have been signed on the Muskrat falls project not to be stopped so that they can now let some things out. Its a nice play on words! I'm pretty sure I heard Tommy Boy on a radio station one day explaining/communicating to the people that this Bill 29 as it sits, was what the Liberals passed. If NLer's are confused, don't be. It isn't you and hopefully we'll be rid of this ten year Tory lie we've all been living with and having to put up with. Once again it shows that the PC's are more concerned about themselves and their jobs than they are the people of the province. And they won't do anything real to change Bill 29.

  • Dolf
    January 30, 2014 - 09:43

    Danny Williams rode into town proclaiming openness and accountability. People who make such promises should be required to put their signatures to it. Then it should be produce or resign. In Williams case he not only failed to produce but applied the equivalent of a padlock to both.

  • Ivan Tucker
    January 30, 2014 - 07:48

    I do not understand,why if any level of government is totally honest with the electorate,why do they need to make it's business secret.I can agree with documentation of national security being sheltered. We the people,who elect these people,have every right,to know how we are being governed,by our elected officials,& how they use our tax dollars. There many reasons why governments should be totally transparent.Too many to list. To refuse to give a breathalyzer,or drug test,you are considered guilty,or lie in a courtroom is perjury,but the general public can't set up a bill (1111)to block the requirement,& they shouldn't be allowed to. If you are honest,on all counts,you have no need to block open parency.

  • Ken Collis
    January 30, 2014 - 07:29

    In my opinion the job of the media is to give me information. They use access laws to get this job done. I think a nice change to the law would be that if a request were denied to the media, or mostly blacked out, a government official would have to meet with the person making the request to find out exactly what reason the request was being made, and determine if there is any other way to allow some of the information to be made public. The public needs to be informed in order to make wise choices at the ballot box.

  • W. Bagg
    January 30, 2014 - 05:56

    full repeal and nothing less. We don't want a couple of small changes and an unelected Premier telling us they listened and changed it. I'm also getting sick of Premiers bailing. We get people like Grimes, Dunderdale and now Marshall leading the province when no one voted for them to lead