Province rethinking access to information legislation
Premier Tom Marshall announced Thursday afternoon he will appoint a three-person independent committee to review Bill 29 and the province’s acess to information system.
During a late Thursday afternoon news conference at the Confederation Building in St. John’s, Premier Tom Marshall (right) announced the provincial government will hold an independent statutory review of the province’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, as amended by Bill 29. Marshall was joined by Steve Kent, minister responsible for the Office of Public Engagement. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
The decision to revisit Bill 29 was the very first decision made by members of cabinet when they met Thursday, Marshall said, less than a week after Kathy Dunderdale resigned as premier and Marshall was sworn in.
Thorough look at act
“The review will cover the entire act as amended by Bill 29, and we look forward to the recommendations,” Marshall said. “We’re certainly going to ensure that when the report comes in, the complete report and all recommendations will be made available to the general public, and we will take the recommendations very, very seriously.”
In the coming days, Public Engagement Minister Steve Kent will pick three people to sit on the panel for the review.
The premier said that if anybody in the public has a suggestion for who should be involved in the review, he wants to hear the suggestion.
As for timelines, Marshall said it would be nice if the review panel finishes the work in time to amend the access to information act in the fall session of the legislature, but the government won’t be putting any time restrictions in place.
“They’ll take the time they need to do their work; I’m not going to give them any arbitrary time frames,” he said.
Access to information has been a source of controversy in the province since the spring of 2012, when the government passed Bill 29 — a suite of amendments which greatly increased the government’s ability to keep documents secret.
Dunderdale ardently defended Bill 29, but since her resignation, the Progressive Conservative government seems to have done an about-face.
“I’ve talked to good supporters of ours who have expressed to me concern about the legislation,” Marshall said.
“There’s this general concern that the government is not as open and transparent as it should be. So, let’s discuss those concerns.”
There was always destined to be a review of the access to information system; by law, the government has to call a review every five years, and the next one was due in 2015.
Marshall is simply starting that review a year early.