Request would require large amount of time, minister says
The Liberals are crying foul after they were told it would cost $1,662.50 to reveal the amount of money the government spends on marketing and communications.
But Steve Kent, minister responsible for access to information, told The Telegram that what the Opposition asked for is so broad and detailed it would take weeks for government workers to pull it all together.
“That’s a very, very broad request and it will require significant amounts of time to assemble all of that,” Kent said. “It feels like a bit of a fishing expedition, to be frank. When you go through that list of items that they’re looking to be included, it’s a broad request and there’s significant time and resources involved.”
In late January, a Liberal researcher filed an access request for “the amount of money spent on marketing and advertising in Budget year 2012-2013 (budget and actual) and 2013-14 (budget and actual to date).”
The request was made to 13 different government departments.
When officials clarified what exactly the Liberals were requesting, though, Kent said the sheer volume of work involved was staggering.
“It was clarified that they wanted the totals to include a number of things — all forms of advertising, whether program promotions or job postings, for example; all marketing costs; all product promotions; policy notifications; awareness campaigns; trade show costs; consultant costs; and the list goes on,” Kent said.
“It’s not in one particular line item in those 13 departments.”
Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons said the Liberals are looking for a sense of how much the government spends on advertising and marketing, because some of that spending seems pretty questionable.
He pointed out, for example, the ubiquitous “OutrageNL” TV ads that have been running. On Saturday evening, the government paid for advertising time during “Hockey Night in Canada” to promote the www.OutrageNL.ca website.
But the website itself has been not working for several weeks.
A spokeswoman for the Women’s Policy Office, which is responsible for the campaign, said the website had been down for a couple weeks, but they’re working to get it fixed.
The government spent $12,000 on the television ads in February.
“I’m here on my computer looking at a website that I was told to look at — that we paid to be told to look at — and the website doesn’t work,” Parsons said. “Perhaps if they did a little more doing the work rather than promoting it, it might be a different story.”
Parsons said it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that the government is deliberately putting up roadblocks because it’s the Liberals asking for the information.
“Either there’s an inefficient system accompanied by incompetence, or they’re not giving us the full story,” he said. “Either one of them is not acceptable.”
But Kent said the Liberals’ access request is just a very unusual, very broad request.
Kent said that, as a rule, people don’t have to pay a cent for access requests. Of the 285 requests the government fielded last year, only 23 involved cost estimates. And in several of those requests, bureaucrats found a way to get the applicants the information they were looking for without charging for it, he said.
Kent said the Liberals’ request is the relatively rare outlier which is so broad, and would require so much work on the part of public servants to draw it all up, that they need to charge for it.
“What we’re talking about is not simply one particular line item in a given department. They wanted information related to all forms of marketing and advertising,” he said. “It’s not a simple calculation. It’s not a simple request.”