Their advice for you
The Dippity Premier had some advice for the opposition on Tuesday in the Bow-Wow Parliament:
MS JONES: My questions today are for the Minister of Natural Resources. Mr. Speaker, last week we learned the true nature of government’s bungling of the Abitibi file when they admitted that they accidentally expropriated the mill and other assets and liabilities in Grand Falls-Windsor.Ah yes. Read the news release that was put out at least 250 days after Danny Williams-Government learned of its monumental blunder:
I ask the Premier today: Can you confirm that this mistake was realized in the summer of 2009, and I ask you who confirmed that this was the case, and why did you not release that information to the public at that time?
MS DUNDERDALE: A couple of things, Mr. Speaker. She asked the question both of the Minister of Natural Resources and the Premier. I can only speak for myself, Mr. Speaker. The second piece is, it wasn’t just revealed last week due to her questioning in the House of Assembly. We pay attention to the news releases they put out, Mr. Speaker; I suggest they do the same with ours. I announced this on February 5 and, as a matter of fact, there was quite a bit of news coverage right across the Province on the fact that I announced that we had inadvertently expropriated the mill in Grand Falls-Windsor. This came to our attention at the end of May in 2009, Mr. Speaker. It came as a result of work that was being done by a company called Enda Searching. Part of the $8 million you have been asking about was paid to this firm for the land registry consolidation. They found the error Mr. Speaker, and reported it to us.
Through the passage of Bill 75 on December 16, 2008, the Provincial Government revoked timber and water rights from Abitibi. When determining which assets/properties to expropriate, the Provincial Government included power-related infrastructure and the hydroelectric facility attached to the mill itself. Language to exempt the mill and the other two properties on Reid Lot #59 was not included in the final bill, as intended, and therefore the Provincial Government has legal title to these properties."As intended"? Passively? Intended by whom? What was intended? That language to exclude be included? (Also in the passive voice, naturally.) Or that language to exclude be "not included"?
This is the same good Minister of Human Shields (Acting), who last week had another good piece of advice for the pesky MHAs who refuse to get on the bandwagon:
MS JONES: Government wants to be open and accountable, that is one of the trademarks that they have certainly tried to convince the people of the Province in terms of how they govern.
I ask the minister today: If she would be prepared to table the information and the break down of the $8 million in expenditure?
MS DUNDERDALE: Mr. Speaker, we have a freedom of information process in this Province for a very particular reason. We want to –
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!
MS DUNDERDALE: – be as open and as transparent and as accountable as possible, providing as much information as we possibly can to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, but at the same time, Mr. Speaker, we have a responsibility to protect information that could be used against us in court hearings, in NAFTA hearings, and so on.
The access to information process makes information available, but also protects proprietorial information that we need in legal proceedings and so on. So that is why we use that process. I do not have that legal background, Mr. Speaker. So through the process all of those values are protected, and that is why we encourage people to use it.
Minister Blunderdale joins another of her cabinet colleagues in encouraging members of the public, and others, to use the Access to Information Act:
If you're too lazy to put in your request through the [Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act], then don't certainly harass me as a minister looking for it.
Good on them! It is great to see the government willing to have itself held to account.
It is unclear, however, whether Minister Blunderdale's concern for such "proprietorial information" and solicitor-client privelege extends to all potential NAFTA cases. As her even more accountable cabinet colleague told the Bow-Wow Parliament on Monday:
MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, the fishermen, through their union, are asking for about $10 million or $12 million in bridge financing for this season. The government continues to insist that they cannot do this because they would be in violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Again, I think it was on Friday the minister stated this in a press release, and he also said that he had an external legal opinion.
I would like to ask him today if he is prepared to table that legal opinion in the House of Assembly, and has his department even evaluated what assistance they can provide to the industry without constituting a Free Trade risk.
MR. JACKMAN: Mr. Speaker, about the issue of inventory financing, we think there is merit to it – we really do - but we cannot put ourselves into a situation of countervail.
I will invite the Leader of the Opposition to come over to my office, to sit down and let us go through that legal opinion and then see if she is willing to lay it on the line that she is willing to take the chance of some of the inherent issues that arise out of that.