"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Right to No Week 2013 (II)

Apart from the obvious cultural problem within the provincial government when it comes to the administration of the Access to Information regime, Bill 29 has, despite hysterical protestations to the contrary, had a significant impact on how ATI requests are treated.

Of all the posted responses to date, 91 were for records granted, or described as "granted in part", without refusals or redactions justified on the basis of any section of the Access to Information Act. In a few cases, other statutes, or other excuses, were used as a basis for partial refusal of access.

As previously noted, most of the "granted" requests (57) were simple, factual queries, and not requests for access to records, which is what the Access to Information Act governs. This leaves just 34 requests which were granted for unredacted records, or granted "in part", but without exclusions or redactions justified on some provision of the Act.

(These counts do not include the redaction from the posted version of the responses of the personal information of the requester, which are improperly redacted citing Access portions of the Act — the posting of ATI responses is not being done in response to an ATI request — instead of being properly redacted under the Privacy portion of the Act, which governs the information-disclosing actions of government itself.)

A total of 87 requests were either granted with redactions (60) or refused outright (27), with the redactions or refusals justified on one or more grounds contained within the Act itself. And of those, 83 request were redacted or refused based on sections of the Act which were added or substantially amended by the Progressive Conservative government's Bill 29 in 2012. Only 16 requests were redacted, and just two refused, based on provisions of the Act which were already in force prior to Bill 29. (The latter two columns total more than the second column, because some requests were redacted or refused on both pre- and post-Bill 29 grounds.)

Probing a little more deeply, the top six sections used to justify redactions or refusals in the posted ATI responses were all added to the Act, or substantially amended, by Bill 29:

Over 90% of the section-citations in ATI responses posted so far have been on Bill 29 grounds. Just 9% have cited portions of the Act which are entirely or substantially unchanged from the pre-Bill 29 statute. (Strangely, a good number were supposedly "justified" on the basis of s. 18 (1), which is an interpretation provision, not the substantive provision of s. 18 (2).)

The side-notes or brief rubrics for the various sections are as follows:

30 (1) and (4). Disclosure harmful to personal privacy
20 (1). Policy advice or recommendations
27 (1). Disclosure harmful to business interests of a third party
18 (1) and (2). Cabinet confidences
24 (1). Disclosure harmful to the financial or economic interests of a public body
23 (1). Disclosure harmful to intergovernmental relations or negotiations

7 (4). [Ministerial briefings]
27 (2). [Tax returns]
12 (2). [Refusal to confirm existence of records where doing so would itself breach privacy]
21. Legal advice
22 (1). Disclosure harmful to law enforcement

22.2. Information from a workplace investigation

So, when a member of the outgoing PC government claims that Bill 29 has made no difference to the Access to Information process, or, as their talking points even more bizarrely maintain, that Bill 29 was a "Liberal" Act, they are not being truthful.

They are lying.

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Right to No Week 2013 (I)

Another Right to No Know Week has come and gone already. Only 51 shopping weeks left till Right to No Week 2014.

In the former Dannystan, there are some moves for which the government deserves at least partial credit, including the posting of restaurant inspections — formerly cited by the gormless Paul Davis during the Bill 29 debate as an example of the sort of thing it was unreasonable to request — and the posting of completed access to information requests.

A detailed examination of the latter, however, reveals both a heavy reliance on Bill 29 to refuse access to records, in whole or in part, as well as a broader pattern of obfuscation and abuse, on the part of government, of the Access to Information regime.

First, the big picture. Up to last week, the Office of Public Engagement had posted the responses to 212 Access to Information requests to provincial government departments and agencies. (Other bodies subject to the Act are not included in these proactive disclosures.)

Here's how the 212 break down.

Just over 70% of requests were "granted", either in whole or "in part". Among the rest, 13% were refused outright; 10% were met with the phrase, not defined in the legislation, that there were no "responsive" records; 3% resulted in the applicant being told the record sought is already public; and 2% saw other results, including a referral to a federal department, and an invitation to come to the office and view the document in question in person.

So, 42% of requests are "granted". Great news, right? Well, not so quick.

As The Telegram editorial of October 1, 2009 noted:
An ordinary citizen got in touch with one of the contacts listed in a press release about Premier Danny Williams' trip to California this week to attend the Governor's Global Climate Summit 2 with two simple questions: who else is going with the premier, and what was the trip expected to cost?

The response from the premier's office? You'll have to file an access to information request.
The ATI leopard has not changed its spots since 2009: of the 89 "granted" requests, nearly two-thirds were in response to mere questions of fact — not to requests for access to records, which is what the Act actually governs. Another request was for a piece of legislation, which the respondent department helpfully printed off and provided by way of satisfying the request... despite s. 14 of the Act, which tells them to "refuse" the request and direct the applicant towards the published source. Only 35% of "granted" requests were proper ATI requests for records. The rest were factual queries which departments or agencies, in a truly open and accountable government, would have answered without "application" process or fee. This is the breakdown of "granted" requests by the nature of the request:

Recalibrating the original chart, then, yields:

Over 1/4 of posted ATI requests were mere factual questions, whose responses were "granted". Just 15% of all ATI requests actually consist of requests for records, which were granted without redaction.

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Happy Right to No Week (I)

The 2003 Dunderdale2011 PC Party platform promised:
“A Progressive Conservative government will ... release to the public every government-commissioned report within 30 days of receiving it, indicate the action government will take on a report's recommendations within 60 days, and ensure prompt public access to all government reports in hard copy and on the Internet”
On August 22nd, the Dunderale government announced that it had, on August 20th, received the report by Fitch and Associates on the Provincial Ambulance Program.

Today was September 23rd... the first day of Right to No Know Week.

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Mixed messages from the NDP convention

Kathy Dunderdale's New Democratic Progressive Conservative Party is holding its convention/tweet-up in Gander this weekend.

The messaging coming out of the governing NDP's PC's second-last confab before its obliteration in the 2015 election debacle is, shall we say, mixed.

The NDP PC Party wants you to know they are spending all kinds of money in rural parts of the province.

They want you to know they are spending all kinds of money on aquaculture.

They are spending in government districts; they are spending in opposition ones.
They are doling out all kinds of "support envelope" to business.
Why, the NDP PC Premier herself, if she could, would make post-secondary education tuition-free.
But for heaven's sake, don't replace Kathy Dunderdale and her NDP PC government with any other party, because the other ones aren't fiscally responsible.


Monday, September 16, 2013

20 years ago today

Archaean Resources discovered the gossan at Voisey's Bay.

Danny Williams put the copper-nickel-cobalt ore in the ground at Voisey's Bay.

Kathy Dunderdale put the copper-nickel-cobalt ore in the ground at Voisey's Bay.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

I've heard the Tories spinning, each to each

It’s been a while since this corner has had occasion to poke the gormless PC MHA for Bellevue, Calvin Peach. Mercifully, Mr. Peach is making up for his long absence, in droves.

There are many ways in which one could question, critique, and even ridicule his ill-considered attempt at spin on Thursday evening’s VOCM Nightline. Here’s the audio, courtesy of the ever-keen Dave Adey.

As an appetizer, consider this, where Mr. Peach says:
In Bill 29, when it was brought in in 2003, one of the clauses that was in there was that it had to be reviewed and amendments had to be made in five years. So there had to be some, y’know, meetings on this, and meetings were on it, and was brought forward with the changes in five years, because that was one of the recommendations that was in Bill 29.
Bill 29 was an Act to Amend the Access to Information Act, introduced and rammed through the legislature by the Dunderdale government in 2012 as the culmination of an Access-gutting process kicked into gear by Danny Williams in 2010.

It is not the Access to Information Act itself, which was enacted under the former Liberal government of Roger Grimes in 2002, replacing the former Freedom of Information Act, and, after a transitional period, was brought into effect by the Williams administration in 2005.

Bill 29 reflected, almost in its entirety, the January 2011 recommendations of John R. Cummings. Mr. Cummings was appointed as “Commissioner” to review the Act in early 2010. His review was to be informed by responses to a “discussion paper” which, happy coincidence, touched on themes such as giving public bodies more time to respond to requests, and making certain discretionary exceptions to access mandatory – subjects near and dear to the beating heart of Former Premier Dear Leader, who – once in power for a while – came to hate Access to Information with a passion that burned hotter than a thousand suns.

Even happier coincidence: Commissioner Cummings’ final report dealt with the issue of “frivolous requests”, which, in the opinion of Former Premier Dear Leader, seemed to include pretty well all of them.

The original, pre-Bill 29 Access to Information Act did indeed have the five-year review provision within it, referenced by Mr. Peach, as s. 74:
74. After the expiration of not more than 5 years after the coming into force of this Act or part of it and every 5 years thereafter, the minister responsible for this Act shall refer it to a committee for the purpose of undertaking a comprehensive review of the provisions and operation of this Act or part of it.
Note that this section required that the review be referred to a committee. Whatever else Commissioner Cummings is, he is only one person.

Perhaps, had the s. 74 review been a real, honest, good-faith review of the Act by multiple people – a committee – instead of being a blatant and transparent manoeuvre on the part of Former Premier Dear Leader to rush into effect a wholesale gutting of the Access to Information Act, then Bill 29, the filibuster, and the consequential collapse of PC Party support, might never have happened.

The official Tory talking points, distributed last week, hold that Bill 29 was brought in by the nefarious Librils. Much as they have tried to blame the opposition parties for everything from the lack of disclosure of faulty cancer diagnostic tests to the AbitibiBowater expropriation fiasco, the PC Brain Trust – such as it is these days – are counting on successfully sowing confusion in the public mind between the original Access to Information Act itself, and the Dunderdale government's Bill 29.

Gormless PC backbenchers like Calvin Peach (or, for that matter, Tom Marshall) are, frankly, stupid enough to believe that.

The general public are not — as the PC caucus is about to learn with a vengeance.

If the PC party was looking for a way to drive its polling numbers from the merely-dismal 20s into the apocalyptic teens, they may just have found it.

CRA will be back in the field in six weeks.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Politics is not a popularity contest

Without so much as batting an ironylash, Nick McGrath, MHA for Labrador West, inadvertantly summarizes the past decade of provincial politics. As he told CBC's Labrador Morning a few days ago:
Anybody can be the nice leaders, or any government can go in, and when times are really good, and you’re spending, spending, spending, everybody loves ya. But when you have to make tough, responsible decisions, that impact upon the populace within the province, then people start to say, well, you’re not as popular.’ We’re not here to win a popularity contest, we’re here to govern a province, and run the province as effectively and efficiently as possible, and I think we’re doing a good job of that.
"Spending, spending, spending", of course, was the preferred method by which Minister McGrath's PC Party ensured that everybody loved ya' between 2005 and 2012.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Supporting democracy

As abstracted from data published by Elections Newfoundland and Labrador, here are the donor records for the five provincial Liberal leadership candidates as individuals.

Each year's bubble is proportional to the combined total of all contributions that the candidate gave in a given year to the Liberal Party, the central Liberal campaign in election years, or to Liberal candidates in elections and by-elections (including instances of self-donation.)

It does not include contributions which the candidates may have directed to the Liberal Party or Liberal candidates in the form of corporate contributions from companies they owned, directed, or had some other affiliation with. It also does not include contributions which may have fallen below the reporting threshold.


Monday, September 09, 2013

Can't get no satisfaction

As compiled from quarterly CRA polls passim, going back to 2000, here is a longitudinal study in the net satisfaction ratings for the current PC (blue) and former Liberal (red) provincial governments.

The columns represent the net of very- and somewhat-satisfied poll respondents, minus the very- and somewhat-dissatisfied. (The most recent iteration of the CRA satisfaction question is, "How satisfied are you with the overall performance of the provincial government led by Premier [NAME]?"

Where there are more dissatisfieds than satisfieds, the net-satisfaction index moves below the 0% line. For as far back as there is easily-accessible CRA data, there has never been a government with such poor satisfaction ratings as the current one. Nor has there ever been a government which has run three consecutive quarters in negative satisfaction territory. Indeed, such a generally contented lot are poll respondents in Newfoundland and Labrador, that in only five polls on record did CRA find more dissatisfieds than satisfieds: three of those occasions have been in this calendar year.

And this is just CRA. Angus Reid's figures on a similar poll question have actually been even less favourable to the current governing party.

Most ominously, if you are a sitting Tory MHA, are the realizations that Roger Grimes spent no more time in the net-dissatisfaction part of the graph than Danny Williams did, and that, despite having a relatively stable net-positive rating of between ten and twenty percent for most of his tenure as Premier, Grimes and his party were still dumped from office in October 2003.


Saturday, September 07, 2013

Worth a thousand words

A screen grab from a CBC video in which Kilbride PC MHA John Dinn reacts to recent bad-news polls.

Not that any further words are necessary, but the word-like thing which Mr. Dunn utters at 35 seconds into the video is well worth sitting through the ad-reel for.

Front-page challenge

From the front page (!) of today's St. John's Telegram.

Full text of Russell Wangersky's column — he's not even one of the Newfoundland Wangerskies —  is to be found on the paper's spiffy new website.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Third party, redux, redux

In the 2011 provincial general election, there were 268 regular voting-day polling divisions, in ten different electoral districts, which were contained wholly within the city of St. John’s. (A handful of polls which straddled the border with a neighbouring suburban municipality are disregarded here.)

In those 268 polls, Stjohnsians cast a collective 37,750 valid ballots.

Of those 37,750 votes, the Tories took 48%, the NDP 45%, and the Liberals 7%. The uncomfortably tight margin, in what is traditionally the Tory chateau-fort, led to the defeat of several incumbent PC MHAs, the conversion of three districts from the PC to the NDP column, close races in a few other metro-area districts, and no shortage of morning-after hand-wringing inside Tory circles.

Fast-forward not quite two years to the present day.

In the context of the current municipal elections, VOCM and Abacus Data have put out a poll of St. John’s residents, examining the public mood, the issues, and the top-line horse-race numbers. The poll was carried out over several days in late August. VOCM has helpfully published its reports on its website, with the horse-race numbers, released earlier today, available here.

The VOCM-Abacus Data poll is cross-tabulated on a number of interesting demographic and other factors, including, happily enough, current provincial voter intention.

For argument’s and this blog posting’s sake, let’s take the Abacus provincial political numbers at face value.

Of the VOCM-Abacus sample, the largest share of Stjohnsites, 33%, say they are undecided in their provincial voter preference. This is a bit higher than, but roughly in line with, the recent province-wide undecided vote as reported by CRA in its quarterly polls.*

Of decided voters, 42% support the provincial NDP, 33% the Liberals, and 23% the Progressive Conservatives. **

As compared to the 2011 actual results in the city, the NDP support is, within the margin of error, unchanged. St. John’s is the new chateau-fort of the Dippers.

The provincial Liberals, having been shut out of the city, and even its suburbs, in three consecutive general elections, now enjoy nearly quintuple the support they saw in the last general election. Their gain is entirely at the expense of the Progressive Conservatives.

And of the Tories, once the undisputed rulers of the St. John’s roost and nine of the ten electoral districts which, in whole or in part, are made up of Townie voters?

Their popular support in the capital city, their redoubt in even the worst of electoral cycles, has been halved in less than 24 months. The PC Party, per the CRA and Abacus polls released today, are not only the third party province-wide, they are the third party in the capital city that they once owned.

The implications of these numbers are astounding: In a notional election where the popular vote was reflected in the Abacus numbers, the incumbent PCs would be entirely shut out of the city of St. John’s. That has never happened in provincial electoral history.

The Liberals would make a modest beach-head of one or two seats in Town for the first time since 1999 – and perhaps three, depending on the impact of the Osborne Decision.

The NDP would gain, or hold, the rest.

* Percentages are calculated here using Abacus' own weighted data, but the unweighted values yield the same outcome to within a very small variance of 2% or less.
** A handful (2%) said they would vote for “Other”. Tom Osborne, former PC and Independent MHA, announced that he was joining the Liberal caucus half-way through the Abacus fieldwork.

[Reformatted and lightly edited since initial posting.]

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Third party, redux

Latest in a continuing series...

Based on today's release of August CRA fieldwork, the incumbent NL PCs would be demolished in an election if these popular-support numbers were actual election returns.

This is the fourth consecutive publicly-reported poll, including others by Vector and MQO, which show the governing party trailing, and badly, in popular support.

At third place among voters, the current governing party would be reduced to — what's their favourite phrase again? — the third party in a narrow Liberal minority government.

Today's figures would yield 23-24 Liberal seats, to an unprecedented NDP opposition of 16-19 members.

The third party would be a rump caucus of 5 to 9 members, most of whom would barely cling on to their own seats by very narrow margins.

The "pincer move" previously proposed in this corner, in which the PCs bleed support and seats to the NDP in the northeast Avalon and a few other areas, and to the Liberals most everywhere else, seems to be firming up as a feature of the political landscape as the mid-point of the 2011 mandate approaches.

Here’s the notional district-by-district map.* For the current opposition parties, dark colours indicate holds and pale colours are pickups. For the incumbent outgoing PCs, dark blue is a hold, while paler blue is a hold by less than a notional 10% margin of victory. Light grey indicates a district where the projection models are in disagreement about the notional winner. (Click to enlarge.)

* To be taken with a grain of salt – the overall seat totals in swing models are more accurate than district-by-district projects, as the errors in the latter tend to cancel one another out.


Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Private to StatsCan

This page helpfully summarizes the new study, "Inter-provincial Employees in Alberta, 2004 to 2009".


It then directs you to this page.

Which directs you to this page.

Which directs you to this page.

Where you will finally find the blasted study you originally went down the StatsCan  rabbit hole in search of.

All of which is to say: put someone new in charge of designing and maintaining your presence on the interwebs, mkay?