She may not be the most popular premier in the country according to a recent report,
but Kathy Dunderdale says her Conservative government is among the most open.
Speaking in front of more than 150 members of the Gander and Area Chamber of Commerce, local municipal leaders, and interested attendees Monday evening in Gander, Premier Dunderdale said Newfoundland and Labrador is the second most open province in the country when it comes to access to information, especially when it comes to one particular issue in the province — Nalcor and Muskrat Falls.
“Everyone is talking about Bill 29, but how many people really know about Bill 29…they don’t know what the issue is and (now) most people are relating Bill 29 to Muskrat Falls,” she said. “Nalcor and Muskrat Falls are not governed by the ATI (Access To Information) Legislation, including Bill 29. It has nothing to do with Muskrat Falls…Everything in Nalcor, which was established in 2007, under the Energy Control Act it talks about proprietorial information, commercial information and the protection of commercial information because we want businesses to come and work with us…they’re not going to do this if we’re going to let all their information available to their competitors.”
She said her government has been very open about information released on Nalcor Muskrat Falls, and any question ever asked has been answered — even publishing 12 reports from experts in the field on the government website, available for everyone to read.
“For someone to suggest Bill 29 governs Muskrat Falls, they don’t know what they are talking about.”
Premier Dunderdale said the Conservatives, shortly after defeating the Liberals in 2003, proclaimed the Access to Information Act. She added, in the Act, it says that after five years it has to be reviewed, and the Conservatives had an expert, Commissioner John Cummings, look over the Act as is required by law.
“He came back with a number of recommendations…but the crux of the recommendation was that while ‘your Cabinet papers are secret, and they ought to be…some of the briefing notes that implore those Cabinet papers aren’t…it’s no good protecting the information up there if you haven’t protected the information down here,’” she said. “That’s what we did, and all hell broke loose.”
She said she went back to the Commissioner to find out if the flow of information was any different post Bill 29 than prior to it.
“What he told me was that he sees no difference in the quality of information that is being released post Bill 29 than pre Bill 29…the amount of information has doubled…we’re putting out twice the information and we’re posting it on the Internet,” she said, noting 51 per cent of the Access of Information requests come from the Opposition, while 23 per cent are media requests.
“Our Access To Information Act is the second best in Canada…second best in North America…better than the United Kingdom…better than Scandinavia…better than the federal government…the second most open government in this country.”
She said it’s very frustrating to hear people say her government is covering up information.
“That’s why I’m taking the time to speak about it…what I’m saying to people is let’s get the facts on the table and then we can have an informed debate as to whether or not we should have Bill 29,” she said. “There has to be an appreciation, especially from the business community.
“The two things we protected under Bill 29 in ATI are commercially sensitive information…we don’t want companies that are doing business with us to have their competitors to know what their business plan is, where their markets are…all the things you have to disclose when you’re looking for financial support. And we don’t want people to have access to personal information.”
Premier Dunderdale said she made a solemn pledge that she wouldn’t make her decisions in politics to be about her or her government, but about the good of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I’ve worked hard to make sure my children and my grandchildren would have a future in this province, and I’m not going to bargain it away for anyone,” she said. “I’m a member of a government and caucus that believes that…we truly do. And I’m a member of a Party that believes it.
“We (as a province) are at the best position we’ve ever been. Make no mistake why (former Quebec) Premier Charest and (current Quebec) Premier (Pauline) Marois have talked to Newfoundland and Labrador…make no mistake why — Muskrat Falls.”