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Judge orders shale gas contracts to be made public

A Court of Queen's Bench judge has ordered the Alward government to release details of shale gas consultant contracts.

Only name of consultants and per diems should be redacted, Justice Judy Clendening rules

A Court of Queen's Bench judge has ordered the Alward government to release details of shale gas consultant contracts and copies of their reports.

Green party Leader David Coon had requested copies of the contracts in February 2013. (CBC)
Green Party Leader David Coon had appealed to the court after his Right to Information request to the Department of Finance for copies of its contracts with consultants commissioned to study shale gas royalties was rejected.

In her decision, Justice Judy Clendening concluded the documents should be released, with the exception of the names of the consultants and their per diems.

That information is protected under the province's Right to Information Act and should be redacted, she said.

"The maximum amount to be paid and the final contract amount payable under each contract is not information that interferes with the consultants' competitive edge. It should not be redacted," Clendening stated in the six-page decision, dated May 6.

Coon told CBC News he is "pleased" with the decision. He says it shouldn't have been necessary to go to court, but it was important to do so.

It means that the public's right to know has been upheld.- Green Party Leader David Coon

"It means that the public's right to know has been upheld," he said.

"It's taken 15 months to get to this point from my original request, for some information that should have been publicly available, and the judge's decision is forcing the hand of the minister of finance to release it."

Coon maintains there is a "flaw" in the Right to Information Act, however, that needs to be corrected.

"If we are to avoid governments hiring consultants who have a potential conflict of interest that could bias their work, their names must be on the public record."

To rectify this, the Green Party plans to introduce a "Sunshine Law" following the September provincial election to require that all contracts with the provincial government be posted online, Coon said.

Coon had requested copies of the documents on Feb. 13, 2013, but Finance Minister Blaine Higgs refused to release them.

So Coon filed a complaint on April 23, 2013, with the Access to Information Commissioner Anne Bertrand, who investigated the matter for 10 months and recommended Higgs release the four contracts, with a minor redaction to one contract regarding a negotiating strategy.

Higgs, however, refused and Bertrand did not have the power to order the documents be released.

The judge upheld the commissioner's recommendations, with the exception of personal and per diem information to "protect competitive positions."

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