An advocacy group for Canadian newspapers has given New Brunswick a poor mark on its openness to provide information to the public.

Newspapers Canada's 2012 Freedom of Information Audit found the provincial government and two of the three cities tested did not disclose much information in response to requests submitted by a student team from the University of Kings College in Halifax.

Fred Vallance–Jones, an associate professor at the Halifax university, led the effort in collaboration with the advocacy group.

He said they asked routine things that would have been asked for by journalists or members of the public.

"We're not asking people to disclose the most secret records on the most controversial issues," said Vallance–Jones.

"We ask for things such as travel records, what was the most recent trip by the mayor? Can you give us a list of contracts? Can you give us some briefing notes that would have been prepared for the premier on the federal government's health formula from last winter?"

How the province fared

Overall, New Brunswick's provincial government got an "F" for disclosure and a "C" for the speed of its response.

One reason for the province's "F" on completeness of disclosure was the education department still hadn't responded after four months.

Fredericton got an "A" for speed but an "F" for completeness of disclosure.

Saint John got an "A" for speed and a "C" for extent of disclosure and Moncton got an "F" on both counts.

By comparison, Nova Scotia scored quite high with an overall grade of "A" for extent of disclosure and "B" for speed.

The province's largest city, Halifax, scored an overall grade of "B", with an "A" for speed and a "B" for extent disclosed.

The students submitted more than 400 requests for information to provincial and municipal governments between January and May — 16 to each province, 10 to each municipality.

Accessing information

Since the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, Chris Rouse has been wondering about the safety of Point Lepreau.

On behalf of New Brunswick's Conservation Council, he has asked for information about the reactor's ability to resist an earthquake but he says, NB Power has refused to provide it, saying the information is considered confidential.

"Energy Minister Craig Leonard said that he would make sure Point Lepreau would be more transparent after the whole tubing fiasco and stuff, but seems like the same-old, same-old to me," said Rouse. 

 In 2010, Premier David Alward campaigned on a promise to give New Brunswickers more information.

"A PC government will remove fees associated with these (information request) reports," said Alward.

 Alward did keep his promise and removed all fees for access requests, but Vallance–Jones said the province did poorly overall.

"The education department, there were several requests that were not completed by the end of the audit period, that means more than four months," he said.

"Another example of something that hurt New Brunswick, in terms of its grade for disclosure, is that we asked for briefing notes, and not one department we asked for briefing notes from gave them to us."

Vallance–Jones said briefing notes are relatively easy to come by in other provinces.

Access to information vital to democracy

"Fundamentally, we're living in a democracy," said Vallance–Jones.  

The Supreme Court of Canada says access to information is a fundamental right.

"If we don't know what our governments are doing with, for example, our tax dollars, our votes — then we're not in a position, as citizens, to make good decisions about who to elect next time," he said.

Vallance–Jones said if people are not getting clear information, they are subject to the public relations "machine", and cannot make informed decisions.