Key changes in Bill 29 should be reversed, watchdog says

Newfoundland and Labrador’s information commissioner says many of the flagship changes implemented by Bill 29 two years ago should be reversed.

Access to information review committee launches public hearings into transparency law

Newfoundland and Labrador’s information commissioner says many of the flagship changes implemented by Bill 29 two years ago should be reversed.

Those controversial amendments were “a clear step backward for Newfoundland and Labrador within the Canadian context,” Ed Ring said in his submission to the review committee into the province’s access to information laws.

Information commissioner Ed Ring makes his submission to the review committee on Newfoundland and Labrador's access to information laws on June 24, 2014. (CBC)
“We need to step forward once again and become leaders in Canada. By taking this step forward, we can help Canada move forward too.”

The commissioner is recommending that the language of the law be changed back to the way it was pre-Bill 29 in a number of key areas.

Those include exemptions related to cabinet confidences, policy advice and recommendations, how the government treats business information, and pay and perks for public employees.

Sweeping changes implemented by Bill 29 permitted the government to keep much more information in those categories off-limits to taxpayers.

Ring's presentation Tuesday appears to contradict his comments in the immediate wake of Bill 29.

"I still maintain, based on my review, that the legislation remains robust, and that people's right to access information will be protected," Ring told reporters in June 2012.

His office made 30 recommendations for amendments to the law or changes to policies or procedures. 

Scheduled review moved forward

In January, Premier Tom Marshall announced that a scheduled review of the legislation would be moved forward, due to public concerns about perceived secrecy provisions of Bill 29.

Marshall appointed former Liberal premier and Supreme Court judge Clyde Wells to lead the review committee. Other panel members are former CBC journalist Doug Letto and former federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart.

Clyde Wells chairs the review committee into Newfoundland and Labrador's access to information laws. (CBC)
Public hearings began Tuesday, with Wells questioning the time frames for the government to answer access to information requests.

There is a 30-day time limit to respond, which can be extended to 60 days.

"If there's an overwhelming amount, I can understand then the need for an extension of time, but if somebody is simply asking for a document or two or three documents, or a relatively minor amount of information, why should it take more than four days, or five days, certainly not more than 10 days?” Wells said.

Hearings continue this week. The committee hopes to submit its report to the province by October or November. The recommendations are not binding.


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