New Brunswick

Medavie goes to court to keep details of ambulance contracts secret

Medavie Health Services has asked a judge to keep its Ambulance New Brunswick contract details secret, saying releasing the information would harm its competitive position.

Provincial government wants to release latest contract in full

Charles LeBlond, a lawyer representing Medavie Health Services New Brunswick Inc., says portions of the company's contract with the provincial government to operate Ambulance New Brunswick should be kept private to protect trade secrets. (Shane Magee/CBC)

The company that runs New Brunswick's ambulance system wants a judge to keep details of its contract with the province secret.

A lawyer for Medavie Health Services New Brunswick Inc. on Friday told Court of Queen's Bench Justice George Rideout the company agrees with releasing most of the contract.

Charles LeBlond said the company opposes releasing details such as staffing levels and how much Medavie is paid for meeting performance targets, arguing the information could harm its competitive position.

Public release of the details would "completely jeopardize" Medavie's business operations because competing companies could reverse engineer Medavie's pricing formula, LeBlond told the court in Moncton.

That would give other firms an advantage when bidding for future contracts in New Brunswick and other jurisdictions. Medavie, however, would not have a similar advantage, since it would not have the same details about competitor pricing, he said.

In February, the province notified Medavie it intended to release the 2017 contract without any redaction.

The decision followed separate right to information requests from CBC News and Brunswick News Inc. for the latest Ambulance New Brunswick contract with the Department of Health and Medavie. 

Medavie Health Services, which has operated New Brunswick's ambulance system since 2007, has gone to court seeking to keep financial details of its contract with the government secret. (CBC)

Medavie has operated the ambulance system since 2007 and its contract was renewed in 2017.

The company asked a judge to review the province's decision to make the contract details public.

Ambulance New Brunswick has faced controversy following stories by the Telegraph-Journal newspaper and CBC about ambulances that were out of service because of staffing issues.

"The position of the province is that in the interest of openness and transparency, and in light of the public interest in the matter, the unredacted agreement from 2017 should be disclosed in full," Richard Williams, a provincial government lawyer, told the court.

The Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act allows anyone to request records held by the government. The law includes exemptions that prohibit releasing information about a third party provided in confidence or that could harm its business interests.

LeBlond said he understand the public interest but that can't trump the act.

"The act was never intended to mandate full disclosure in all circumstances, which is what the position of the media in particular clamouring for disclosure seems to suggest be the case," LeBlond told the judge.

"It is not and Medavie has done nothing more than meet its statutory obligations and rights in agreeing to disclosure of the redacted version of the agreement."

Portions of the contract between Medavie and the province for operation of Ambulance New Brunswick were redacted. The province sought to release the contract without any redactions, which Medavie opposed.

Williams said the law gives the minister of the department that receives the right to information request broad power to decide what can be released.

A similar case involving the Green Party of New Brunswick seeking information about the contract between the province and Shannex Inc. for privately run nursing homes serves as an example of a judge correctly interpreting the act, LeBlond said.

In that case, Justice Judy Clendening ruled in March that the contract details don't have to be released.

Rideout said he intends to issue a written ruling in the ambulance contract case by Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

About the Author

Shane Magee

Reporter

Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.