Big victory for NAPE in bid to acquire details of private contracts with Eastern Health
Eastern Health will release contracts if companies do not appeal
Eastern Health should respect recommendations by Newfoundland and Labrador's information and privacy commissioner to release contracts with private companies that provide catering and security services to the health authority, says NAPE president Jerry Earle.
"We firmly believe that this is in the public's best interest — to ensure openness and transparency in how our public health care system operates and how taxpayer dollars are being spent," Earle, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, said Monday.
NAPE filed access request for copies of the contracts with Morrison Food Services, Paladin Security and Vinci Park/Indigo.
All three companies objected to the release of the contracts, but Vinci later dropped its objection.
Morrison and Paladin continued to resist the request, however, which resulted in a June 16 recommendation by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) that the contracts be released.
"We believe that this has been a creep into health care in this province," Earle told CBC News.
"If this is more cost-effective, if this is cheaper on the taxpayers, then demonstrate it to us because we believe the true savings are not taking place. These are a couple of mainland companies, large corporations that the profits actually go out of this province. So does that really benefit the people of Newfoundland and Labrador?"
The food services and security contractors both argued that releasing the contracts would reveal commercial, financial and technical information that was provided in confidence, and that releasing the contracts would be harmful to their business interests.
Paladin also complained that releasing contract details would mean disclosing sensitive security information, which might jeopardize the safety of employees, patients and visitors.
Eastern Health has previously stated it would release the contracts, if the companies consented.
The information and privacy commissioner's office rejected the arguments of the companies, and recommended that Eastern Health disclose the records.
Commissioner Ed Ring was not available for comment Monday.
Union fighting privatization in health services
NAPE is waging an aggressive campaign to fight the privatization of health care services.
According to legislation, Eastern Health now has 10 business days upon the receipt of each report from the OIPC to decide whether it will follow the recommendations.
We are hopeful that this matter, which has already chewed up valuable public resources for a number of months, does not end up going to court.- Jerry Earle
Earle said Eastern Health should comply without hesitation.
"The public has every right to see if public funds are being used properly and to know if adequate checks and balances are in place," Earle stated.
"We are hopeful that this matter, which has already chewed up valuable public resources for a number of months, does not end up going to court. This will only serve to tie up the court system with frivolous proceedings and further drain public resources."
Earle said NAPE also supports a suggestion by OIPC that that all public bodies move to an "open contracting system," under which contracts for the provision of goods and services are published without the need to access to information requests.
"This would provide a greater level of transparency and avoid time consuming and costly access to information requests," he noted.
Eastern Health, meanwhile, issued a statement Monday afternoon, saying it will accept "all recommendations" of the information and privacy commissioner, "which align with our original intention on this matter."
If the two companies choose not to appeal within the 10 business days outlined in the legislation, Eastern Health says it will release the requested information at that time.