N.W.T. premier releases list of third-party meetings
Similar list will be released for cabinet ministers April 1, new lists every three months
The Northwest Territories government yesterday moved a step closer to the accountability and transparency that exists in most provinces.
Premier Bob McLeod announced yesterday that, every three months, the government will release lists of who he and cabinet ministers have met with.
Later in the day, he released a list of who he has met with since January 2014. He says a similar list will be released for all cabinet ministers starting April 1, and that the government will release similar lists every three months.
But the lists won't include any information about the purpose of the meetings or what was talked about.
"We wanted to strike the right balance between transparency and the public's right to know about these meetings and their right to privacy of individuals," McLeod said. "We don't want to scare people away from requesting meetings, if they don't want people to know what they're talking about. We feel we have a duty to protect third parties and protect their privacy."
The move falls short of the transparency and accountability the premier committed to during debate last month of a motion to establish a lobbyist registry. The Northwest Territories is one of only a few Canadian jurisdictions without one.
During the February 21 debate, McLeod argued a registry was unnecessary.
"We certainly agree that transparency is important and there’s no reason why the public should not know with whom Ministers are meeting and why," McLeod said. "That information is available now upon request. There is nothing to hide."
Following that statement, CBC requested information about any lobbying that went on leading up to the government's decision last month to dismiss three members of the board that monitors the Ekati diamond mine. Environmentalists said it was odd to dismiss the three members, including the chair, at the same time, in the middle of an environmental review of a proposed expansion of the mine.
So far, the government has not provided any information specific to that request. The list of meetings the premier has had includes only two with Dominion Diamond Corporation executives, in April and July. According to the list, the presidents of all of the diamond mines operating in the N.W.T. had a meeting with the premier and two other ministers in February 2014.
Yesterday, the premier was asked why the government is now not releasing any information about what is discussed with lobbyists.
"I changed my mind after I got proper advice," said McLeod.
The MLA who moved the motion to establish a lobbyist registry applauded yesterday's announcement by the premier. "It's a good first step," said Range Lake MLA Daryl Dolynny. "A registry would definitely be the ultimate tool we're looking for for transparency and accountability."
Dolynny says changes to the territory's Financial Administration Act will give senior members of government more spending authority and more authority to shape policy. He says their meetings with lobbyists should also be made public.
Lobbyist registries typically include that information, as well as a summary of what subjects were discussed during meetings. The territorial government says the public will have to file access to information requests to get that information.
Cabinet meetings and discussions and the legislative assembly generally are exempt from such requests.