North

'More transparent' website to break down details of N.W.T. ministers' travel expenses, meetings

A new website will post raw data on travel expenses instead of one lump sum for a trip. It will also list the individuals ministers meet with, instead of just the group they represent.

Post devolution 'there's a lot more at stake in terms of transparency and open decision making,' MLA says

Some critics of the government's new website say it doesn't go far enough and should include details like what ministers and their counterparts (possibly lobbyists) are discussing. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)

A new website will soon list exactly who N.W.T. ministers are having meetings with and where they're spending money on trips.

The site will replace the current system, set up in 2015, where meetings and expenses are reported every three months without many details.

The new website will release information once a month.

"Instead of publishing reports, we're actually going to be publishing data," explains Andrew Livingstone, a senior cabinet communications advisor.

On top of what the government is already publishing on its site, like lump sums for trips, the new site will break down the costs of trips. It will also list which individual a minister met with, instead of just his or her interest group.

What the website won't do is give detailed descriptions of lobbyists or their lobbying activities.

But Livingstone stresses the website is not intended to be a lobbyist registry.

"What this is actually going to do is provide an opportunity for the public to be able to search the information a little bit more," he says. "It's ultimately the government's approach to being more transparent."

Territories only ones without registries

Advocates of a full lobbyist registry say simply including the names of the people meeting with the ministers does not go far enough.

"The target of a proper lobbyist registry – you see it in other provinces and other territories – is the ability to see exactly who's meeting with who, what is the content of the discussion, and sometimes, what is the outcome," says Daryl
When he was an MLA, Daryl Dolynny put forth a motion calling for a lobbyist registry in the territory. (CBC)
Dolynny, a former MLA who introduced a motion in 2015 to set up a lobbyist registry. 

The registry in Alberta displays information like this, including links to a database of lobbyists and what campaigns they are engaged in.

"It's not just a matter of having easier usability of a tool, but also the content of that tool," says Dolynny.

Nunavut, Yukon and the N.W.T. are the only territories and provinces without lobbyist registries or, like PEI and New Brunswick, ongoing work by the government to create one.

In Yukon, the newly elected Liberal party pledged to establish a lobbyist registry, although the issue has not been raised in that government's first session.

More power, more responsibility: MLA

Yellowknife MLA Kevin O'Reilly agrees with the need for a lobbyist registry, especially since devolution granted the territory new powers.

"Our government now has jurisdiction over lands and resources, including minerals and oil and gas, and there's a lot more at stake in terms of transparency and open decision making, and more accountable government," he says.
Yellowknife MLA Kevin O'Reilly says the territorial government needs to be transparent and 'more accountable' after taking on more responsibilities post devolution. (CBC )

In the legislature in February, Minister Louis Sebert defended the government's resistance to creating a registry. He said the N.W.T. is too small of a jurisdiction to justify the expense, and that enough information was already being provided to the public. 

At that point, Sebert said the government had not sought any formal comment from the public on whether it wanted a registry. 

The government is holding public meetings next week on its work to develop an open-government policy, though not specifically related to either the new website nor a lobbyist registry.

Livingstone said the government "hoped to have [the new site] up a bit sooner," but personnel and technological problems have slowed its development. 

"We're almost there," he said.

About the Author

Jimmy Thomson is a former reporter for CBC North.

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