Nova Scotia

Stephen McNeil's use of phone to ensure secrecy worries privacy czar

Nova Scotia's information and privacy commissioner says Premier Stephen McNeil's use of his phone to keep conversations with staff private goes against the province's freedom of information law.

Catherine Tully says the province's freedom of information law needs an overhaul

Premier Stephen McNeil has admitted to using his phone to have conversations with staff so that the discussions would evade the province's freedom of information law. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia's information and privacy commissioner said Premier Stephen McNeil's use of his phone to keep conversations with staff private undermines the province's freedom of information law.

Stephen McNeil admitted the practice to reporters Thursday.

​"It's certainly well recognized across Canada and in other Commonwealth countries that a failure to document undermines the freedom of information system by leaving little or no record of government decision-making, so I certainly recognize that that does raise a concern," said commissioner Catherine Tully.

McNeil said he wanted some conversations, particularly those about policies only being considered, kept private.

Some information should be private

"I need to be able to communicate to my staff, and there are certain things I want to be able to tell them that I don't believe should be out in the public domain," McNeil said.

Tully said the current law protects those conversations by exempting advice to cabinet from the law.

Catherine Tully, Nova Scotia's information and privacy commissioner, would like to see the province's freedom of information law overhauled. (CBC)

She said she would continue to lobby the government to overhaul the current law, including a provision to document decisions.

"That's completely fine, have the discussions," she said. "What I'm recommending is that once the decision is made to not do something, as much as to do something, that that decision be documented," said Tully.

'A duty to document'

"The reasons for the decision be documented, who made it, when it was made. That's a duty to document."

Tully said other provinces such as B.C. and Newfoundland are moving toward that.

She said, based on what's happening here and in other provinces, Nova Scotia needs a law.

Despite McNeil's suggestion the law is fine as is, Tully is already compiling a list of amendments she'd like to see.

"This process always takes years and I'm ready for that."

On Monday, Tully called for a ban on use of personal cellphones and tablets for government business, unless those tools can be set up to retain and store records automatically.


Jean Laroche


Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter since 1987. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.