Province rejects recommendation by privacy commissioner to disclose Bay Ferries deal

Those who want to know just how much Nova Scotia taxpayers are paying Bay Ferries to run the Yarmouth to Maine ferry are going to have to take the province to court to find out.

'It's a very good example of how our law is not effective,' says Catherine Tully

Nova Scotia's Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has refused to comply with a ruling by the province's privacy commissioner to reveal how much taxpayers are paying Bay Ferries to run its service between Yarmouth and Maine. (Bay Ferries Ltd.)

Nova Scotia's Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has refused to comply with a formal recommendation by the province's privacy commissioner to reveal how much taxpayers are paying Bay Ferries to run its service between Yarmouth and Maine.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Catherine Tully, Deputy Minister Paul LaFleche is blunt: "The department does not intend to make further disclosures on this file.

"There is a legitmate public interest in protecting the confidential commercial information of third-party businesses," he noted.

Tully, who dismissed that reasoning in a 17-page ruling Dec. 17, said the outright rejection of her advice is not unusual.

"You know it's very frustrating but I think it's more frustrating for applicants, understandably so," she said.

"Why go through the review process if in the end a public body can just say … that it doesn't actually matter what the commissioner says, we're going to do what we always said we were going to do?"

Deputy Minister Paul LaFleche of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Tully said it is further proof her office needs more power. "I think it's a very good example of why our law, or how our law, is not effective," she said. 

Just 48 hours ago, when Tully issued a report into Nova Scotia's largest privacy breach, she urged Premier Stephen McNeil to give her office the power to order changes rather than to be limited to issuing recommendations. 

In response to a CBC request to speak to the premier about that, spokesperson David Jackson responded by email: "He's already addressed it and the position hasn't changed."

Premier says Tully has all the power she needs

Since becoming premier, McNeil has repeatedly said Tully has all the power she needs.

When she took the job more than four years ago, Tully said she resisted calling for more power, as previous commissioners had, hoping to bring about change during her mandate.

With just eight months left in her five-year committment, she thinks differently.

In the last year of a five-year commitment, Catherine Tully believes her office lacks the power it needs to be effective. (CBC)

"I've lived with recommendation-making power, as have Nova Scotians, and it's not working. It's not an effective oversight it's not resulting in transparency and accountability by the government in this particular case."

PC Leader Tim Houston, whose caucus was one of the three applicants to request the information on the Bay Ferries contract, wasn't surpised by the McNeil government's response.

"I'm just wondered what they're hiding," he said. "It's information that taxpayers have a right to know.

"The privacy commissioner agreed it's information that taxpayers have a right to know and for some reason the government is digging in. What are they embarrassed of?"

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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