The Liberal Government’s Blatant Abuse of “Access to Information”
In all my years of doing investigative research, I have never dealt with a government that was more secretive than the MacLauchlan Liberal government. It used to be that you could just ask for information and you’d usually get it, but those days are long gone. Now you need to exercise your legal right to access government information, and pay for that information. Even then, what you usually end up receiving after months of waiting is significantly redacted and/or woefully incomplete.
I routinely submit very focussed “Access to Information” requests in a bid to get documents that used to be – under the previous Pat Binns government – happily provided …but not with this Liberal government! And rather than holding back only specific information that would be a real infringement of privacy rights, this government is using those privacy provisions within the Act to deny access to information we have a right to have, but government prefers to keep secret.
Take the so-called “Review of Land Holdings” which the Minister of Communities, Lands and Environment, Hon. Richard Brown, announced last May that he instructed the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC) to undertake. After learning from members of the National Farmers Union (NFU) that they had tried for months (unsuccessfully) to get a promised meeting with Minister Brown so he could get their input into establishing the “terms of reference” for that land review, I decided to submit an Access to Information Request to see what – if anything – was being considered and/or undertaken by either the Department or IRAC regarding the Lands Review. I submitted the following request on September 18, 2018:
I subsequently received a letter dated October 15, 2018, informing me that the Department of Communities, Lands and Environment had received my request on September 18, 2018, but…..
“The records contain information that affect the interests of other third parties. We have contacted the affected parties, as required under Section 28 of the Act, to provide them with an opportunity to consent to disclosure or to make representations objecting to disclosure.”
I subsequently learned that a search for relevant records had uncovered 69 pages, and I finally received those documents in the mail the first week of November, with a letter dated October 25, 2018.
The package seemed awfully thin for 69 pages, and I soon learned why. The first 14 pages were useless notes and emails essentially saying, “Minister Brown has announced that a Land Review will happen….etc. As I flipped forward to get to the good stuff – pages 15 – 69, here’s what I found:
Not one single word !
Sure, I could file an appeal to the Information Commissioner and probably get a ruling that the government had no right to withhold all that information, but really…what would be the point?
I’ve just learned that the NFU was finally granted a meeting with the Minister on November 6, 2018. They were informed that something might be ready for the public by February, 2019, but all indications are that little or nothing has been done on the review by IRAC to date.
Land holding data is all there to print out and then assess, so I’m sure it wouldn’t take more than a few days to compile the data and tell us how much land is owned by who, how much land is owned by non-residents, etc. That is, if there was a will to be truly “open and transparent,” but this Liberal government is unfortunately all about being “closed and opaque.”
When we finally get the results of the Land Review, we’ll only hear what we already know: that the letter of the law – as currently written in the Lands Protection Act – is being followed. It’ll have been just another “kick the can down the road” exercise and a complete waste of time and taxpayer’s money.
As for all the sneaky ways that technically-complicated and legally-obscure terms are creating loopholes allowing certain corporate entities and/or non-residents to acquire more land than the Act ever intended, thereby violating the “spirit” of the Act…..well, I’m sure we’ll hear nothing about that.
Why doesn’t the Wade MacLauchlan government want us to know what they’re doing (or not doing)? Because knowledge is power…and this government likes to keep power to itself. And that is a totally unacceptable affront to democracy.