A $5-million review of provincial assets will stay hidden, for now, after the Newfoundland and Labrador government denied access-to-information requests to see it, calling it a cabinet record that doesn’t have to be made public under provincial legislation.
Multiple media outlets — including CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, Radio-Canada, NTV and the St. John’s Telegram — had requested a copy of the report under access-to-information legislation, known as ATIPP, for the Access To Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
In a letter responding to CBC and Radio-Canada’s request, the provincial Department of Finance wrote, “Please be advised that the Rothschild and Co. report is a record created during the process of developing or preparing a submission for the cabinet. As such, the department wishes to advise that access has not been granted.”
The department said a copy of the report is being withheld in full under Section 27, cabinet confidences, of the legislation.
The act defines a cabinet record as a record created during the process of developing or preparing a submission for the cabinet and says the head of a public body “shall refuse to disclose to an applicant a cabinet record.”
The report, written by multinational bank and financial services company Rothschild and Co., is a review of the province’s assets, delivered to the government in early April. At the time, Finance Minister Siobhan Coady said the provincial government couldn’t release it because the report contains “commercial sensitivities.”
The province commissioned the review following last year’s report by the premier’s economic recovery team, which recommended selling some assets.
In a media release Tuesday, interim PC Leader David Brazil accused Premier Andrew Furey of misleading the public over the release of the review.
Brazil brought up the issue during a sitting in the House of Assembly on April 6, when he accused the government of hiding information. Furey responsed that an access-to-information request could be filed and the report could be released with redactions.
“That’s normal course of business; we’re not preventing that. What we are saying is that this report is, for the first time, an evidence-based approach in evaluating our assets. There are obviously commercial sensitivities in there, as I’m sure everyone in this House can appreciate,” Furey said at the time, adding that the report, if requested through access-to-information laws, would be “redacted accordingly and in accordance with the legislation and we’ll move from there.”
Appeal with privacy commissioner: Coady
On Tuesday Brazil accused government again of hiding the report called on Furey to release it.
“Not only will his minister not do the right thing and release the report publicly, but even through the ATIPP process the document is being hidden behind cabinet confidence,” Brazil said.
“The premier knew it was a cabinet document when he made his statement. He has control over what is and is not a cabinet document. I call on the premier to do the right thing: release this report, with necessary redactions, and finally be honest with the people of our province about what they intend to do with our assets.”
On Tuesday, Coady reiterated her position that commercial considerations are a reason not to release the report.
“If we do decide that we are going make any changes to our assets, you don’t want to make an impact on what value those asset could be, whether intentionally or unintentionally.”
Coady, who noted the ATIPP process falls outside ministerial oversight, said the report did go to cabinet, which qualifies it under the legislation as a cabinet document.
She added people who have had requests denied can appeal to the privacy commissioner. Appeals must be filed within 15 business days of the denial letter.
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