Update: Access to Info act passes second reading

James McLeod
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Confederation building. — Telegram file photo

After a marathon overnight debate in the House of Assembly, the government's amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act passed a key vote this morning.

The legislation passed second reading in the House with a vote of 18 PC Party members voting in favour, and the 11 members of the Liberals and the NDP voting against.

Politicians are still talking in the House of Assembly, though.

After second reading, the House resolves itself into a committee of the whole House. During that stage of debate, each MHA can only speak for 10 minutes at a time. However, opposition MHAs are allowed to speak as many times as they want, meaning they can effectively draw out debate indefinitely.

Liberal and NDP politicians are indicating that they do not plan on stopping debate and any point in the foreseeable future.

The only option for the PC government is to move a “closure motion” which would effectively shut down debate.

It appears likely that the filibuster will pre-empt today's normal question period in the House, and could disrupt other legislative activities scheduled for this week, such as the House of Assembly management commission meeting on Wednesday evening.

The live proceedings of the House of Assembly can be viewed via streaming video here.


There were plenty of ragged faces and bleary eyes at Confederation Building this morning, after an all-night sitting in the province's legislature.

And as of this morning, there are no signs that things will be stopping any time soon.

Members of the House of Assembly have effectively been debating continuously for more than 18 hours.

“It's been extremely long,” Progressive Conservative MHA Sandy Collins said. “Hopefully, I'll get to go home soon. I've been here since 1:30 yesterday (afternoon.)”

Opposition politicians have vowed to fight the government's amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The legislation would move to make many large categories of government documents secret, including any deliberations by government employees, any documents used to inform cabinet decisions and any access-to-information requests which a government minister deems to be “frivolous or vexatious.”

During the course of debate, Liberal House Leader Yvonne Jones called the legislation “draconian.”

She said the law would make it extremely difficult for opposition politicians, the public or the media to scrutinize government decisions.

“Basically our issue is that we feel that this is going to shroud a lot of what government does in terms of documentation and the material they use to make decisions in secrecy,” Jones told The Telegram outside the House early this morning. “We will do whatever it takes to ensure that there is openness and transparency and people have the ability to access the information that they want.”

In formally announcing the legislative changes yesterday, Justice Minister Felix Collins argued that it strikes a balance between the public's right to know and “good stewardship” which requires the government to keep some information secret.

At this point, it's unclear how much longer debate can last.

The legislation is still in the second reading phase of debate; the opposition parties have a limited number of procedural manoeuvres they can use at that point in the process. At this point, it seems unlikely that the second reading phase will go much past lunch time today.

However, if the bill goes into the committee stage of debate, the opportunities for the opposition to talk and stall the bill are effectively unlimited. At that point, the entire House of Assembly resolves itself into a committee of the whole House; MHAs are allowed to speak as many times as they want, and they can propose specific amendments to the bill.

New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael said if the government decides to push straight through into the committee stage, MHAs could be facing another all-nighter.

“If we finish second reading some time today, I can't imagine it's going into tonight. But if government goes into committee of the whole, that's a different story,” Michael said. “If we in committee of the whole, yeah, I imagine it would.”

There is a procedural provision that would allow the government to shut down debate whenever they want, however, Sandy Collins said he hasn't heard any talk of that yet in the PC ranks.

“They may determine how long this goes,” he said. “We've been sitting patiently tonight, and I'm sure we're going to do it throughout the day.”

Michael was still in relatively good spirits as the sun rose on Confederation Building, saying that it doesn't seem like they've been debating for that long at all.

“This is the second time I've had an all-nighter like this, and the time flies,” she said. “All of a sudden you realize the sun is coming up.”

Michael said it's not so much about the specific arguments that are being made in the House of Assembly debate right now; the opposition parties are making their point by keeping things going as long as possible.

“The longer we're here the more attention it's going to get, and the more people will check in to see what it's about,” she said. “We want people to know we're willing to fight for this bill because it's so bad.”

Collins said from what he's hearing, things are getting pretty repetitive.

“The same members are getting up two, three, four times and basically repeating what they said the last time,” he said. “I guess that's essentially what a filibuster is, so they're doing a good job of it.”

Clearly, the hours were taking the toll on MHAs, though.

Around 7:30 a.m. New Democrat Dale Kirby introduced an amendment to the bill — a tactic that, if successful, would buy opposition politicians an extra three hours and 40 minutes of debate.

After taking a brief break to review the amendment, Deputy Speaker Wade Verge ruled that it was out of order — and he also noted that the amendment was identical to a Liberal amendment which was ruled out of order several hours earlier.

Kirby said he mixed up the papers on his desk, and accidentally read the wrong amendment.

More coverage later on The Telegram website, and in Wednesday’s print edition.

Organizations: The Telegram, Liberal House

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Recent comments

  • Grim Reality
    June 13, 2012 - 07:56

    How can anyone make such a stupid comment as: "I can see certain info being held back so it doesn't give unfair advantage to somebody but it should be released eventually." The gov't is paid for by every tax paying person and business in any "Democratic Society". The gov't state they need to know everything about us and all business but but fight tooth and nail when they are requested for any information. Do not state that NDP or Liberal or any political party is any better. We currently live in a society where you are brainwashed in school system to sway with a political ideal. Monitoring of citizens is not just accepted but actually endorsed by a population that has been brainwashed by a fear mongering media and corporate corruption.

  • TR
    June 12, 2012 - 21:57

    The AG should have access to everything. I can see certain info being held back so it doesn't give unfair advantage to somebody but it should be released eventually. The AG should get it when he/she wants it.

  • William Dsniels
    June 12, 2012 - 20:00

    This government has to be stopped. Harperdale has gone to far this time. I would like to know where my tax dollars are spent. It's my right. At look at the books after this crowd gets thrown out will be scary.

  • Michael
    June 12, 2012 - 18:17

    If this bill passes it will be the downfall of this Goverement. The sad part for Our First female leader of the goverement will go down to defeat. oonly thing we will have to wait for the next elections.

  • Neil
    June 12, 2012 - 17:24

    This is insane. Everyone should be against this - phone your MHA! http://www.assembly.nl.ca/members/cms/membersalpha.htm

  • Joseph McGrath
    June 12, 2012 - 15:45

    The gong show continues in the Legislature and I bet around 10% or less of voters even know or care about accountability in NL.That is extremly sad to think about.Like sheep we freed them in the legislative pasture and they glutton themselves on the taxpayers tab with little or no public outcry.We are returning to the Smallwood days of hidden deals,secret industrial handshakes and business after business failures with the public completly in blackout mode untill things go belly up.Then a new bright industry will rise up and drain millions more of hard earned tax revenues,loans etc etc. Acccountability has been in a down mode spirial of late but not so fast it is speeding up its decent.The present boatload of freshly minted members floated into the legislature and the big" BOOGY DAYS OF NON ACCOUNTABITY"are in vogue again.Darn the voters,darn the sick,darn the seniors and darn eveyone and eveything else as it is full steam ahead to shut down access to the reason for most programs and expenditure of our dollars.Big government knows what is good for us.Believe me ,if this cannibalization of public accountability continues we are doomed to a far greater period of darkness in controlling our own affairs than we have ever seen.A pox on all of them!!!!As an aside with closing fish plants,paper mills in trouble,health care management out of control,Hydro development stalled,EI etc in an unknown pandora's box and foreign workers hitting our shores to take low paying fish jobs this government has the" UMITIGATED GALL"to deal with its accountability fear phobia.UNBELIEVABLE!!!

  • Michael
    June 12, 2012 - 14:13

    Sad, sad, sad. What this government is doing today should be considered criminal in my opinion. I feel like it PROVES there is something to hide on Muskrat falls. After all, if the whole project was on the up-and-up... why would there be a need to limit access to information?

  • Justin
    June 12, 2012 - 13:36

    This bill is a slap in taxpayers faces.

  • Randy
    June 12, 2012 - 13:09

    cover-up cover-up cover-up, Make know wonder these MHA's and Dunderdale slapped Harper and his bunch on the back, they're just like them

  • Don II
    June 12, 2012 - 12:40

    To ALLI: Are you serious? MHA expense claims are posted on line, however, these reports leave out pertinent information which the public should know. For example, one report which I recently read showed that the person in question paid over $75.00 for a dinner meal for two people at a local restaurant. That amount for dinner for two appears to be somewhat expensive. However, that person held a dinner meeting with another person at that same restaurant at least twice a month for over a year. Who was that other person? Was this Government business? What were they discussing for over a year? Why didn't they have their meals at the Confederation Building Cafeteria for around $20.00? The reports on MHA and bureaucratic spending are bare bones reports that leave out any real information. It appears that nobody in Government knows what open and transparent reporting of expenses really means or maybe they do and don't want to do that. Are the tax payers paying the bill for the dinners Government officials are having twice a month with their partner in an extra marital affair or with some well connected business buddy who is lobbying the Government or seeking inside information on upcoming contracts! Who knows? The public does not know and the Government types don't want you to know! It is clear to me now why taxes are so high and why there is corruption in Government!

  • Anne
    June 12, 2012 - 12:12

    Scott Free says it all. I didn't think it would be possible for me to despise anyone as much as I did Mr. Williams who was such a bully. But at least he wasn't as condescending as Ms. Dunderdale, who absolutely turns down her nose at everyone. I hope people remember this the next time an election or by election occurs.

  • Scott Free
    June 12, 2012 - 10:27

    Did anyone expect anything different from that Secret Society known as the Con Party of NL? Little Man Dan and his dictatorial behaviour served as a prime training ground for Dunderdale's down with democracy decree. Sadly, our Premier has taken on the worst characteristics of her predecessor and her closeness with Prorougie Steve has influenced her contempt of taxpayers and distain for democracy. Corruption abounds; four more years of deceit, lies and cover-ups ahead. Surely there can't be a Tory spin on this one, can there?

  • ALLI
    June 12, 2012 - 09:53

    Every single MHA expense claim is posted on line. Not only the auditor general, but anyone can have a look. They are posted regularly.

    • Everest
      June 12, 2012 - 18:09

      And those reports are clear as mud. Get a life Alli.

  • J. Roberts
    June 12, 2012 - 09:28

    Openess, Accountability and Transparency...sounds like the right approach to me!

  • Jerome
    June 12, 2012 - 09:20

    WE, the taxpayers, are their Employers. We are paying their salaries and they are suppose to be working for us. Would any other Employer put up with not being aware of what their employees are doing?

  • Don II
    June 12, 2012 - 08:52

    This anti-democratic, Kremlin like super secrecy Bill is the atrocious act of the increasingly desperate, incompetent, wasteful and corrupt Government of Newfoundland. This Bill must be stopped or repealed at the earliest opportunity. This Bill will further muzzle the Auditor General, the media and private groups or individuals who are investigating what the Government of Newfoundland is actually doing behind the closed doors of Cabinet and Government Departments. I filed an Freedom of Information request and was informed that the information I was seeking existed. I was further informed that the cost of retrieving, reviewing and photocopying the information which exceeded 3000 pages would cost me approximately $2100.00. It appears that the high cost of obtaining the requested information was due to the fact that the Government does not have a modern centralized computerized digital data input, collection, storage and retrieval system that would permit the rapid retrieval and dissemination of requested files from any Department. I was prepared to pay that expensive amount for the information and would have done so except for the fact that I was tipped off that Government was going to send me 3000 pages of documents which would be 95% blacked out. In other words, the legislation allows the Government to comply with the law by providing me with useless documents and ripping me off to the tune of $3000.00! Now they want to go even further with their secrecy agenda by blocking further access to documents, giving Ministers the power to cover up their mistakes and by removing the right of appeal. We are rapidly headed back in time to the days of Joey Smallwood where secret deals from the Newfoundland Liquor Store leases to the Come by Chance Oil Refinery deal could be done in complete secrecy and without any right of the public to know what the Government was up to! Isolated Island nations and Communist dictatorships have a well documented history of this kind of secrecy and abuse of the people's right to know. With the passage of this Bill, the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador will have joined that nefarious secrecy club!

  • Dan
    June 12, 2012 - 08:19

    Try as they will, no one will stop this. Secrecy is the name of the game today. If there was nothing to hide there would be no reason for this useless piece of trash legislation. People of Newfoundland and Labrador STAND UP and fight for your right to know!

  • RP
    June 12, 2012 - 08:14

    This new bill is indeed about openness and transpirancy. It allows the AG to have access to all financial files and individuals now have 4 free hours to have access to information as opposed to two hours.

    • Bob Ster
      June 12, 2012 - 09:45

      RP, I sincerely hope you are being sarcastic.

  • Nancy
    June 12, 2012 - 08:08

    I applaud the Liberal and NDP MP's for standing up to this atrocious Bill. The people, always, ALWAYS have a full right to know exactly what is going on with the government that they elected. We are NOT sheep. We will NOT allow the government to become a dictatorship. Spending god only knows how much of our tax dollars on whatever they want. We have been down this path before. If any of the MP's are reading this - please don't give up! The rest of Canada is watching us and we have to stop this Bill before it's too late!

    • Lucy
      June 12, 2012 - 08:47

      It is our God given right and it's time to take a stand. I applaud the other MP's for taking a no stand on this bill - we the people have a say. We have a right to know and the Auditor Genreal has a right to know exactly what is going on and what is being kept back from the people.

    • Lynn
      June 12, 2012 - 11:11

      I applaud the NDP and Liberals as well for standing up to these bullies - especially Dunderdale, who wasn't in the House last night!! She must have needed her rest, she doesn't care about us, just herself. We pay their saleries. Stop this bill before it's too late!!!