B’ys, lay off. Everybody’s picking on poor ol’ Felix and Her Dunderness and the rest of the crew (those that haven’t jumped ship yet) and it’s enough already, right? I don’t see what the big deal is. Everybody’s getting their freak on about the new access to information laws but really I don’t think they’re so bad. In fact good ole Double Helix Felix might have significantly improved our laws. Here’s how:
1) Openness and transparency. Well the government press release said the changes were gonna make the laws more open and transparent. And they’re right. The new law is more full of holes than a mesh shirt on an 80s dance floor. Forget Swiss cheese, this is Swiss cheese after the mouse got through with it. And the credibility of the new law has been rubbed so thin, you’d be able to see through it wearing a welder’s mask. Transparent? So far as laws go, this one’s so transparent it might as well be invisible. And for all intents and purposes, it is.
2) Information is the new oil. Well I guess the government took the phrase ‘knowledge economy’ a bit too literally cuz they seem to have decided they ought to start making a lot more money off of refusing to divulge their secrets. Not only have they increased fees for filing access to information requests, but they’ve discovered new things to charge for. In addition to basic resource use and time spent producing the requested information (or refusing to produce the requested information), they’ve invented something new to charge for: ‘contemplation time’. Yup, now they’re charging for the amount of time it takes a government bureaucrat to think about whether or not to give you the information you’re requesting. I guess this means that the longer they take to make up their mind, the more revenue the government will be able to bring in! All slow-thinkers on deck, please! Forget decisiveness, it’s now your inability to make a decision that’s a valued asset. Yes, that’s right. The Dunderdudes have figured out a way to turn an utterly intangible, generally despised quality – bureaucratic indecision – into a revenue-generating project. Well, you gotta hand it to them. This is the public policy equivalent of the Hebron oil field. Not everybody thinks up something like that every day. Move over consumption tax: heeere’s contemplation tax!
Clogging up the courts Greater flexibility for entrepreneurs and their economic stimulants. Under the new laws, government ministers will have sweeping powers to decide what gets let out and what doesn’t. If the Minister of Justice decides to go to a cabinet meeting and propose shag carpets for the House of Assembly, and doesn’t want the plan made public until they can decide the colour, well by golly his word is the law. And if you want to challenge his decision, you can no longer go to an efficient, effective third party who’s trained in the ins and outs of the legislation (I’m referring to the Information and Privacy Commissioner). Why that’d just be too easy and sensible. Instead you have to go to court to challenge the Minister. Well, thought I (scratching my head, good Tory voter that I am, to try and figure out what possible benefit there could be to this), I got an idea about that. I’ve noticed the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary have been running gold when it comes to drug busts lately. Yup, our crack RNC forces are busting drug dealers right and left, and good on ‘em! Only…the problem with that is that in a lot of spots the drug dealers are the only ones with a lot of cash to spend. So I guess we sort of needs them to keep the economy going, especially now that the oil is starting to run out, and especially since government focused all their development efforts on the Northeast Avalon and forgot there were three other quarters to the island (oh and something called Labrador), and especially since the federal government have gutted the EI program and pretty much abandoned the province. So…if journalists further clog up the already over-burdened and under-resourced court system by challenging the Minister to get information for their stories, then that means the whole court system will be slowed down, and it’ll take longer to charge and convict all the actual criminals entrepreneurial irregulars which means they’ll be out spending money and investing in our economy. See – it’s a win! Think of it as sort of a stimulus program. I mean, makes sense, doesn’t it?
At least about as much sense as the new laws do.
4) Creative freedom. In the government documentation, the government complained that fear of having to account to the public for what went on behind closed doors was creating a “chill” at ministerial briefings and the like. Well, we wouldn’t want the Dunderdudes to feel chilly now, would we? With this new law, they’ll be able to come up with all the silly ideas they want, and nobody will be able to call them on it!
But wait now. How come Danny Williams never felt chilly at cabinet briefings? Oh right. It was cuz
he wasn’t afraid to be held publicly accountable for his words and actions he had a giant seal-skin coat to keep him warm.
5) Enforced mediocrity. One of the biggest reasons government has given for a lot of the changes is that they will “become more consistent with other Canadian jurisdictions”. Forget ‘triple-Ps’; this is ‘quadruple-Ps’: public policy peer pressure. In other words, we’re making our laws like everybody else’s (or at least, like those places the government has found to use as examples of places that have laws like the ones that they want). It’s sort of like all those times when you’re competing in a race, and the starter pistol goes off and you start running as fast as you can, and then you look around and realize you’re way off in front, and you think to yourself ‘Oh no! I’m ahead of everybody else!’ Right? And everybody starts booing you cuz you’re in the lead? Don’t you hate it when that happens? And you have to slow down so the others can pass you? What a drag that is, right.
Which, to be honest, is pretty consistent with this government’s approach in recent months. God forbid we should have a law that’s in anyway different from any other provinces’! Especially one that’s better. Which is, in essence, what we had. We used to get C’s in the Canadian Newspaper Association’s annual Freedom of Association audit, where they graded each province on their freedom of information laws. Then we improved the laws, and started getting a B (minus). Now I guess we’ll go back to the bottom half of the pack. But that’s all fine and well. After all, you don’t want to excel too much, or stand out from the pack. Cuz you know what happens when you’re too good. Yup, nobody invites a goody-two-shoes to the prom.
(at least, not back in the era in which our government seems to be living)
But again, it’s about being consistent. Last month, they didn’t dare bring in the whistleblower legislation they promised because they couldn’t find a good example of a law among the other provinces. Then they couldn’t add gender identity to human rights protections because they couldn’t figure out how to define the term (and only a few other jurisdictions have done it so far). And now they’ve realized our freedom of information laws are too good so they gotta dumb them down a bit until the other provinces catch up so we won’t stand out from the crowd and that way we’ll hopefully get invited to the prom.
It’s all about the prom, really.
6) It might all be a big joke. I mean, government didn’t actually give the media a copy of the proposed new law, which is what they’re normally supposed to do. Maybe they’re just practicing being more secretive. Or maybe it’s all a big joke! Sort of like an April Fool’s joke, only in June. Maybe they’re gonna wait till September, when parents are all stressed out about back-to-school obligations, and then they’re gonna try and lighten the provincial mood by announcing: “Hey, guess what? Remember those access to information amendments we passed back in the summer? BIG JOKE! It was ALL A BIG JOKE! Nobody in their right mind would actually propose laws like that!” And then we’ll all be able to have a great, big, collective laugh together. It’ll be a moment.
A Sprung Greenhouse moment.