Government offers change in course

James
James McLeod
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Marshall promises whistleblower legislation, Muskrat Falls oversight and an ‘Open Government Initiative’

More than eight years after it was promised, the government says it will deliver whistleblower legislation this spring.

Chief Justice Derek Green reads the speech from the throne for 2014 at the legislature Wednesday. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

In Thursday’s speech from the throne, the government promised to introduce whistleblower legislation, along with more transparency and accountability — collectively being called an “Open Government Initiative.”

It was the clearest indication so far that the government is doing whatever it takes to reverse the damage of Bill 29. For more than two years, the Tories have been battered in the court of public opinion because of a perception that their government is secretive and dismissive of public criticism.

The throne speech Thursday afternoon was delivered by Chief Justice Derek Green, filling in for Lt.-Gov. Frank Fagan, who was unavailable. For the most part, the speech offered a self-congratulatory look at the past 11 years since the PC party came to power.

But it was the sections on government transparency and accountability that seemed to send the clearest signal about where the government is headed in the immediate future.

Tom Marshall will be premier for only a few months until the Tories pick a new permanent leader, but during that time, it seems like he’s interested in taking things in a sharply different direction.

The PC party originally promised whistleblower legislation in the 2007 general election. In the 2008 throne speech, then-Lt.-Gov. John Crosbie said, “My government will introduce whistleblower legislation this year after appropriate consultation has taken place.”

That promise was broken in spectacular fashion. Not only did the Tories fail to pass whistleblower legislation in 2008, they put it off every year since then.

The party dropped it as a campaign promise when it was re-elected in 2011. Right up until the spring sitting of the legislature, there was no sign it would be coming any time soon.

For years, successive ministers have been saying whistleblower legislation needs more study, or it simply isn’t needed at all in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Last fall, Justice Minister Darin King categorically said it wasn’t going to happen.

“I have no intentions of tabling all-out whistleblower legislation in this House of Assembly this term. That is a clear-cut answer to that question,” he said.

Apparently it wasn’t all that clear-cut after all. When The Telegram caught up with King on Thursday, he said that when he said “term” he wasn’t actually referring to the four year term of office. He just meant that the legislation wouldn’t be tabled in the fall sitting of the legislature.

“I’m not sure where the word ‘term’ came from,” he said. “If I used it, it may have been in the heat of debate.”

But it looks like the complete reversal on whistleblower legislation is just a hint of what’s to come

Marshall signalled in the legislature that he’s ready to bring in rigorous, independent oversight of Nalcor and the Muskrat Falls project.

That’s also a sharp change for the Tories. In the past month, the government has been roundly criticized because Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley said he didn’t need to read a key report from the only independent agent doing oversight on the Muskrat Falls project, because he trusted what Nalcor was telling him.

And on top of it all, the throne speech also promised a loosely defined “Open Government Initiative” to go along with a comprehensive, independent review of the province’s access to information legislation.

All of it seemed like too-little, too-late for Liberal Leader Dwight Ball.

In his official response to the throne speech, he made no reference to whistleblower legislation at all, even though members of his party, alongside the NDP, have been doggedly pressing the government on that topic for years.

Ball’s response seemed almost like a competing Liberal throne speech, looking ahead to the government that he would lead after the 2015 election. He talked about holding health-care consultations across the province to come up with a comprehensive plan.

Ball’s speech seemed to conclude the throne speech was nothing but empty words.

“Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are tired of being told one thing, only to realize that this government will do something very different,” he said.

New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael has plenty of cause to criticize Marshall’s government, too, but at least on the proposed whistleblower law, she said she’s happy to hear that it’s coming.

“It’s taken almost seven years, but it’s happening, and I very much thank the government for finally doing it, because our workers need that protection,” Michael said

Organizations: NDP

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  • Maggy Carter
    March 13, 2014 - 12:06

    I don't doubt that there is an element of sincerity in Tom Marshall's attempt to re-introduce some measure of accountability to the government of this province. Repealing Bill 29 (if that's what it comes to), protecting whistleblowers, providing oversight for Muskrat, and reining in NALCOR are all welcome reversals of government policy. The incoming premier - especially an astute leader like Frank Coleman - will no doubt want to go much further. He will want to clean house. As the Telegram article points out, there are cabinet ministers directly, irretrievably tied to these deceitful, abusive, anti-democratic policies. People like Kent, King, Collins, Jackman and O'Brien need to be removed from cabinet ASAP. If Coleman becomes premier, he should immediately establish a commission to review the Muskrat Falls deal - not to duplicate the PUB inquiry, but to determine whether there are still measures that could be taken to limit the long term damage to the province. One controversial but effective strategy is to recruit several highly professional and respected candidates for the party and to appoint them to senior cabinet posts in advance of the election. In effect the challenge for an incoming Tory leader is to reassure the electorate that his government has almost nothing in common with the Dunderdale government - a tall order but the only chance of avoiding political oblivion.

    • Don II
      March 13, 2014 - 14:33

      Excellent insight. May I suggest that you should have included French, Hedderson and a bunch of arrogant bureaucrats in your list of people who need to be removed from office either by the new Premier, by the people during the next election or by the findings of a wide ranging forensic review of Government operations by the Auditor General.

  • Don II
    March 13, 2014 - 09:07

    The introduction of Whistleblower legislation is a good first step toward cleaning up the incompetent, unethical, secretive and corrupt culture that permeates the Government, politics and the bureaucracy in Newfoundland and Labrador. As for the effectiveness of Whistleblower legislation inside the Government of Newfoundland, I will believe it when I see it! I suspect that the Whistleblower legislation will be so full of exemptions and caveats that it will be a paper tiger only with no teeth. I have no doubt that there are many hard working, dedicated, honest, competent and ethical bureaucrats working in the Government of Newfoundland but there may be many others who may not be so inclined for their own nefarious purposes and for promotion of their hidden agendas. Even if the honest bureaucrats were aware of wrongdoing and were contemplating revealing that wrongdoing, they would be placing themselves, their careers and financial solvency at great risk in order to reveal such information. It appears that the incompetent , unethical, secretive and corrupt culture of the Government of Newfoundland with assistance from the politically controlled Courts would immediately find a way to punish and remove these honest bureaucrats from their jobs and banish them from the inner circles of society regardless of any legal protections provided by legislation. Any Whistleblowers should be aware that if they do come forward with evidence of wrongdoing in Government that they will be treated as pariahs inside Government for being ethical and honest and will lose their careers in public service! In the USA, the Whistleblower legislation recognizes the fact that Whistleblowers will likely lose their jobs for being honest and ethical so the US legislation provides for legal protection against retribution in the workplace and wrongful dismissal from employment and more importantly, for substantial monetary rewards payable to the Whistleblowers as both an incentive to reveal wrongdoing in Government and as compensation for the likely loss of their employment for coming forward to expose wrongdoing. It appears that the Whistleblower legislation in Newfoundland and Labrador will not provide monetary rewards for Whistleblowers and therefore there will be no financial incentive to come forward. Regrettably, the fact is that being ethical and honest will not pay the bills, cover the mortgage or put food on the table after the Whistleblower has been publicly shamed for being honest, shunned by his/her co-workers and managers, punished by the "Justice" system, denied promotions, fired or pushed out of his/her career in Government! The passage of a Whistleblower law in and of itself will do absolutely nothing to prevent or correct the corruption and unethical behavior in Government in Newfoundland unless it is accompanied by a concerted effort to educate, hire only ethical people and create a culture of ethics, honesty and openness in Government. After 400 years of abuse of power, corruption, incompetence, secrecy, shooting the messengers and unethical Government in Newfoundland and Labrador, that will be a very tall order to fill. Nevertheless, the first attempt to clean up the house of corruption and waste is a very good first step which should be seriously pursued and built upon in the future.

  • Ken Collis
    March 13, 2014 - 07:58

    Both the Liberals and Conservatives, when campaigning, try to show how much they care for the voters. Their true agenda becomes apparent after the election is over. They all know that the people who voted them to power can't offer the nice perks, such as a position on the board of a business or a seat with Nalcor, the liquor corp, or CNLOPB. Of course governments have to work with businesses to invest in our province but you also need to care about the people as well. They shouldn't be afraid that admitting mistakes will mean they are out the door. They should be afraid that keeping everything secret from the people will make the average person very suspicious. They must, above all, not use the past PC mantra of "The people just don't understand." For the most part, we are well educated and understand things quite well, thank you very much. We understand, for instance, the vision Mr. Williams had for Nalcor. Our opinion is that you can't make it happen overnight. Use the proceeds from the project to help pay the debt. Then consider building Gull Island with the profits after the initial debt is paid. They could also help with rebuilding the fishery. They could require every plant to buy a fishers legal catch at market price. The biggest reason that cod isn't being caught is because no plant is properly geared to process it. If that is a fact, then the fishers should be able to sell it to NS or PEI plants instead of leaving it in the water, or selling to local plants for pennies. Fishers should also be able to sell to Sobeys, Dominion, or to restaurants without having to involve a middleman.

  • joebennett
    March 13, 2014 - 07:45

    Talk about throwing Dunderdale and Jerome Kennedy under the bus for a few old votes. This government is just plain pathetic. They have no direction.

  • Roy
    March 13, 2014 - 07:30

    I'll believe it when I see it. I also expect the Liberals to be fully against any attempt to bring in whistleblower legislation because they would be the first government to be subjected to it.

  • Jim R
    March 13, 2014 - 05:57

    A very worried government!