Green Leader David Coon Awaits Court’s Order to Release Documents

25 05 2014
SHAWN BERRY LEGISLATURE BUREAU

FREDERICTON • A judge has reserved her ruling in David Coon’s legal challenge of the government’s decision to withhold release of consultants’ reports on shale gas royalties and copies of the contracts with those consultants.

David Coon

The Green party leader was in court Thursday to argue for their release. He wants the documents made available and argued against censoring the documents so they don’t show the names of the consultants who wrote the reports.

 

“I think it’s reasonable when government contracts out a service that perhaps it could have used its own public service to provide,”Coon said. The public has to have“some opportunity to make a judgment about whether the person or the firm hired is appropriate, given the substance of the matter at hand”he added.

 

“I think it’s a slippery slope if we suggest those who provide goods or a service to government can put a bag over their head and not be identified”

 

Government lawyer Michael Hines said the issue is one of releasing the consultants’ personal information, their per diems and the total amount paid.

 

Hines said the government is caught in a tough position – in trying to respect the Right to Information provisions of act and the rights of third parties. “It’s not about secrecy or withholding information”he said.

 

“This is a balancing act for the province. It’s not about secrecy or withholding information. In these kinds of cases, the province is between a rock and a hard place in attempting to respect Right to Information provisions of the act, but also to respect the rights of third parties.”

 

One of the consultants, said Hines, is willing to have his or her name released, so long as details of the per diem rates for the report aren’t revealed.

 

Justice Judy Clendening said she expects to have a ruling in the matter around June 1.

 

Coon appealed to the court after the government did not abide by the recommendation of Right to Information Commissioner Anne Bertrand who called for the release of the contracts for the consultants hired.

 

Coon said the government intended only to withhold details of the report until it had made a decision, something it is entitled to do.He said with the royalty regime adopted April 1, those reports should now be out.

 

In her report, Bertrand agreed the province had the power to block the release of the reports using a section of the act that protects reports seen as advice to ministers from being released.

 

But she then adds that the contracts themselves, containing who was hired to review the proposed shale gas royalty regime and how much they were paid, should be released.

 

“This information should have been disclosed to the applicant, particularly where there is a public interest in knowing the costs borne by the province for obtaining external expertise,” Bertrand wrote. “The department did not meet the burden to establish that the contracts contained sensitive third-party business information the release of which would cause harm to the consultants’interests.”

Green Party Leader David Coon, seen in this file photo, was in Fredericton court Thursday arguing for the release of consultants’ reports on shale gas royalties and copies of the contracts with those consultants.

Photo: AdAm hurAs/LegisLAture BureAu Archive

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