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More Nalcor information on the way: Liberals

Newfoundland and Labrador Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady and assistant deputy minister John Cowan take questions from reporters on proposed changes to the Energy Corporation Act at Confederation Building in St. John’s Thursday.
Newfoundland and Labrador Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady and assistant deputy minister John Cowan take questions from reporters on proposed changes to the Energy Corporation Act at Confederation Building in St. John’s Thursday. - Ashley Fitzpatrick

Further review of access exemption underway, Natural Resources minister says

The provincial government is moving quickly on changes to the Energy Corporation Act to provide more information from Nalcor Energy on its use of so-called embedded contractors, but other information still remains protected under the corporation’s special consideration under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (ATIPPA).

Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady said Thursday the Liberal government is not prepared right now to take away Nalcor’s special shield under ATIPPA and its added options, through the Energy Corporation Act, to keep corporate information from public release.

However, Coady did not close the door on further change, particularly once Nalcor Oil and Gas is severed from the energy corporation.

It is, she said, all under review.

In December 2017, on the heels of a report from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC), Premier Dwight Ball said he was prepared to see legislation introduced for greater public disclosure of information about embedded contractors at Nalcor Energy.

Coady said that specific information was a clear case, where the government felt refusal of information to the public — including contractor names and pay — based on “commercial sensitivities” shouldn’t be possible.

“We are doing that (broader) legislative review. What we don’t want to have happen is some unintended consequence,” the minister told reporters, when asked why Nalcor Energy wasn’t being treated like core government.

While comments at the Confederation Building Thursday focused on the Lower Churchill Project, specifically the Muskrat Falls Project, The Telegram’s inquiries to Nalcor Energy, resulting in a series of stories on access to information in 2017, were not exclusive to the megaproject.

Access to information requests sought information about all contractors working on an hourly basis at the Crown corporation who were not full-time, regular staff.

The corporation stated 498 embedded contractors — for accounting, human resources, safety and management — were employed on the Muskrat Falls Project, but could not give a similar number for other lines of business.

It was also reported embedded contractors had invoiced for almost 4.6 million hours of work, while the rate of pay was deemed commercially sensitive.

Following a flurry of news stories, the corporation began rewriting its contracts to include provision for the public release of information.

Anyone previously denied information will now have a chance to get access, as the changes through the current amendments to the Energy Corporation Act will be retroactive. The date it all kicks in will depend on when the House wraps up.

Independent MHA for Mount Pearl-Southlands Paul Lane told the House he agrees with the release of more information, but the changes don’t go far enough. He wants Nalcor Energy handled the same as government departments under ATIPPA.

“I really and truly hope that happens. But this is a step in the right direction,” Lane said in the midst of debate.

NDP Leader Gerry Rogers said the information and privacy commissioner issued a very important ruling when he addressed the embedded contractor information in 2017, and she considers the changes being made to be essential.

Rogers said it’s generally important to have access to information on activities of Nalcor Energy.

“Nalcor is not a rogue nation. Nalcor belongs to the people of the province,” she said.

While the corporation holds greater ability than most to keep information from release, there is an active access to information process for Nalcor. Completed access to information requests, made from Jan. 1, 2015 to date, are posted online on the corporation’s website.

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