Sunday, March 23, 2008

Enterprise Saskatchewan: Ministry still refusing to release names of selection committee members; agency to target “regulatory barriers”

The Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation is continuing to refuse to release the names of the selection committee members that evaluated the applications for positions on the Enterprise Saskatchewan Board of Directors.

On Mar. 1, 2008, an initial request was made to the ministry for the names of the committee members. That request was denied.

“The process was led by the Deputy Minister of Enterprise and Innovation, Mr. Dale Botting. The names of any of the other individuals on the selection committee are not being made public,” a ministry official said in an email.

The official also forewarned that “should an application be made under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, access may very well be denied under the protection of clause 17(1)(a).”

According to the Act the clause states: “a head may refuse to give access to a record that could reasonably be expected to disclose…advice, proposals, recommendations, analyses or policy options developed by or for a government institution or a member of the Executive Council.”

Simply releasing the names of the committee members, however, would not result in the disclosure of sensitive information. Furthermore, the clause cited by the ministry is a discretionary exemption. The government is not required to withhold the information. In light of this the ministry was asked to reconsider its decision.

On Mar. 18 the government again refused stating:
“Typically, names of Ministry staff are provided where there is a need for them to be a point of contact with an individual with respect to such things as providing programming assistance/advice or other customer-service related assistance with respect to the Ministry’s responsibilities. It is not a common practice to provide names of staff who have been tasked with providing advice and recommendations to senior officials who are responsible for decision-making. It is the names of those decision-makers that are given to the public in these kinds of circumstances. As pointed out to you, Dale Botting, our Deputy Minister led this process and the Minister made the selection and the appointments. As we wish to continue this practice, we would ask that you submit a formal request for information under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act which permits access to records, subject to the rules of the Act, outside of our normal policy.

“In our last email to you, we had indicated that a request for this information would likely be denied under the protection of clause 17(1)(a) of the Act because it is felt that any records which may contain the names of the individuals on the selection committee would quite likely be records that fall under that exemption.”
The ministry’s explanation is not the least bit convincing.

In saying that it is “not a common practice” the ministry is essentially admitting that the policy is not absolute.

The ministry said that a request for the information under the Act would likely be denied “because it is felt that any records which may contain the names of the individuals on the selection committee would quite likely be records that fall under that exemption.”

Again, the records themselves are not being requested only the names of the committee members. As mentioned earlier clause 17(1)(a) is a discretionary exemption. The government is not required to withhold the information.

The government also has the ability to grant partial access to a record meaning it could sever the surrounding information leaving only the names.

Furthermore, it seems reasonable to conclude that the names of the committee members were known prior to any records being created by the committee that contained advice or recommendations.

The closing date for nominations to the Enterprise Saskatchewan Board of Directors was Jan. 31, 2008.

In the news article Gov’t sends out RSVPs for board membership (Leader-Post, Jan. 5, 2008) Enterprise and Innovation Minister Lyle Stewart said “he and another minister and some deputy ministers will be part of the committee that selects the final board members, but those details are still being finalized.”

In a Feb. 6, 2008, news release the government announced that the selection process for the Enterprise Saskatchewan Board had begun and that “A committee of senior Ministry officials will score each of the applications based on a standard set of criteria.”

So at some point between Jan. 5 and Feb. 6 the ministry finalized the committee’s composition.

Stewart’s department has thus far failed to legitimately explain how releasing the names of the selection committee members would harm the process that is in place.

It is interesting to note that when it comes to committees other levels of government don’t seem to require such an archaic policy.

In 2007, the City of Saskatoon convened an administrative committee to evaluate the Expressions of Interest and subsequent Request for Proposals submissions for the development of Parcel “Y” in River Landing.

The report from the city manager (F1 – EOI Selection and RFP for River Landing Parcel “Y”) that was considered by city council at its June 25, 2007, meeting noted that the committee consisted of City Manager Phil Richards, Corporate Services General Manager Marlys Bilanski, Development Services Branch Manager Randy Grauer, Senior Planner Alan Wallace, Planning Branch Manager Lorne Sully, Land Branch Manager Rick Howse, and Special Projects Manager Chris Dekker. The City Solicitor’s Office served as consultants to the review.

In 2006, Western Economic Diversification Canada conducted an evaluation of the projects that were proposed under the Centennial Capital Initiative Request for Proposals. Nineteen proposals competed for a share of the $10 million available for Saskatoon through the Canada Celebrates Saskatchewan initiative.

The Proposal Evaluation Committee consisted of Rob Greer, Rajeev Ludu, Garry Sturgeon and Ulrike Veith.

In both cases the committees provided advice and recommendations to decision-makers. The release of their names did not compromise either process.

According to the government’s 2008-09 budget the cost of Enterprise Saskatchewan is $8.378 million. The 2008-09 Budget Summary notes on page 13 that: “$7.4 million is being transferred from existing budgets and $1.0 million in incremental funding is being provided in 2008-09 to create Enterprise Saskatchewan.”

Surely for this much money the public deserves a greater level of transparency from its public officials who, by the way, are paid by the taxpayer. In its 2007 election platform the Saskatchewan Party promised a more accountable and transparent government. So far it hasn’t delivered.

In a related story the 2008-09 Estimates (page 57) reveal a more focused strategy for Enterprise Saskatchewan: “Through Enterprise Saskatchewan, the Ministry will identify regulatory barriers that impede growth and coordinate programs and policies to encourage the growth and expansion of the Saskatchewan economy.”

The Saskatchewan Party 2007 election platform (page 19) cleverly separates these into two separate but related promises without actually saying in either that regulatory barriers would be the agency’s primary focus:
Enterprise Saskatchewan teams will review key sectors of Saskatchewan’s economy, to identify barriers to growth and make recommendations to government for their removal.”

Enterprise Saskatchewan will consistently act to measure and report on Saskatchewan’s tax and regulatory environment to ensure that Saskatchewan’s economy remains competitive within the New West.”
The legislation that was introduced on Dec. 17, 2007, does not define “barrier.” The proposed Enterprise Saskatchewan Act merely states that the purposes of the agency is to “identify barriers to growth” in Saskatchewan’s economy and to ensure that such “barriers to economic growth are reduced and removed.”

The question now becomes, which regulatory barriers is the Saskatchewan Party government going to instruct Enterprise Saskatchewan to go after?

As we’ve already seen with the issues of oil and gas royalties and Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board the Wall government is not above political meddling. Deputy Premier Ken Krawetz made it clear recently that provincial agencies, boards and commissions will reflect the Saskatchewan Party’s right-wing philosophy. [Provincial bodies to reflect Sask. Party philosophy: Krawetz (StarPhoenix, Mar. 14, 2008)]

Enterprise Saskatchewan will likely prove to be no different.


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