Thursday, January 29, 2009

Enterprise Saskatchewan: Agency making a mockery of freedom of information legislation; gov’t stalling on Uranium Development Partnership records

has joined the ranks of other government institutions that are making a mockery of the province’s freedom of information legislation.

An access to information request dated Nov. 13, 2008 was submitted to Enterprise Saskatchewan asking for copies of the agenda and minutes for the Sept. 23, 2008 and Oct. 2008 meetings of the Enterprise Saskatchewan board of directors. The request was denied.

And what was the reason? The agency’s Jan. 15, 2009 response states:

“You may recall that in February 2008, individuals who were to sit of the Board of Directors of Enterprise Saskatchewan (ES) were appointed by Minister’s Order to the ES Advisory Committee in order for the group to start working on the ES mandate prior to proclamation of The Enterprise Saskatchewan Act.

“Effective July 29, 2008, all of the documentation and approvals were completed to proclaim The Enterprise Saskatchewan Act, and to appoint the interim advisory committee members as the statutory ES Board of Directors as set out in the ES legislation.

“Accordingly, access to the records you have requested is denied pursuant to subclause 17(1)(f) of The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act which permits an exemption to be applied for agendas and minutes of the Board.”

In other words now that the Enterprise Saskatchewan board has the ability to hide behind the Act that’s exactly what it intends to do. Clearly this is one bunch that does not want the public to know its business.

The agency’s decision failed to consider section 8 of the Act, which is mandatory and states: “Where a record contains information to which an applicant is refused access, the head shall give access to as much of the record as can reasonably be severed without disclosing the information to which the applicant is refused access.”

The board’s deputy chair, Gavin Semple, said in the agency’s Sept. 2008 progress report that an important role for Enterprise Saskatchewan “is to increase transparency and accountability through public reporting.”

Unfortunately, this means there will only be more documents like the progress report, a selective, sanitized version of events created for public consumption. The board’s pledge for greater transparency, however, does not extend to disclosing its meeting agendas and minutes, records which present the most accurate and direct snapshot of what transpired. Without them the public is left with a gaping hole, an incomplete picture of what the board is doing and how it’s operating.

During its time as an interim advisory committee the Enterprise Saskatchewan board conducted four meetings: March 31, 2008; April 24, 2008; May 22, 2008; and June 19, 2008.

An access to information request dated April 25, 2008 was made to the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation (EI) for the agenda and minutes of the Mar. 31 and Apr. 24 board meetings. The ministry received the request on Apr. 29, 2008.

EI dragged its heels for six months before finalizing the request on Oct. 27, 2008 when it released a handful of records from each meeting. The excessive delay violated of The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act but no one seemed to care because significant delays in processing requests continue to be experienced.

An access to information request dated Sept. 19, 2008 was submitted to EI for copies of the agenda and minutes for the May 22, 2008 and June 19, 2008 meetings of the Enterprise Saskatchewan board. The ministry received that request on Sept. 24, 2008.

More than four months have passed and EI – now known as Enterprise Saskatchewan – still hasn’t finalized the request. This is two months more than the law allows.

Two other applications past due are a Sept. 30, 2008 request for records related to the Regulatory Modernization Council (stacked with friends and contributors of the Saskatchewan Party) that the province announced on Sept. 17, 2008 to recommend regulatory reform and business services priorities and forward them to the Enterprise Saskatchewan board, and a Nov. 19, 2008 request for records pertaining to two of Enterprise Saskatchewan’s 18 sector teams: energy and minerals.

Then there is the case of the mysterious Uranium Development Partnership (UDP) that Enterprise Saskatchewan Minister Lyle Stewart and Crown Investments Corporation Minister Ken Cheveldayoff announced on Oct. 20, 2008. The UDP is mandated to identify, evaluate and make recommendations on Saskatchewan-based, value added opportunities in the uranium industry.

The 12-member panel is chaired by Dr. Richard Florizone, a nuclear physicist and Vice President of Finance at the University of Saskatchewan. At least ten of the members appear pro-nuclear, several of which have connections to a company [Bruce Power] that is interested in bringing nuclear power to Saskatchewan. Oh yes, and Bruce Power CEO Duncan Hawthorne is a member.

An access to information request dated Oct. 28, 2008 was submitted to Enterprise Saskatchewan for copies of the UDP’s mandate or terms of reference, the group’s work plan and the minutes for any meetings that the group held since being established.

A subsequent application, dated Dec. 30, 2008, was submitted asking for copies of the agendas and minutes for any meetings the UDP conducted from Oct. 29, 2008 to Dec. 30, 2008.

On Jan. 19, 2009, two letters arrived from Enterprise Saskatchewan, one dated Jan. 13, 2009 and the other Jan. 14, 2009.

The Jan. 13 letter advised that, pursuant to section 11 of the Act, the request was being transferred to Crown Investments Corporation of Saskatchewan (CIC) as they have a greater interest in the records being sought – which is exactly what is supposed to happen in such cases.

The Jan. 14 letter, however, is a different story. The agency advised that the mandate of the UDP is publicly available so a copy was attached free of charge. But the other records – the work plan and minutes for any meetings that were conducted – according to the agency “do not exist in Enterprise Saskatchewan.”

The letter goes on to say that Ministers Stewart and Cheveldayoff are working together on uranium and nuclear matters and that staff of CIC “are currently providing expertise and support to both Ministers in this regard.” The suggestion is then made that CIC should be contacted for follow-up. Enterprise Saskatchewan didn’t bother to transfer the file to CIC. The agency stalled for a ridiculous 76 days only to say in the end that the records requested weren’t in their possession. They obviously knew, though, that CIC was providing the support so why wasn’t the request transferred?

On Jan. 16, 2009 an email was sent to Enterprise Saskatchewan’s access and privacy coordinator asking for an explanation why it took 76 days to determine that the records weren’t in their possession and why the application wasn’t transferred to CIC. There has been no response.

Section 11(1)(a) of the Act states: “Where the head of the government institution to which an application is made considers that another government institution has a greater interest in the record, the head: (a) may, within 15 days after the application is made, transfer the application.” Enterprise Saskatchewan failed to apply this clause and stalled for more than two months before responding.

On Jan. 18, 2009 an application was submitted to CIC for a copy of the UDP work plan along with copies of the agenda and minutes for any meetings that may have been held from Oct. 20 to Oct. 28, 2008.

The partnership is slated to provide a final report to the government by March 31, 2009. It would come as no surprise if CIC were to deny access to or stall the release of any other records before then.


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