11 MARCH 2014
Green Party leader David Coon is off to court in his quest to throw open the windows on the work of the Alward government. Coon filed a request on the Right to Information Act to Finance Minister Blaine Higgs on February 13, 2013 for copies of the contracts with the consultants his Department had commissioned to examine the province's regime for shale gas royalties, as well as for copies of the consultants' reports. The Finance Minister refused, so the Green Party leader filed a complaint with the Access to Information Commissioner.
After a 10 month investigation the Access to Information Commissioner, Anne Bertrand submitted a 15 page report to Coon and Higgs on February 7, 2014. In her report, Madame Bertrand recommended that the Minister release the four consultants' contracts to Coon. In a letter to the Green Party leader dated February 24, Finance Minister Blaine Higgs informed Coon that he does not accept Commissioner Bertrand's recommendation.
"I am gobsmacked that Blaine Higgs would thumb his nose at Access to Information Commissioner Anne Bertrand's recommendation," said Green Party Leader David Coon. "The Alward government is the most secretive government I have encountered in 30 years of seeking information from New Brunswick governments. The business of our government is the people's business, and I will not stand for this secrecy," said Coon. "The people have a right to know who our government is hiring and for what purpose, and I will ask a judge to enforce that right."
The provincial government is receiving public comments, until March 19th, into amendments to the Oil and Natural Gas Act's Licence to Search and Lease Regulation which will legally implement the Tories new royalty regime.
The proposed shale gas royalty regime has not been submitted to the Legislative Assembly or any of its committees for examination or debate. Following the deadline for public comments it will simply be signed into law by an Order-in-Council. None of the four consultants' reports have been made public. They are protected from public scrutiny by amendments to the Right to Information Act enacted by the previous Graham government. According to the Right to Information Commissioner, the reports themselves should be made publicly available following a final decision on the shale gas royalty regime.