By Philip Drost
Posted: Sep 29, 2016
David Coon calls NB Liquor's legal threat to commissioner 'Looney Tunes'
Green Party leader says this is an example on why commissioner Anne Bertrand should have broader powers
NB Liquor sent Anne Bertrand, the province's independent information and privacy commissioner, a letter from an outside law firm after receiving her report.
Bertrand's office has since also hired outside counsel.
"This is just Looney Tunes," said Coon, the Fredericton South MLA, on Thursday.
"This is a public body, and they're spending money on outside lawyers to initiate legal action. It doesn't make any sense."
NB Liquor refused to give information to CBC News about its growler program under the right to information act, which was then appealed to Bertrand's office
Bertrand filed her report into her investigation last week.
Coon told Information Morning Fredericton on Thursday that Bertrand is facing legal action for simply doing her job right.
He said Finance Minister Cathy Rogers, who is the cabinet minister responsible for NB Liquor, needs to step in and tell the liquor corporation to stop.
"It's time she sent clear direction to NB Liquor that says back down, give up any thought of pursuing legal action, and comply with the recommendations of the right to information commissioner," said Coon.
"This is a public agency of government, it's not private enterprise."
Coon said the battle is bigger than just one right to information request.
He said right to information is fundamental to the healthy functioning of a democracy, and anyone can make use of it.
"It doesn't matter who is asking for the information, or why they're asking for it," said Coon.
"There are lots of times when people may find there is information they need to seek."
Changes to act
Coon said there are some changes he would make to the right to information system. He said the commissioner needs to have more power.
"The right to information commissioner needs to have the authority to order information released. Right now she can only make recommendations," he said.
Coon also said the last time changes were made to the act, more information got excluded as it became classified as advice to a minister.
"Originally the notion was, and it's quite fair, that a public servant giving advice to a minister on a matter should be protected," said Coon.
"But now just about anything under the sun can be attached to advise to a minister including consultant reports and background material and research gets thrown into that and it's really narrowed what one can get when making right to information requests."
The provincial government has said they will be making changes to the right to information law this fall.
Coon said he isn't sure what those changes may be, but thinks it could be just "basic housekeeping."
Last year, Liberal cabinet minister Victor Boudreau suggested the money used to answer right to information requests could be better spent on front-line services.
NB Liquor's president has also been critical of the province's information law.
Harriman has said the money being spent on outside lawyers may be worth it if it forces change in how the right to information law is used.