Doing the right thing the wrong way

It has been a crazy rollercoaster of a pin-balling, ping-ponged week for those of us who get our knickers knotted about seemingly esoteric matters like public access to public information and government accountability.

But all’s well that ends well… sort of.


Let’s start with NDP MLA Howard Epstein’s “inadvertent” leak of confidential caucus information indicating municipal and provincial taxpayers would each be asked to pony up $57 million for a new downtown convention centre.

Rather than discussing the merits of spending that much public money on this particular project, the discussion quickly derailed over arguments about whether the NDP caucus should punish Epstein for what Infrastructure Renewal Minister Bill Estabrooks called his “unacceptable” behaviour.

Unacceptable? We’re not supposed to know—before any decision gets made—how much of our money is to be in play?

Thankfully, the caucus accepted Epstein’s “apology.”

Better, the next day Premier Darrell Dexter announced his government will now release the actual bid details this week so everyone can weigh in before any decision is made.

Dexter insisted that decision had nothing to do with Howard “being Howard” and forcing his hand.

He may be right. To give the government its due, Estabrooks this spring did force the release of other studies about the viability of the project and has generally been more transparent than his predecessors.

But by waiting too long to do the right thing, Dexter’s government lost whatever credit it might have otherwise earned for the decision.

The same is true of its bungled handling this week of what items should be included in online postings of MLAs’ expenses. Initially, Speaker Charlie Parker claimed that, on the basis of legal advice about privacy concerns, MLA expense postings would not include information about who was selling whatever goods or services MLAs were buying.

Huh? If an MLA is buying from his brother-in-law, we’re not supposed to know?

Again, better brains prevailed and, by the end of the week the Speaker was in full back pedal.

But why was it an issue at all?

For a party so attuned to the public mood in opposition, this government has developed a remarkably tin ear.

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