Monday, July 05, 2010

On non-disclosure

I won't try to summarize Joe's latest post, since his research documenting a completely opaque decision-making process surrounding Saskatoon infrastructure among all three levels of government deserves a full read. But there are a couple of points that strike me as particularly worthy of some further investigation.

First, there's the provincial government's choice not to develop an infrastructure plan that was promised both to the federal government and to the people of Saskatchewan. And it doesn't look like they're even pretending to have an explanation for the failure:
In a letter dated June 28, 2010, highways and infrastructure deputy minister Rob Penny wrote: “You are correct in identifying the Canada-Saskatchewan Infrastructure Framework Agreement requires the province develop an infrastructure plan. The Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure is tasked with the preparation of the required plan; to date the ministry has not completed nor looked to implement a Saskatchewan Infrastructure Plan.”

Penny did not explain why.

The news that there will be no long-term infrastructure plan is surprising given that the Wall government told the people of Saskatchewan there would be one.

In its 2008-09 annual report, Highways and Infrastructure had this to say: “The Ministry initiated the development of the Saskatchewan Infrastructure Plan that is a signature document establishing a comprehensive infrastructure plan for Saskatchewan.”

However, there is no mention of the initiative in the ministry’s plan for 2009-10. What happened to it is a mystery.
Now, it's probably too late for a useful plan to be developed on at least one level, since infrastructure money under the federal stimulus program doesn't figure to be available for any more new projects. But even if the media has been thoroughly scooped by Joe on the story generally, a few follow-ups as to what happened to the plan and when it might be developed for provincial purposes would appear to be in order.

Second, there's the response by both the city and the federal government to requests for records covering a time period when it's known that many of the major decisions were made:
In February 2010, a freedom of information request was submitted to Infrastructure Canada for copies of any records from November 1, 2008, to December 31, 2008, regarding or relating to the Mendel Art Gallery. This covered the time period the city said discussions were taking place. And yet, on February 25, 2010, Infrastructure Canada advised that it had no records responsive to the request.

In a letter dated March 19, 2010, responding to a freedom of information request, the city clerk noted “that prior to the City’s formal submission of April 9, 2009, there was only informal dialogue between officials of the City and the Province as to the eligibility of the many potential projects that were being considered.” There “was no formal correspondence, merely emails between officials” that the city did not keep copies of.
Now, it comes as news to me that a government organization would be able to declare that records can be withheld simply because they're not "formal". And the fact that the city acknowledges the existence some internal e-mails which have been deleted (which itself would seem inappropriate) suggests that there was at least some paper trail covering the decision.

But based on the combination of answers from the city and the federal government, one has to wonder whether there's a deliberate movement - whether coordinated among different levels of government or not - to avoid keeping track of the decisions being made with our public money. And it's hard not to think that any such efforts have only reinforced each other in a case like this where all three levels of government have been working on the same project.

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