They were in good company, as the Minister responsible for the Freedom of Information Act, Flor “Cheeze Whiz” Marcelino never once stood on her feet and answer the opposition about a self-evident (and possibly politically-directed) breach by Robinson’s department , despite being asked 17 times by the Progressive Conservative MLA’s.
City Circus breaks the action down starting on Tuesday, with Jennifer Howard insisting that the racist comment was severed strictly according to the provisions of the Act, pretending Selinger didn’t say it shouldn’t have been. Howardthen invoked – surprise!- the memory of the Gary Filmon regime, last responsible to provide information to the public in – wait for it – 1999:
UNEDITED ORAL QUESTIONS SEPT 3 2013
Mr. Wayne Ewasko (Lac du Bonnet): They could start by giving back that vote tax.
Mr. Speaker, on more than one occasion we had asked was the decision to redact the minister’s inflammatory comment covered under section 23(1)(a) of the act to protect against the material that would reveal advice, opinions, proposals, recommendations, analyses or policy options developed by or for the public body or a minister. Can the Minister of Culture, Heritage and Tourism (Ms. Marcelino), the minister in charge of the act, tell the House what part of section 23(1)(a) would the redacting of the Deputy Premier’s comments fall under?
Hon. Jennifer Howard (Minister of Family Services and Labour): We had a good discussion about this last week and we responded to these questions last week, and I think we’ve made it clear a number of times that the redacting of that information was done consistent with the act. It was done in every department by senior officials who handle FIPPA requests who know the act, who do it according to the act. This situation was no different than those situations, Mr. Speaker. So that’s what happened here. It was done according to the process.
As we said last week, people who have a complaint about how their FIPPA’s are handled have recourse to the Ombudsman. They can go to the Ombudsman and go to–go to the Ombudsman and make that complaint.
Mr. Ewasko: Mr. Speaker, it must have been a long-weekend Cabinet shuffle on that side of the House.
Mr. Speaker, last week, I had raised another issue alongside the comments made by the Deputy Premier, my concerns regarding this government’s abuse of section 23(1)(a), the law under FIPPA to which they have been unable to answer.
On the weekend, Brian Bowman, a lawyer who specializes in privacy and access to information, also questioned the actions surrounding the redaction of this government and whether they had any legal or moral right to hide it.
Mr. Speaker, I’d like to ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and Tourism: Why are they hiding behind the act? Do they feel once again that they are above the law?
Ms. Howard: Well, I think, if any expert on privacy was to look at the record of this government as opposed to the record when the leader opposite was in Cabinet, they would see that we are more transparent and more accountable on this side of the House.
Last week, I talked about an example that, when we were in opposition, we sent a request to the minister of health of the day for a wait-list for health procedures. We knew that those wait lists existed because they had defended those wait lists. When we asked for that information, the response that was given: no such records exist; total denial that they had the information. On this side of the House, those wait lists are online and any member of the public can go and look at them.
Mr. Ewasko: Once again, Mr. Speaker, the seatbelt light is on.
Cindy Stevens, the Deputy Minister of Culture, Heritage and Tourism stated and I quote: people who disagree with the decision can appeal to the provincial Ombudsman’s office.A spokeswoman for the Minister of Culture, Heritage and Tourism indicated the government has no plans to review the decision to redact the Deputy Premier’s comments nor to review the discretionary powers of FIPPA officers.
Mr. Speaker, it is clear that this minister has lost control of her department. How can one appeal a decision if the information is censored and you do not know how it is–what–that it exists?
Ms. Howard: I know that it’s typical of the opposite side of the House to go after independent officers of the Legislature. We’ve seen that time and time again in this House. But the Ombudsman does have the power to review any complaints that come forward. Complaints can be made on a variety of grounds, Mr. Speaker. When those complaints come in, those complaints are responded to by the department. The Ombudsman, if he finds fault with the way that we do things we make adjustments accordingly.
I know that they are keen to find someone to blame here. I know that that’s what they’re looking to do. But the facts remain that this FIPPA procedure was done in accordance with the law and was done with the sign off of senior civil servants. That’s how it was done, Mr. Speaker. That is the fact–
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. The minister’s time has expired.
Mrs. Heather Stefanson (Tuxedo):The minister responsible for the FIPPA act has repeatedly refused to stand and answer questions related to the recent cover-up by her office of the racist remarks that were made by the Deputy Premier (Mr. Robinson) of this province.
Mr. Speaker, will the minister explain why these remarks were redacted, or is it simply her department’s policy to cover up for ministers’ unfortunate comments in the FIPPA–under the FIPPA legislation?
Hon. Jennifer Howard (Minister of Family Services and Labour): And I will say it again for the benefit of the member from Tuxedo: The way that this was handled is the way that FIPPAs are handled in departments. It came in. There was a–there is a FIPPA–an access co-ordinator in every department that is trained in how to apply the act.The act was applied. That was signed off by a senior civil servant. That is what happened here.
There is a marked change in openness; this government has been much more open and transparent and accountable than the government of the members opposite ever was. And you can look at the amount of information that is provided online that never was, the amount of accountability that’s provided online that never was, Mr. Speaker. That is a fact.
I know the members opposite don’t like to accept the facts, but that is what they are, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker: Time for oral questions has expired.
The next day the Tories continued to zone in on the possible political interference by Marcelino that resulted in the illegal redaction. Howard’s deceptive response echoed that of Selinger: filing a complaint to the Ombudsman – his office underfunded by the government and months behind schedule in conducting investigations into NDP FIPPA abuses – is a reasonable recourse for victims of this kind of bullying.
UNEDITED ORAL QUESTIONS, SEPTEMBER 4, 2013
Mr. Wayne Ewasko (Lac du Bonnet): Mr. Speaker, I’ve asked 12 questions regarding this government’s abuse of section 23(1)(a) of the law under FIPPA to which I–either the Premier (Mr. Selinger) or the Minister of Family Services and Labour have stood up and avoided answering the questions. The Premier said that the Deputy Premier’s (Mr. Robinson) comments were not the advice or the opinion of the government. Clearly, then, the redaction of the Deputy Premier’s comments had to be an order from the Minister of Culture, Heritage and Tourism (Ms. Marcelino).
I’d like to ask the Minister of Culture, Heritage and Tourism: Why is she directing and interfering in the affairs of the civil service, and why is this minister politicizing the work of bureaucrats to fit the spin of this government?
Some Honourable Members: Oh, oh.
Hon. Jennifer Howard (Minister of Family Services and Labour): I hear the cries of anticipation from across the way for my answer, which is going to be very similar to the other 12 answers that the member has been provided.
In every department there are people who are trained according to the freedom of information act to comply with that act, to respond to the requests that come in. They make those decisions. Those decisions are signed off by a senior civil servant. That is what happened in this instance. The charges that the member is making are false and they have no basis in reality, and if he would like to be more truthful in the House, he would retract the comments he just made.
Mr. Ewasko: And the seatbelt light is still on, Mr. Speaker. The abuse of section 23(1)(a) by this government is a serious issue, and I’m wishing that some member across the way would stand up and answer some of these questions.
If the rules of FIPPA can be bent, twisted and spun by the minister responsible, how can the public have confidence that their requests will be answered truthfully?
Mr. Speaker, why does this Premier (Mr. Selinger) and his ministers believe it’s within their power to intervene and influence the actions and decisions of the civil service? Why does this government believe, once again, that they are above the law?
Ms. Howard: Well, I can only surmise from the member’s question that he has been told, perhaps by his leader, who was once a Cabinet minister and subject to FIPPA, that that’s the way things are done, that the minister tells people how to answer. Perhaps that’s the way the Leader of the Opposition conducted himself when he was a minister and that’s why the member is clinging to the falsehoods that he continues to put on the record.
The reality is, under this government, those requests are handled by people who are trained in compliance with the law. They are looked at by senior civil servants. If there are complaints with how they are handled, Manitobans and whoever is putting in those requests have recourse to an independent legislative officer, the Ombudsman. That is how those requests are handled, and I will continue to tell him that every time he asks the question.
Mr. Ewasko: Mr. Speaker, I would really like to hear from the minister who’s actually in charge of the act.
Again, Mr. Speaker, we’ve heard from spokespersons, through the media, the Premier, and other ministers on this matter. Now, I’ve asked now a total of 14 questions in this Chamber and none of them have been answered by the Minister of Culture, Heritage and Tourism (Ms. Marcelino).
Why does this government find it acceptable to politicize the Manitoba Civil Service, Mr. Speaker? Why does the Minister of Culture, Heritage and Tourism, who oversees FIPPA, finds it acceptable to abuse the law and directly interfere in answers to the FIPPA requests?
Ms. Howard: Well, Mr. Speaker, the sad truth is that the only people politicizing this issue are the members opposite. That’s the sad truth, and I will tell the member for–I don’t know what–the 15th or 16th time, that the way that requests are handled, the way that this request was handled, the request comes in, the request is dealt with by a civil servant who is trained in compliance with the law. They make those decisions about how those requests are dealt with. Those requests then go to a senior civil servant who looks at them and approves them to go out. That’s how this request was handled. That’s how FIPPA requests are handled.
I don’t know how they were handled under the Leader of the Opposition. Perhaps it was a daily occurrence for ministers like the Leader of the Opposition to say, no, I don’t want that to go out, no, I don’t want that to go out. I do know that when we were in opposition we asked for wait-lists for health care. They told us–
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. The minister’s time has expired.
Finally on Thursday, having cornered the government with no explanation about what qualified Robinson’s racist comment for redaction, the PC’s re-defined the criteria as Manitoba’s own MPP, a “Ministers Protection Program”.
The quip resulted in the NDP totally changing the subject from the undisputed right of Osborne House CEO Barb Judt (and all citizens) to get documents free from political censorship, to a bizarre display of Jennifer Howard blowing her cork at Brian Pallister about her own private sexual preferences and how he voted as an MP – which of course, has nothing to do with Osborne House or Eric Robinson.
UNEDITED ORAL QUESTIONS SEPTEMBER 5 2013
Mr. Pallister: The Premier makes my point for me with his repeated false accusations. Continuing to put those on the record doesn’t make them true.
Now, would the Premier consider this. When the NDP member for St. Norbert (Mr. Gaudreau)–who I just heard chirp again from his seat and who clearly hasn’t learned anything–when he clumsily attempted a gay slur in this House, the Premier did take action and, to his credit, he took action and he withdrew the responsibilities from that member. And those comments were, therefore, unacceptable in the mind of the Premier, and so I would assume they are examples of bullying behaviour in his mind.
Yet those comments were paralleled by accusations of homophobia thrown out by three of his Cabinet ministers and directed both generally and specifically at members of the opposition, but the Premier did nothing and he looked the other way as he’s doing again today.
So I have to ask the Premier: Does the Premier have a lower standard for bullying when it’s done by his Cabinet ministers?
Mr. Selinger: Mr. Speaker, does the member have any standard of all for himself or any other member of his caucus? Apparently not, because they never do anything wrong. They completely deny that they’ve ever made an error in their entire lives. It’s as if they were born perfect and things have never deteriorated since then. It’s a remarkable record of never having made an error, that they will at least admit to, because if they admit to it they might have to apologize, and they’ve never apologized.
Members on this side of the House recognize that they can make errors. Members on this side of the House recognize that the way forward is to acknowledge that and then to improve their behaviour and to respect other people, and respecting other people starts by respecting yourself and having the decency to apologize when you make a mistake,something we’ve never seen from the members opposite.
Mr. Speaker: The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition, with a supplementary question.
Mr. Pallister: Perhaps the Premier would like to begin healing himself by apologizing to the people of Manitoba for breaking the promise to them that he made in the last election.
When the comments of the Deputy Premier (Mr. Robinson) concerning volunteer board members and staff at the Osborne House women’s shelter came to light, the Premier did nothing again. He did worse than nothing; he made excuses.
Now, the email from the Deputy Premier referred to the quote, “ignorance of do-good white people.” That’s clearly a racial comment. The Premier knows that this was a hurtful comment. He must know that it would lower the self-esteem and hurt the feelings of board members, of volunteers, of staff, of supporters, of donors, even clients of Osborne House, and yet the Premier turns and continues to turn a blind eye and does nothing–nothing.
Now, can the Premier explain why Manitobans should possibly believe he is serious about tackling the problem of bullying, when he won’t even stand up to the bullies in his own Cabinet?
Mr. Selinger:Mr. Speaker, the incident the member refers to, the Deputy Premier got up, he recognized that he had made an unwise choice of words. He apologized for it, and then he continued to work on a lifetime of championing the cause of missing and murdered women in this country, a record of service to a cause of victimized people that no member anywhere else in this House, perhaps across any Legislature in Canada, has–can match in terms of long-term dedication and service.
And, again, I say to the member opposite, having never made an error that he’s prepared to admit to in his life, having never been able to muster up an apology for something he’s done wrong when people all across this House heard the comments he made on many occasions, heard the comments he made which were with respect to a bullying bill that was being discussed at the Legislature at the time. He has no moral lessons to teach anybody in this House. Given his past behaviour, given his past voting record, giving his past denials of his own mistakes, giving his record for perfection which goes beyond–
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. The First Minister’s time has expired.
Mr. Wayne Ewasko (Lac du Bonnet): Mr. Speaker, Ontario has MPPs which stand for honourable members of Parliament, provincial Parliament. We here in Manitoba seem to have MPPs as well, minister protection programs. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen this government working very hard to protect their ministers by not allowing them to speak or by using malfunctioning sharpies to cover inflammatory comments.
I would like to ask the Minister of Culture, Heritage and Tourism (Ms. Marcelino) why she is contributing to or benefiting from the minister protection program.
Hon. Jennifer Howard (Minister of Family Services and Labour): And while I’m on my feet, I’m going to talk about protection. I’m going to talk about the protection of rights. I’m going to talk about the protection of my rights. And I’m going to talk specifically about the stand that the Leader of the Opposition has taken in his voting record as a Member of Parliament when it comes to my rights.
He got up today and he wanted to talk about homophobia. I know something about that. And I’m not going to accuse him of anything, but it is a fact that when he had an opportunity in Parliament to vote for my right to get married, he voted against it. That is a fact. That doesn’t protect me.
Mr. Ewasko: On a serious note, Mr. Speaker, I’d like to add–I would like to add thatthis is now my 17th question on the misuse of the FIPPA legislation under this NDP government.
Fact, the Deputy Premier’s (Mr. Robinson) inflammatory comments were redacted, apparently under section 23(1)(a) of the act. Fact, the Premier (Mr. Selinger) stated that the comments were neither the advice nor the opinion of the government, which contradicts the first fact. Really?
Can the minister in charge of the act state for the House what part of section 23(1)(a) were the inflammatory comments redacted?
Ms. Howard: I’m sorry the member for Lac du Bonnet didn’t take my comments seriously. I’m sorry that he doesn’t believe that the protection of human rights is a serious matter. That is something that I believe to be a serious matter.
I have answered his question a number of times, Mr. Speaker, but if he wants to talk about protection, I want to talk about the protection of rights. And one of the things that I would like to know is why, when the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Pallister) had an opportunity to protect the rights of my family, he missed that opportunity and instead he described my family and hundreds of thousands of families like mine, many of them living in this province, as a social experiment. Why did he describe my family that way?