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Levy

Wynne's pledge for 'open' government laughable

By Sue-Ann Levy, Toronto Sun

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/TORONTO SUN)

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/TORONTO SUN)

TORONTO - 

When I heard Premier Kathleen Wynne contend Monday that she wants to create the “open, transparent and accessible government” she thinks Ontarians deserve, I was positively gobsmacked.

Did the preem have an epiphany while enjoying her Thankgiving turkey or some time off from the daily grilling in the legislature last week, I wondered?

But when she told the media she believes “more information rather than less information empowers people,” I said to myself, “Consider me sold on this Open Government initiative, however ironic and absurd it sounds.”

Adding to the absurdity was a glaring spelling mistake — the word “goverment” — on the sign on the podium she stood at.

So what if Wynne feels she needs to reach out — yet again — to “engage” stakeholders with a fancy consultation of several months duration by a team of nine that will cost us at least $63,000 in fees, plus “reasonable expenses?”

Accountability has finally come to Queen’s Park under the Liberal government!

So, feeling “empowered” and positively thirsting for the Liberal regime to “unlock the data” they say will come from this initiative, I asked Wynne and Government Services Minister John Milloy when they were going to release the 3,226 back-up tapes containing 1,233 e-mails the premier may have written about the gas plant scandal.

After all, for us to truly be sure she wasn’t involved in the decision making, I would think Wynne would want to clear the air — especially given this new focus on openness and transparency.

I’d asked her the same question 77 days ago, a few days after the Aug. 1 byelections. Wynne had said at the time that the gas plant committee requests were being responded to and documents were coming from Milloy’s ministry to the committee.

Yet nothing has been produced to date on that request.

Seeing as they’d caught the openness, transparency and accountability bug, I thought I’d ask again Monday.

Wynne insisted they’ve “endeavoured to answer every question” requested of them and then deflected to Milloy.

Milloy said they “don’t know what exactly” is on the back-up tapes — no doubt trying to steer the focus away from Wynne.

He added that the gas plant committee has been advised that it would take “great expense” to go through the tapes — $3.5 million to be exact — and he is awaiting directions from the committee.

But what about the new focus on open and transparency? What about all that talk about the need to “unlock” as much data as possible, provide information that was “never available before?”

“There’s a cost associate with accessing the information ... that’s just the reality,” Wynne said.

Ohhhh. I get it. Unlocking data doesn’t mean information about the premier herself. How silly are we?

Seriously and bluntly, Monday’s announcement was an absolute insult to our intelligence.

If Wynne truly wants to create the “open, transparent and accessible government” she thinks Ontario residents deserve, she might start with how she and her ministers treat hard questions from the media.

The games they play are really quite offensive. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Instead of offering up a minister to answer questions directly by phone or in person, we regularly receive e-mailed, canned responses from the minister’s flack at the 11th hour when they know we won’t have the time to ask follow-up questions.

I also had to laugh at Milloy’s cheeky contentions that they’re posting the travel, meal and hospitality expenses of all cabinet ministers online — as proof of Wynne’s ongoing commitment to accountability.

When I asked him why those expenses are so out of date — Milloy’s have not been posted for nearly a year and some, like Health Minister Deb Matthews’ records are two years out of date — Milloy implied I just didn’t understand the process.

“There is due diligence that is done ... you can’t have it both ways,” he said. “They go through a process ... we could certainly sit down and explain the current state of where we’re at.”

Wynne chimed in that her expenses up to April of this year are about to be posted — and in fact they were sometime Monday afternoon after I embarassed them.

But geesh. So much for being receptive to “new voices and new ideas.”

So much for Wynne’s contentions that the data I asked about “belongs to the people of the province.”

So much for her claims that she has “a responsibility” to do everything in her power to provide people with information.

After Monday’s ridiculous exercise, I suspect that the key to unlocking data jealously guarded by the Liberals at Queen’s Park simply does not exist.

Nor does accountability.

 

OPEN GOVERNMENT LIBERAL-STYLE

  • Number on new Open Government Engagement Team: 9
  • Cost of team members: $250/day for 30 days or $7,500 each
  • Cost of chairman: $350/day for 45 days or $15,750
  • Number of days since Premier promised to be open and transparent on gas plant file: 77 days
  • How many of the 3,226 back-up tapes have been released containing e-mails
  • Premier potentially wrote about the gas plants: 0
  • Cost newly open LIberals want to charge to release those tapes: $3.5-M

Last month these ministers posted their expenses online:

  • Premier Kathleen Wynne: June 30/2013 (just posted Monday)
  • John Milloy: Dec. 31/2012
  • Deb Matthews: Sept. 30/2011
  • Bob Chiarelli: Sept. 30/2011

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