Thursday, November 01, 2012

Natural Resources asks media outlet to destroy records

Postmedia had a report last night on Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver writing to his officials, in email, on his needing briefings on major energy projects in Canada so he could speak to them knowledgeably. He made the request in the aftermath of a Jim Prentice speech which mentioned a number of big energy projects. Prentice is the former Environment minister who left for CIBC. So the emails make it appear that the Natural Resources minister is playing catch up on issues that a former minister, now departed, is making waves on.

Notably, Oliver asked for information on a $15 billion bitumen upgrader mentioned by Prentice that Oliver says he did not know very much about, the Northwest Upgrader. Given the centrality of the oil sands to Oliver's file, that raises doubts on his competency. Given how central the pipeline and energy issues are on an ongoing basis for this government, and the pending energy takeover deals, it's an embarrassing revelation. The release of Oliver's comments have the effect of undermining his credibility as minister.

Postmedia obtained these documents through access to information. Instead of offering an explanation and addressing this issue on that level and leaving it at that, the government made this brazen request of Postmedia:
The office at Natural Resources Canada, which processed the request through access to information legislation, said that the content of the emails was released by accident and should have been withheld under provisions of the law that allow the government to protect information under consultation or deliberation.
Postmedia News declined a request from the office to destroy the email records that included Oliver’s comments.
The Access to Information Act requires the government to release public records upon request from someone who pays a $5 fee.
Given that the emails are from late 2011, to argue that they should be withheld as "information under consultation or deliberation" seems to be a very weak argument. The emails themselves can't be credibly characterized as containing information under consultation or deliberation. The advice sought by Oliver is still ongoing is their position? That would be a bizarre stretch.

And to ask, on top of that, for a media outlet to destroy the embarrassing email records shows how sensitive they are to this revelation. It's not very democratic either.