Photo by Whitehorse Star
Sandy Silver and Stacey Hassard
Photo by Whitehorse Star
Sandy Silver and Stacey Hassard
The Yukon Party tabled a document Tuesday that it believes details possibilities of political interference in the carrying-out of Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (ATIPP) requests made.
Some of those requests were made to the Executive Council Office (ECO) and cabinet.
The official Opposition provided a number of documents to the media shortly before question period Tuesday afternoon.
Interim leader Stacey Hassard tabled a specific memo dated March 15, 2017. It shows in part communication from an employee in the ECO to two members listed as under the cabinet.
In that communication, the ECO worker writes to the two members, offering a draft interpretation of the act for another member of the ECO to distribute to other deputy ministers.
The “proposed process for responding to ATIPP requests for Ministerial records” is also detailed in the draft.
That note continues to say that the ECO worker has been instructed to get feedback and/or approval from the two members of cabinet (who the Yukon Party is referring to as two most senior political staff) before any messages are widely shared.
In that proposed message that can be distributed to other deputy ministers, they are instructed, among other things, to “send your collections requests to your Minister’s EA and cc” the two members of cabinet.
By way of background: as per the government’s online directory, the cabinet office is made up of all Liberal MLAs, their executive/administrative assistants, chief of staff, media relations, communications advisors and principal secretaries, among others.
The Yukon Party alleges that from this group, two of the more senior staff members on Silver’s team were not only included on communications about ATIPP requests, but offered direction in the process.
To be clear: shortly after that note, the tabled document shows that one of the members of cabinet responded to the ECO worker with feedback.
That response suggests considering if requests (including those made to the cabinet and cabinet committees) should be referred to the ECO.
It’s something that raised alarm bells for Hassard and the party, sparked in part by a number of instances where they say the premier hinted he knows the identity of those making ATIPP requests.
“They show his senior staff is closely monitoring the (ATIPP request) process and they have provided direction in regards to how civil servants should interpret the act,” Hassard said Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s strange,” he added, that cabinet staff seem to be providing information or offering direction when it comes to those requests.
As the premier had not initially seen the correspondence tabled before question period, he was unable to immediately speak to something he had not viewed. A statement issued late in the afternoon did offer some clarity, though.
“There is nothing inappropriate with this recorded interaction,” it read in part, chalking it up to “simple workflow conversation” that “in no way breaches the Access to Information and Privacy Act.”
The premier continued that the Yukon Party is misinterpreting the memos.
Meanwhile, the opposition also took issue with a couple of instances where it alleges the premier had suggested he knows the identities of those making ATIPP requests.
For example: just over a year and a half ago, Silver was responding to questions from the Yukon Party’s Scott Kent when he stated on May 3: “There are other things happening in this government. We’re very busy answering ATIPP requests and the like from the opposition.”
Then on March 6 of this year, when speaking about electoral reform and responding to the Yukon NDP’s Liz Hanson, he said: “There have been access to information requests on that issue from the opposition, so we know that it is an important issue for the opposition, as it is an important issue for us as well.”
Both remarks were made during question period and can be confirmed via the legislative assembly’s transcripts.
In response, a cabinet spokesperson pointed to exchanges last March 12, during which Silver offered clarification on some of concerns posed by Hassard, chalking it up to mere assumptions.
“In my time in opposition, I would create ATIPP requests. So last week ... this was merely making assumptions that some of these requests do come from the opposition members.”
The premier added that being in cabinet, “of course we do not know who submits the ATIPP requests.”
Back in the legislature Tuesday, Silver was pressed by Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers on why the two members of his cabinet office appeared to be included on correspondence shown on the documents.
“My two most senior staff have a legacy of above-board behaviour,” Silver said in response.
He repeated that more time was needed before he could make a determination and offer a response on the email in question.
“What I can tell the members opposite is that no changes to policy have occurred since his government was in power to where we are now,” Silver had added in the legislature earlier.
Speaking to reporters shortly after, he reiterated this, explaining he had still not seen the email at that point.
The premier assured, however, though that senior officials are aware of ATIPP laws after they “have worked in different aspects of government for many years.”
In order to encourage thoughtful and responsible discussion, website comments will not be visible until a moderator approves them. Please add comments judiciously and refrain from maligning any individual or institution. Read about our user comment and privacy policies.
Your name and email address are required before your comment is posted. Otherwise, your comment will not be posted.