September 29, 2016 4:36 pm
Updated: September 29, 2016 5:48 pm

Premier Stephen McNeil says he avoids email to avoid access to information requests

Premier Stephen McNeil explains why he conducts some political correspondence over phone calls rather than emails - because he believes not all of it is public domain.

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Nova Scotia’s premier says he likes to conduct most of his government business over the phone because he doesn’t want to publicly defend comments or ideas that don’t become policy.

Stephen McNeil made the comment Thursday in response to questions about guidelines issued earlier this week by the province’s information and privacy commissioner.

Catherine Tully warned against public employees using personal emails and texts in the course of doing their jobs as a way of safeguarding government records.

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“I very seldom, email anybody, quite frankly I pick up the phone and call,” said McNeil. “I need to be able to communicate to my staff and there are certain things I want to be able to tell them that I don’t believe should be in the public domain because it may not be a piece of public policy.”

McNeil said being able to have those kinds of unfettered discussions is part of running government and not an attempt to circumvent freedom of information laws.

McNeil said the government does make all information available around issues that eventually become public policy.

“Every public policy is documented … we make it public,” he said. “But we have to have the ability to talk about policy that may never come to light and we need to be able to debate that amongst ourselves.”

Tully said while there is no law against using the phone, documents should exist that explain the “decisions, actions and deliberations” of government.

She said the duty to document is an issue that is being dealt with in provinces such as British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

“There is nothing wrong with what he (McNeil) is saying from a legal perspective but from a modernization perspective, from a healthy, vibrant right to access perspective it’s not best practice,” Tully said.

Opposition Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said the idea that McNeil doesn’t want to defend some issues publicly is “insulting to Nova Scotians.”

“Quite frankly it’s part of his job to defend the decisions he makes whether it’s to do something or not to do something,” said Baillie.

He said he worries about the message the premier is sending to those that work for him.

“He’s now basically told the entire public service to get off email when they want to talk to him and get onto the phone where the duty to document can’t be accomplished. That’s a problem.”

© 2016 The Canadian Press

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