Nova Scotia Progressive Conservatives filed court documents Monday challenging the Liberal government’s decision to keep details of the Yarmouth-to-Maine ferry contract confidential.
Tory Leader Tim Houston said the notice of appeal was an “extraordinary measure,” adding that Nova Scotians should never have to sue their government to get information.
The move comes after the Liberals rejected the privacy commissioner’s finding calling on the government to release details on management fees in the contract with Bay Ferries, the private operator.
“The privacy commissioner has said this is information that should be available to Nova Scotians and the Liberal government says we don’t want to disclose it,” said Houston.
“So this is the time to take a stand and say that’s not good enough, government should be better.”
Houston said a hearing date has been set for March 12 in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.
The province signed a 10-year deal with Bay Ferries in 2016, and has provided $32 million in subsidies since the ferry service resumed in 2015.
The government maintains the management fee is confidential commercial information
Houston confirmed the legal move is being funded by the Tory caucus – which means it will be funded by taxpayers.
He said he didn’t talk to Premier Stephen McNeil in the days prior to the court filing.
“My hope is that they just release the number and all this stops. This could be settled very quick, the premier just needs to release the numbers to the taxpayers of Nova Scotia.”
The Liberal caucus has called the Tory move a “political stunt,” a characterization McNeil shied away from on Monday, although he couldn’t resist pointing out the cost.
“It’s taxpayers suing taxpayers,” said McNeil.
WATCH: Nova Scotia’s Opposition to take government to court for Bay Ferries contract
The premier said the government had been forthcoming when it comes to the ferry contract.
“The reality of it is we’ve disclosed the entire amount of money we’ve provided to Bay Ferries each and every year. It’s in public accounts.”
McNeil maintains the government is striking a balance as intended in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act in deciding what it releases publicly and what it holds as proprietary information.
“This is a global company that has a management fee,” he said. “Disclosing that to other competitors puts them (Bay Ferries) at a disadvantage.”
McNeil said releasing such information would also send a chill to other companies looking to invest in the province.
A report released in December by provincial privacy commissioner Catherine Tully followed appeals to her office by the Tories and reporters from AllNovaScotia.com and Global News, after their requests under freedom-of-information legislation were denied.
Tully’s report found the department couldn’t provide any evidence to bolster its arguments for not releasing the data.
The documents filed by Houston on Monday state the Tory caucus is appealing because the Department of Transportation used sections of the privacy law to “withhold information,” while failing to prove the need to do so.
It also says the department refused to release the information despite Tully’s determination there was not sufficient reason to withhold it, and that redacting it goes against the “purpose and intent” of the provincial privacy act.