Question Period Highlight – There’s a pilot program for not responding to anonymous tips

November 12, 2014

Your NDP MLAs are hard at work in the legislature this fall, holding the government to account during Question Period on a number of key issues, including job loses since Stephen McNeil became Premier, and how the Liberals’ health board amalgamation distraction is causing their government to take their eye off what really matters – front line care. Here is a question NDP MLA Denise Peterson-Rafuse asked Environment Minister Randy Delorey about his pilot program of not responding to anonymous tips.

DENISE PETERSON-RAFUSE: Mr. Speaker, my question through you is to the Minister of Environment. Earlier this month, I attempted to bring a constituent’s concerns about pesticide runoff to officials within the Department of Environment. I was told that as a result of an ongoing pilot program, third-party reports, now including those from MLAs, would not be investigated.

My question through you to the minister is, can the minister please explain this pilot program that reportedly started three months ago and which areas of the province it affects?

RANDY DELOREY: Mr. Speaker, what I can advise the member opposite through you is that she hasn’t brought her concern forward to me. I’d be happy to hear what her concern is there with that particular situation and I’d be happy to look into it for her.

DENISE PETERSON-RAFUSE: Mr. Speaker, I would think that the minister would know what’s going on in his department. None of my colleagues were made aware of this pilot program either. It seems counterintuitive that an elected official, whose purpose is to bring constituency issues and concerns to government, is unable to do so.

My question through you to the minister is, can the minister please explain why his new policy, one that MLAs were not made aware of, no longer permits MLAs to bring concerns to officials in the Department of Environment and no longer allows for anonymous tips from the public?

RANDY DELOREY: Mr. Speaker, again I thank the member for the question. I guess there are a couple of responses that address that concern. One of them is an issue or concern that has been raised by members of the Opposition Parties throughout this session regarding FOIPOP legislation. It seems the only area of concern that the members opposite in the Opposition Parties have about FOIPOP applications is the freedom of information.

What the members opposite forget about is that the second part of that legislation refers to protection of personal information. I suggest that the member opposite can certainly bring issues of concern forward to the department, but with respect to providing information relating to those that may be of assistance, we may have some challenges there respecting the protection of personal information that may be of concern there.

Denise followed up with another question on November 13th.

DENISE PETERSON-RAFUSE: Yesterday I asked the Minister of Environment about a pilot program that is taking place in the western region of the province. I have emails here from staff in his department regarding it. Unfortunately the minister wasn’t aware of the program and couldn’t answer my question at that time, so I’ll try again.

Can the Minister of Environment please explain the pilot program that has been going on for three months and prohibits MLAs from filing complaints on behalf of their constituents?

RANDY DELOREY: Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for raising this question. I guess first and foremost, this particular initiative is not about preventing MLAs from doing their job at all – quite the contrary.

What we are intending to do here, if you look at it in terms of affecting our constituency offices, as the member seems to be most concerned with, is actually the way – I may be a rookie, maybe I don’t understand my job fully in my constituency office. The member opposite has more experience but I know that in my job when environment issues come to my constituency office, I direct them down the hall so that we can have the individuals bring the information first-hand to our staff.

If people are having issues with how our office is handling those complaints or issues or information being brought forward, that’s something that needs to be escalated, certainly, and that’s something I would look forward to hearing from all members in this House on behalf of their constituents. But for actual reported incidences, we want to get that information firsthand so we can make better decisions.

DENISE PETERSON-RAFUSE : Thank you for the answer, but the minister is missing the point that many people are fearful to come forward, especially in rural Nova Scotia and to refuse an MLA to bring that information is just wrong.

This pilot program also means that anonymous tips from people of the province will no longer be worthy of investigation. Many people, especially in close-knit rural communities, are hesitant to have their name included when reporting incidents involving their neighbours, co-workers or employers. I’ve been told by staff in his department – I have the emails here if the minister would like to see them – that inspectors are keeping track of how many times they are informed of an issue but are unable to investigate it because of these new rules.

My question to the minister is, in the months since these new rules have been in place, how many reported infractions have gone uninvestigated?

RANDY DELOREY: Mr. Speaker, again I thank the member for bringing this issue forward. What I’d like to advise the member and all members of the public in the western region, I think first and foremost is the importance of why this initiative has taken place on a pilot process.

Rather than rolling out bad policy and bad initiatives across the Province of Nova Scotia, under this government, under this department, we are engaging in a pilot initiative so that we can identify where there may be some challenges in what we are proposing and moving forward as enhancements as to how we do business so we can do a better job protecting our environment.