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HomeBusinessU.K., Ireland deliver free documents on NDP minister’s junket, NDP says wait until late August after charging $20

U.K., Ireland deliver free documents on NDP minister’s junket, NDP says wait until late August after charging $20

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Bob Mackin

The B.C. NDP government says wait until late summer for behind-the-scenes details about Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation Minister Ravi Kahlon’s spring trade mission to Europe.

(Twitter/@KahlonRav)

But governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom have already released some of their internal documents, free of charge. 

Kahlon’s 10-day junket took him to Netherlands (May 22), U.K. (May 25), Ireland (May 27), Germany (May 30) and Finland (June 1). Ministry spokesman Tom Laird said by email that “final costs will be released after all expenses are tabulated.”

On June 1, separate freedom of information applications were filed with the B.C. government, and relevant departments in Dublin and London. The Republic of Ireland’s Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science replied with briefing notes and email on June 30. The U.K. Department for International Trade followed July 15 with briefing notes, but withheld ministerial email. 

The B.C. government charged $20 for a pair of requests about the Ireland and U.K. meetings and set a July 14 deadline. But it decided June 23 to delay the U.K. file until Aug. 26, claiming “a large volume and/or search for records.” On July 11, it also delayed the Irish file to Aug. 26, citing a need for “consultation with a third party or other public body.”

B.C.’s freedom of information law requires a response within 30 working days, but can be extended for various reasons. In Ireland and U.K., it’s 20 working days plus extensions. Unlike B.C., there is no application fee. Should an applicant appeal the quantity or quality of disclosure, Ireland charges €30 (almost $40). 

Darrell Evans, director of the Canadian Institute for Information and Privacy Studies Society, is not surprised. Thirty years ago, the NDP gave B.C. a world-class FOI law. Since imposing the $10 application fee last November, Evans said, the governing party treats FOI like an “invalid on life support in the hospital, and they’re taking the pillow to its face.”

He blames Premier John Horgan and his chief of staff/political mastermind, Geoff Meggs.

“They think if they lose control of information, they’ll lose control of the agenda,” Evans said. “They don’t seem to feel obligated to inform the public.”

What was in the documents?

(Twitter/@KahlonRav)

The U.K. provided a partly redacted briefing note for Minister of State for Trade Policy Penny Mordaunt and a readout of her meeting with Kahlon. Conservative Mordaunt has since become a candidate to succeed Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. 

The readout, a summary of the meeting, said Kahlon outlined B.C.’s environmental, social and corporate governance ambitions and climate change agenda, with plans to advance hydrogen.

It said the Delta North MLA also touched on critical minerals and supply chain issues and addressed “false perceptions” of the forest industry’s dominance. He told Mordaunt only 1.7% of B.C. forests are harvested “and wanted to emphasize this point due to messaging challenges he had been hearing and made aware of.”

“[Kahlon] also outlined the importance of First Nations and indigenous peoples when it comes to the foresting industry with Canada the only place (other than NZ) to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.”

Mordaunt asked Kahlon if there had been any movement against the federal luxury car tax and thanked Canada for supporting U.K.’s campaign to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In the briefing note, marked “official-sensitive,” there was more information about the U.K.’s concern that the federal luxury vehicle tax would “disproportionately impact zero emission vehicles imported into Canada.”

The Irish disclosure included email exchanges within the ministry and Vancouver consulate to arrange Kahlon’s meeting with Minister Simon Harris, which was described as “scheduled very last minute.” The list of attendees revealed facts that were not included in B.C. government news releases, specifically that Kahlon traveled with Deputy Minister Bobbi Plecas and his senior ministerial advisor Ravi Parmar. 

Canadian ambassador to Ireland Nancy Smyth, embassy trade officer Caroline Donnelly and two B.C. Trade and Investment contractors rounded out Kahlon’s entourage. 

The 20-page briefing note for Harris included basic facts about Canada (a higher proportion of Irish descendants than the U.S.) and B.C. (home to 675,000 with Irish heritage), descriptions of B.C. politics, economics, immigration and housing, homelessness, the COVID-19 pandemic and opioid epidemic. 

The document profiled educational links between Ireland and B.C. and previewed a late June mission to Whistler for B.C. International Education Week by officials from Irish colleges. The briefing note highlighted the importance of Ireland’s 2018-opened Vancouver consulate, this summer’s retirement of Consul General Frank Flood and his incoming replacement Cathy Geagan and the resumption of Air Canada’s Vancouver to Dublin service. There was even a special mention of Minister of Public Expenditure Michael McGrath’s St. Patrick’s Day visit to Vancouver and his meeting with Horgan, which was described as “particularly engaging.”

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