Medavie contract still secret, despite Liberal vow of quick release

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Differences in redaction: what happened when 2 health agencies released the same document

The Brian Gallant government has added a New Year's caveat to a key promise it made in 2017.

After vowing to release the extramural contracts with Medavie promptly after they were signed, the province now says it wants Integrity Commissioner Alexandre Deschênes to review whether anything needs to be blacked out.

"The Department of Health has requested comments from the Commissioner's office in advance of the release with respect to redactions that would be required under the [Right to Information] Act," spokesperson Paul Bradley said in an email statement.

Bradley said Deschênes was being consulted "to ensure the highest level of transparency."

That's the first time the government has mentioned another step in the process of releasing the contracts.

The agreements will turn over management of the extramural program to Medavie, a private, not-for-profit company based in Moncton.

Promised to release contract immediately 

During weeks of debate over the outsourcing, Health Minister Benoît Bourque promised repeatedly that the agreements would be released promptly after they were signed.

"The way we're going to do it is, once the contract is signed, we will publish it online within the website of the department," Bourque said in a CBC political panel recorded on Nov. 16.

In December, accused of not being open about the contract's provisions, Bourque told reporters, "My notion of transparency is the fact that it will be there for all New Brunswickers to see."

The government announced Dec. 31 that the contracts, three in all, had been signed. It did not say when the signing took place.

Lack of details 'shocking' 

Progressive Conservative MLA Brian Macdonald called it "shocking" that the government is now hedging on its promise to release the contracts.

"Why else would they have to go to the commissioner to have that determined? It's a government contract," Macdonald said.

"They actually fooled me this time. They were very clear. They said as soon as the deal is signed, we'll get the details. Well, the deal has been signed, and we don't have the details."

Macdonald said the delay continues a trend that the Progressive Conservatives saw when they filed a right-to-information request to Ambulance New Brunswick in 2017 on how the organization deploys ambulances.

The request was rejected, with Ambulance New Brunswick calling the information "intellectual property."

The ambulance service is also run by Medavie, a Moncton-based not-for-profit private company. Medavie is folding the service into a new entity that will integrate ambulance, extramural and telecare services.

The Liberal government says the change is needed so that the services can be run more efficiently for a provincial population that is getting older.

But Macdonald says the outsourcing will prevent the public from knowing how the services are run.

"These things that the people of New Brunswick have paid for, and are paying for, have become the intellectual property of Medavie, a third-party private entity," Macdonald said.

"That to me is unacceptable, and we can't get a view into it, because the law is set up to protect that intellectual property that we've now effectively transferred out of our own hands."

Key info already revealed: Health Minister  

Bourque said in mid-December that he had already revealed most of the key details of the agreements, including five performance targets Medavie must hit to win financial bonuses.

They include reducing emergency-room visits by extramural patients by 15 per cent and increasing visits to the patients by extramural nurses by 15 per cent.

Meanwhile, lawyers are preparing to return to court next week to continue a legal battle over the Medavie contract.

Francophone lobby group Égalité Santé en français wants a judicial review of the outsourcing.

The group argues Bourque doesn't have the legal power to privatize management of the extramural service and that the move jeopardizes the equality of health services between the English and French communities.

It lost its bid for a temporary injunction last week to block the signing of the contracts pending the Jan. 9 hearing.