Osborne apologizes for not sharing health-care bill with privacy commissioner

Health Minister Tom Osborne apologized at a news conference Thursday for not providing a copy of a new health-care bill to Newfoundland and Labrador’s privacy commissioner.  (Garrett Barry/CBC - image credit)
Health Minister Tom Osborne apologized at a news conference Thursday for not providing a copy of a new health-care bill to Newfoundland and Labrador’s privacy commissioner. (Garrett Barry/CBC - image credit)
Garrett Barry/CBC
Garrett Barry/CBC

Newfoundland and Labrador Health Minister Tom Osborne apologized Thursday for not providing a copy of a new health-care bill to the provincial privacy commissioner, calling it a "critical oversight."

Osborne spoke with media in an impromptu news conference after receiving heavy criticism from both the privacy commissioner and the opposition.

"I guess I can sum it up in one sentence," said Osborne. "We could've and should've done better."

In a letter to the provincial government Wednesday, Privacy Commissioner Michael Harvey said its failure to send his office a copy of Bill 20 before its second reading in the House of Assembly was a violation of access-to-information laws

Bill 20 is an act regarding the delivery of health care in the province and the amalgamation of the province's four health authorities.

Osborne says he's not sure why a copy of the bill wasn't sent to Harvey.

"I don't know, it was my understanding that it was," he said. "When I went in to debate, it was my understanding that it was. I think it was an oversight, but it was a critical oversight."

But he says discussions will be held with the privacy commissioner to ensure he is satisfied with the legislation and to determine whether any changes need to be made.

"This is the first time as a minister that I've ever had to stand before the mics and say that we messed up in terms of providing legislation to the privacy commissioner," he said.

"This didn't unfold the way I'd like to see it unfold."

Osborne said a briefing was held with the privacy commissioner Thursday.

He said the department is in the process of responding to the privacy commissioner's concerns, and progress of the bill is on hold for now.

Osborne said it may be back up for debate on Monday.

Opposition 'astounded' and 'flabbergasted'

Garrett Barry/CBC
Garrett Barry/CBC

Interim NDP Leader Jim Dinn said he is "flabbergasted" by the Liberal government's "wilful ignorance." He said Harvey asked for a copy of the bill numerous times before its second reading, which is unacceptable.

"I will commend the privacy commissioner for doing his due diligence in holding government to account," said Dinn at Thursday's news conference.

PC Opposition Leader Barry Petten also says he's "astounded" by the Liberals' failure to provide Harvey with a copy of the bill, as well as the timing at which his party learned about the legislation.

Oversight or not, Petten says it was "an embarrassment for government" and an "incredible show of incompetence." He said it's a very important bill that needs time to be reviewed.

"You're depending on these people to deal with our health-care crisis," said Petten.

"There's enough checks and balances in place … someone never did their job."

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