Author by: MICHAEL ROBINSON, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER
Photo by : Nathan DeLong/Brunswick News Archive
From what I can see, secrecy abounds everywhere. – David Coon
Ambulance New Brunswick was a topic of conversation in the legislature on Thursday.
Green Party leader David Coon is sounding the alarm over Ambulance New Brunswick’s latest attempt to block the release of information to the Telegraph-Journal.
The provincial ambulance service has sought permission from the integrity commissioner to ignore two right-to-information requests filed by the Telegraph-Journal. Those requests were for emails and other communication records detailing the frequency with which ambulances are taken off the road due to staff shortages.
During Thursday’s question period, Coon clashed with Health Minister Benoît Bourque on the move, suggesting ambulance staffing is “something that concerns all New Brunswickers.”
On Saturday, the Telegraph-Journal reported ANB was seeking permission from the Integrity Commissioner to ignore two right-to- information requests filed by the newspaper.
Coon further highlighted ANB’s reluctance to shed any light on the secretive matter, as detailed in a Telegraph-Journal investigative report published in October.
The original investigation revealed the case of how a New Brunswick family recalled waiting well beyond the government-mandated response time for an ambulance this past summer in Saint-Quentin. As a result, they strapped an elderly woman to a makeshift stretcher and hurried her to hospital themselves. Documentation obtained by the Telegraph-Journal unveiled the lone ambulance assigned to cover the community that evening was out of service because there were no paramedics available to operate it.
“With our extramural health services going to private management, when those services decline under that private management, will the minister also defend the shroud of secrecy that will descend around them?” asked Coon, the MLA for Fredericton South.
Fending off Coon’s question, Bourque reiterated the same talking points he has repeated throughout the course of ongoing debate over the government’s move to privatize the management of ANB, Extra Mural and Tele-Care under one roof.
“I will repeat what I have said several times in the House: On our side of the House, we take the right to information very, very, very seriously,” he said. “We are here to respect the law and we are ready to collaborate with anyone who makes an application, and the Ministry of Health is no exception.”
Pointing to the case involving ANB’s application to the Integrity Commissioner to ignore two of the Telegraph-Journal’s right-to-information requests, Bourque further stated the Liberal government will “fully respect” the Integrity Commissioner’s direction on that file. “Again, for us, the right to information is our government’s top priority,” he said.
Coon countered Bourque’s assertions, claiming financial statements belonging to the private entity managing ANB, Medavie-subsidary N.B. EMS, are not made available to the legislative committee ANB reports to.
“From what I can see, secrecy abounds everywhere,” he said.
Since question period returned last week, the issue of transparency and accountability at ANB has constantly been raised. On Oct. 31, Progressive Conservative leader Blaine Higgs questioned Bourque and the Liberal government on the agency’s track record in those areas, recalling how the opposition’s questions about ambulance service delivery could not be answered at the legislature’s crown corporations committee “because (that information) is intellectual property.”
At the time, Bourque vowed the new public entity taking over the reigns of ANB, Extra-Mural, Tele-Care will remain subject to right to information legislation.