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This article was published 27/5/2015 (2145 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Opposition Leader Brian Pallister accused the Selinger government today of breaching access-to-information laws to withhold the severance payments made to former NDP staff members.
The issue has dominated the legislature for almost two weeks as Pallister and his Progressive Conservatives hammer away at why the seven former staff members were paid collectively about $670,000 in severance.
Today Pallister accused Premier Greg Selinger of hiding behind the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) in withholding the individual amounts paid to six of the seven ex-staff, all of which worked closely with the premier’s office in advisory capacities. Liam Martin, Selinger's former chief of staff, was paid $146,047 in severance when he parted ways with the government Nov. 13.
"We think there is a very serious issue of principle here," Pallister told reporters. "The actual Freedom of Information Act says very clearly that (in sec. 17.4) that disclosure is not unreasonable when the information is about the third part’s job classification, salary range, benefits, employment responsibilities or travel expenses.
"This is exactly what we’re asking for information on."
Pallister also said the act allows for the release of the severance payments if: "the disclosure reveals financial or other details of a contract to supply goods or services to or on behalf of a public body; and the disclosure reveals information about a discretionary benefit of a financial nature granted to the third party by a public body."
"The act is very, very clear that disclosure is not unreasonable," he said. "This is not the government’s money. This is money taken from Manitobans used by the government to pay benefits which should be disclosed. They should be disclosed in detail, they should be made public, because it’s the public’s money that is being used.
"The government is contradicting its own legislation."
The amount of Martin’s severance pay was released under the province’s freedom-of-information law, and the Tories have filed similar FIPPA requests for severance packages for of the other six staff, but have been denied. The six worked for Theresa Oswald in her failed bid to replace Selinger as NDP leader. She lost to Selinger by 33 votes at a March 8 leadership contest.
Martin’s severance was disclosed by the Tories on Feb. 3. The premier’s office said then that Martin’s severance package was not out of the ordinary.
In debate in the house, the premier has said the payments to the six former staff members will not be released because it’s a personnel matter and would be an invasion of their privacy.
Pallister said the total amount of severance paid is inordinately high.
He said the remaining six were told in a Dec. 9 memo by then-acting chief of staff Ihor Michalchyshyn they had the "right to involve themselves in any type of political activities outside of regular working hours leading up to the (leadership) convention."
"We believe the amount is elevated and has been paid by the government to avoid a wrongful dismissal suit," Pallister said outside of the legislative chamber.
Pallister also said that NDP should come clean on the individual packages, which will eventually be released in the Public Accounts. The documents contain public sector compensation payments of $50,000 or more as paid to government ministers, MLAs and staff in each budget year.
However. Pallister said some of the information about the severance payments will not be made available in the Public Accounts until late September 2016 because of the timing of when the six severance packages were finalized.
"It strikes me as frankly an attempt by the government and by this premier to avoid being transparent and to avoid doing so until after the next election (April 19, 2016) to avoid whatever consequences the public might chose to put into play," he said.
The six are Anna Rothney, former cabinet priorities and planning secretary; Meaghan Dewar, former head of issues management for the executive council; Matt Williamson, former director of communications; Jen Anthony, former director of issues management for the government; Alissa Brandt, former director of the premier's secretariat; and Sally Housser, former associate director of cabinet communications.
Rothney, Anthony and Housser subsequently worked on the campaign of new Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley.