CBC: Ottawa nixes former environment panel’s data-sharing plan

Posted at CBC.ca on March 26 2013:

The people who are winding down the controversial National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy say Environment Minister Peter Kent has nixed their plan to keep all their research public.

The government pulled funding from the roundtable a year ago, giving the advisory body until this Friday to shut down.

Acting chairman Robert Slater says the group had planned to hand over 25 years of research and analysis to think-tank Sustainable Prosperity to ensure it remained public.

But he says Kent sent him a letter last week telling him that Environment Canada would take over the information instead.

“The rights to the domain name rtee-trnee.ca will not be assigned or otherwise transferred to any outside entity, but will be transferred to Her Majesty the Queen, in right of Canada, as represented by the minister of the environment,” Kent’s directive states.

The letter also asks that no new information be added to the group’s website, even though two new documents were ready to be published, including the reflections of previous roundtable chairs and CEOs.

“Further, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) will upload no further content to its external website, as of the date on which this direction is signed,” Kent writes.

Environment Canada did not immediately provide an explanation, but the letter commits the department to following government policies on sharing information.

“Environment Canada intends to make the information available in accordance with Government of Canada Information Management and Publications policies.”

Plan shared with government long ago

In an interview, Slater said he does not understand why the government is taking such action. He said he informed Environment Canada long ago of his plan to transfer all the research and analysis to the think-tank.

And given that the roundtable was arm’s length from the government, and shut down by the government, he continues to believe the think-tank is the right organization to maintain the roundtable’s legacy.

“Our concern is based on insuring the integrity of this intellectual property for the benefit of Canadians,” Slater said.

When the government pulled funding from the roundtable last year, ministers offered duelling explanations. Kent said it was not necessary to pay for a group that was producing research available elsewhere in the public realm.

But Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird suggested the closure was because the government did not want to pay for advice that did not fit with the government’s general direction.

The roundtable had warned repeatedly that the federal government would not be able to meet its targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions without dramatic action such as putting a price on carbon — something the Conservatives have railed against.

Environmentalists expressed alarm at the news.

“This is another example of the government attempting (to) silence dissenting voices,” said John Bennett of the Sierra Club of Canada.

“NRTEE was an arm’s-length agency, not a department of the government. He has shut down a plan to make this information easily accessible and bury it.”