Information-czar candidate under attack: Ex-MP once worked for nuclear association

Jim Bronskill
The Ottawa Citizen
June 4, 1998

John Reid, a former Liberal cabinet minister, will be interviewed by a panel of MPs today for the job of federal information commissioner.

Mr. Reid confirmed late yesterday he has been asked to appear before the Commons operations committee about the position — a sign he is poised to become the next commissioner.

But Mr. Reid, who served as president of the Canadian Nuclear Association after leaving politics, is running into stiff opposition from environmental groups who flatly oppose his candidacy.

“I must say I am not cheered by the prospect,” said Norm Rubin of Energy Probe, an outspoken critic of nuclear power.

Environmentalists claim the nuclear industry is among the most secretive of businesses — making Mr. Reid a dubious champion of openness.

“We know there are other people in Canadian society who would be more intuitively and logically comfortable with creating a government climate of open access to information,” said Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club.

The information commissioner serves as an ombudsman for users of the Access to Information Act. The federal law gives anyone who pays $5 the right to request information in federal files.

The commissioner often goes to bat for frustrated requesters, sometimes heading to court.

Kristen Ostling of the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout said the notion of Mr. Reid’s appointment raises questions about the potential impact on environmental groups, which have frequently had trouble obtaining information about the nuclear industry.

“Are we going to be seeing further difficulties in groups trying to obtain information about nuclear issues?” asked Ms. Ostling.

Mr. Reid, 61, played down the environmental groups’ concerns, saying his major responsibility during his years at the nuclear association, which he joined in 1990, was running the communications program.

“We were preaching the virtues of openness, and accessibility and accountability. That was basically the function that I was fulfilling there.”

Mr. Reid had a hand in laying the groundwork for the federal access law as an MP in the 1970s.

He briefly served in cabinet as federal-provincial relations minister and left politics after his defeat in 1984.

John Grace, who spent almost eight years as information commissioner, retired at the end of April, leaving the post vacant.

The government’s last candidate for commissioner, veteran public servant Mary Gusella, withdrew her name amid concerns she would not be seen as entirely impartial.

 

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