Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart says the provincial government is being secretive about Lytton wildfire recovery plans.
A provincial government minister says they’re doing the opposite of that, offering an unprecedented level of information sharing.
At the heart of the dispute is a three-page document, a confidentiality agreement (often called a non-disclosure agreement or NDA) that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs is asking Tegart to sign.
“If you read it, it pretty much silences my voice, and when I spoke to the minister I told her she needed to be aware that I was not signing anything that silenced my voice,” Tegart says. “The people of Lytton so badly need advocacy at the provincial level and I refuse to sign it.”
Tegart says emergency disasters aren’t political and they don’t care what party you belong to.
She says she’s expressed a willingness from day one to work with the government, in whatever way best helps Lytton.
“But I refuse to sit at a table where I get information and I can’t share it with my constituents,” she says. “My suspicion is that I would simply be there to here the information because it’s not like they’re asking for input. I’m quite willing to hear it at the same time the people of Lytton hear it, rather than have the implication that I agree with it, because I can’t talk about it.”
A colleague of Tegart’s, Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone, called the NDA “an incredibly disturbing request.”
“I have never heard of an MLA being asked to sign one while working in advocacy for people in their riding,” Tegart says. “That’s what we do. That’s our job. I’ve been there (Parliament) since 2013 and I’ve never been asked to sign one of these, and I’ve talked to colleagues who’ve been around a lot longer than me who can’t believe that they (government) asked for this.”
The Minister of Municipal Affairs, Josie Osborne, says the form is intended to give Tegart access to information she wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
“What I wanted to be able to do was give her the opportunity to be part of what is considered ‘Cabinet confidential,’” the minister explained. “I am not permitted to provide information without her signing an NDA, and what I wanted to be able to do was to be able to proactively brief her so that I could ensure there was transparent communication on legislation that’s coming forward and items that are going to the Treasury Board.
Osborne said she’s stayed in regular contact with Tegart through meetings, phone calls, emails and updates from staff, although she said they hadn’t connected yet about the NDA request.
“For me, this was a good opportunity to brief her ahead of time so that she could provide feedback and insight, and also so she could talk to her constituents.”
Osborne and Tegart are in agreement on one thing, that asking for a signed NDA is unprecedented.
But they interpret it in completely different ways. Osborne said it’s very unusual for an opposition MLA to be offered this level of access to information.
“As the former mayor of a small community, I know how important it is to have excellent communication with government in a time of tragedy or emergency,” Osborne said. “I am here, and our government is here to support all people and work for all communities across British Columbia, and it doesn’t matter who you voted for.”
Beyond the disagreement over the NDA, Tegart also takes issue with the slow pace of assistance for Lytton.
Osborne acknowledged that recovery “can’t come fast enough for the people of Lytton,” but she said the government is doing all it can to get them home as quickly and as safely as possible.
The government announced $8.36-million in funding Feb. 9 which is intended to help with debris removal, repairs to water and wastewater systems, environmental and archaeological remediation and rebuilding of the local government.
Tegart said it’s a start, but it also comes months after the disaster.
“Government response has been extremely slow,” Tegart noted. “If Lytton is any indication of how government is going to respond to these disasters, we are really in trouble. The people who are on the ground, who are waiting to get back onto their properties, are feeling absolutely abandoned by government.”