Province must turn over e-gaming documents about loan

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 24, 2016
KAREN ROSE
Gov. of P.E.I.

The P.E.I. government has been ordered to release a document that outlines details of a $950,000 government loan that funded the province's controversial e-gaming scheme.

P.E.I. Privacy Commissioner Karen Rose delivered this ruling as a result of a freedom of information request by The Guardian requesting details of this e-gaming loan.

The province refused to disclose a one-page document that provides a breakdown of where and how the money from the e-gaming loan was to be spent.

The Guardian did obtain a copy of the $950,000 loan contract signed between the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. and Innovation P.E.I. through the same freedom of information request and published details of this agreement last November.

But government withheld one page of the agreement, entitled “Proposed Budget.” This page outlines the financial details of the e-gaming initiative. Government argued this information is commercial and financial information belonging to a third party – the Mi’kmaq Confederacy – and that disclosing it would harm the confederacy’s business interests.

The Guardian applied to the privacy commissioner for a review, arguing the information should be released because it falls within the public interest.

In her decision, Rose states the document in question “includes deliverables, time line dates and dollar amounts” for the loan, which was used to finance work done in 2011-2012 to attempt to make Prince Edward Island an Internet gambling regulator for the whole country.

This e-gaming proposal was estimated to be worth upwards of $85 million a year in new tax and licensing revenues for the P.E.I. government.

Members of a confidential gaming committee, made up of lawyers from the private law firm McInnes Cooper and the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I., held meetings on the proposal in secret.

Government funded this committee's work through this $950,000 loan, but exactly how this money was spent remains a mystery. 

The document the province has now been ordered to release would finally shed light on where the money was dispersed.

Government scrapped the e-gaming proposal in February 2012, and Premier Wade MacLauchlan has since stated P.E.I. taxpayers will likely be on the hook for repayment of this loan.

The e-gaming file has become infamous in P.E.I., with local and national media attention revealing the secret plan and how this proposed financial windfall for the province was linked to several key insiders who stood to profit handsomely if the plan had gone ahead.

The province’s auditor general is now investigating the e-gaming scheme, at the request of MacLauchlan, and a $25-million lawsuit against the province linked to e-gaming is snaking its way through the P.E.I. Supreme Court. 

In her decision, Rose states the financial e-gaming document is not information that belongs to the Mi’kmaq Confederacy and is thus a public document. She also determined the information within this record was not supplied in confidence nor was there sufficient evidence provided that disclosing the information would significantly harm the confederacy’s competitive or negotiating position.

However, she rejected The Guardian’s assertion the information falls within the public interest, citing an interpretation that this argument can only be used if it is matter of “compelling public interest,” applying mainly to matters of health or safety and not to political issues.

Nonetheless, because the province did not satisfy all three exceptions under the FOIPP Act required to refuse a request for information, Rose has ordered the “proposed budget” for the e-gaming loan be disclosed to The Guardian “in its entirety.”

Rose also chastised Innovation P.E.I. for the extensive time taken to deal with this request, noting extensions that were unwarranted. The Guardian submitted its original FOIPP request 15months ago, on Nov. 27, 2014.

Innovation P.E.I. can apply for a judicial review of this decision, but must do so within 30 days.