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EDITORIAL: Should an inquiry be afoot?

Premier Dwight Ball says keeping Perry Trimper in the Liberal caucus is about "second chances."
Premier Dwight Ball. — Telegram file photo

The non-disclosure agreement, or NDA, is a fascinating thing.

It’s supposed to keep proprietary information secret — if you’re looking closely at buying a company, for example, that company might let you see their internal numbers or processes, but only if you commit in writing to keep things to yourself.

Often, NDAs crop up as part of legal settlements. If you get fired after reporting something to head office and sue over your dismissal, sometimes a settlement offer to halt your lawsuit would involve your commitment to reveal nothing about what happened.

Essentially, it boils down to, “You keep your mouth shut — essentially forever — and we’ll give you this cash.”

But what is fundamental to the NDA is that you actually have something to disclose — something that’s either important or embarrassing, or both.

And if it’s just embarrassing? The people asking you to sign that NDA are essentially admitting that their behaviour in a particular circumstance is anything but exemplary.

Hello, Dwight Ball and the Liberal government.

If there was nothing wrong with this picture, there would be no reason for the payouts, nor for the legally enforced secrecy.

Last week, the CBC reported on the latest piece in the Carla Foote saga. Foote had been a senior Liberal staffer in the government when she was moved into a marketing job at The Rooms. There were a number of problems with the hire: Foote didn’t hold some of the basic qualifications that the job specified, was given a $27,000 hike in pay over the job’s salary, and someone else had already been hired for the position.

CBC’s latest story says the marketing person hired for the job (who did have the necessary qualifications and years of experience) was paid $20,000 for losing the position but had to sign a confidentiality agreement agreeing not to disclose what had happened. The Rooms’ CEO, Dean Brinton, was subsequently  removed from his job without cause and paid 11 months’ salary and undisclosed legal fees — once again, with a non-disclosure clause.

What makes this a little different is that it’s the provincial government buying secrecy to cover up political tampering and using taxpayers’ money to pay for it.

If there was nothing wrong with this picture, there would be no reason for the payouts, nor for the legally enforced secrecy. If there’s nothing to hide here, release Brinton and the unnamed marketing hire from their confidentiality agreements.

Because, if the Ball government insists on keeping the agreements in place, it’s patently obvious that there’s still plenty left to hide. Huge questions remain about what happened. Christopher Mitchelmore, who was tourism minister at the time, has taken the fall for the political mess, but it’s frankly beyond belief that he could have simply moved a member of the premier’s senior staff to a new job without the premier’s knowledge or consent.

Perhaps the best way to find out what Ball and his ministers are hiding is to have a public inquiry where they can be asked about the issues under oath.

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