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Doors open

The doors may not only open wide on government information.

The doors may have just come off their hinges.

Ob Tuesday, the long-awaited review panel report on the province's Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (ATIPPA) was released. It basically annihilates every new initiative contained in Bill 29, the restrictive revisions implemented by the Kathy Dunderdale administration in 2012.

The broad reach of cabinet secrecy has been thrown out. No longer can a document be exempted because a lawyer looked at it.

And primary discretion now lies with the information commissioner. Information must be released by default. The onus is on the government to prove otherwise.

The report is huge, not only for its almost 500 pages, but for its total condemnation of Bill 29. It's also huge in another way.

"The review committee has provided a framework unique to Newfoundland and Labrador that includes important recommendations suggested by residents of this province," said Health Minister Steve Kent, who oversees Public Engagement.

And here's Premier Paul Davis: "When all of the recommendations have been actioned this province will rank amongst the best in the world."

The members of this committee are entirely independent from the government.

Former premier Clyde Wells served as a Supreme Court justice for 14 years after leaving politics. He has no political stake in the legislation. Doug Letto is a journalist, who's served in senior management at CBC for several years.

Most strikingly, Jennifer Stoddart has been at the very centre of access-to-information legislation in this country. As Canada's privacy commissioner, she was very vocal on issues around information and government secrecy.

Instead of issuing straight recommendations, the Wells committee drafted new legislation, showing how their findings should actually be adapted to the existing law. And the premier repeated Tuesday he intends to implement all recommendations as is.

It seems to be a brave new world we're entering now, and the eyes of legislators outside this province will likely be following it carefully.

Unfortunately for the Progressive Conservatives, this total retreat from Bill 29 may not give them enough of a boost to salvage them in the next election.

Ironically, a new poll released Tuesday has them 25 points behind the first-place Liberals. And the Abacus Data survey says the majority of disenfranchised Tory voters won't change their minds.

Implementing these changes to ATIPPA may help put the Conservatives on the road to redemption, but it's going to be an uphill climb all the way.

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