Sunday, August 14, 2022

St. Mary’s releases salary details after privacy commissioner’s rebuke

  • March 2 2022
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    

ST. MARY’S – The Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s released details last week of the salaries for its employees, after receiving a sharp rebuke from Nova Scotia’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Tricia Ralph last month for “blatantly disregarding” her authority under the Municipal Government Act (MGA).

In an email to The Journal, St. Mary’s Chief Administrative Officer Marissa Jordan confirmed that the municipality has reversed an earlier decision to withhold specific dollar amounts to a member of the public who had sought comprehensive salary information through a provincial access to information request. As a result, she stated, “The applicant has received the information requested,” which was sent to them on Feb. 24.

Meanwhile, Carmen Stuart, a spokesperson for the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for Nova Scotia, confirmed that Ralph’s report on the matter has been sent to the Minister of Justice for further consideration about ways to strengthen the office’s “order-making power.”

In the report, dated Feb. 15, 2022, Ralph wrote that an unidentified applicant had requested the salaries of employees working for St. Mary’s but that the municipality had “withheld the responsive records,” arguing that providing that information would be an unreasonable invasion of the third party’s [staff member’s] personal privacy. She disagreed and recommended its disclosure.

More troubling, she noted, was “the Municipality did not provide representations [legal arguments] on this matter” and that when “this file was assigned to an investigator at the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC), the Municipality wrote to the OIPC and stated: ‘At this time it is highly unlikely the Municipal decision will change regardless of the outcome of the review by OPIC (sic).’”

In her summary, she stated: “This disregard for the recommendation-making model demonstrates why amendments to the legislation are so desperately required. As such, a copy of this report will be provided to the Minister of Justice with a request that he put forward a comprehensive bill to amend Part XX [of] the MGA and its related Acts to include a provision giving the Information and Privacy Commissioner order-making power.”

In her email to The Journal, Jordan said, “The Municipality has already sent correspondence to the Commissioner outlining the decision to comply with the recommendation in the review report to release the information to the applicant. The applicant has also been notified of this decision and has received the information requested as outlined in section 493 of the Municipal Government Act (MGA).”

Asked whether the municipality reversed its earlier decision as a result of the privacy commissioner’s report, she replied, “We received correspondence from the Commissioner for this review report Feb. 15, and we provided a response to both the OIPC and the applicant, Feb. 24.”

In her report, Ralph stated that she hoped St. Mary’s initial position on the matter did “not fully represent [its] position. I am also hopeful that it does not reflect the ordinary operation of the Municipality under Part XX of the MGA. On the other hand, if that is how, in fact, the Municipality operates in relation to its responsibility to decide in response to my findings and recommendations, this causes me serious concern. That any municipality in Nova Scotia would be emboldened to put in writing a blatant intention to disregard this quasi-judicial administrative review process is extremely troubling.”

Jordan said that, because the original “procedures that were followed for this particular case through OIPC was managed by previous administration,” she was unable to comment on the legal rationale for the municipality’s first decision to withhold the salary details.