For the first time in 20 years, a committee of the P.E.I. Legislature is using its power to issue a subpoena.
On Friday, members of the province's standing committee on health and social development voted unanimously to issue a subpoena to compel government to provide a report from the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission on a controversial land transfer.
The committee will issue the subpoena to Minister of Agriculture and Lands Bloyce Thompson, who received the report from IRAC in October.
"Islanders really want to ensure that the spirit and the intent of the Lands Protection Act is being upheld," said Green MLA Trish Altass, a member of the committee.
"And there are a lot of questions with what happened with this particular situation."
In the fall of 2019, Thompson vowed to close any loopholes in the Lands Protection Act and ordered IRAC to investigate after a deal involving 890 hectares of land in the Summerside and North Bedeque areas did not go before cabinet for approval.
So it is still incredibly valuable for us to be able to access the report and learn that information. — Green MLA Trish Altass
Under the LPA, corporations require cabinet approval to own more than two hectares of land.
So far, Thompson has refused to make the report public over privacy concerns, heeding advice he sought from the province's privacy commissioner that the province release the report through the access-to-information system.
Among the applications for the report is one filed by CBC News.
Thompson also rejected two requests from the health committee, the first to have him present the report at a closed-door meeting, the second simply to provide the report for committee members to examine.
In question period Friday, Thompson told MLAs "there's no one in this house that wants this report released more than I do, because Islanders deserve to know what's in that report."
I will carry it in myself if that's what they want to do. — Minister of Agriculture and Lands Bloyce Thompson
But he said to comply with opposition requests to release the report, without following the advice of the privacy commissioner, would be "to break the law."
Speaking to reporters later in the day, he said the only way he could surrender the report would be under subpoena, and if the committee were to provide one, "I will hand deliver the report. I will carry it in myself if that's what they want to do."
Both the Green Party and one PC member of the health committee, Zack Bell, wrote to the committee chair suggesting MLAs issue a subpoena. Brad Trivers, the lone cabinet minister on the committee, did not attend the meeting.
The motion passed by the MLAs called for the subpoena to be issued by the end of the day Monday, and to demand the report be produced by Friday, March 5.
Because the committee plans to review the document in camera, members would not be able to publicly disclose what they learn.
But Altass said the committee would be permitted to file their own report with recommendations.
"So it is still incredibly valuable for us to be able to access the report and learn that information," said Altass.
The quest for the report was taken up by the health committee because it's also responsible for justice, which includes freedom of information.
Under the Legislative Assembly Act, the chair of a legislative committee can issue a warrant or subpoena "requiring attendance of that person, and the production of any records and things indicated in the warrant or subpoena, before the committee."
An official with the legislature said the last time that power was used was in September 2001.
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