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A clear vision

Editorial by Kyle Shaw


Whether or not you go to Saturday’s Sloanye Westoner show, you’re probably paying for it. City hall offered $100,000 towards a “Proposed Major Concert” back in early July, before The Rolling Stones rumours were confirmed. The province is also putting your tax dollars to work for The Stones, at least 140,000 of them, according to reports that are starting to appear in other media. Premier Rodney MacDonald justifies the cost in Wednesday’s Herald by saying the benefits to the city “from a marketing perspective will be huge.”

But the day before, a senior person at the province’s Trade Centre Limited event company directly contradicted those reports to me. “the only gov funding we are receiving is the 100 k from the city,” Trade Centre executive vice-president Scott Ferguson typed in an email, doubtless sent from a Blackberry. “the event is paying for all the other costs. I am not receiving anything from the province on the event.”

Ferguson’s email is just another brick in the wall of confusion and needless secrecy that has grown around the big gig. It’s a wall that surrounds a lot of government activities, cutting off the public from the public servants, leading to a pervasive sense of detachment. But Darce Fardy is on a mission to fix that.

“My plan is to get people re-engaged in the political process,” says Fardy of the group he’s organized, the Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia. Tuesday at noon, in honour of Canada’s Right to Know week, Fardy is speaking at the Spring Garden Library, and Wednesday night the Coalition is hosting a pair of panels at King’s College. All this activity is focused on the province’s Freedom of Information legislation. Fardy’s disturbed that large, and increasing, numbers of people aren’t bothering to vote, and he thinks education can turn the statistics around. “We need better-informed citizens, and that’s where the Freedom of Information Act comes in. I’m going to show people how to use the act, and why they should.”

Fardy is a former journalist whose CBC career started in 1952 in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He took a regular office job as administrative assistant, then with no special training or desire, moved into the newsroom. Talking over coffee on Quinpool, Fardy says some of his reporting from Newfoundland was picked up by CBC’s head office in Toronto and aired nationally, yet he downplays his success. “Everything was quaint from down there, and I sounded quaint. I think for a while I was selling them the same story annually, and no one noticed.”

At the time, TV was a new medium —Fardy got in the door before the CBC station in St. John’s could broadcast—and he ended up riding it to the CBC’s upper echelons. He spent eight years as director of TV in Halifax, then moved to Toronto for eight years as head of network television, current affairs and documentaries.

He retired to Halifax around 1995, and fell into a job as the province’s freedom of information review officer. Again he was on the ground floor of an interesting new idea. Nova Scotia was the first province to bring in a Freedom of Information Act—it passed in 1977—and among subsequent improvements to the laws was creation of the review officer position. Fardy was the first review officer, and he acted like a judge, urging public bodies to be as open to the public as the strong laws demanded.

Eleven years after taking the job, and after writing about 800 review decisions himself, last January he retired for the second time. The next day he started the Right to Know Coalition, Canada’s first. It doesn’t have a website yet, but it’s got a leader with passion, and whatever budget that leader will put up out of his own pocket. Is Fardy ready to be a public champion? “I am. I enjoy doing this, and I don’t take myself too seriously. Yeah, I’m a good champion.”

Darce Fardy speaks September 26 at noon, at the Spring Garden branch library. The Right to Know forum starts September 27 at 6:30pm, in Alumni Hall at the University of King’s College, 6350 Coburg Road. Let me know:

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