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VIBERT: Information is power, restored

Jim Vibert
Jim Vibert - SaltWire Network

“We are experiencing a service outage... We regret any inconvenience this outage may cause you. Thank you for your patience.”

Bet you think that quote’s from Nova Scotia Power. You’d be wrong. Those are the words that greet visitors to the Nova Scotia government’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPOP) website, and they’ve been there since April 5. Your patience is epic.

Nova Scotia Power’s message Thursday, when about half of its customers were jonesing for coffee on a dank November morning, was more along the lines of, ‘our power grid did exactly what it was designed to do,’ which, counterintuitively, was to shut off your power and deny you that coffee.

“If you have a large number of customers trying to draw power but you don’t actually have the supply on the lines, the protection comes into place to actually shut off the draw of power, which creates an outage.” This from Nova Scotia Power where, for consistency, they apparently decided to be parsimonious with all means of illumination.

What NSP seems to be telling us there is that Nova Scotians put the power out themselves when — all at about the same time — they awoke and decided to use some.

Matters were made worse when New Brunswick tried to hook into Nova Scotia’s power supply and the “protection” kicked in again, knocking out another 100,000 Nova Scotian households.

In some places, the sad remnants of old school boards sent kids off to powerless schools based — you’re not going to believe it — on the power corporation’s “estimated time of power restoration.”

The kids were home by noon.

We are told that school closure decisions are based on the best available information at the time.

The folks at the former school boards are all provincial government employees now and, who knows, if they were still working for the school board, they might have decided the guy who was saying “there’s no power in the schools,” had better available information than the power company.

Regardless, the mess was about access to good information, which brings us back to the government’s inoperable FOIPOP site.

The irony that Nova Scotia’s Freedom of Information website has been broken for almost eight months is inescapable, and Tory House Leader Chris d’Entremont was correct this week when he labelled the government’s handling of the affair a failure from start to finish.

Back in April, when it discovered an information breach on the site and shut it down, the province said its “cybersecurity team was working closely with the third-party service providers, Unisys and CSDC Systems, to secure the site and get it back up and running.”

Given the government’s obvious embarrassment — its Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy website is shut down because of a privacy breach — it’s understandable that the site hasn’t been mentioned much since.

The government did issue one update but that too came in April, when it said the work was progressing, and 11 more instances of “unusual activity” had been detected on the site.

Both the so-called breach and the 11 unusual instances were, as far as we can tell, either completely innocent or done with no malicious intent. Halifax police investigated, and the person responsible for the original “breach” was identified but no charges were laid.

The inoperable website, launched with some fanfare and the usual self-congratulations, was paid for by taxpayers who deserve to know whether their government bought junk.

Internal Affairs Minister Patricia Arab, whose department is responsible for the site, said at its launch that the government’s “made great strides opening up access to government information... with the new FOIPOP portal. We will continue to strengthen our access and privacy practices to improve transparency and accountability.”

Since then the site’s been disabled because with little prompting it belched out private information, there have been a series of real intrusions into Nova Scotians’ private health information, and the government’s interest in transparency and accountability has waned to the point where they don’t mention it anymore.

And Nova Scotians are left in a province where the best available information is the Power Corporation’s estimated time of power restoration. That can’t be good.

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