06/05/2012 10:05 EDT | Updated 08/05/2012 05:12 EDT

Tourism PEI slammed by information commissioner

The Department of Tourism on P.E.I. was too casual in rejecting a request through access to information legislation, says the provincial information commissioner.

The department refused to release details of a contract, said commissioner Maria MacDonald in her report last month, arguing it could harm the business interests of the contractor. MacDonald said Tourism PEI appeared to be making its decision based on the wishes of the contractor, not on the access to information law.

"Tourism PEI’s remarks reflect a very casual approach to withholding information from an applicant," she wrote.

"The remarks show more deference to the wishes of a third party than to Tourism PEI’s responsibilities to the citizens of Prince Edward Island under the law." This is the second time this year Tourism PEI is under fire for how it handles contracts. The auditor general found in April that the department bypassed proper procedures when issuing a number of contracts, not consulting treasury board and not putting contracts out to tender.

Tourism critic James Aylward expressed his frustration over getting details of those contracts in the legislature in May, and was frustrated again by the information commissioner's report.

"What are they trying to hide? What are they trying to cover up? I'm not really sure," said Aylward.

Tourism Minister Rob Henderson said the contract was for the promotion of P.E.I. as a culinary destination, and he admits his department failed in handling the request.

"We hope that we're going to be able to comply in a more timely fashion in the future, as well as in a more accurate fashion," said Henderson.

"What the freedom of information commissioner identified has been very educational from our department's perspective and we hope can be more compliant in the future," he said.

Tourism Department staff will get more training on handling freedom of information requests, Henderson said.