Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise in the House, and I am particularly pleased to be able to speak to this bill. This is not the first time that I have risen in the House, and I have had even more opportunities to do so since being appointed to the shadow cabinet as Treasury Board critic. However, this is the first time that I have had a chance to talk about a subject that comes straight from the Treasury Board. The hon. introduced this bill just before the House rose for the summer in June, which means we had time to look it over and make observations about it. I am very honoured and proud to take on this essential role of providing positive, constructive, and, above all, vigilant opposition.
As such, I am very pleased to rise and speak to this extremely important bill that amends the Access to Information Act. That act was first introduced some time ago, so we have been living under its provisions since 1983. Fundamentally, our party is in no way opposed to carefully scrutinizing any act, statute, or procedure in order to enhance or improve it. A number of changes have been made over the past 35 years, since the bill was first debated and passed here in the House, particularly when it comes to information technology. Everyone agrees that access to information has changed over time. Simply put, we are not opposed to scrutinizing this act from 1983.
Still, we need to be logical and consistent, since this is about drawing a very fine line between access to information, which is necessary in a democracy, and for which I would be the first to fight as a former journalist, and the ability of the executive branch to do its job, for which it requires certain information. Some of the exchanges and debates that take place within cabinet are crucial and healthy for a democracy, but they need to remain behind the closed doors of cabinet. The same is true in parliamentary life, considering that every Wednesday morning, each parliamentary group has caucus meetings, where we can discuss the issues that matter in a positive, constructive way that lays a foundation for the future, while also sometimes having different points of view. That is democracy at work.
The government says that it tabled this bill to fulfill a political commitment. Really? Let us look back at the promise made by the Liberal Party two years ago during the campaign, which was, “Real Change. A New Plan for a Strong Middle Class.” That was the Liberal Party's program. On page 24, regarding access to information, it states, “We will make government information more accessible.” No one can disagree with that. It is like apple pie. No one is against better access to information.
The Liberals' specific objectives are, “We will ensure that access to information applies to the Prime Minister’s and ministers’ offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.” That is where the problem lies, because the first of these objectives has not been met and access to information still does not apply to the PMO. That is a broken promise by the Liberals.
I will come back to that a bit later on. We will show that the commitment made during the campaign, the very reason why Canadians elected this government, was once again, unfortunately, not upheld by the Liberals. We believe that it fuels public cynicism towards politicians. When a government does not keep its promises, which we strongly condemn, every single politician pays the price.
Let us take a closer look at what Bill entails exactly.
The real novelty of the bill is that the government is imposing a system of proactive publication, which is not so bad.
Let us look at what the government has tabled in the bill. Access to information lies in ministers' offices and the 's office to properly publish the following information: mandate letters, and we have the mandate letters and everybody has seen them, so there is nothing new there; documentation on the training for new ministers; title and reference numbers of briefing notes; development notes for question period; backgrounders for occurrences before parliamentary committees; travel and hospitality expenditures; and contracts of more than $10,000.
This is the main problem. We are talking about proactive tabling of documents. That is great. Nobody can disagree with that, but on the other hand, and we will see it later, this is the end of the mandate for the and ministers.
Government organizations will also have to proactively publish the following information: travel expenses and shared travel expenses; reports tabled in Parliament; briefing packages for deputy heads; information about briefing notes; briefing materials for parliamentary committee appearances; contracts over $10,000; contributions over $25,000; and reclassification of positions.
The big change with this new bill is that the government is now deciding to publish this information proactively, which is not a bad thing, but the problem is that it ends there. That is why we have serious reservations about this bill, which does not really honour the Liberal Party's campaign promise. This bill is actually at odds with that promise.
Broken promises lead to disappointment. When people have expectations, they want those expectations met. People, especially those in the information sector, felt that this was one of the Liberal Party's key promises, so they expected the Liberal Party, once in government, to keep it. Unfortunately, people's faith was wasted on the Liberal Party because it did not keep that promise. That is from them, not me.
Let me read some quotes from important stakeholders about this important issue.
Katie Gibbs, executive director of Evidence for Democracy group, says that by ruling out the possibility to obtain information from ministers' offices and the Prime Minister's office, the government is breaking its campaign promise to establish a government “open by default”. Moreover, she says, that the possibility to refuse access to information requests on an undefined basis jeopardizes the transparency and the openness of the government.
That is the problem. The Liberal Party promised to be more open, but proactively publishing information and then leaving it at that poses a problem.
I do not want to undermine this approach, but the reality is that the documents that are released and that will be proactively released, are general access documents, or documents that almost anyone can access, such as the ministers' mandate letters that were made public by the on the day the ministers were sworn in, which was a good thing. A minister's mandate letter is indeed published on the day he or she is sworn in, if memory serves me correctly. It was a good idea. That has been the practice for the past two years, and it is working out well enough. However, when it comes to preparing ministers for question period, we are talking about factual information, facts, figures, and basic information. When we ask for a technical briefing, or a refresher course on the ins and outs of a bill, then we are generally given more specific information. We have an excellent working relationship with the ministers' offices and departmental officials who are there to serve all Canadians.
Then, once we all have the same background information, we can prepare our arguments for or against the topic in question. This is what is great about democracy. There will always be people for something and people against it. It would be odd if everyone were in favour of the same thing.
As Katie Gibbs, the executive director of Evidence for Democracy, said, this bill falls short, and that is disappointing.
It is the same thing for another important stakeholder.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch group, says:
The bill take a step backwards in allowing government officials to deny requests for information if they think the request is frivolous or made in bad faith. Public officials should not be given this power, as they will likely use it as a new loophole to deny the public information it has a right to know.
Mr. Conacher is on the same page. It is all well and good to be proactive, but there is no recourse if access to a document is denied because it is an executive-branch document and cannot be disclosed. That is the problem.
The government can go on and on about how open it is, but the government's actions and this bill do not reflect that reality.
Some people in Quebec have been very disappointed in the Liberal government. These people may have been seduced by the Liberal Party's big promises during the last election campaign, but now reality has caught up with them. Stéphane Giroux, the president of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, said, “We were most interested in getting documents from ministers' offices. False alarm. It was too good to be true.” This is yet another disappointment.
This bill is a complete letdown. I have one more very interesting stakeholder to mention. He is so important that I saved him for last, because he is someone who really knows what he is talking about. His name is Robert Marleau, and he served as Information Commissioner from 2007 to 2009. He said, and I quote:
For the ministries, there is no one to review what they choose not to disclose, and I think that goes against the principle of the statute. They have taken the commissioner out of the loop. If you ask for these briefing notes, and you have got them and they were redacted, you had someone to appeal to. So there is no appeal. You cannot even go to a court. It is one step forward, two steps back.
This was not some big bad Conservative or New Democrat speaking, or even anyone from the Green Party or the Bloc Québécois. This was Robert Marleau, a man who spent years enforcing the Access to Information Act as Information Commissioner from 2007 to 2009, pointing out very clearly the problems stemming from this act.
The government claims to want to be open and proactive, which in theory is not a bad thing. However, in reality, it is no longer possible for people to appeal if the information they requested is not provided. Robert Marleau pointed out that problem.
Other observers have been extremely critical. I am not talking about people with a direct interest in the issue, or about pressure groups, or anything like that. Rather, I am talking about observers like Shawn McCarthy of The Globe and Mail, who said the following in an article published on September 18:
The Liberals also vowed to amend the ATI law to make government “open by default.” But C-58 would give government departments the right to ignore information requests that they deem to be “frivolous or vexatious.” That exemption is being imposed without warning or justification, and is a power that should not be held by a government department that could benefit by wide interpretation in its own interest. It should be removed from the bill.
Once again, that was said by a well-intentioned individual who wants to see things change. He believes that things have to change. He thought that the Liberal government would be the one to bring about those changes, but that is just another disappointment for those who are unhappy to add to the list.
Another such person is Stephen Maher, who wrote the following in an article published in in iPolitics:
The proactive disclosure of some ministerial documents may be a step backward, because the decisions about what to release and what to redact will not be reviewable by the information commissioner.
That is similar to the point that was raised by the former commissioner, who said that, from now on, there would be no appeal process and that this was a step backward. I would like to once again quote Mr. Maher. He said:
This bill takes baby steps toward greater openness, but it does not offer what [the Prime Minister] promised—that government documents would be open by default.
In the business community, Fasken Martineau issued a notice, not to say a warning, to its clients concerning Bill C-58, which reads:
What if an application is made that raises grounds of contestation which do not respond to the third party's real concerns or interests? Despite this drafting, we expect that the Court will nonetheless allow the third party to file its own application to raise its concerns and interests—although it would be ideal if Parliament avoids useless battles in Court on the standing of third parties and clarified the provision immediately.
In other words, Fasken Martineau is saying that, as it stands, this bill will result in court challenges.
God knows, we certainly do not need yet another process clogging up our justice system, considering that this government is dragging its heels on appointing the judges that Canadians want and expect.
In Quebec, the justice minister has been waiting for months for this government to appoint 14 federal court judges. Of that number, barely half has been appointed so far. Until the appointment process is complete, dozens, hundreds, even thousands of Canadians awaiting a fair trial will not get one because the government is dragging its heels on this.
We certainly do not need to further clog up our courts by passing this bill. It may have been drafted with good intentions, and we are not against scrutinizing legislation that has been in effect since 1983, but we need to do things properly, which is not the case. Politically speaking, the Liberals should at least keep their election promise.
Is it any wonder that this bill only adds to the government's track record, which is a long list of broken promises? On top of that, just two years ago, this government said that it would not raise anyone's taxes, and yet what does it intend to do with its tax reform for small and medium-sized businesses? It intends to create even more obstacles and impose additional taxes on business, like the 73% tax, which is nearly 50% higher than the tax rate for large corporations.
Meanwhile, this government was elected barely two years ago on a promise that it would run small deficits of $10 billion. Where is the deficit now? It is about 80% higher than what the government promised. The Liberal Party also promised to return to a balanced budget by 2019, which happens to be the next election year. Now this government is abandoning its commitment, since it does not even know when Canada will return to a balanced budget. At no time in living memory has there ever been a government, a finance minister, and a prime minister who could not tell us when the budget would be balanced, except perhaps in times of crisis.
As many members will sadly recall, deficits became necessary in times of war, but it was the current 's father who invented deficits in times of prosperity. That said, at least he had some idea as to when he would balance the budget. This government, however, has no idea when it will achieve that, which is a first in Canadian history. It has been one broken promise after another, and the same is true of Bill .
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to offer a few words about Bill and its proposed amendments to Canada's Access to Information Act. In fact, I would like to begin with some specific comments about the Information Commissioner's expanded role under these legislative amendments.
Among the many changes we have made in our proposed reform of the Access to Information Act, one that we believe is important, and that the Information Commissioner has herself requested, is for strengthened oversight of the right of access.
Currently, the Information Commissioner has no power to order a government institution to release records that have been requested under the Access to Information Act.
For example, if a requester is dissatisfied with the reduction of records in response to a request, they have the option to send a complaint to the Information Commissioner. This complaint is then investigated, and the commissioner can make a recommendation to the government institution to release the records.
If the institution does not accept that recommendation, the commissioner currently has the option to challenge the decision in court, with the agreement of the requester.
Under Bill , the person would continue to have the right to complain to the Information Commissioner if he or she does not agree with how the government institution responded to the request.
This right would be clearly communicated to the requester as required by the act, but when it comes to the conclusion of the commissioner’s investigation of such complaints, the commissioner would now have the power to issue an order to release the record if she deems it was improperly withheld.
The government institution would have to release the record in accordance with an order from the Information Commissioner or, if it disagreed with the commissioner's order, go to court and convince the court, based on evidence it provided, that it has applied the act correctly.
Mr. Speaker, this is a first at the federal level. Never before has the Information Commissioner had the ability to order the government to release records.
If the head of the institution disagrees with the order, believing, for example, that the record should be withheld for security reasons, Bill proposes to give the head of the institution 30 business days to ask the court to review the matter.
In short, the new reforms to the Access to Information Act would provide the Information Commissioner with order-making power. This would transform the commissioner's role from an ombudsperson to a powerful authority with legislative power to compel government to release records.
These new powers include the authority to make orders about such things as fees, access in the official language requested, format of release, and decisions by government institutions to decline to act on overbroad or bad faith requests.
To enable the Information Commissioner to carry out this new authority, we will also be providing the commissioner with additional resources.
The improvements we are proposing will reinforce the act's original purpose and respond to the recommendations of the Information Commissioner to strengthen her oversight of the right to access.
The changes to the commissioner's role from ombudsperson to an authority with legislated order-making power will increase the commissioner's effectiveness.
This is a sea change in the way access to information works at the federal level, and we are taking the important step to strengthen government transparency and accountability.
We are committed to modernizing the act and making continual progress towards a more open and transparent government.
To that end, the legislative package we have introduced proposes a new part of the act that sets out proactive publication requirements for all areas of government. This will entrench into law the obligation for the government to proactively publish a broad range of information to a predictable schedule. It will apply across departments and agencies, as well as new areas such as the 's and ministers' offices, senators and members of Parliament, institutions that support Parliament, and administrative institutions that support the superior courts and over 1,100 judges of the superior courts.
Making more government information publicly available and on a predictable schedule will promote accountability.
Like the Information Commissioner, we are aiming for increased openness and transparency across government.
At the same time, we recognize that proactive publication does not eliminate our responsibility to strengthen the request-based aspect of the system.
For that reason, we are also investing in tools to make processing information requests more efficient. We will support training across government for consistent application of access to information rules and we will provide written explanations for exemptions and exclusions.
We have also heard the commissioner’s concerns regarding overbroad or bad faith requests, those where the intent is clearly to obstruct or bog down the system.
Under very specific circumstances and subject to oversight by the Information Commissioner, government institutions will be able to decline to act on bad faith requests. Doing so will help government better direct its resources to responding to requests that reflect the original intentions of the act, making government more transparent, responsive, and accountable to citizens.
We are making significant reforms to the access to information system, while continuing to establish a relationship of trust between those requesting information and the government that can provide that information. The amendments will also add a new requirement to review the act every five years to make sure it remains current.
The first review will begin no later than one year after the bill receives royal assent.
In addition, we will have a policy requiring departments to regularly review information requests and to use that analysis to make more types of information more easily accessible. This analysis would in turn guide the five-year reviews to ensure ongoing improvement.
After 34 years, the time has come for the ATI laws and program to be revitalized. The reforms we are proposing affect the whole of government, including areas never before touched by the legislation.
They also provide greater powers to the Information Commissioner to oversee the access to information regime and the ability to order the release of records.
I call upon all members to examine, debate, and support the goals of this legislation and to continue to work together to strengthen access to information and make government more open, transparent, and accountable.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise today to be part of the discussion on Bill . As many of the members of the opposition have pointed out with some degree of consistency and clarity, this is perhaps the best example of the legacy of broken promises by the government. This broken promise in effect comprises 31 broken promises. In the midst of my speech I will address how this is not just a simple broken promise. Rather, it affects the entire open government concept paraded by the Liberals in the last election and goes to the heart of the sincerity of the on this subject. Many of the new members of Parliament were not here in the last session when the was the leader of the third party. However, when listening to my speech, members will learn that this was a centrepiece of the 's time as MP for . He seems to have forgotten his passions from his time in opposition.
My friend, the member for and , in his remarks on this bill last week spoke a lot about his time in cabinet and how proud he was to be in the cabinet of Paul Martin. What was absent in his remarks was that he is no longer in that cabinet but in the cabinet of the current . Possibly he did not work that into his remarks because he was handed the biggest broken promise of the new session. It is never fun to have a prime minister make a minister come to the House of Commons to try to sell a dead fish. That is essentially what this bill is.
I will remind the members who did run on the Liberal platform of their promise. We all remember the various hashtags used by the government in the last election, hashtags about hope, hard work, and real change. “Real Change” was the title of their policy platform. What was contained in that platform? I will quote, “We will ensure that Access to Information applies to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.” That was a real change in the section of their platform that talked about open and accountable government.
On the page before that in the document the Liberals also talked about giving real independence to and listening to government watchdogs, such as the Information Commissioner. Many previous information commissioners have provided commentary that the Liberals suggested they were going to act on. I am sure there are countless former watchdogs who are quite disappointed that the Liberals ran on this commitment but have fallen far short. If we look at the Liberals' campaign promise to earn the trust of Canadians, they said that the Prime Minister’s Office would be governed by access to information, as well as all ministers' offices. There were 31 different offices they pledged to bring under the umbrella of access to information. Those are 31 broken promises contained in Bill . Of the litany of broken promises by the government, this is probably the most ambitious because there are 31 broken promises rolled into one.
I would love to have seen the emails about the 's trip to a private island, along with the current and various members of Canada 2020 or the Liberal Party of Canada. I have a hard time distinguishing them. We know dribs and drabs about that trip because senior officials at the Privy Council Office had a hard time making sure that the could remain in touch. This was at a secluded billionaire's island. The Government of Canada had a hard time keeping up with the vacation ambitions of the . Had the Prime Minister kept his promise, I would love to have read a bit about what his senior officials thought and how they were pushing the government to accommodate this very unusual request.
Similarly, with regard to the investigations of the by both the Ethics Commissioner and Commissioner of Lobbying, it is unparalleled for a Prime Minister to be subject to one, let alone two, investigations in his first two years. I guess that is real change, and certainly a big change from Mr. Harper. There were no investigations of him over nine years by those officers of Parliament. Now we have two. I would love to see the emails of Gerald Butts and Katie Telford on how to handle the investigation of the Prime Minister's fundraising dinners with Chinese billionaires, the same ones who are building a statue of his father in Canada before the Prime Minister's government builds a statue and monument to the Afghanistan mission. The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation is going to make sure that Pierre Trudeau has a monument before the 40,000 Canadians who served in Afghanistan do. I would love to see a little bit of the commentary on that.
What we have heard from government members, and we are at the beginning of debate so will hear these talking points quite regularly now, is that instead of keeping their promise and providing that 31 offices would now be subject to the Access to Information Act, they are going to produce proactive disclosure. This is their key defence of their broken promise. They are going to release schedules, agendas, and draft question period documents and say those should satisfy us. No, they will not. As members will see, if they stay with me a few moments, this is far more than a broken promise in the real change campaign document to Canadians. Why is that?
I am going to refer to remarks by the Liberal MP for , a good guy, I might add, a friend. In the last Parliament, he said, “It almost seemed that the Conservatives wanted to have a little more proactivity involved in the sense of what we are doing here with the Liberal Party of Canada, when in fact, we were the ones who brought forward far greater measures on proactive disclosure than this House has ever seen.” He gave a really good speech. I recommend that the member and some of his colleagues refer to it. In the same speech he said, “A country's access to information system is the heart of open government.” These are wonderful words by my friend from Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, the longest-serving member in the House from Newfoundland and Labrador.
Why such eloquent prose? What was that member speaking about in the last Parliament? He was speaking about a private member's bill on reforming access to information. Who brought forward that bill? It was the MP for , now the of Canada, whose own private member's bill in the last Parliament championed open government and reform of access to information. When he spoke, no wonder my friend from was so eloquent in his praise and prose. It was his leader's bill, his leader's raison d'être, as the MP for Papineau.
I always found the number of that bill, Bill , interesting. All government officials are generally in the 613 area code, so I always thought Bill C-613 was kind of ironic. It was the open government bill. The actual name of the bill was an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Access to Information Act (transparency). We know that when a member has a bill tabled and debated in the House, it is the most important issue to them.
We have seen great bills brought forward by passionate members of Parliament. For example, my friend from brought forward a national framework for post-traumatic stress disorder for our first responders. We have debated that framework, that passion of his, in this Parliament. In the last Parliament, when the was leader of the third party, what was his passion? It was access to information reform and open government.
Someone in the PMO should remind him of that and send him an email. However, we will not be able to see those emails because he is carving that out in these reforms. However, someone should remind the member for . He is still the member for Papineau. He is also the , and I respect that role. However, I am here to remind him what he brought to Parliament, when he would regularly grill the Conservative government of the day. I remember because I was in cabinet.
From the 's bill on reforming and improving access to information, what did it start with? Proposed section 2 read:
2(1) The purpose of this Act is to extend the present laws of Canada to provide a right of access to information in records under the control of all government institutions in accordance with the principles that
(a) government information must be made openly available to the public and accessible....
That was the thrust of the 's private member's legislation. In fact, it went on to talk about when it should be held back. I refer to paragraph 2(1)(b) of that bill, which stated, “necessary exceptions to the right of access should be rare, limited and specific.”
With this farce of a bill, how does it measure up against the 's Bill ? It fails dramatically and terribly. Therefore, the hope and hard work the Prime Minister championed in opposition are long forgotten. His hopes and his promises on open government, which made it all the way to the Liberal platform, were dropped once he formed government. I hope Canadians see this for what it is. Once again, the photo ops and the hashtags do not match the conduct of the government.
I will leave the Prime Minister's Office with one last quote. The people of that office were not here with the member for in the last Parliament.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux: I was.
Hon. Erin O'Toole: No, the people of the Prime Minister's Office were not here. My friend from Winnipeg is heckling me, but he remembers early on that Canadian taxpayers paid to move the 's officials to Ottawa. I know they were not here. We paid for them to come after the Liberals won. I would like those officials to also look at proposed subsection 2(4) where it says:
In the event of any uncertainty as to whether an exception applies to a record requested under this Act, the principle set out in paragraph 2(1)(a) applies and the record shall be made available.
Paragraph 2(1)(a) is that, all “government information must be...openly available”. This was the 's raison d'être in the last Parliament. He has now brought a bill, through his , to the House that would get an F if it were graded alongside what he suggested, not just in the election campaign but as a private member of the House.
As I said, not only is this a broken promise, it is 31 broken promises because he said that every minister of that front bench would have to have his or office open to disclosure under the Access to Information Act. That was a broken promise for a couple of rows of Parliament.
He then said that the purpose was to always lean in favour of disclosure, that holding back documents should be rare and specific. In this bill, there is also a paragraph that says that, if in the opinion of someone, it is a frivolous request, he or she does not have to disclose it either. This is an exception that one can drive a truck through in what someone might consider frivolous. Therefore, the lofty language and goals of the in the last Parliament certainly did not make their way into Bill .
My colleague from did a great job in outlining our opposition concerns with the bill. However, I want officials in the Prime Minister's Office to remind the of not only his commitments in the election but his commitment to this Parliament. His only private member's bill was on access to information and reform of Parliament.
Whether it is Bill or his commitments to never use omnibus bills, and I have lost track of how of those bills we have had, and how many times the has brought forward time allocation, the rhetoric of the Liberals in opposition, when held up alongside their actual record in government, is hypocrisy of the highest order. This bill is probably the best example.
I do not like being the voice of doom, but every bill the government brings forward just gives me hours' worth of material, as a parliamentarian. Therefore, with my remaining time, I want to thank Madam Suzanne Legault, who served Canada with great distinction and capability as our Information Commissioner for many years.
Many of her recommendations and the work she did, at the vanguard of global, open government access to information, was the basis of the 's bill and the Prime Minister's old thinking in this area. Once he was sworn in, he forgot all that. I am sure Madam Legault, like many other people, is disappointed.
Here is what she said when I happened to be at committee with her in the previous Parliament, in December 2014:
Over the years, I have also made recommendations to the President of the Treasury Board on various ways to advance accountability and transparency. I am very pleased that most of these recommendations over the years have been implemented by the government.
That was the Information Commissioner's testimony before committee in the last Parliament.
We heard the last Liberal speaker say that Stephen Harper was not in favour of open government, and that it was a one-man show. That is simply not true. That was a narrative the liked to bring forward and it led to his bill and his showboating on the subject. However, it was not the testimony of our officer of Parliament. That was her quote, that generally governments under her tenure had responded, generally the president of the treasury board had responded to modernization.
I hope the Liberals remove, from their talking points, the aspersions they are casting at Mr. Harper, because they simply are not true. I would refer them to the testimony of Madam Legault and her great record. I asked her some difficult questions that day and she handled them with capability and aplomb. She also ran her department very effectively.
This bill would give more resources to the department, and that is needed. In the last Parliament, I think she lapsed $30,000. I have literally never seen a department run so efficiently. It is impossible for government to meet all its estimates right on. There always will be a lapse or a request for more funds. The department ran a very capable program at a time. Under her watch, there was a 30% increase in access to information requests. That department used technology and a number of means to modernize.
Another thing I see lacking in the bill, and I spoke about this in the last Parliament, is that the Access to Information Act comes from 1983, when the 's father was the prime minister. The cost for an access request was $5 in 1983. It has not changed, and it should. The testimony given by Madam Legault suggested that it was a $1,300 internal cost for each request. We want to have open and accessible government, but $1,300 is the internal cost.
With requests going up by 30%, we need to change that. In fact, 21,000 requests of all departments of the government are commercial in nature. I used to see this as a corporate lawyer, companies looking at regulatory issues would submit an access to information because there was no barrier to just firing in thousands of requests. With 55,000 requests, on average, per year, and 30,000 of those being commercial requests, that is $71 million in costs for law firms, accountant firms, and businesses requesting information.
I have always been an advocate of a zero cost for a member of the public, one of our great people interested in democracy, but more like a $25 or $50 cost for a corporation other than a media outlet. We actually could stop some of the frivolous requests being made and clogging the system. John or Jane public member would have full access, but more of a threshold to show we changed a bit since 1983
I would refer the and members of his government to his bill from the last Parliament. I hope we can amend Bill to capture some of the promises that clearly have been broken.
Mr. Speaker, the member knows quite well that it is not a valid point of order. Trying to attempt to change the topic is not going to stop me from telling the truth as to what actually took place. I know that the member across the way might be a little sore, because we remember that it was the leader of the Liberal Party back then that mandated that all Liberal MPs participate in proactive disclosure. As a party, we dedicated the resources to ensure that it would be the case.
A couple of months later, the Conservatives saw the light and agreed that because the Liberals were now doing it, maybe they should be doing it too. They succumbed to public pressure, or common sense, as we would like to think, and we had the Conservatives agree that they would buy into proactive disclosure. We were grateful at the time.
Our New Democratic friends, on the other hand, needed a little more persuasion. A number of months went by, and we introduced an opposition motion, which the government of the day supported. The Conservatives and the Liberals were onside. The NDP did not want to be the odd ones out, so its members supported it. We are grateful. Today we have proactive disclosure for members of Parliament. We saw that as a positive thing. Today the constituents we represent can, through the Internet, find out where or how much individual MPs are spending through proactive disclosure. Again, we see that as positive.
Bringing it forward to today, we are talking about an expansion of proactive disclosure. The leader of the Liberal Party back then suggested that we have proactive disclosure for MPs. It took a while, but eventually, opposition parties and the government of the day agreed, and we were able to implement it. Now we have the , through the minister, talking about expanding proactive disclosure.
There are a number of parliamentary groups that will have to participate in proactive disclosure: the Library of Parliament; the parliamentary budget officer; the Parliamentary Protection Service; the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner; the office of the Senate Ethics Officer; the administration of the House of Commons, including the Board of Internal Economy; the office of the Speaker of the House of Commons; the administration of the Senate, including the standing committee on internal economy; and the office of the Speaker of the Senate.
This would be legislated proactive disclosure for institutions that support Parliament.
When we think of the benefits of proactive disclosure, there is the natural benefit, the one that is the most visual of them all, and that is that people can now click into the Internet and garner information that was not there before. That is a direct benefit.
One of many indirect benefits would be that people would no longer have to put in a request, an ATIP. I would suggest that hundreds, if not thousands, of ATIPs would become redundant. They would not be necessary because of this legislation. I see that as a strong positive, because prior to our having proactive disclosure, when it came to members of Parliament, we had to ATIP the information. If we did not like the information, we could appeal it. It would take weeks, in some cases months, before we might get the answer.
Now what we see is a more all-encompassing approach to dealing with proactive disclosure. Why would the opposition not acknowledge that as a benefit, because that is something this legislation would do.
I started by talking about how important it is that we recognize the need for change. Liberals talked a lot about real change in the last election, and this is yet another piece of legislation that would implement real change. I highlighted one aspect and hope to highlight more, but I can say that this is the type of legislation that was meant when we talked about real change.
For example, the commissioner would now have order-making power for information. What does that mean? Today, the commissioner, on receiving an appeal and looking into a matter, might make the suggestion that the information should be made available, and that is the way it has been for decades. For the first time, we would now have legislation that would enable the commissioner to order that the information be released. There are all sorts of things that might have to be taken into consideration, which I will get back to in a moment, but that is an example of real change, in a micro way, in one piece of legislation that we have put forward. It is something that I would think opposition members would see as a very strong positive, and I question why they would not want to support it.
For well over 30 years, we have had ATIP legislation. This is the first time that there has been any real, substantial change to the legislation. Within two years of being in government, we have a cabinet and a caucus on this side of the House that is prepared to debate this legislation, ultimately send it to committee, and pass it, because we recognize there is a need to modernize and we are not scared to modernize legislation. When the opportunity is there, we are interested in doing that. This is something our talked about in the last election. He said that we want to modernize.
To modernize does not necessarily mean to say that it is absolutely 100% perfect. It is one of the reasons we have standing committees. However, I give full credit where full credit is due and I compliment the minister responsible for the hard work done thus far in presenting the legislation and my caucus colleagues for recognizing how important this legislation is. That is the reason the minister has the support to advance it even further.
We talked about the legislation sitting on our books for decades with no substantial change, no modernization. Now we mandate in the legislation that every four or five years it would be up for legislative review.
I have heard some concerns from across the way, to which there could be a lot of validity. I am not going to discredit the ideas in some of the comments made by my colleagues across the way, but I also recognize that there are two things one should take into consideration. One is that this government has demonstrated time and time again that if a member has done the research and the work and has come up with a good idea at committee stage, the committee has the ability to advance changes to the legislation. That is very important to highlight. When I sat in opposition, it was very rare. In fact, I do not think any opposition member actually got an amendment passed. The same cannot be said about this government. We recognize good ideas that can improve the legislation, and that is one aspect that members across the way might want to consider.
The other consideration is, of course, that every four or five years this legislation will come up for a legislative review. When we look at that, we realize that we have a government that is committed to the ongoing needs of modernizing this piece of legislation.
Why is this legislation so important to this government? I would argue that the primary reason is that the government believes in accountability. It believes in transparency. This is something that is not new, particularly to the . Virtually within days, if not weeks, of becoming the leader of the Liberal Party, he was advocating for more accountability on the types of issues we are debating with respect to this particular piece of legislation.
I hear the criticisms from across the way. I can assure members that when they look at the election platform, they will find within this legislation a genuine attempt to deliver on something that was important to all candidates, because these are the types of things that we talked about at the door. We wanted to ensure that there would be more accountability. However, that does not mean we are going to stop here. There are always opportunities going forward.
I will reinforce one of the things I made reference to in the past. I like it when I hear our talking about the importance of representing our constituents in our communities here in Ottawa, whether it is inside this chamber, in standing committees, or in our respective caucuses. On the Liberal benches, we take that quite seriously. At the end of the day, ideas and thoughts that are generated and talked about do, somehow, in some form, make others aware of what is happening in communities across the country.
I want to highlight one of the greatest strengths of this legislation. It is the order-making power for the Information Commissioner. I believe that is a significant aspect of the legislation. It gives the Information Commissioner the power to issue orders in relation to complaints under section 30 of the ATI Act, with the exception of some of the clauses.
Order-making power will not apply to self-initiated complaints under subsection 30(3). It provides the commissioner with the discretion to make orders in relation to disclosure of records after the commissioner has investigated a complaint and determined it was well founded. It provides that orders issued by the commissioner will not take effect for 30 days.
Members across the way have been asking about the Prime Minister's office and about influence within the Prime Minister's office. In terms of what the legislation is doing within the Prime Minister's office, it is important that we look at the requirements with respect to proactive disclosure, mandate letters, and revised mandate letters for the ministers. I really thought that was a fantastic initiative by our current .
When the first announced the cabinet and provided the mandate letters, it gave a clear sense of what all Canadians could expect of the Government of Canada's cabinet. I see that as a very strong positive. Now we would have briefing packages for incoming ministers, titles and tracking numbers of briefing notes for ministers, question period binders as prepared by the departments, and travel and hospitality expenses for ministers and exempt staff.
I am really happy with that. I can recall that during the proactive disclosure debate when I was in the third party, there was the idea that not only should we be having proactive disclosure for individual members but that it should be extended to include the cabinet of the Harper government.
There is so much more to talk about. I always appreciate the privilege of being able to rise and share a few thoughts.