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View Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Profile
Madam Speaker, I will discuss our position on the motion and share some of my own thoughts on this request.
As the Bloc Québécois critic for access to information and ethics, emphasis on ethics, I think it is important to explain what I think this motion is really about.
First of all, as several people have said today, the Bloc Québécois obviously agrees with the motion that an order of the House do issue for any document prepared by any department, agency and Crown corporation since November 4, 2015. Obviously, documents produced by any department should be disclosed and available to all parliamentarians.
I am a new member of the 43rd Parliament, and I have a lot to learn, but I know there are fundamental things we must do to be transparent, open and easy to understand, not opaque. Information relevant to public opinion must be entirely accessible. Dialogue is a conversation between two or more people about a particular subject.
The Access to Information Act requires that, upon taking up their positions, ministers proactively publish briefing materials within 120 calendar days of their appointment. The title and reference number of memoranda prepared for ministers by a federal institution must be published within 30 calendar days. Briefing notes prepared for the appearance of a minister before Parliament must be published within 120 calendar days after that appearance.
At present, there is no policy that provides for the proactive disclosure of these documents. Individuals must make a request to have access to all these documents pursuant to the act. They must then obtain a response within 30 days, unless an extension is warranted by the circumstances.
With respect to proactive disclosure, the Access to Information Act provides for time frames that are generally much longer than the 30 days to act on a request. It authorizes institutions to not act on a request for documents when they have already been made public. The commissioner has no oversight over documents that require proactive publication, including the application of exceptions. That is a step backwards with respect to the current law.
The commissioner recommends extending the scope of the legislation to ministers' offices, organizations that support Parliament and organizations that provide administrative support to the courts, with an exception to prevent any breach of parliamentary privilege and any violation of judicial independence.
The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics made the same recommendation in the previous Parliament, a few months ago, with an exception related to parliamentary duties.
Today we should be talking more about the urgent need to amend this legislation, which is flawed. Considering all these aspects, that is where we stand regarding this disclosure request. I will put it another way. Whether or not we are talking about legislation, I think this is really about transparency, plain and simple. Transparency is an attitude that ensures clarity, intelligibility, and complete accessibility to information relevant to public opinion. Once we achieve that, then dialogue can begin. I have heard the government talk about dialogue on several occasions recently.
I would therefore expect transparency to include initiating a genuine dialogue. Let's not forget that dialogue helps build trust and significantly enhances the level of discussion.
I would like to share an example that demonstrates the benefits of transparency. In the early 2000s, I was working for a wood processing company. It was a hundred-year-old company with over 200 employees. I was working for the chief communications officer. Although the company was privately, not publicly, owned, we made the decision to release all of the company's financial statements, good or bad, on a regular basis.
Everyone was surprised by the numbers. There were many different reactions. Some people could not believe that the economic situation could have such an impact on them. They thought that, if it continued, the company would really have to take action, and that could hurt them.
What was the outcome? The quality of the products shot up. This enabled the company to make up ground on sales and exports, which require higher quality in a market that is evolving significantly.
Because the company was transparent, all of its members were more aware of how they could be affected. There was no need to ask employees to maximize their efforts to overcome the obstacles created by the market downturn.
Alternatively, what happened when we presented results that were a little more positive? This reassured employees that the company was healthy and that their jobs were safe. It also improved productivity. Employees wanted things to continue to go well in the hopes that they would one day get a raise.
The Bloc Québécois works for taxpayers. We do not manage private funds.
Would it not be better to use a day like this to debate fundamental concerns and make the health, safety and prosperity of our fellow citizens central to our discussions and dialogue?
I do not even dare calculate how much it is costing us today, March 9, to debate a request that should be accepted by the government in any case.
For all of these reasons, I think that we should be debating more fundamental issues, namely the prosperity, collective well-being and sustainability of our industries.
In closing, I hope that today's motion and any other motion like it need never again be part of such an official request. I hope that, from now on, we will be able to work together on urgent and important issues. Otherwise, I might be inclined to think there are documents in the public interest that cannot be disclosed to parliamentarians.
It should come as no surprise to learn that the government lacks transparency and is hiding things from us. When that happens, it prevents all parliamentarians from working toward the common good, even though that is what we were elected to do.
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