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View Bruce Stanton Profile
View Bruce Stanton Profile
2019-06-21 14:54 [p.29473]
I have the honour to inform the House that when this House did attend Her Excellency this day in the Senate chamber, Her Excellency the Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:
C-71, An Act to amend certain Acts and Regulations in relation to firearms—Chapter 9.
C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada—Chapter 10.
S-203, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts (ending the captivity of whales and dolphins)—Chapter 11.
C-82, An Act to implement a multilateral convention to implement tax treaty related measures to prevent base erosion and profit shifting—Chapter 12.
C-59, An Act respecting national security matters—Chapter 13.
C-68, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act and other Acts in consequence—Chapter 14.
C-77, An Act to amend the National Defence Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 15.
C-78, An Act to amend the Divorce Act, the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act and the Garnishment, Attachment and Pension Diversion Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act—Chapter 16.
C-84, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (bestiality and animal fighting)—Chapter 17.
C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 18.
C-88, An Act to amend the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 19.
C-93, An Act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis—Chapter 20.
C-102, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2020—Chapter 21.
C-101, An Act to amend the Customs Tariff and the Canadian International Trade Tribunal Act—Chapter 22.
C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages—Chapter 23.
C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families—Chapter 24.
C-75, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 25.
C-48, An Act respecting the regulation of vessels that transport crude oil or persistent oil to or from ports or marine installations located along British Columbia's north coast—Chapter 26.
C-83, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and another Act—Chapter 27.
C-69, An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts—Chapter 28.
C-97, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 19, 2019 and other measures—Chapter 29.
It being 2:55 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday, September 16, 2019, at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).
(The House adjourned at 2:55 p.m.)
The 42nd Parliament was dissolved by Royal Proclamation on September 11, 2019.
Aboriginal languagesAboriginal peoplesAccess for disabled peopleAccess to informationAdjournmentAgriculture, environment and natural res ...British ColumbiaBudget 2019 (March 19, 2019)C-101, An Act to amend the Customs Tarif ...C-102, An Act for granting to Her Majest ...C-48, An Act respecting the regulation o ... ...Show all topics
View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Geoff Regan Profile
2019-06-18 15:10 [p.29312]
It being 3:10 p.m., pursuant to order made on Tuesday, May 28, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion to concur in the Senate amendments to Bill C-58.
Call in the members.
View Peter Julian Profile
View Peter Julian Profile
2019-06-17 20:38 [p.29233]
Mr. Speaker, I have to comment on what just transpired. The Liberals are slapping each other on the back because they passed a motion that is meaningless. Tomorrow they are going to rubber-stamp the Trans Mountain pipeline, which will dramatically increase greenhouse gas production in the country. The hypocrisy is beyond belief.
That is extremely appropriate when we see the hypocrisy contained in Bill C-58, which should be called “another Liberal broken promise act”, because, again, the Liberals are breaking the solemn commitments they made back in 2015.
View Peter Julian Profile
Members will recall that back in 2015, the Prime Minister made a whole series of commitments, including that he was going to work with all members of the House of Commons. Instead what we have seen is a new tool, never used in parliamentary history before, gag closure.
It is a particular motion that does not allow opposition members, once the gag closure motion is moved, to even utter one word on government policy, to offer any amendments, to ask any questions, to, in any way at all, intervene on the bill, the legislation, the business before the House. It has been moved several times already in the last couple of weeks. So much for the solemn commitment to improve the functioning of Parliament.
The Liberals also promised they would do away with omnibus legislation. The Harper government was renowned for that, throwing a whole bunch of different bills into one piece of legislation and throwing at the House of Commons. It was profoundly disrespectful to members of Parliament and profoundly disrespectful to Canadians.
However, the Liberals have doubled down over the last four years. They have now presented more pieces of massive omnibus legislation than in any other Parliament in our history.
Members will recall that Liberals and the Prime Minister talked about bringing in democratic reform, actually reforming our election process so every vote would count. That would make a lot of sense. Canadians voted for that. The Liberals only got 39% of the vote and yet they have 100% of the power in the House of Commons. They bring in gag closure, they bring in omnibus bills and that promise, that solemn commitment to bring forward democratic reform has been thrown away.
The Liberals also talked about dealing with climate change. Tomorrow they will be rubber-stamping a pipeline that will destroy any opportunity for Canada to meet any commitments that have been made internationally.
The member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie estimated that even before the pipeline, it would take Liberals 200 years to meet the Paris commitments. The planet will not exist at that time if Canada continues to be as irresponsible as the government has been, both under the Conservative government and the Liberal government.
The Prime Minister solemnly promised he would address the massive housing crisis in the country. Tragically, we know that is not the case. The Liberals said that they would address the health care crisis and promised, yet again, that they would bring in pharmacare. I think it is the third time, with a Liberal majority government, that Liberals promised to bring in pharmacare and yet have failed.
After four years, we have a litany of broken promises. Perhaps one of the most significant promises, even though this bill has not attracted a lot of interest, is the broken promise on information being provided to the Canadian public. That is why I call Bill C-58 the “another Liberal broken promise” bill.
The Liberals committed back in 2015 to provide information to the Canadian public. That makes a lot of sense. Canadians have a right to information from the government. It does not belong to the Harper government. It certainly does not belong to the Liberal government. That information belongs to Canadians.
Putting in place an effective information regime that allows people to access information, important government information, important information that should be available to the public, was a commitment the Liberals made back in 2015. Like so many other commitments, it has ended up on the scrap heap.
The Information Commissioner called Bill C-58, the “another Liberal broken promise” bill, regressive and went so far as to say that the access to information regime would be better under the status quo than under Bill C-58.
Is that not a sad commentary, that a Liberal government, four years later, has so little to show for itself except for a litany of broken promises solemnly delivered in 2015? Canadians believed them. I certainly thought, and I think most Canadians believed, that when the Prime Minister made those solemn commitments that he had at least the intention of keeping them. However, the Liberals have not. As the Access to Information Commissioner reminds us, the bill that the Liberals have brought forward is worse than what currently exists.
How did the Liberals fall so short? Despite committing to so many things, discarding their promises on the scrap heap of broken Liberal promises history, how did they even get the access to information wrong? Four points need to be brought to bear regarding why the Liberals failed so lamentably on access to information.
To be sure, the Conservatives did the same thing when they were in power. They said they would enhance access to information for the public, recognizing that Canadians felt they should have a right to access the information that was available to the federal government. It is a fundamental tenet of democracy, that information available to the federal government is available to Canadians. When we do things in the House of Commons and speak in public, that information is available. When government ministers do things in private, that should also be available through access to information.
It is the Canadians' government. It is Canadians who choose their parliamentarians. It is Canadians who ultimately decide who governs them. Because of this, it is fundamental that Canadians have access to information.
Bill C-58, which is worse than the existing access to information law, has a number of key exemptions or shortcomings, deliberate attempts to undercut the access to information regime that the Liberals planted in the legislation. It has essentially put poison pills in the legislation. They have a beautiful title about enhancing access to information, but we must look at the details, as New Democrats do. We always do our homework and always pore through legislation to ensure there is at least a semblance of reality in what is written in the legislation, as opposed to the political spin that comes from the Liberal government.
First, there was a recommendation that the coverage of access to information include ministers' offices and the Prime Minister's Office. This is another key commitment from the 2015 election that has been broken. Given the incredible scandal regarding SNC-Lavalin, it is absolutely fundamental that Canadians can access information related to what transpires in the Prime Minister's Office and in ministerial offices. It is a no-brainer. So many democracies around the world have already incorporated into their access to information regimes that ministers' decisions and decisions of the prime minister's office, that type of correspondence, are subject to access to information rules. Unlike in so many other democracies, the Liberals deliberately exempted the Prime Minister's Office and ministerial offices.
Second, as the Information Commissioner has long recommended, there has to be appropriate sanctions for non-compliance. If the government or government members try to get around access to information rules, there should be sanctions for that. However, that is absent from the bill as well.
The Information Commissioner was critical of what the Liberals offered in access to information, because it would do nothing to reduce delays or extensions. This means the Liberal government can basically rag the puck and ensure that information is not available to the Canadian public.
In the last Parliament, when the New Democrats were the official opposition, we spoke out repeatedly about the Harper government doing this. It simply delayed things beyond belief to ensure that for all practical purposes, access to information was simply not available. Again, the bill would do nothing to address this.
The bill would also do nothing to narrow exemptions for ministerial advice or cabinet confidence, ensuring that, with a broad brush, the Liberals could simply stop the access to information system to which Canadians have a right.
This is the fundamental point I need to make. Yes, Liberals made a whole series of commitments that they have ripped up with complete disregard to the solemn commitments made to the Canadian public. They basically threw them out the window.
However, in terms of access to information, this is one of the most egregious broken promises. The Liberals could have approached this in an open way. They could have said that they actually do want to make sure Canadians have access to information from their government and that this is a fundamental aspect of democracy. They could have said that they would work with the NDP, because we have always been the number one champions in this House of Commons for access to information. We believe fundamentally in it, and, as in so many other areas, we and members in the past have always championed the most effective approach possible on access to information, including the member for Timmins—James Bay, who has felt very strongly about this and has worked in this regard for years.
The Liberals could have done that, but instead they rejected the NDP amendments and refused to improve this. We now have a bill before us that can only be chalked up as another Liberal broken promise. As the Information Commissioner said, the status quo is actually better than what the Liberals have produced. That is a shame, and we are voting against it.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Greg Fergus Profile
2019-06-17 20:51 [p.29234]
Mr. Speaker, the member is certainly a model of constancy. He will say on Wednesday the exact same thing he said on Monday, regardless of what happened on Tuesday. It is as if his criticisms of this bill are in a time warp.
When the bill was introduced, there was a lot of commentary on that. The hon. member's party made a number of amendments. A number of those amendments were accepted when the bill went to committee. It was improved on the House side. It was further improved on the Senate side. The government has accepted many of the amendments that were introduced by the Senate. Indeed, the current Information Commissioner said that a lot of the issues that were raised by the former information commissioner were addressed in this bill. The Information Commissioner said that this bill should pass and that it is an important improvement on the existing legislation, which, I might add, has not been changed since the 1980s.
Would the member at least do us a favour and recognize the number of improvements that have been made to this legislation, and also the comments of the current Information Commissioner, who called upon Parliament to pass this bill into law because it is an improvement over the existing situation?
View Peter Julian Profile
View Peter Julian Profile
2019-06-17 20:52 [p.29235]
Mr. Speaker, I have worked with the member in the finance committee, and I like the member very much. It is clear to Canadians that when he says that he thinks there is support from the Information Commissioner, he is hedging his bets. He knows full well why. The reality is that this simply does not pass the test.
The member also mentioned that the Liberals did accept an amendment or two. The reality is that the NDP, as the member well knows, gave notice of three dozen amendments. These are carefully considered. We took the bill and said that there are a whole range of shortcomings and the Information Commissioner believes the status quo is actually better than this bad bill, so we would go to work, as we are renowned right across the country for being the worker bees in the House of Commons. We offered 36 ways the bill could be improved, 36 ways that would strike to the heart of all the shortcomings that were offered.
If the Liberals had actually been sincere in their willingness to improve this legislation, they would have taken the vast majority, if not all, of the 36 amendments that were tabled. The record stands for itself. They did not accept any of them. That is the problem. We have a Liberal government that wants to be patted on the back for having put forward the effort but does not actually want to get to the heart of improving legislation.
After October 21, I believe there will be an NDP government, and we will make sure that legislation brought forward in the House of Commons is actually improved. Canadians should expect nothing less than very strong work on behalf of their government to make sure that the legislation brought forward does what it purports to do. That is why I think Canadians will have a surprise for both of the old parties on October 21.
View Matthew Dubé Profile
View Matthew Dubé Profile
2019-06-17 20:55 [p.29235]
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech. He did a good job explaining the flaws in the access to information bill currently before us, but I would like to take this opportunity to say that we need to look even further. As he mentioned in his speech, the government came on the scene saying that it would be the most transparent government in the history of the universe. The Liberals talked about being open by default. However, my colleague pointed to various things that have thwarted those efforts. One example is omnibus bills, which my colleague mentioned.
How can we properly scrutinize bills when the details that will have the greatest impact on Canadians's lives are presented over dozens of pages in a bill that is 100-pages long? Ultimately, that approach means that there is very little transparency and not enough consultation on the part of the government. It is ironic that the government is always going on about consultation, since it only seems to consult Canadians when it does not want to do something. When consultation is needed to improve a bill, there is no consultation. My colleague could talk a little more about that.
Why does my colleague think the government did not adequately consult people, particularly the Information Commissioner? If the government had done its job properly, it would have produced a better bill. In the end, we did not get the intended results.
View Peter Julian Profile
View Peter Julian Profile
2019-06-17 20:56 [p.29235]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Beloeil—Chambly. I have been here for 15 years and I have never seen a more dedicated member of Parliament. He is a good representative for his region, which I know very well from going door to door in the Chambly area. He is always here and he asks questions that get to the heart of his constituents' concerns. Like many other members, I continue to be very impressed by his work, his dedication, his discipline and his way of addressing people's concerns. I thank him for his excellent work. He just asked an excellent question.
Transparency and access to information are not rocket science. Witnesses told us what to do. They said that Bill C-58 was inadequate. The Information Commissioner said that he preferred to keep the status quo rather than seeing this bill pass. The Liberals refused to listen and include in the bill all the solutions, amendments and recommendations that were proposed by witnesses and the NDP. We proposed three dozen amendments.
The Liberals had all the solutions they needed in hand. We were not asking them to do the work. We were simply asking them to agree to let the NDP do it for them, because we were chosen to be the watchdog of Canadians in the House of Commons. We are always seeking to improve legislation. All the Liberals had to do was accept the work that we did for them and for all Canadians. Unfortunately, they refused to do so. They said that they would not accept the amendments or the testimony and that they were going to do as they pleased. That is why we have here a bill that is just a tiny step forward when we could have made some real progress. That goes against everything the Liberals promised in 2015.
As the member mentioned, in 2015 the Liberals promised democratic reform. They promised to put an end to omnibus bills, which are undemocratic. They also promised to work with the opposition parties and all members. Instead, they are imposing gag orders, a bit like in the 1950s, when the opposition was prevented from saying one more word about bills once a closure motion was adopted.
For all those reasons, I would say that this is yet another missed opportunity on the part of the Liberals.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Greg Fergus Profile
2019-06-17 21:00 [p.29236]
Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague.
He said a few things that do not match up with current facts. That is what I found a little disappointing about his speech in this debate on the changes proposed by the Senate. First, he said this did not go far enough, that it was insufficient and that it was actually worse than the status quo.
I would like to know what he thinks about the fact that this bill gives the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner the power to ensure that institutions take her advice.
They have to issue orders to institutions, including ordering institutions to release information. It also eliminates all fees, like the $5 fee, which were pretty much an annoyance for access to information requests. It requires government institutions to provide requesters with a written explanation that provides a rationale for each exclusion or exemption.
The Information Commissioner sent a letter to the committee saying that of the three things she asked for, two were given. The one that was not was because we honestly disagree that she has the order to do so.
What does the hon. member think of those specific changes to the bill?
View Peter Julian Profile
View Peter Julian Profile
2019-06-17 21:02 [p.29236]
Mr. Speaker, I will need a few minutes, because I have a lot to say about the government's lack of action.
I think it is self-evident. When the Information Commissioner says that this bill is worse than the status quo, I think that comment should spur the Liberals into action. I am looking at all the rejected amendments. If the Liberals had accepted the 36 amendments suggested by the NDP, we would surely have had a healthier debate on access to information issues.
Sadly, the Liberals once again broke their 2015 promises and brought out a bill that failed to do what it was supposed to do.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2019-06-17 21:03 [p.29236]
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise tonight and speak to the government's motion concerning the Senate amendments to the access to information proposal by the current government which, as my colleague previously stated, was a pretty major disappointment for a lot of people in the access to information community who watch this closely, including journalists. There has been some debate in the House recently about the importance of journalism and government attempts to try to buttress the industry. Whether the Liberals are doing that the right way or the wrong way, that is another debate for another day and one that we have had already.
I do not think there is any dispute that the access to information laws of a country are one of the most important tools in journalists' tool kit who cover government. It is under the access to information laws, often in the absence of an informant or someone who is willing to leak information who is on the inside, that journalists are able to get information that is the beginning of a story about something that is going on that the government does not want Canadians to know about. That is why it is important that we have a good access to information regime.
I heard members on the other side tonight mention quite rightly that Canada has not had any kind of amendment to its access to information regime since it was brought into force in 1983. That is why there was a fair bit of excitement around the idea that Canada would get an update to its access to information regime. It is why people were disappointed when, in the view of the Information Commissioner, when this legislation was first presented, she said the status quo from 1983 is actually better than what the government has proposed.
In fact, we heard at committee not only in light of the event referred to in this quote, but the Duffy scandal of the next government and the SNC-Lavalin scandal that we bore witness to here in the House this spring, the former Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault, said:
When I was preparing for this committee, I went back to the request that was made by Daniel LeBlanc, the journalist who uncovered the sponsorship scandal. That request would not have met the new requirement under Bill C-58. That's a perfect example of how new section 6, as it is currently worded in Bill C-58, would amount to a massive regression.
What is interesting about that is the extent to which it shows that the rhetoric by the government around the Liberals' intentions to reform the access to information regime in a way that actually improves it did not match up with their effort in the bill. When we look at the efforts that were made at committee by my colleagues in the NDP to amend this legislation and to have those amendments summarily rejected by the government was another sign, frankly, of bad faith when it came to amending the access regime.
I was on the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics at the beginning of Parliament. We heard often from Minister Brison at the time who was the lead on the file for the government, about how great this would be, that we were now going to get reform for the bill after waiting decades and decades. This was going to be the government to do it. It was going to be wonderful, great and Canadians were going to have unprecedented access to government and information about government.
When the bill was finally tabled after a long wait and a lot of pressing in the House and at committee, about when the government was finally going to get around to it, it looked nothing like the promises in the Liberal platform. It looked nothing like the Prime Minister's own ideas for access to information reform that he presented in a private member's bill in the previous Parliament. One does wonder what happened in the interim to get a bill that was such a hodgepodge.
A lot of the selling of the bill is traded on a couple of distinctions that have been abused in order to obfuscate what is truly wrong with this legislation. Example number one would be the distinction between proactive disclosure of information on the part of government and access to information by Canadians who want to access information that the government may not want them to access because it may not be in the political interests of the government of the day to have Canadians access that information. I referred earlier to the sponsorship scandal, the Duffy scandal and the SNC-Lavalin scandal, all cases where government had an interest in having Canadians not be able to access certain information.
What we heard from Minister Brison at the time and his successors is that Canadians should be happy that the government is going to voluntarily publish more information on its own terms, information that it selects and in a format that it selects. There is nothing wrong with that. It is not that Canadians should not be happy that the government is interested in making some more information available in particular ways, but that is not the point of the access to information laws.
The access to information regime is not about patting the government on the back for making certain things accessible because it wants to and is presenting it in a certain format. We do not need legislation for proactive disclosure at all. A legislative framework is for Canadians who want access to certain information that the government does not want them to have. That is the purpose of an access to information regime and it is exactly there that the criticisms of the Information Commissioner and other stakeholders, like journalists, really hit the nail on the head. It is not that there will not be more information under some other definition available, it is that journalists and others who demand certain information of the government will be in a worse position to do so, including certain amendments that have to do with the way requests for information are filed in the first place.
The fact of the matter is that the government's idea was that people should already know a lot, not about the subject they are asking about but about the specific document they are asking about, despite never having seen that document or necessarily knowing which documents exist and which ones do not. Therefore, limiting the requirements of government departments to publish information about what documents exist and expecting that the person asking is going to have to know that, would know that or could know that is an unreasonable threshold for Canadians wanting to understand more about how their government works.
Another important distinction that has been equivocated upon in order to defend this legislation that is not very helpful is the difference between exclusions and exemptions. The committee heard the importance from the Information Commissioner's point of view, but also that of many stakeholders, of moving away from an exclusion regime. When things are excluded, that means the government says information falls under an exclusion, like cabinet confidence. There is no oversight of that. There is no independent person to look at that document and say it is not something that should be protected under cabinet confidence because it is not advice to government, it was a background document or something else.
One of the examples given at committee was putting all of the relatively less sensitive information that may be inconvenient for government to have Canadians know about on a cart, roll it through the cabinet room during a cabinet meeting and then say it was in the cabinet room so it is protected under an exclusion for cabinet confidence. That would be quite disingenuous. That would be a terrible thing to do, but some of us believe that kind of disingenuity would not be unprecedented in politics. If some members on the other side are not willing to believe it of their own government, they might believe it of other governments.
An access to information regime ought to create circumstances where that is not possible and Canadians can have confidence that unscrupulous governments are not doing that. The problem with exclusion-based regimes is that they do not give Canadians that confidence. The belief of New Democrats and many Canadians concerned with these issues is that it would be reasonable to have, instead of an exclusion, an exemption where the government could say something is a cabinet confidence, it was advice to government and it ought not be released. The Information Commissioner would then have the ability to look at those documents, as someone who deals with sensitive information all the time. There are civil servants and officers of Parliament who deal with confidential documents. We are not asking for something unprecedented. In that role, the Information Commissioner would be able to review those documents and determine whether in fact it is something that ought not be released because it is a genuine cabinet confidence or something that could be released because the government of the day was abusing that exemption. That was not addressed.
In fact, New Democrats wanted the Information Commissioner to have order-making power. The Information Commissioner has a kind of order-making power under this legislation, but what the Senate foresaw, as we did in our recommendations, was that order-making power should have the force of Federal Court. One of the virtues of giving the Information Commissioner order-making power was predicated upon the idea that those orders would have the force of Federal Court. It was meant to remove one of the things that causes massive delay, which is judicial appeal of denials of access to information requests.
If the Information Commissioner is going to be able to make an order, but it does not have the same force in court, that means people are going to have to go to the Federal Court to get it to back up that order and give it the force it should have had in the first place. That is certainly a missed opportunity there. The government motion today takes out the Senate amendment that would give that authority to the Information Commissioner's order, thereby undercutting one of the important benefits of giving the Information Commissioner order-making power in the first place.
Of course, one of the features of the PMO's private member's bill in the last Parliament and a commitment in the Liberal platform was to apply the act to the Prime Minister's Office and ministers' offices. I know that was something that Minister Brison was quite verbose about in the early days of the Parliament, and then it kind of fell out. It is funny that he should come up. It is funny that he should be the person in charge of access to information reform, because Mr. Brison, in another life in this place, was the minister responsible for defending the previous Liberal government for the sponsorship scandal. In fact, I am preceded by another member for Elmwood—Transcona, who called him the “clown prince of spin”, I believe, in relation to his performance on that file. He was, in the same form, defending the current government's reforms of the access to information laws, which really do not cut the mustard, but were being spun a good yarn by Mr. Brison. That was an obvious omission with respect to a clear promise in the Liberal platform that the access to information laws would apply to the PMO and ministers' offices. We had a very good example this spring as to why Canadians would want that to be the case.
We did see an instance around the SNC-Lavalin scandal of the importance of good note-taking when it comes to conversations between ministers and senior political staff in some cases or between ministers or between political senior staff. That is why the access to information all-party committee recommended that there also be a duty to document. Not only did we see instances where notes were decisive in testimony this spring here in Ottawa, but we know that in other jurisdictions there have been serious scandals about governments that deliberately set out to communicate among their senior political staff and ministers in such a way as to create a vacuum of documentation.
That is a problem for journalists and interested Canadians who want to use an access to information regime in order to keep their finger on the pulse of what is happening in government today. However, I would say, as somebody who has made a study of history, that it is also a real loss for people in the future who are trying to understand why governments of the past made certain decisions. Therefore, it is a problem if we do not have an enforceable expectation that people in government who are responsible for making decisions about serious government resources, whether they are financial or other resources, and bringing the power of government to bear through regulation and legislation, are not required to ever document the reasons for their decision-making. How then do people understand the decision-making of that government, whether it is the government of the day or a government of the past? That is why there have been clear and consistent recommendations for a duty to document. It is a disappointment that we do not have that in this legislation.
Those are some of my thoughts that I want to put on the record. For me, the conclusion is obvious, which is that, for as much as people have waited a long time for these changes and there was a lot of hype around what these changes would mean, they do not meet the bar.
I was reading in my notes that, currently, Canada is ranked somewhere around 49th in the world for its access to information regime and if we were to pass this legislation in its current form we would ascend all the way to 46th. I submit that a once-in-a-generation reform to the access to information regime ought to move the needle a heck of a lot more than that. That is why I think it is fair for people to view this legislation as a serious disappointment.
View Elizabeth May Profile
View Elizabeth May Profile
2019-06-17 21:18 [p.29238]
Mr. Speaker, as we debate Bill C-58 tonight, I cannot help but share the disappointment of my colleagues on the NDP benches. We were promised that this access to information legislation would create information available essentially by default, with more transparency.
I recall that when I used to practise environmental law, the joke among all of us at the time was that Canada's access to information legislation constituted freedom from information.
Now, we know that quite a lot of amendments were made in the Senate, and I know that the hon. parliamentary secretary wants to make sure that we are not caught in a time warp where we miss them. It is important to note that a lot of those amendments came from the government side. Amendments tightened up some of the language around vexatious questions being used as an excuse to reject access to information requests. However, I still find that this legislation falls far below the bar of what was promised. We did try, as Greens, to improve this legislation. I had 18 amendments come before the committee. Lots of us, as parliamentarians, tried to improve this legislation.
Given that there were some improvements, some significant ones from first reading, is there any temptation on the NDP benches to pass it as marginally better, or is it better to defeat it because it falls so far below the mark?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2019-06-17 21:19 [p.29238]
Mr. Speaker, my concern is that we are talking about a piece of legislation that has not been changed since 1983. I was born in 1984, so in my lifetime, this legislation has not been amended. It has not been changed. We can easily communicate the extent to which this act just does not pass muster by talking about the period of time during which it has not had reform. It would be unfortunate if these changes were passed and we could no longer communicate the absolute deficiency of Canada's access to information regime in a point as succinct and powerful as the fact that it has not been amended in such a long time.
There are certain benefits, perhaps, and certain improvements, but they just do not do it. There is no reason Canada should not be an example in the world of a good access to information regime. We want to pride ourselves on democracy. Of course, we still have a completely unelected and unaccountable Senate, so one wonders how one can with any real sense of consistency. That is harder to change.
One thing we can change a lot more easily is our access to information regime. I am inclined to say that there is a proper signal in the fact that changes have not been made for so long, and when we do finally make them, they ought to be the right ones, and they ought to make Canada a leader. We should not pass second best.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Greg Fergus Profile
2019-06-17 21:21 [p.29239]
Mr. Speaker, we all recognize that it has been 35 years since this legislation was updated and that at various times, different governments have tried to update it. One thing I like about this bill is that the proposed changes are supported by the Information Commissioner, who sees this bill as an improvement and would like to see it pass.
There are two elements I like a lot about this bill, and I would like to get the hon. member's opinion on them. One is that one year after royal assent, this bill would come up for revision again. What is built into the bill is that every five years, there would be a full review of this bill so that we could avoid this situation of having a piece of legislation that was last updated before the World Wide Web existed.
What does the member think of having something of that sort to make sure that this bill always stays fresh and that we have opportunities to improve it, especially given the context of the times, as information and technology change?
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