Mr. Speaker, I appreciate having the opportunity to speak this morning. I will be sharing my time with the member for Richmond Centre.
Like the members who have already spoken today, I want to talk about Bill C-36, which is meant to strengthen Statistics Canada's independence. Together, we will look at whether this bill can achieve that official objective because it might also have unofficial objectives.
I think it would be useful to explain to our constituents, including the wonderful people of Beauport—Limoilou, that Statistics Canada was created in 1971 because the federal government has a duty to collect and compile statistics on Canada and its people. Its duty is right there in the law that sets out the federal government's responsibilities. Statistics are therefore under federal jurisdiction. Even provincial statistics are within the agency's purview.
Statistics Canada has been serving Canadians for 40 years. It has produced many studies that I am sure have formed the basis for many of Canada's public policies. Those studies have led to positive outcomes for all Canadians.
In our Liberal democracy, data are extremely important. I used data when I was studying political science, and I use them now in my day-to-day work.
Statistics Canada seeks to produce statistics on the country's populations, resources, economy, society, and culture. Statistics Canada is currently conducting over 300 studies, which will provide us with objective information that will help us make informed decisions while ensuring that the source of that information, the everyday lives of our fellow Canadians, is kept confidential.
I use these data in my capacity as an MP and so do my employees. The data are also used by businesses, universities, and scientists. They are used by the parties to determine their political platforms so that, when a party wins the election and takes office, it can develop informed public policies.
What does Bill C-36 do exactly? After reading the bill, my understanding is that it makes changes to four key areas.
First, the chief statistician would be appointed for a fixed term of five years, renewable for good behaviour and removable only for cause by the Governor in Council. That seems commendable. Although it is not the bill's intention, the chief statistician would nonetheless be authorized to choose where the statistical data would be stored. We think that could be problematic since the government gave the new Canadian statistics advisory council its name and so it obviously expects that council to advise the chief statistician.
Second, the bill provides for the creation of a new Canadian statistics advisory council made up of 10 members. It would replace the National Statistics Council, which currently has 13 members. I will come back to this later since it seems that this change will negatively impact provincial and territorial representation.
Third, under the bill, the consent of Canadians will no longer be required to transfer their census information to Library and Archives Canada.
Fourth, the bill will remove the penalty of imprisonment for Canadians who fail to fill out the census forms, a change that we strongly support.
I would like to say that one of our Conservative colleagues in the previous Parliament, Mr. Preston, had brought forward a bill to repeal the penalty of imprisonment for all surveys. Unfortunately, the bill did not receive royal assent before the writ was dropped.
Obviously, we support this aspect of the bill given that we wanted to make this change.
I will now speak to our position on this bill. We want to debate it in the House and vote to send it to committee for more in-depth study in order to make some amendments. In particular, we find that it is very important to amend the provisions of the bill that would change the National Statistics Council to the Canadians Statistics Advisory Council, a body with 10 members instead of 13.
We believe that this new advisory council would give the Liberals another opportunity to appoint their cronies. We have another concern. Since the council will provide advice about relevance, the surveys could be biased towards the Liberals and even friends of the council.
We find it hard to understand why the government must establish a new council rather than just revising the mandate of the current National Statistics Council, which currently has 13 members representing the 10 provinces and three territories.
Much like we did during the debate on the selection of the next Supreme Court of Canada justice, we voiced our grave concerns regarding the importance of ensuring strong representation from all regions of Canada on the Supreme Court.
Because the council is going to have only 10 members instead of 13, we find ourselves debating the issue through the lens of defending the federation. Obviously, the representation of three jurisdictions in Canada will have to be cut from the council. Does this mean that three of the 10 provinces will no longer be represented on the new council, or have the Liberals decided that the three Canadian territories, that is, Nunavut, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories, will no longer be represented? In either case, whether representation on the council is taken away from three provinces or the three territories, we think it is appalling.
As I said earlier, the mission of Canada's statistics agency is to provide information to Canadians, particularly for the development of sound public policies with objectives based on reliable hard facts. At present, the council that is supposed to support the work of the chief statistician so that he can effectively run the agency will not have the support of people who understand the realities of the provinces and territories.
Furthermore, the bill does nothing to address the concerns raised by Mr. Smith, the former chief statistician. He resigned last summer after voicing his concerns, which are being ignored. When he appeared before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates on November 16, 2016, Mr. Smith shared his three main concerns with us. This first was this:
...Shared Services Canada represented a major and unacceptable intrusion on the independence of Statistics Canada.
His second concern was as follows:
...the arrangement with Shared Services Canada imposed on Statistics Canada was inconsistent with the confidentiality guarantees given by the Statistics Act to persons and organizations providing information to Statistics Canada for statistical purposes.
His third concern was:
...dependence on Shared Services Canada was hobbling Statistics Canada in its day-to-day operations, reducing effectiveness, increasing costs, and creating unacceptable levels of risk to the delivery of Statistics Canada's programs.
The former chief statistician says he was not satisfied with the government's response to his concerns. I get the impression that this new bill does not fare much better.
For all these reasons, we hope that during review in committee, the government will accept our key amendments.