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View David de Burgh Graham Profile
Lib. (QC)
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-445, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (management and direction of the Parliamentary Protective Service).
He said: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce a bill that would change subsection 79.55(2) of the Parliament of Canada Act relating to the Parliamentary Protective Service. The act reads, in essence, that the director “must be a member of the [RCMP].” This bill would add the word “not” and mandate that the two Speakers, without outside intervention, would jointly select the director of our integrated security force.
While we appreciate the RCMP's efforts to integrate the security forces, this bill would give the Crown three years to complete the transition back to the House. Nothing in this act would prevent the RCMP from continuing to protect the Prime Minister in the House, nor from calling on the RCMP for backup should the need arise. However, all decisions going forward would belong to the House and Senate rather than to the executive. While it is not a matter for legislation, I hope that this would also allow the designated airspace known as CYR537 to be handed over to the Parliamentary Protective Service.
As I consider this to be, first and foremost, a matter of protecting parliamentary privilege, I ask that this bill be ultimately referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
I thank the member for Hamilton Centre for seconding this bill, demonstrating the cross-party support it will need to move forward.
View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Geoff Regan Profile
2019-02-19 10:14 [p.25475]
Mr. Speaker, I am now ready to rule on the issue raised on February 6, 2019, by the member for Hull—Aylmer regarding an incident of racial profiling that recently occurred within the parliamentary precinct.
The Chair is grateful to the honourable member for bringing this incident to the attention of the House. I also appreciate the comments made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism.
While the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer raised this matter as a question of privilege and it deals with a serious event, it is not properly a question of privilege. It did not involve a member of Parliament or engage a proceeding of either this House or any committee. Nonetheless, the member has given me an opportunity to make a statement to the House and to report on the investigation that has taken place with respect to the incident.
The member for Hull—Aylmer explained that he and the parliamentary secretary had been made aware that a group of Canadians, mostly young, had come to Parliament Hill on February 4, 2019, to engage with members of Parliament on, and sensitize them to, issues that black communities in Canada are facing today. Reporting that an incident of racial profiling had occurred during this initiative, known as “Black Voices on the Hill”, he asked me to investigate the matter immediately and suggest measures to ensure that Parliament is an open and welcome place for all Canadians.
As Speaker, I have responsibility, shared with the Speaker of the Senate, for the oversight of matters of security and policing for the parliamentary precinct, and the Parliamentary Protective Service has the operational responsibility for the security in the parliamentary buildings. These important responsibilities embody far more than just the physical aspects of keeping people safe when here on Parliament Hill. The racial profiling incident cannot be condoned and must be dealt with swiftly and purposefully.
A complaint was quickly raised in the House, and the Parliamentary Protective Service replied with a full and unreserved apology, stating:
We offer our apologies to the participants for the situation that they experienced. Our security personnel must always conduct themselves with professionalism and respect towards parliamentarians, employees and visitors. We need to do a better job in ensuring that this standard is maintained across our workforce. The Parliamentary Protective Service has zero tolerance for any type of discrimination. We took immediate action upon learning of this incident and launched an internal investigation into the matter. Once the investigation is completed, we will be advising the Speakers accordingly.
The apology is a welcomed first step. However, it should not be construed as either a final step or a way to erase the harsh and unacceptable reality of what happened. Instead, we are resolved to learn from it and to do better going forward.
While one transgression does not represent the actions of all, one is too many and none can be overlooked, dismissed or excused.
All who come here must know unequivocally that they will be welcomed with equality, dignity and respect. To experience anything less here on Parliament Hill, the centre of our democracy, is a failure on our part and for that I offer my sincere apologies. We can and must do better, and we will.
As Speaker, I would like to conclude by making it clear that while there is not a finding of a prima facie question of privilege, for the reasons I have mentioned, this in no way diminishes the importance or gravity of the matter raised.
I thank all hon. members for their attention.
View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Geoff Regan Profile
2019-02-06 18:28 [p.25348]
I have a member rising on a question of privilege for which I have notice.
View Greg Fergus Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Greg Fergus Profile
2019-02-06 18:28 [p.25348]
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House on a question of privilege not only as the member for Hull—Aylmer but also as the chair of the black caucus.
Two days ago, during this Black History Month, a group of black Canadians, mostly young black Canadians, were on Parliament Hill to engage and to sensitize members of Parliament on the issues facing Canada's black communities. This effort was known as “Black Voices on the Hill”. I regret to inform you that both the member for Halifax and I were made aware of an incident of racial profiling of this group of young Canadians.
This place belongs to all Canadians. Therefore, I ask you to investigate this matter immediately and to suggest measures to make this place the welcoming and open place it should be for all Canadians.
View Andy Fillmore Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Andy Fillmore Profile
2019-02-06 18:29 [p.25349]
Mr. Speaker, I rise on the same question of privilege as the member of Parliament for Halifax and as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism.
Following the Government of Canada's Black History Month gala event at the National Arts Centre on Monday, February 4, I was approached by several constituents of my riding of Halifax who were in Ottawa to participate in “Black Voices on the Hill” earlier that day. They shared with me their deep disappointment at the alleged incident of racial profiling in the parliamentary precinct described by the member for Hull—Aylmer. Later that night, I was contacted directly by another Halifax constituent, who had been a witness to the incident.
There is grave concern in my community over this experience, so I too am respectfully requesting that you look into this matter and report back to this House on your findings, as well as any actions that may have been or may be taken to rectify this upsetting incident.
View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Geoff Regan Profile
2019-02-06 18:30 [p.25349]
I thank the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer for raising this question and also the hon. member for Halifax for his comments.
I take this matter very seriously. I will look into the matter and return to the House in due course.
View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Geoff Regan Profile
2018-11-28 15:37 [p.24101]
I have the honour to lay upon the table a document concerning the designation of premises for the purposes of the definition of “parliamentary precinct” in section 79.51 of the Parliament of Canada Act.
View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Geoff Regan Profile
2018-11-20 15:20 [p.23624]
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on November 1, 2018, by the hon. member for Windsor West concerning the use of alcohol and other substances within the parliamentary precinct. I want to thank the member for Windsor West for having raised the matter.
In his intervention, the member alleged that there had been several incidents recently, related to the use of alcohol within the parliamentary precinct that were inconsistent with Ontario laws and with keeping Parliament a safe workplace. While acknowledging that some work has already been done, he asked that I, as Speaker, report back to the House on this issue, as well as those he raised with me previously about providing a more holistic and consistent approach to the use of alcohol on the Hill.
As indicated by the member for Windsor West, he asked me in January of this year to address the issue of alcohol on Parliament Hill at the Board of Internal Economy. In response, I referred the member to his House leader, who is a member of the board. He indicated that some progress was made using this approach.
Subsection 52.3 of the Parliament of Canada Act gives the board, not the Speaker, the legal authority to:
...act on all financial and administrative matters respecting
(a) the House of Commons, its premises and its staff; and
(b) the members of the House of Commons.
Accordingly, the right forum to raise such matters as raised by the member for Windsor West remains the Board of Internal Economy.
While the member rightfully noted that not all members have a House leader who can raise issues on their behalf at the board, Speaker Parent reminded us on April 23, 1998, at page 6037 of the Debates that, “As a general rule I as Speaker of the House represent the independent members on the Board of Internal Economy.”
Members from caucuses not represented on the board and independent members should feel free to approach me at any time on any matter. I am pleased to be their spokesperson if they wish to be heard on this or any other issue. I also encourage them to make their views known to other board members.
While I cannot conclude that there is a prima facie question of privilege in this case, this does not mean the subject is not serious. Indeed, it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that Parliament is a healthy and safe workplace for everyone. The special nature of the work performed here should never be used as a shield from this obligation, this priority. I look forward to our continued work on appropriate measures that will allow those who work here today, and in the future, to do so with ease of mind and a full sense of security.
I thank hon. members for their attention.
View Brian Masse Profile
View Brian Masse Profile
2018-11-01 15:15 [p.23154]
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of privilege with regard to alcohol and the use of substances at this place on Parliament Hill. I wrote to you on January 29th, 2018. Specifically, I asked for your intervention at the Board of Internal Economy to address the use of alcohol on Parliament Hill.
There were four major components. I will not get into the full details, but they were to provide a more holistic approach and a more consistent approach to the use of alcohol on the Hill, similar to the Province of Ontario.
In a response to me, you referred me to my House leader and it being raised at the Board of Internal Economy. I would like to thank all the House leaders for doing that. It has been discussed, and there has been some work in that regard. However, there are members who do not have a House leader with the ability to do so.
Since that time, there have been several incidents on the Hill that show that there is some question with regard to activity and consistency with Ontario law and the use of alcohol on Parliament Hill.
I would ask that you consider this a point of privilege in your intervention at the Board of Internal Economy. I believe that recent events show that perhaps an investigation of security, which is your responsibility, Mr. Speaker, would be appropriate at this particular juncture. I believe that this should be a safe workplace. I believe that the past practices of this place have required change, and it has not been easy to do so.
Therefore, I ask, as a point of privilege, for safety, my ability to carry out my duties, and the security of this place, that you review the role of the Speaker with regard to the use of alcohol and the issues I identified in my previous letter to you and that you report back to this chamber. Again, there are members who do not have a House leader.
I appreciate your attempts to deal with this issue. There is no doubt that the public and people who use this space do not need to be impeded, let alone members of Parliament, with regard to some of the things that take place that are inconsistent with provincial laws and certainly inconsistent with being a good place to work.
View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Geoff Regan Profile
2018-11-01 15:17 [p.23155]
I thank the hon. member for his submission. I will consider the matter and return to the House in due course.
View Marilyn Gladu Profile
View Marilyn Gladu Profile
2018-10-31 17:24 [p.23096]
Madam Speaker, it is my understanding that the Speaker's office is in charge of the parliamentary bus shuttle service. Since the changes were made, there have been numerous occasions when I have had to wait more than 20 minutes for a bus, and my parliamentary privilege was in jeopardy. Seriously, I have a medical condition as well that demands that I walk less. I would ask that your office take it under consideration to add an express Wellington bus and take away one for the Senate service.
View Alice Wong Profile
View Alice Wong Profile
2018-10-31 17:24 [p.23096]
Madam Speaker, yes, I share my colleague's concern and need to meet that service as a senior.
View Carol Hughes Profile
I appreciate this being brought to my attention. I will certainly take it under advisement and get back to the House if need be.
View Diane Finley Profile
View Diane Finley Profile
2018-09-24 16:19 [p.21728]
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, better known as the accessible Canada act. This is a subject near and dear to my heart. As we have heard from various members, we all want to ensure that those living with disabilities are treated as equals and remove the barriers they face every single day. I said this is near and dear to my heart, so I would like to start by providing some insight into some obstacles that I have encountered first-hand living with disabilities in Canada.
It was in 2006 that I had just been named minister of human resources and social development, with responsibility for the office for disabilities. Ironically, just a few weeks into the job, I was diagnosed with Grave's disease and Grave's eye disease. These are thyroid afflictions that, among other things, in me cause both extreme light sensitivity and extreme stabismus, resulting in my being legally blind for quite a period of time. More recently, I underwent complicated double hip replacement surgery, which unfortunately resulted in my need for mobility assistance tools around this place for many months.
It was during both of these periods that I learned just how inaccessible many things in my life were, including this particular workplace. They were simple things, such as moving between the Hill and my office, more than half a kilometre from the House, being unable to walk that distance, being unable to step up or down from the little white minibus. Challenges were also considerable in actually having to fight to get an accessible parking space here at Centre Block.
Mr. Speaker, as you will recall, even with the eventual direct intervention by the Speaker's office, it literally took months to fix what were supposed to be the accessibility doors at the rear of this building, doors which unfortunately malfunctioned more often than not. One of the main barriers to getting that particular job done was a clear lack of accountability for the issue. I will talk more about accountability later.
I also discovered how narrow certain parts of these buildings are for those who rely on wheelchairs or walkers, walkers that inhibit our ability to get around. With a disability, many of these seemingly small things all of a sudden can become very big obstacles, but it used to be a lot worse. In fact, under the previous Liberal government, the office for people with disabilities was actually two offices and neither one of them was accessible by those who were mobility challenged. That is right. People who use wheelchairs or walkers could not get into the building. They could not work there, could not consult, could not lobby, and they could not advocate for people with disabilities because they were not allowed in. I know this may sound a little farcical but unfortunately it is true.
Happily, the Conservative government fixed that scenario in short order and, in fact, combined the facilities. There was one office and it was billed as a showcase of how businesses and organizations could adapt to people with mobility, visibility, hearing or other challenges. In one place, businesses and other organizations could finally find the technologies, techniques, tips and tools that would help them accommodate people of all abilities so that these organizations could benefit from their skills to make those organizations even stronger. By the end, not only could people with disabilities enter this office to do business but they could actually work there. What a concept.
As the former minister for HRSD responsible for the disabilities file, I have to say that I was very proud to be part of a government that took leadership in removing many barriers for people with disabilities.
We created the registered disability savings plan in 2008, and we signed on to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The RDSP, as members have probably heard, was a breakthrough financial planning tool, the first of its kind anywhere in the world. To date, over 150,000 Canadians and their families have invested in this wonderful tool.
However, we did so much more for people with disabilities. We launched the opportunities fund that, so far, has helped over 20,000 people with disabilities develop the skills they need to actually get a job and, with that, the dignity and self-respect that come with having a job.
We partnered with the Canadian Association for Community Living on the ready, willing and able initiative to connect people with developmental disabilities with a job. We also invested in expanding vocational training programs for people with autism spectrum disorders.
Yes, we did more. We removed the GST-HST from eyewear that is specially designed to electronically enhance the vision of individuals with vision impairment, and also from special training to help individuals cope with the effects of a disorder or disability.
We invested hundreds of millions of dollars every year in the labour market agreements for persons with disabilities, to help the provinces and territories improve the employment of Canadians with disabilities.
We released a landmark third-party report, “Rethinking disability in the private sector.” This report spelled out, in very plain language, the many tangible benefits of hiring people with disabilities, including reduced absenteeism, reduced turnover, improved morale, and improved profitability.
I am, rightly, very proud that in 2007, our government created the enabling accessibility fund. This program was designed to provide direct funding to help community groups, municipalities and organizations improve accessibility for people with disabilities, where they work, live and play, such as community centres, town halls, churches, arenas, and so many more local spots.
Over 3,700 facilities were made more accessible through this program. In 2013, we recognized both the value and the success of this program, originally billed as a temporary one, by making the funding permanent. I have to say that when we launched that particular program over 10 years ago, I never expected that I would be so appreciative of the results of those investments 10 years later. I am surely glad they were there, as are thousands and thousands of Canadians who use them every day.
Among many other tax aids, we also created the home accessibility tax credit, for both seniors and those living with disabilities, to renovate and make their own homes more accessible, giving them not just a sense of independence but in fact real independence. We did this because we recognized the contributions that people with disabilities can and do make to our nation and our communities. We recognize the value that a person's independence brings to their dignity.
This is not to say that the accomplishments of our government solved every problem, but they were significant steps in the right direction. That said, I am sure that members would agree that we still have a lot of work to do.
Take for example the presentation of petitions right here in the House of Commons. Almost a year ago exactly, a petition from my constituents was rejected by the Clerk of the House because it was on 11 by 17 inch paper. It has been printed big enough to accommodate constituents who had visual challenges. The paper was deemed too big for the House of Commons, by this House of Commons.
Under the current Standing Orders, petitioners can only petition the House of Commons if the petition is printed on paper described as the “usual size”, meaning letter or legal size only. I had to seek unanimous consent from the House to table this particular petition. Thanks to my colleagues on all sides, unanimous consent was granted and I was allowed to table the petition. However, quite frankly, there is so much text required to be included on a petition now that the font used has to be pretty small if it is going to fit on 8 ½" by 11" piece of paper. That is not fair. It is not fair to our constituents. In fact, it is such a backward a policy to limit the size of paper if all of the required information is there. Personally, I believe that every Canadian should be able to submit a petition on larger paper if it means they can read what they are signing. I do not think that is an unreasonable thing to require.
As someone who was once legally blind, and as the former minister responsible for the disabilities office, I regularly encouraged many institutions and organizations to adopt more accessible friendly policies. It is very disappointing to me that the House is not taking the same approach, at least not so far. Not only does this guideline fail to provide accessibility to Canadians who are visually impaired, but it is also a barrier to their being able to access and fully participate in their government with the same level of engagement as those without visibility challenges.
I am grateful to the House for granting me unanimous consent to table the petition. Frankly, I was hopeful that having this issue brought before the procedure and House affairs committee, or as we know it better, PROC, would lead to positive and permanent change. Sadly, I am now hearing that government members of PROC, the same people introducing Bill C-81, for some strange reason are now withholding their support for this change, a change they once seemed to support. Frankly, I do not understand it. If the government were truly serious about addressing the issues facing Canadians with disabilities, it would have addressed the Standing Order by now. Instead, here we are almost a year later, and Standing Order 36(1.1)(c) still has not been updated. Unfortunately, I wish I could say this was just an oversight. Sadly, it does not seem to be.
During the 2015 election, the Liberals campaigned on a promise to make life more accessible for Canadians with disabilities. For each cabinet shuffle, it has been part of the minister's mandate letter to consult and introduce legislation on this subject as quickly as possible. Here we are three years later and are getting a bill from a minister that is said to have been the result of extreme consultations across Canada. I have no doubt the minister and her staff did extensive consultations across the country on this matter. That is what they claim; it must be true. However, one would normally have expected something of deeper value and more tangible change to have been proposed as a result. Instead, all this piece of legislation does is propose the creation of yet another agency, at a cost of $290 million to taxpayers.
Here is the sad part. None of the money would actually be spent on helping Canadians who face accessibility issues on a day-to-day basis. Instead, it would go to hiring more bureaucrats and paying auditors to audit all government buildings and buildings that fall under federal jurisdiction, such as banks, and for more consultations on what the standard regulations for accessibility should be. In my humble opinion, this would be a waste of money. We do not need more consultations to develop regulations. We have those already. As a matter of fact, during our time in government, we spent many millions of dollars making hundreds of federal buildings more accessible. When we put that in the budget, the Liberals voted against it. We were able to do all of these updates and set regulations without the need for yet another multi-million dollar agency to develop another report.
The proposed legislation says that the regulations, after being developed over the next six years, would apply to the Parliament buildings, among other places.
I have a few questions for the minister. As members of Parliament, we all have at least two offices: one in Ottawa and one, although often more, in the riding. Would auditors be auditing our constituency offices to ensure that they comply with these new regulations? If our offices do not comply, who would be responsible for paying for the upgrades?
I know from my own experience that it was extremely difficult to find office space that was both accessible and affordable in many small towns. Our member office budgets would not cover the cost to make an office accessible because of the high dollar amount involved. Simply building a ramp and altering the front door of my office would have cost three years' rent. The landlord could not reasonably be expected to pay for that, and house management would not pay for it.
In addition to our constituency offices, our Parliament buildings were not designed to be disability-friendly. While we as a government have made great strides in fixing that, these buildings were not designed with accessibility issues in mind.
With Centre Block shutting down in a few months for a much-needed 10-plus years' renovation, has the minister made plans to ensure that when this building reopens it will be disability-friendly for not only Canadians when they visit the Parliament buildings, but also the MPs, senators and thousands of people who support this institution? For example, will rounded doorknobs be changed over to lever knobs? What about the bathroom sink faucets and the toilet flushers? What about the many ramps that need to be built? Will they be built to the appropriate 1-to-10 ratio? How about a distinguishable baseboard that would allow someone with a visual impairment to see where the wall and floor meet? Will there be visual and audible warnings for people in the event of emergencies? Right now in my Confederation Building office the fire alarm is an audio-only alarm. That works for me and my staff, but what if I have guests or what about cleaners who cannot hear? What is planned for wheelchair access to the hill? Perhaps more importantly, what plans exist for true emergency evacuation by wheelchair or walker?
I know that while I was the Minister of Public Works, I took all of these things into consideration and required that they be incorporated into the Parliament Hill renovation design plans. Are those features still included? I know that many of those plans have been changed.
Will the minister ensure that Centre Block and the other Parliament buildings will be accessibility-friendly after these once-in-a-century renovations?
As I mentioned earlier, I am also concerned about the jurisdiction under which this bill is being placed. As the bill currently stands, the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities will be responsible for implementing this bill, yet much of the work will require execution by Public Services and Procurement. I am concerned that as a result of this, the minister will be unable to adequately assess and address the issues as they arise.
While I do support sending this legislation to committee and I do support its intended goal, I have some serious concerns about the need to create a new agency, the amount of funding requested, and how the division of responsibility, authority, and accountability for its implementation will be addressed. I am also concerned that all that this legislation does is essentially reiterate the minister's mandate letter. She has already consulted with Canadians, so instead we should be discussing the regulations, not the creation of another agency.
I look forward to hearing what other members have to say, so that together we can develop legislation that will truly address the very real concerns facing very real Canadians with very real disabilities.
View Cathy McLeod Profile
Mr. Speaker, on the front lawn of this building is a $5.6 million example of the Liberals' outlandish abuse of taxpayers' dollars.
The Prime Minister commissioned this arena, and it will be open for a very short period of time. The public is only going to have access for 45 minutes, which, quite frankly, is going to be a bit of a relief, because according to the rules, all one is allowed to do is go around, around, and around.
How can the Prime Minister justify this expense that will be on the backs of our grandchildren and children?
View Mélanie Joly Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I was pleased to announce last week that the Canada 150 rink will be open through the 40th anniversary of Winterlude and until the end of February. This will be a great legacy project, a first in front of Parliament Hill. Afterward, the rink will be given to a community in need. There will be hockey, ringette, sledge hockey for children and adult men and women, and many other activities. Thousands of Canadians will enjoy the delights of this great rink.
I invite my colleague to put on her skates. It will be a pleasure for me to go and skate with her.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
View Jacques Gourde Profile
View Jacques Gourde Profile
2017-11-28 15:02 [p.15691]
Mr. Speaker, with $5.6 million how many outdoor skating rinks could we renew across Canada to get young children and their families to skate for the next 25 years?
Instead of fuelling this Prime Minister's boundless egocentrism, why did this Prime Minister and the Minister of Canadian Heritage not consider investing all that money into several skating rinks. Instead of skating on just one temporary outdoor rink to the tune of $5.6 million for the sake of a photo op on New Year's Eve—
View Mélanie Joly Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Speaker, last week, I announced that the Canada 150 skating rink will remain open until the end of February for the 40th anniversary of Winterlude. This great legacy project, a skating rink in front of Parliament, is a first and the skating rink will be donated to a community in need, as my colleague said.
There will be hockey games, ringuette, and sledge hockey for young and old, men and women alike. Thousands of people are expected in front of Parliament. I hope that my colleague will join me for the Canada 150 celebrations.
View Gord Johns Profile
View Gord Johns Profile
2017-11-27 12:40 [p.15601]
Mr. Speaker, I really appreciate the concerns of my colleague from Calgary Shepard around Liberal spending. Perhaps he could comment on this. Recently, we learned there is a skating rink being built in front of Parliament that will cost Canadian taxpayers $5.6 million. This is a block away from the world's largest and longest skating rink at the Rideau Canal, and four blocks away from the rink of dreams the City of Ottawa has as well.
I am concerned. Not one person from Courtney—Alberni is going to use that rink. In fact, we need a rink. The five nations in the central region of Vancouver Island, Tofino, and Ucluelet are looking to build a hockey rink, and they need around that amount for the federal government's share to build a rink in our region.
We know the government is confused in terms of its decision-making, and governing is about decision-making. It is going to cost over $215,000 a day for a temporary hockey rink. Perhaps the member could share his comments and thoughts on how that is impacting people in his community, and across Canada, and how they feel about it.
View Tom Kmiec Profile
View Tom Kmiec Profile
2017-11-27 12:41 [p.15601]
Mr. Speaker, that is the member's pinch point, how the government is spending. The Liberals are bad stewards of the resources Canadian taxpayers are forced to give them through taxation. This $5.6-million project is a good example.
I will give him an example from my riding. Right behind my constituency office, there is a space allocated for a fully enclosed lacrosse facility that has been waiting for funds from a new recreational program of the federal government. We have the matching funds, $1.5 million, ready to go. This would be a year-round facility for lacrosse players—about 6,000 of them all across Calgary—to go and play. It would revitalize the area we are in.
My constituency office is inside the city, but I still find deer at my back door, among people who have nowhere else to go who sometimes sleep there, unfortunately. It would revitalize the area. It would fundamentally change Ogden, and the commercial area it is in, for $1.5 million of matching funds.
This gives us an example. This would be a year-round fully built facility run by volunteers, and $1.5 million is all they are looking for, but in return $5.6 million was spent on this hockey rink just outside Parliament Hill.
I heard a member ask why I do not like hockey. I love hockey, but no one can play hockey on it. It is a hockey rink with no hockey allowed.
View Cathy McLeod Profile
Madam Speaker, we are standing two blocks away from the longest skating rink in the world. Four blocks away at City Hall there is a lovely outdoor facility, however, the government sees nothing wrong with spending $5.6 million for a temporary rink on Parliament Hill. It works out to about 300 taxpayer dollars per spin. Now we hear it is going to be rebuilt in Ottawa. Will the minister at least commit to sending this rink to a community in the north where the season is long and the need is great?
View Mélanie Joly Profile
Lib. (QC)
Madam Speaker, of course we are really delighted with this new project.
If my colleague had listened to what I have said in the past, this rink will be given to a community in need afterwards. Meanwhile, Canadians will have until February to enjoy the great Winterlude and also this important infrastructure.
I hope I will have the chance to go on the ice and enjoy ice-skating with her. This is a great way to celebrate Canada 150.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
View Cathy McLeod Profile
Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that I did not get under the wire for my 20 minutes, but I will try to keep my comments confined to 10.
I am pleased to speak to the budget implementation act, but I would like to create a bit of context before I get into a couple of details contained within it. In the 2015 election campaign, the Liberals made specific promises to Canadians. They promised that they would have tiny deficits of $10 billion a year and that they would get back to balanced budgets during their time in office. They also indicated that dollars would be spent predominantly on infrastructure in the provinces and territories.
The first thing we have to recognize is that everything they have done since, in terms of the budget and budget implementation acts, has violated their promise to Canadians. The Liberals made a promise about what they were going to do with respect to deficits and how they were going to spend Canadians' money. That was an important promise, and it is shameful that they are breaking that promise.
The Liberals are breaking their promise at a time when it is not necessary. I will acknowledge that had the economy been struggling, they might have had to provide a bit of stimulus. However, they took office with a surplus budget and a growing economy. The Liberals are quite proud to say that the economy is going well, so why do they need to spend all of this extra money? That is an important place to start.
There are three areas that the government directly controls. It controls the creation of an environment that would be positive for jobs, opportunity, and growth. It controls bringing money into its coffers through our tax system, and it obviously controls how to spend that money. I would suggest that these three functions need to be carefully aligned. In this budget, which deals predominantly with the expenditure side of things, the government is completely out of alignment with the other three features. We need an environment that is going to create success. We need a fair tax system, and we need to have a reasonable spending plan.
I would like to touch briefly on tax generation. Not only do the Liberals want this $20 billion deficit with no plan for getting back to balanced budgets, but they are desperately looking for ways to get more money. The interesting thing is that they have floated out a whole bunch of ideas, but they have never done anything that would impact the personal wealth of the Prime Minister, the finance minister, or their Liberal friends who are enjoying some tax benefits that most of us do not enjoy.
The small business tax was an idea that was floated out by the Liberals. It would have hurt our small businesses in terms of how they dealt with passive income and how they would grow their companies. However, the Liberals did nothing with respect to tax avoidance schemes that are used by their wealthy friends.
The Liberals floated out the idea of taxing the health benefits of teachers who make $80,000 a year, yet they are not going to worry about shares that are held in a company like Morneau Shepell and the finance minister's introduction of legislation around pensions.
The Liberals also talked about taxing employee discounts. They realized that the accounting nightmare of charging taxes on the value of a Big Mac would be a little over the top, so they walked away from that idea very quickly.
The Liberals are denying disability tax credits to people who have diabetes. They said they would hire more nurses who would review the paperwork that has already been done by doctors and nurse practitioners. They were considering hiring nurses for the Canada Revenue Agency to review the paperwork, so they could justify their denial of disability tax credits for diabetics.
Free advice for the government would be that it perhaps should be spending those dollars for nurses on more people to look at tax havens and tax-avoidance issues. Very clearly, there is one set of rules for the Prime Minister and his friends and another set of rules for the rest of us.
I will now go to tax expenditures, the other part of the budget. I will start small and work up to some of the larger issues. Money matters. How Liberals spend hard-earned tax dollars really matters. I have some examples of how they are choosing to spend money. If people were to walk a one-kilometre circle in this area, they would see a cup, which apparently cost $2.5 million. It is some sort of structure sitting on Sparks Street. They have chosen to build a $5-million hockey rink. If people were to walk a little further, they would know that City Hall has a beautiful skating rink all year round, but Liberals chose to spend $5 million for a hockey rink that I believe is going to be open for about a month.
Just yesterday, we heard that $10 million is going to a private business to build a Club Med in Quebec. There are many in my riding who would say that if the government is going to subsidize and support the resort industry, there are many who be very happy to be at the table and receive $10 million. However, there was a reason, when Conservatives were in government, that we did not do that kind of thing. It was because we did not believe that kind of corporate handout was to the benefit of anyone.
I have to speak about something in this particular bill that I have had no reasonable explanation for. Nothing has been said by the Liberal government that gives me any comfort that this will be money well spent. That, of course, is the half a billion dollars going to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. That is in division 5, part 2. The original explanation from the finance minister's communications person was that this is going to create jobs here at home and will help the middle class. What fantasy world would someone have to live in to believe that giving half a billion dollars to an Asian infrastructure bank that is building bridges and roads in Asia is going to create jobs here at home and help the middle class? I would note that if there were opportunities abroad, Canadians are not precluded from bidding on those jobs anyway. There has been no reasonable explanation for that half a billion dollars. When I was in Yellowknife not so long ago, I saw a huge need for infrastructure there.
This leaves me a couple of minutes to talk about creating an environment for success. The north is a great example. It created a moratorium on oil and gas drilling and decided to turn significant areas into parks. The premier of the Northwest Territories said that southerners want all of the north to be their park. Southerners are taking away their dreams and hopes, and creating a nightmare for them. They are putting a carbon tax on them and they are going to be not only the most impacted by climate change, but the ones most impacted by a carbon tax, with nothing to support the impact that is going to have. They are taking away jobs and opportunities, imposing additional costs, and destroying a community.
In conclusion, I suggest that the budget implementation act is a follow-through on broken promises from an election campaign. It would go after law-abiding small businesses to grab dollars wherever the Liberals can and create an increasingly negative climate for investment. Although there may be a couple of measures that are reasonable and supportable, the BIA 2 would simply continue a very flawed fundamental approach by the government to the finances of our nation.
View Elizabeth May Profile
View Elizabeth May Profile
2017-10-30 13:59 [p.14670]
Mr. Speaker, last week we stood together in a moment of silence in memory of the tragic event of October 22, 2014.
We never had a public inquiry in this country as to the breakdown of security that allowed an armed man into this building. However, without any inquiry we do know that the House of Commons' protective guards performed professionally and courageously, under the leadership of the former Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers.
Without a proper review, the previous government decided that the solution was to put the RCMP in charge of all Parliament Hill security, essentially demoting the very people who protected us. As a result, we now see ongoing labour negotiations and small signs of protest by our protective guards, who are now facing disciplinary action. They are not being treated with respect in labour negotiations by their new bosses. I ask all members of Parliament to stand up for the guards, just as they protected us then.
View Ruth Ellen Brosseau Profile
Madam Speaker, just over three years ago, I was in the Railway Committee Room when we heard gunshots outside our caucus room. A bullet even lodged itself in the room's door. Before we knew what was happening, an officer from our security service entered the room. He calmly and professionally told us what we needed to do to remain safe. The officers protected us that day at the risk of being wounded themselves. They saved us, and I think that they are deserving of our respect.
These guards have been trying to get a collective agreement to improve working conditions, shift predictability, and eliminate forced overtime. They have decided to wear green hats, bracelets, and stickers to ask for the respect that they deserve, a very Canadian protest: measured, polite, and efficient. The response has been threats of discipline and even suspensions. The very guard who took a bullet three years ago is facing a suspension for exercising his fundamental rights. That is wrong. I ask the managers to come to an equitable agreement with the guards and show—
View Andy Fillmore Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Andy Fillmore Profile
2017-09-22 12:45 [p.13412]
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Vancouver Quadra.
I am proud to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-58, an act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.
Our government was elected on a promise to reinforce public trust in our democracy, and over the course of our time in office, we have put action behind our words. For example, we are reforming campaign finance laws to make one of the world's most respected democracies even more transparent. We have introduced legislation to make Canada's democracy more accessible to all Canadians. The debate today is about another of the fundamental concepts of any modern democracy.
We know Canadians cannot meaningfully participate in democracy when they are in an information vacuum. Access to government data is vital. Without it, neither the public nor the media are able to hold governments to account. That is why our government promised to firm up one of the key pillars of our democracy: access to information.
We told Canadians we would make information open by default, and in formats that would be modern and simple to use. Canadians pay for the information that is assembled in the Government of Canada, so why should they not have access to this data? This greater openness in turn will lead to greater confidence in our democracy, which is why this government has put such a great emphasis on amending the Access to Information Act with Bill C-58.
This is the first major overhaul since our predecessors in this very institution voted in favour of the current act 35 years ago, so it is long overdue.
The act, which was enacted in Parliament in 1982, and took effect the following year, came long before anyone had ever heard of the Internet. Governments in those days had far more administrators and clerks, because there was so much paperwork to file and record. One could not just flip a written message to a colleague by email. If one wanted to send an interesting news article to a counterpart in another department, one could not just forward a link. One's options were limited to things like a fax machine or an inter-office courier.
Today, technology has dramatically changed how governments operate, and we need to align our laws to take into account this new reality. We have a responsibility to make it easier to obtain information and once Canadians get it, that information should be in easy-to-use formats. We can think of the graduate students, like those at Dalhousie University or Saint Mary's University in my riding of Halifax, who are out there doing groundbreaking research but operating on tight timelines. We want them to be able to, when possible, obtain an electronic version of government records so they can more easily navigate and analyze the documents. Think of the time that will be saved if they do not have to go through hundreds of pages to find what they are looking for.
Now Bill C-58 has many components, but for now I would like to focus on how it impacts parliamentary institutions. I am talking about the Library of Parliament, the parliamentary budget officer, the Parliamentary Protective Service, the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Office of the Senate Ethics Officer, and the administration of the Senate and of the House of Commons. These institutions are foundational components of our democracy, and Bill C-58 proposes to bring them under the Access to Information Act to make them more accountable. The proposed legislation will require these institutions to publish each quarter their travel and hospitality expenses as well as disclose over the same timeline any contracts with a value above $10,000.
Another important component of Bill C-58 is the new powers it would give to our Information Commissioner. This is of particular interest to me, both in my role as a Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions as well as the member of Parliament for Halifax.
Not too long ago, I met with representatives from a group based in Halifax called the Centre for Law and Democracy, whose mission is to:
...promote, protect and develop those human rights which serve as the foundation for or underpin democracy, including the rights to freedom of expression, to vote and participate in governance, to access information and to freedom of assembly and association.
Some members may be familiar with the centre's work on the right to information rating, or RTI, which is developed along with Access Info Europe to calculate and rate the overall strength of countries' right to information laws.
The topic of the Information Commissioner was one I discussed with representatives of this group in my office during a meeting in the spring. They believe, as I do, and so too does our government believe, that the Information Commissioner ought to have the ability to order the release of records, or so-called “order making”. I am proud to say that Bill C-58 would give the Information Commissioner that power. I would like to congratulate and thank the Centre for Law and Democracy on its strong advocacy on this point, and for its ongoing work in Canada and across the world to strengthen democratic institutions.
It is important to note that the legislation would also give government institutions the ability to decline requests that are excessively broad or requests of information already in the public domain.
The government has limited resources, and this will free up government institutions to respond to other requesters. Of course the applicant subjected to a decision like this would be able to make a complaint to the Information Commissioner.
Bill C-58 would also oblige members of Parliament and senators to publish all travel and hospitality expenses, and all service contract amounts. In both cases, this information would have to be made public on a quarterly basis.
We know senators and members of Parliament already publish travel and hospitality expenses pursuant to their own internal rules, and senators disclose service contract information, while MPs publish the total costs of awarded service contracts.
Importantly, Bill C-58 would enshrine the current practice of also requiring additional details on the service contracts and travel costs of MPs.
This legislation will require a review of the act every five years, starting in 2019. This will give Canadians an opportunity to look for further improvements.
We believe Canada deserves a vibrant democracy that is transparent, open, and accountable, but our efforts do not begin and end with changes to the Access to Information Act.
We have been relentless since taking office to look for other ways to improve our democratic system. For instance, Bill C-33 would amend the Canada Elections Act to increase voter participation and improve the integrity of our electoral system. Bill C-50, meanwhile, if passed, will make important changes to the same act to make political fundraising more open and transparent. We are also taking action against cyber-threats and the danger they pose to our electoral system.
We live in one of the most respected democracies in the world, but our government will remain relentless in ensuring that any weaknesses are dealt with. Bill C-58 is a major part of this effort, and I am proud to work with the Minister of Democratic Institutions to advance it. With that, I welcome any questions from my colleagues.
View Andy Fillmore Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Andy Fillmore Profile
2017-09-22 12:55 [p.13414]
Mr. Speaker, it is hard to imagine anything that creates more cynicism than being chastised for doing the right thing.
We are very proud to be doing the right thing. It is overdue. We are taking a very good, fundamental step toward increasing openness and transparency through this bill and through many actions across the mandate of the government. We are ensuring that these changes impact a variety of our parliamentary institutions, including the Library of Parliament, the parliamentary budget officer, the Parliamentary Protective Service, the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Office of the Senate Ethics Officer, the administration of both the Senate and House of Commons, and the list goes on.
We are fundamentally doing the work of good democracy in Canada to create the most open and transparent democracy we can.
View Joyce Murray Profile
Lib. (BC)
View Joyce Murray Profile
2017-09-22 12:58 [p.13414]
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to Bill C-58, a comprehensive set of amendments to the Access to Information Act that would deliver on our government's key commitment to improve openness and transparency in government. If passed, these amendments would make progress in bringing Canada's access to information legislation in line with the communication advances of the last three decades.
The act has not been significantly updated since it came into force 34 years ago, when fax machines were cutting edge and information was stored in huge filing rooms. As we all know, however, the world has evolved considerably since then. Today, it is smart phones and social media, big data and high-speed Internet.
Canadians seek out information through digital channels, and government can now interact with the public through the web and social media. Moreover, the volume of information the government manages has dramatically increased.
I think we can all agree that the current act needs to be brought up to date.
We have certainly been hearing that so far in the debate.
This is why the government committed to reforming Canada’s access to information program. This modernization began with early action to improve access to information.
In May 2016, the President of the Treasury Board issued an interim directive that enshrined the principle of open by default. He eliminated all fees, apart from the $5 filing fee, and directed the release of government information in user-friendly formats wherever possible. Fees for processing large-volume requests could run into the hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars and sometimes deterred people from having access to public information.
Those were good first steps. Today we are maintaining that elimination of fees, and we are bringing forward transformative measures to enhance Canadians' access to government information.
Let me begin with one of many ground-breaking features of our proposed legislation. For the very first time, the Information Commissioner would have order-making power. No access to information regime is complete without powerful and meaningful oversight. We promised Canadians that we would find ways to empower the Office of the Information Commissioner to order government information to be released.
The bill before us today would do just that. This is something that has come up again and again in the debate as one of the key things that are a necessary change, and we are making that change. This change would strengthen the commissioner's role from that of an ombudsperson to that of an authority with a legislative ability to order government institutions to release records.
The legislation also proposes to entrench in law, for future and current governments, an obligation to proactively publish a broad range of information on a predictable schedule and without the need for anyone to make an access to information request for that information.
The amendments would create a new part of the act on proactive publication which builds on current best practices, applies consistent requirements across government institutions, and seizes on the opportunities of our digital age.
These amendments would result in the proactive release of key information throughout government.
This is a process that would take place across literally hundreds of offices and departments of the government. It would allow our citizens a greater understanding of government and would demonstrate effective stewardship of public funds.
Here is another first. Through this legislative system of mandatory proactive disclosure, the act would, for the first time ever, include ministers' offices, the Prime Minister's Office, institutions that support Parliament, administrative institutions that support the courts, and more than 1,100 judges of the superior courts.
This system of mandatory proactive disclosure puts a strong emphasis on increasing the information that is open by default and making information that is of interest to Canadians freely available on the web.
I would like to take this opportunity to highlight a few more features of the reforms we will make to our access to information regime.
Having just spoken about the proactive publication that is key to our commitment to openness by default, I also want to mention a few other things we are doing in the bill.
We will develop a new plain language guide that will provide requesters with clear explanations of exemptions and exclusions. The rationale for these exclusions will be laid out, a rationale that will be in the public interest.
We would invest in tools to make processing information more efficient. That is an important way to address one of the key weaknesses of our current system, which is how many access to information requests are not responded to in a timely way.
The bill would allow federal institutions that have the same minister to share their request processing services for greater efficiency and timeliness. It would support the new legislation with government training. There are many things we would do.
It is important to note that many of our changes were initiated at the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.
It would be subject to the oversight of the Information Commissioner. The bill proposes that if a department decides to decline to act on a request, the requester will have the right to appeal to the Information Commissioner, and the Commissioner could use the new order-making power to resolve the issue.
This is a new authority that could significantly improve the system, but it needs to be implemented with care.
We look forward to debating the proposed provisions with parliamentarians in a thoughtful way. All these changes were designed to address criticism from Canadians about delays and inconsistencies in the current request-based system and recommendations from stakeholders, such as the Information Commissioner and our colleagues at the ETHI committee.
We can never become complacent when it comes to openness and transparency. That is why the reforms before us today are the first legislative phase in what would be an ongoing review and modernization of the act.
The legislation would require a review of the act every five years, and as I pointed out earlier in the debate, the first review would start no later than one year after royal assent, so this is really an ongoing improvement process. These five-year reviews would provide an important opportunity for Canadians to have their say on access rights and would help us make sure that the system met their needs.
These reviews will assess what is working and how, and ensure that the act is never allowed to become so outdated again. Today, I am proud to be part of the first government to bring significant change to the Access to Information Act since it was first introduced over 30 years ago.
I encourage all members to support this work and this bill, and in doing so help us take a great step forward in updating the Access to Information Act.
I also look forward to continuing to work with Parliament, the Information Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, and other stakeholders to further strengthen our access to information regime.
View Pat Kelly Profile
View Pat Kelly Profile
2017-09-22 13:12 [p.13417]
Mr. Speaker, Canadians deserve a government that is accountable and open by default. For that to be possible, Canadians must have access to information about government decisions and practices to hold their government to account. While the Liberal government pays lips service to those ideals of openness and accountability, it has consistently fallen short of implementing them. We have seen this in a variety of areas, particularly with the statement by the Prime Minister on open and accountable government.
The stated aim of Bill C-58 is to update the Access to Information Act with necessary reforms. However, as with many Liberal promises, it fails to achieve them. We have heard them invoking flowery language and buzz words and making grand-sounding claims as a substitute for action in many instances in this Parliament. This bill is no different in many respects, and I will get to some of them.
An open and accountable government requires citizens to have access to information about decisions made by Parliament and government entities. Since the first Access to Information Act was introduced in 1983, the act has provided Canadians with the means to request information about themselves, or decisions affecting them. However, because of significant changes in information technology and in government operations and the passage of time, the act has not been meaningfully updated since it was first introduced, and many critics across all party lines have identified the need for reform.
The Conservatives introduced the idea of openness by default in the previous parliament. In 1983, it was originally a Liberal government that introduced the act. However, successive Conservative and Liberal governments have neglected to update it as required. Although I guess the current Liberal government is to be commended for undertaking the task in the first place, we see many shortcomings in the resulting bill. Bill C-58 does not adequately address many of the flaws in Canada's current access to information regime that we heard about in detail at committee.
When I was a member of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, we conducted a detailed study of the act and the issues surrounding it. We heard from numerous witnesses, from accountability watchdogs to ATIP officers in government departments to Canada's Information Commissioner, and others. We reviewed the commissioner's comprehensive report on the state of access to information in Canada and adopted many of her key recommendations in our own report. All three parties on the committee co-operated to draft a thoughtful report, with sensible recommendations for access to information reform. However, the government's response to our report is both late and underwhelming. The Liberals promised that phase one of the ministerial level review of Canada's access to information regime would be completed in time to produce legislation in early 2017. Here we are in late September and just beginning today to debate the bill, which many critics consider to be a half measure.
One of the primary flaws that witnesses at committee pointed out is the culture of secrecy throughout government. Such a culture runs contrary to both Liberal promises and Conservative initiatives. This has run across party lines over time. For example, the Conservatives hold that Canada's government should be open by default. In the last parliament, the Conservative government released a study titled “Canada's Action Plan on Open Government”, in which the Conservatives recognized the following:
The key challenge for governments is how to shift to an environment where data and information are released openly to the public by default while respecting privacy, security, and confidentiality restrictions.
Such an environment represents a fundamental change in government culture that requires government-wide direction to drive the release of federal information and advance overall objectives for transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement.
Such an environment of disclosure would be a stark departure from what witnesses at the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics described as a culture of secrecy among government entities.
According to witnesses like Sean Holman, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, the general attitude of the public service is one of withholding instead of disclosing information, and one of caution instead of candour. This attitude flows from the act and from cabinet. Mr. Holman put it clearly when he said:
We have a cultural problem when it comes to secrecy....Fixing the Access to Information Act is only one part of addressing those problems....the problem with the Access to Information Act when it was introduced was that it was grafted onto a secretive political system. We did not deal with the actual problem; we instead introduced legislation that conformed to the system as it currently existed.
He was referring to the adoption of the original act in 1983, which has remained virtually unchanged since then.
This is not to criticize Canada's public servants, since they respond to direction from the top. Those that enter the public service walk into a culture that already exists. Bringing about a culture of openness by default requires buy-in from ministers, the Prime Minister, deputy ministers, and senior managers among all departments. Culture cannot be changed overnight and simply by adopting a new law in Parliament.
Openness and accountability require timely responses. Witnesses at committee complained bitterly about the delays in the service standards for responding to ATIPS. They mentioned that extension after extension can take response times of up to over a year in some cases. This diminishes the news value of information for journalists. It puts people's lives on hold in some circumstances when they need vital information, and brings to mind the adage that justice delayed is justice denied.
Bill C-58 includes some of the committee's recommendations, the most significant of which is granting the commissioner the power to issue binding orders for the disclosure of particular information. Although it should increase the public's access to information, such order-making power is not a panacea for solving a culture of secrecy. Also, it was not uniformly endorsed in witness testimony, although it was the final recommendation of the committee.
The committee heard from witnesses like Professor Michel Drapeau, a retired colonel and access to information and privacy lawyer. He argued that switching to an order-making model is unnecessary because the issue and the problem that existed was the culture in government and the lack of openness in which departmental ATIP officers responded or operated in.
If within a department the ATIP officers and other members of the public service have a mindset and a culture to openly disclose information and to think first of ensuring that it is released on a timely basis, we might not be arguing about whether or not order-making power is necessary to compel disclosure. Delay is the biggest failure perhaps, which will not be solved by merely establishing order-making power for the commissioner.
We are glad to see that Bill C-58 requires the minister to undertake a review at least within one year of royal assent and every five years thereafter. Hopefully, that will prevent us from going another 34 years without a review of the act. It is important, because we know that the pace of change in information technology and the evolution of that technology is very fast, and as long as political will continues to exist to review the act in the future, it is good to have the built-in provision for review.
The provisions in Bill C-58 requiring proactive publication of materials related to Parliament, ministers' offices, superior courts, and other government institutions are a welcome addition to the access to information regime and should contribute to the culture of openness by default, but there is certainly a long way to go to establish that change of culture.
Proactive disclosure of sought after information should increase democratic accountability and pre-empt many requests, but proactive disclosure by various parliamentary and governmental entities is not the same as extending the scope of the Access to Information Act to cover them. It is not what the committee recommended nor what the commissioner recommended and not what the Liberals promised in their 2015 election platform, and it is not what the Prime Minister ordered in the mandate letter of the President of the Treasury Board.
The minister's mandate letter instructs him to lead a review of the act and implement certain reforms, such as ensuring that “the Act applies appropriately to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.”
Ensuring that the act applies to the prime minister's and ministers' offices requires more than proactive disclosure of a limited list of useful information, but this is not the only recommendation that the bill either ignores or only partially addresses.
Our report suggested several matters that the government should consider or consult on during the second phase of its review. I welcome an update from the government on the state of those considerations and consultations.
Open and accountable government requires an access to information regime that ensures timely responses to ATIP requests. This applies to all elements of the Government of Canada, with a few important exceptions, namely, to protect parliamentary privilege, cabinet confidence, and national security. This prevents government entities from wiggling out of disclosure obligations. That is why the committee recommended that the minister consult the organizations that support Parliament, such as the Clerks of the Senate and the House of Commons, and the parliamentary librarian to determine how to effectively protect parliamentary privilege and create an independent review process for such provisions.
To improve timely response to ATIP requests, we recommended limiting extensions to only those cases where strictly necessary, and even then, only for a maximum of 30 days. We also recommended repealing exclusions in the act and replacing them with exemptions as needed. As Ken Rubin mentioned, when responding to a question at committee, we cannot expect to change a culture of secrecy just by giving order-making power to the commissioner, and especially not if all the carve-outs remain in place through the retention of an extensive list of exemptions.
Eliminating exclusions, which are stated areas that the act does not cover, and replacing them with exemptions, which would allow government entities to refuse requests on specific grounds, would provide greater oversight of Canada's access to information regime. It would also shift the culture of the public service more toward openness by default.
To protect the vital governance work of Parliament, the committee recommended adding a mandatory exemption for cabinet confidences when disclosure would reveal the substance of cabinet deliberations, except when such discussions cover a period of factual or background information when there is consent for disclosure of the information, and so forth.
For ease of understanding, to reduce the volume of requests received and to contribute to a culture of openness by default, the committee recommended that institutions respond to ATIP requests by providing information in open, reusable, and accessible file formats, such as pdf, Word, Excel, and similar formats, instead of obscure and highly specialized ones.
Although useful in their own right, the measures the committee recommended would not create a comprehensive access to information regime with great swaths of government entities that are not subject to the act.
Aaron Wudrick of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation pointed out at committee that “as a general principle the federal Access to Information Act should cover all of the federal government, including both government-controlled and government-funded areas.” The principle here is quite simple: where taxpayers' money is being spent, the public deserves accountability and transparency.
To address such an extension of the act, the Information Commissioner stated that “The use of criteria as a way to determine which entities should be subject to the Act is a rational approach to coverage, as it promotes predictability with respect to which entities are subject to the Act.” Moreover, it guarantees that institutions performing similar functions are also subject to it. Her criteria included whether an entity is covered because it is publicly controlled in whole or in part by the government; whether it performs public functions under federal jurisdiction because it has power to regulate and set standards under federal jurisdiction because it is charged with executing federal policy; whether it is established by federal statute; or whether it is one of the many covered by the Financial Administration Act.
The government has undertaken a review of Canada's access to information regime and has made a first attempt at updating the act. We are disappointed that the President of the Treasury Board has ignored many of the committee's recommendations. What could have been a good start on a worthy project has become something of a disappointment to the members, witnesses, and the Information Commissioner herself, who contributed to a detailed study on the topic. The President of the Treasury Board seems to expect extraordinary credit for these meagre steps that do not seem likely to fix all of the problems in an access to information system that is widely described by critics as broken.
This morning, the minister made it out as if Bill C-58 would instantly transform Canada into a world leader in access to information. That is simply not the case. Many of the problems will remain in place. Comparatively, we have a country like Serbia, which was not even a sovereign nation but part of a federation under a Communist dictatorship in 1983 when our act was brought in. It is ranked ahead of Canada by international observers. This is not a credit to the current system. As well, we can compare to countries such as Sweden, which as had access to information law for 250 years. Witnesses could not believe that in Canada it would take months and months to get information that would routinely be released in 24 hours in countries like that.
The government is trying to take far too much credit for this reform. I urge the minister to reconsider Bill C-58 and correct its many deficiencies. I encourage the new members of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics to take advantage of review stage and amend it. Canada indeed deserves an open and accountable government, with a sensible and comprehensive access to information regime. We deserve better than Bill C-58.
I will not support this bill. To do so would be to reward the government for breaking its election promises and taking credit for window dressing, which it has described as a grand and comprehensive solution.
View Larry Bagnell Profile
Lib. (YT)
View Larry Bagnell Profile
2017-06-19 15:39 [p.12915]
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the 34th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, entitled “Question of Privilege Regarding the Free Movement of Members of Parliament within the Parliamentary Precinct”.
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