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.