Open Government Act

An Act to amend the Access to Information Act (open government)

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

Sponsor

Pat Martin  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of May 29, 2008
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Access to Information Act to implement reforms proposed by the Information Commissioner of Canada in 2005.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

An Act to amend the Access to Information Act (transparency and duty to document)
Private Members' Business

March 5th, 2014 / 7 p.m.
See context

Mississauga—Erindale
Ontario

Conservative

Bob Dechert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I rise at this time to comment on Bill C-567, an act to amend the Access to Information Act, transparency and duty to document. This private member's bill by the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre would make a number of amendments to the Access to Information Act.

I do not know if members of this House are aware that the NDP member for Winnipeg Centre introduced his first private member's bill to amend the Access to Information Act in May 2008. Bill C-554 was at the time entitled “An Act to amend the Access to Information Act (open government)”.

I will say that the proposals contained in that bill were not new. The member of Parliament was essentially introducing proposals developed by Information Commissioner John Reid in 2005. Some of these proposals were even endorsed by Justice John Gomery in his 2006 report for the commission of inquiry into the sponsorship program. The proposals are overall the same: expanded coverage of the act, duty to create records, repealing the exclusion for cabinet confidences, et cetera. Bill C-554 died on the order paper with the dissolution of Parliament in 2008.

The member for Winnipeg Centre reintroduced his bill in the 40th Parliament in February 2009. It was then numbered Bill C-326, and it was also called “open government”. The bill did not progress after first reading.

The same proposals were reintroduced by the member for Winnipeg Centre in September 2011 in Bill C-301 under the same title. The bill did not go further than the first reading.

Here we are today with Bill C-567, an act to amend the Access to Information Act. Bill C-567 is subtitled “transparency and duty to document” instead of “open government”, but it is essentially the same as the previous bills.

We can all agree that strong access to information legislation is essential to a properly functioning democracy. It is true that an effective system of democracy requires the government to be accountable for its policies and their administration. We all recognize that access to information legislation acts as a check on government activity.

In one of its first judgments regarding the act, the Supreme Court of Canada clearly stated that for a country to have access to information legislation is an integral part of democracy. Our government wholeheartedly agreed with this view.

Let me turn now to all the steps our government has already taken to promote open government, transparency, and accountability.

In April 2006, our government introduced the Federal Accountability Act and action plan. Through the Federal Accountability Act and action plan, the Government of Canada brought forward specific measures to help strengthen accountability and increase transparency and oversight in government operations. The comprehensive action plan includes the Federal Accountability Act as well as supporting policy and other non-legislative measures.

The Federal Accountability Act amended the Access to Information Act in important areas. It focused on openness and accountability by expanding the coverage of the act to include a number of officers of Parliament and all Crown corporations, as well as various foundations created under federal statute. It also facilitated openness by creating a duty for government institutions to assist requesters without regard to their identity, and to make reasonable efforts to respond accurately and completely to their requests, in the format requested.

However, the federal accountability action plan did not just amend the Access to Information Act to improve transparency, openness, and accountability of government; it also amended other specific legislation and strengthened the policy framework to improve accountability.

I will give a short list of the main things that were achieved through the action plan, which all translate into more openness, transparency, and accountability of government.

We cleaned up the procurement process for government contracts by enshrining in a law a commitment to fairness, transparency, and openness in the process and by appointing an independent procurement auditor to provide additional oversight. That is a major achievement toward transparency.

We did more.

We strengthened the power of the Auditor General by expanding the reach and scope of the Auditor General's investigative powers to help Parliament hold the government to account.

We strengthened auditing and accountability requirements within departments by clarifying the managerial responsibilities of deputy heads within the framework of ministerial responsibility, and by bolstering the internal audit function within departments and Crown corporations. This translates into a requirement to document decisions and actions in a variety of areas.

I stress once more that our government has already done a lot in the area of transparency, openness, and accountability, and we continue to find ways to do more.

For example, my hon. colleague, the President of the Treasury Board, who shares with the Minister of Justice the responsibility for the Access to Information Act, is currently modernizing the policies regarding the act and examining ways to simplify the process for access requesters.

Last June, the President of the Treasury Board launched the Government of Canada's next generation open data portal, providing unprecedented access to government data and information, and demonstrating Canada's international commitment to transparency and open government. The open data portal contains datasets compiled by over 20 departments and agencies, covering a broad range of topics, from housing to health and environmental data. By accessing the portal, people have the opportunity to explore local census or crime statistics, immigration data, air quality data, coast-to-coast mapping data, and much more.

In January of this year, the President of the Treasury Board launched an initiative where access requesters can make their demands online via the access to information and privacy online request tool. More federal organizations are now a part of this initiative. In the first 10 months since the tool was launched, almost 21,000 requests have been submitted using this option.

Let us not forget the open government initiative, which Canada is a part of. This international movement has translated into key achievements for Canadians, such as their capacity now to browse online through summaries of completed access to information requests from key federal institutions, their capacity to search the Government of Canada's expenditure database for detailed departmental spending information, and the proactive disclosure of financial and human resources related information of federal government departments.

What our government has realized is that there is no one single vehicle to improve transparency and accountability and to achieve openness of government. Transparency and accountability can and must be achieved through a variety of measures and instruments. The Access to Information Act is not the only vehicle by which to achieve transparency.

The purpose of the Access to Information Act is quite clear. It is to extend the present laws of Canada to provide a right of access to information in records under the control of a government institution, in accordance with the principles that government information should be made available to the public and that necessary exceptions to the right of access should be limited.

Thirty-one years ago, when it enacted the Access to Information Act after many studies, Parliament recognized that a balance was needed between transparency and secrecy, that not every government document should be made available to the public and that certain interests deserved to be protected.

The Access to Information Act is, by its nature, all about a complex balancing of openness, transparency, and accessibility to Canadians, and accountability. The Access to Information Act is a powerful piece of legislation that works. It works because it reveals what needs to be revealed, and equally importantly, through its exemptions, it protects information that must be protected for a properly functioning democracy.

Although we are prepared to examine the proposals in the bill, we also need to keep in mind everything that we have done to achieve transparency and accountability in this government.

Financial Administration Act
Private Members' Business

May 30th, 2008 / 2:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak for the NDP on Bill S-201. Our caucus had a discussion about this bill. We certainly support the principle of the bill. Quarterly reports for all departments and agencies is something that does increase the transparency, openness and accountability of the federal government, and we think that is something that needs to be emphasized.

We also note that the Office of the Auditor General has raised concerns about the ability of the government to satisfy the bill's requirements. In fact we believe it would cost about $10 million annually to implement this bill.

The Office of the Auditor General, while supportive of these kinds of measures, has said that priority really should be given to other initiatives, such as the ongoing adoption of accrual budgeting, which is a much more current, transparent and accountable form of budgeting, and auditing of departments' financial statements. Although there is nothing in this bill that is contrary to that, it really is just one small item in terms of the larger picture of financial and political accountability of the federal government.

Others have made mention in the debate today that we now have the Parliamentary Budget Officer, another step that was finally taken by Parliament. I want to point out that the proposal to have a parliamentary budget officer was first made in 2004 by the member for Winnipeg North, who was our party's finance critic at the time. She made that proposal because we were so fed up with the ongoing scenarios where the government of the day would make financial forecasts of budgetary surpluses and would usually underestimate the forecasts, really for the political optics. This would occur cycle after cycle and year after year. Our finance critic, the member for Winnipeg North, at the finance committee made some very strong proposals that were adopted by the other opposition parties of the day to bring in a parliamentary budget officer. We are pleased that has actually happened. Again, that relates to the bigger picture of financial transparency and accountability.

I would remind the House that several years ago, Ed Broadbent, a very respected former member of the House of Commons and the former leader of the NDP, unveiled a whole package of ethics which, if it had been implemented, along with a measure like this and along with the Parliamentary Budget Officer, would have brought tremendous ethics and accountability to this House. It is very disappointing that although the so-called Federal Accountability Act passed, it has been an act of many broken promises.

If we had adopted Ed Broadbent's ethics package, floor crossing, for example, would be a thing of the past. A lot of people are fed up with the idea that a member can be in one party and then, because of something that happens or because of political opportunism, the member can cross the floor without first going back to his or her constituents. We have certainly seen that happen here in terms of the member for Vancouver Kingsway. Part of the NDP's ethics package included proposals that would not have allowed floor crossing.

It also included real accountability for leadership campaigns instead of the half-measures in the accountability act, which still has big loopholes. For example, leadership candidates can borrow huge amounts of money, often from their own family members. We have seen that happen in leadership campaigns.

The NDP's proposal would have closed the revolving door for lobbyists in ministers' or MPs' offices. I have to point out that the Conservative government promised to address this in the Federal Accountability Act. However, some of the measures that were put forward to address those issues have not been implemented even now, many months after the accountability act was passed.

Another aspect of transparency and accountability that should be of concern to all of us is the lack of updating the access to information. In fact, I note that the member for Winnipeg Centre introduced a bill the other day, Bill C-554, which looks to update access to information. We see that as a very important tool for media, for organizations and for the general public, to have access to information and to have good processes available to them. This has not happened under the government, even though it was promised.

The list goes on and on around the issues of accountability and trust. It is ironic because it was the first bill the Conservative government brought in when it was elected. It put its brand on it and said, “This is what we are about”. However, when we look at the bill and when we look at what has not brought in, we can see there are many broken promises.

To come back to the bill before us today, we do not see it as a huge step in transparency and accountability, but nevertheless it is a measure that will improve access to information in terms of financial reporting. We need that in the federal arena. It will ensure that record keeping will become more readily available to members of Parliament and of the public, and that is a good thing.

For those reasons, we support the bill, but we must not lose sight of the fact that there are much bigger issues around accountability and transparency in government. We need to hold the government to account on that.

Open Government Act
Routine Proceedings

May 29th, 2008 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-554, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act (open government).

Mr. Speaker, I thank my seconder, my colleague from Trinity—Spadina.

Today, on the 25th anniversary of the Access to Information Act, I am pleased to present a bill that would change the name of the Access to Information Act to the open government act. It would have a comprehensive reform to many clauses. It would impose the duty to create records. It would introduce a public interest override in the application of the Access to Information Act and would create the situation where cabinet confidences would no longer be excluded automatically from the scrutiny of the Access to Information Act.

I should point out that every clause in the bill was written by the former information commissioner, Mr. John Reid, and his staff. It has been endorsed by Justice Gomery and by the Conservative Party of Canada because every clause in the bill was in the campaign literature in the 2006 federal election campaign where the Conservatives promised specifically to introduce every aspect of John Reid's open government act.

This is reform that is long overdue and absolutely necessary to lay the foundation for the transparency and accountability that Canadians expect.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)