Bill C-554 (Historical)
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.
Pat Martin NDP
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
Financial Administration Act
Private Members' Business
May 30th, 2008 / 2:05 p.m.
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
May 29th, 2008 / 10:05 a.m.
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)