CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act

An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act (disclosure of information)

This bill was previously introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session.

Sponsor

Brent Rathgeber  Conservative

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

Status

Dead, as of Feb. 26, 2014

Subscribe to a feed of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-461.

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 provide that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation may refuse to disclose any information requested under that Act if the information is under the control of the Corporation and the disclosure would reveal the identity of any journalistic source or if the disclosure could reasonably be expected to prejudice the Corporation’s journalistic, creative or programming independence.

It also amends the Privacy Act to specify that certain information is not personal information for the purposes of that Act.

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.

Votes

  • Feb. 26, 2014 Failed That Bill C-461, in Clause 4, be amended by replacing lines 4 to 20 on page 2 with the following: “(iii) the total annual monetary income of the individual, including any performance bonus, as well as the job classification and responsibilities of the position held by the individual, and any additional responsibilities given to the individual, if that income is equal to or greater than the sessional allowance — within the meaning of the Parliament of Canada Act — payable to a member of Parliament, (iii.1) the salary range of the position held by the individual, as well as the classification and responsibilities of that position, if the individual's total annual monetary income, including any performance bonus, is less than the sessional allowance — within the meaning of the Parliament of Canada Act — payable to a member of Parliament, (iii.2) the expenses incurred by the individual in the course of employment for which the individual has been reimbursed by the government institution,”
  • Feb. 26, 2014 Failed That Bill C-461 be amended by replacing the long title on page 1 with the following: “An Act to amend the Privacy Act (disclosure of information)”
  • March 27, 2013 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

Motions in amendment
CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

November 22nd, 2013 / 1:35 p.m.
See context

Independent

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

, seconded by the member for Winnipeg North, moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-461 be amended by replacing the long title on page 1 with the following:

“An Act to amend the Privacy Act (disclosure of information)”

Motion No. 2

That Bill C-461, in the short title, be amended by replacing line 4 on page 1 with the following:

“1. This Act may be cited as the”

Motion No. 3

That Bill C-461 be amended by deleting clause 2.

Motion No. 4

That Bill C-461 be amended by deleting Clause 3.

Motion No. 5

That Bill C-461, in Clause 4, be amended by replacing lines 4 to 20 on page 2 with the following:

“(iii) the total annual monetary income of the individual, including any performance bonus, as well as the job classification and responsibilities of the position held by the individual, and any additional responsibilities given to the individual, if that income is equal to or greater than the sessional allowance—within the meaning of the Parliament of Canada Act—payable to a member of Parliament,

(iii.1) the salary range of the position held by the individual, as well as the classification and responsibilities of that position, if the individual's total annual monetary income, including any performance bonus, is less than the sessional allowance—within the meaning of the Parliament of Canada Act—payable to a member of Parliament,

(iii.2) the expenses incurred by the individual in the course of employment for which the individual has been reimbursed by the government institution,”

Motion No. 6

That Bill C-461 be amended by deleting clause 5.

Motion No. 7

That Bill C-461 be amended by deleting clause 6.

Motion No. 8

That Bill C-461 be amended by deleting clause 7.

He said: Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak to the amendments that you have just deemed to be admissible with respect to the report stage of Bill C-461 dealing with public sector transparency.

The bill, in its original form, is intended to do two fairly modest things. It attempted to remedy a well-documented and often litigated flaw in the Access to Information Act regarding the public broadcaster. Section 68.1 has been the matter of no less than 14 separate pieces of litigation between the information officer and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Both the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal found that section 68.1 of the Access to Information Act, brought in by the Conservative government in 2006, is flawed in its drafting because it creates an exclusion subject to an exception. Section 68.1, and I am paraphrasing, says that the freedom of information act does not apply to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in terms of its documents and information that relate to its journalistic, creative or programming activities, other than information that relates to its general administration.

We can see the problem. It creates an exclusion where the act does not apply except under certain circumstances, in other words, matters regarding general administration.

In my view, and in fairly well-documented examples, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was able to use section 68.1 to deny the disclosure of documents that were under access request. The fact that the act did not apply indicated there was no power of review from the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner gets her powers of review from the act, so if the act does not apply there is no power of review.

This bill, in its original form, attempted to remedy this. It attempted to remedy what two federal courts indicated was not a model of clarity and was very awkward in its drafting.

The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics did a complete study on section 68.1 because there was so much controversy and misunderstanding. There were also 14 pieces of litigation between the information commission and the CBC.

The committee heard testimony. The Information Commissioner, Ms. Legault, testified in front of the standing committee on access. She recommended that section 68.1 be repealed and that it be replaced with an injury-based exemption, not an exclusion. It would be discretionary, so that if the test was made that the CBC would somehow be injured in terms of its independence, she would recommend against disclosure. However, if there was no prejudice or injury, she would recommend that the documents be disclosed.

It all seemed perfectly reasonable at the time, and that recommendation was incorporated in the original version of Bill C-461.

We heard evidence at the committee, and we had a number of hearings. I am not a member of the committee, but I sat through them as an interested member and as the sponsor of the bill. We heard cogent evidence that the independence test was too narrow. It created a level of discomfort within both the broadcast industry and the public broadcaster that the independence test was too narrow and it might be expanded to include something similar, to protect not only the independence but the freedom of expression of the corporation.

I conceded at the last of my three witness appearances before the committee that it would be helpful. Wording to protect not only the independence of the corporation but also its freedom of expression would be helpful, and it would give a greater level of comfort to both the industry and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. However, the committee, or at least the majority of the committee, was disinclined to accept that type of recommendation, so it was not passed.

The committee did pass a most unhelpful amendment regarding journalistic source protection. The House will recall that the problem with section 68.1, as it still is in the act and in law today, is the exclusion at the beginning with the words “This Act does not apply..”.

What did the government do to amend it at committee? It granted another exclusion. It provided an absolute exclusion for journalistic source privilege. It recommended the wording “This Act does not apply..”, which means that the Information Commissioner has no powers of review. Therefore, decisions of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation with respect to journalistic source privilege are absolute and not subject to review by the Information Commissioner.

The inevitable result of that untenable situation is litigation. The Information Commissioner said as much when she appeared before committee. If her powers of review are compromised, she would have to go to court to get clarification of those powers because section 36 of the act gives her unfettered power to review documents under the control of government institutions.

The government, in its so-called wisdom, proposed the exact same problem that we just set out to remedy, which was that we were replacing the exclusion in section 68.1 with a discretionary exemption. Then government members went ahead in their amendments at committee to provide an exclusion with respect to journalistic source privilege.

I believe, and I say this with some regret, that the bill as amended by the access committee is actually worse than the status quo, the existing provisions regarding the Access to Information Act.

My intent was to provide clarity and certainty, and to have less litigation rather than more litigation. The government refused to entertain amendments regarding extending the discretionary exemption to include freedom of expression, in addition to its insistence that an absolute exclusion be given with respect to journalistic source privilege. I think that makes this a bad piece of legislation with respect to the CBC access.

In the motions that have been tabled, I am proposing the deletion of any reference to access to information regarding the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, including the name of the bill. Motions Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8 deal with the deletion of sections regarding the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's obligations under the Access to Information Act.

I still believe that section 68.1 needs to be fixed because it is awkwardly drafted. The courts have called it “not a model of clarity”. When there is an exclusion and then the exclusion is limited with an exception, we would have nothing but misunderstanding and litigation. It has to be fixed, but the bill in its current form does not fix it. In fact, in my view it makes it worse.

With respect to journalistic source privilege, I absolutely understand the importance of allowing journalists to protect their confidential sources. The Information Commissioner has had 1,200 cases before her, and not one has ever dealt with journalistic source privilege. As well, the name of an informant is confidential information under the Privacy Act and could not be disclosed. The CBC amendments at committee were most unhelpful.

With my remaining time, I want to deal with what I think is the most contentious issue, and that is with respect to salary disclosure. The bill attempts to allow an amendment to the Privacy Act to allow specific salary and job description disclosure for a civil servant over an appropriate range. The range in the unamended act was for the lowest level of DM1, or $188,000. However, the committee in its wisdom, and I say that with more sarcasm than I have ever used in my life, decided to raise the disclosure bar to $444,000 to ensure it could not apply to any DM, including a DM4, or anybody below him or her.

I am not sure how the government reconciles that with Treasury Board proactive disclosure. If an individual has a contract with the Government of Canada for as little as $10,000, their name, their contract and the value of their contract is on a Treasury Board website. However, if the individual is a deputy minister making $444,000, apparently the privacy laws of Canada are made to protect them.

The nub of this issue, in my view, is the performance bonus. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice will get up and talk about already disclosing ranges of salary. That is true. However, a DM4 is the highest level. The range is $272,000 to $319,000, and that is a pretty big range. That is almost $50,000.

However, that does not end it. A deputy minister at that level is entitled to up to a 39% discretionary performance bonus, or $123,000. Nothing in our current privacy provisions or access to information allows any interested Canadian to find out anything about a performance bonus, and that to me is deficient.

This bill attempts to undo the damage done by the access committee on June 5 of this year, which incidentally was the same day I left the Conservative caucus, and to promote transparency and disclosure, not opaqueness and secrecy. Given all the allegations of secrecy and opaqueness in this town, I would think that the government would grab my amendments and support transparency and salvage its reputation.

Motions in amendment
CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

November 22nd, 2013 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Dan Albas Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to share the government's position on Bill C-461.

Bill C-461 was introduced in the House on November 5, 2012 by the member for Edmonton—St. Albert. As we now know, this bill has generated a fair bit of discussion. I believe that is healthy in any democratic society.

Bill C-461 has been subject to amendments that have also generated healthy democratic discussion.

It is important to recognize that bills are sent to the committee stage review as part of our democratic process. Committee review allows for input from stakeholders, expert witnesses, and those who may be impacted by any proposed piece of legislation. Let us never forget that legislation can affect the lives of Canadians. It is why we, as parliamentarians, must listen to all sides and strive to achieve a balance.

Our government is supportive of the principles raised by the member for Edmonton—St. Albert. The amendments to Bill C-461 provide a better balance in recognizing the obligation of the federal government as an employer.

Our government supports this bill, as amended. What exactly has been amended? In my view, we should not overlook that Bill C-461 proposes amendments to the Privacy Act. These amendments also coincide with this government's continuing goal of increasing openness and transparency.

Currently, much of public servants' expenses or salaries are protected under the Privacy Act. The Privacy Act is an important piece of legislation that protects the personal information of all individuals, including federal employees. However, the Privacy Act also recognizes the fact that federal employees work in the public domain. Increasing accountability and transparency requires that more personal information be made available to the public when that information is about positions or their functions within a government institution. The Privacy Act provides that this type of personal information should not be protected when an access to information request is made. That type of information should be disclosed.

What Bill C-461 proposes to do is specify that all expenses incurred by federal officers or employees of a government institution in the course of their work and for which they are reimbursed are not protected as personal information under the Privacy Act. If there was any ambiguity before, it would now be clear that this information could and should be disclosed to a requester.

Under Bill C-461, if individuals, in the course of their employment, incurred an expense and were compensated for that expense by the government, that information, the amount of compensation, could be disclosed.

Governments must spend public money wisely and only where necessary. A person cannot expect that the reimbursement of a work-related expense by a government institution will be kept confidential. It is in the public interest that the law be crystal clear on this point. I believe that this is an important aspect of public accountability. This is a small but reasonable addition that will make things clear for everyone.

Another aspect of Bill C-461 relating to transparency and public expenditures is the disclosure of the salaries of certain officers of government institutions. Currently, the Privacy Act authorizes government institutions to disclose the salary range, the classification, and the responsibilities of the position held by all officers and employees. For all public servants, this information is not treated as personal information. Therefore, this information can be disclosed under an access request. We believe that for the majority of public servants, this is sufficient and reasonable.

Where I believe we need to go further is with respect to the highest paid individuals in government institutions. Many provinces disclose, often proactively, the exact salaries of its highest earners. These are called sunshine lists. Publicly traded corporations routinely release the amount of compensation for their top officers. The idea behind this is that stakeholders in the company deserve to know the exact amount the highest compensated individuals are taking home.

When it comes to government, all taxpayers are interested stakeholders, and they deserve to have this information. In these cases, it is not sufficient to know the salary ranges and job classifications of some of the highest earners in government. These people receive bonuses and other discretionary benefits from government institutions. Often what these individuals will receive at the end of the year from an institution is substantially higher than what is publicly announced for their position. That is why we believe that government institutions should be authorized to disclose the exact salary paid to the highest earners. This would include all the bonuses and benefits given to the individual.

We strongly believe, however, that this level of intrusion on an individual's privacy should be reserved for the highest paid individuals only. This is what we have done in Bill C-461.

In conclusion, I want to say that this bill enhances transparency in the operations of government while still maintaining a critical balance that is respectful of personal privacy.

Employees and institutions are entrusted with the financial administration of the public purse and should be able to demonstrate where and how that money is being spent. Individuals should be able to request records and review expenditures by public servants, and this should obviously include the CBC. It will improve the overall confidence and trust in our institutions.

I would urge this House to adopt Bill C-461 as it is presented today. The improvements this bill proposes to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act are sensible and promote transparency, openness, and accountability in key ways across government.

Motions in amendment
CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

November 22nd, 2013 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Pierre Nantel Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, I really appreciated the idealistic tone of the speech by my colleague opposite. It is important for those watching us today to truly understand what has happened.

A Conservative member introduced a bill that will allow the public to find out exactly how much money all federal employees making more than $188,600 are paid. He believes that this could lead to greater transparency in the public service and government agencies. We might think that he would have the support of his party, which was elected on the promise of transparency. Despite this reassuring tone, that is not at all the case.

On the contrary, his party let the member go ahead, the bill proceeded and, when the time came, the order was given to simply torpedo the bill, just like in a game of Battleship. When the bill was studied by the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, all the Conservative committee members calmly raised their hands, without a word of explanation, and gutted the bill. They changed the wording so that only 1% of the public service—those earning more than $444,661 a year—would have to disclose their earnings. That is an absolute farce.

My colleague, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, who I imagine was quite baffled, suggested that we rename the bill to better reflect its content. He suggested that it be named “An Act respecting the transparency of public servants earning more than $444,000 a year, with the exception of PMO employees”. I appreciate my colleague's rigour and concern for accuracy. We must call a spade a spade.

The last few months have been very difficult for the government. There have been major missteps and blunders, which generally indicate the end of a party's reign. The evolution of the bill is itself one of the Conservatives' major blunders.

Everything that elected Conservatives say they stand for, all the principles that they claimed as their own when campaigning and wanted to defend by putting their name on the ballot and asking for their neighbour's support, the very reasons they came to Ottawa for the first time as parliamentarians and proudly took their seats, all these principles are today back on the table. They are being called into question; they have been violated. It is shameful.

I am not questioning the good faith of most of my colleagues opposite. On the contrary, I put myself in their shoes, and I wonder how they might explain what happened here to their constituents or their base. On what basis can they justify and accept the government's actions in this case? There is some cause to wonder. There are some grounds for serious doubts, right?

No, that does not seem to be the case, since the Conservative members knew that one of their own wanted to introduce a bill on the disclosure of salaries of public servants and federal agencies. This is something that many of them would have probably supported, but they knew that there was an order from above, probably from the famous little boys in short pants running around in the Prime Minister's Office. We now know that they kept a close watch on everything that was going on in Ottawa to neutralize the provisions of the bill that amended the Privacy Act in order to allow for the disclosure of salaries.

This was to be a quick and dirty job, done discreetly and swiftly. Furthermore, the member who had the thankless task of proposing amendments to gut the bill, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, whom I have to name here, did not even bother to explain himself or defend his position. He had to know that he was doing something that did not smell quite right. He clearly did not try to draw attention to his actions.

Moreover, all the Conservative members here fell in line and voted for the amendment. That said, all this was done in silence. No member bothered to speak. There are some things you just cannot talk about.

The government loudly and constantly claims to speak on behalf of taxpayers. However, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation expressed its disgust—yes, its disgust—at the government's actions on this front.

The federation's representative, Gregory Thomas, had this to say after a close look at Bill C-461: “Not one witness, nor one committee member even spoke to why increasing the threshold was a good idea. Probably because they couldn’t think of even one good reason.”

According to him, “Canadians expect openness from the Harper government, not cover-ups and stonewalling.”

He went on to say, “This is another example where the government is not walking its own talk when it comes to accountability.”

In closing, he stated that, “In light of recent scandals, we need more information and accountability from this government, not less.”

He was right when he said that not one witness supported the idea of increasing the threshold for disclosure. On the contrary, those very witnesses, including the Office of the Information—

Motions in amendment
CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

November 22nd, 2013 / 1:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Pierre Nantel Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

This is complete chaos; I did not name anyone. I quoted a person, whom I named. In any case, let us not waste time on this. Let us not make mountains out of molehills. We should be discussing more important things.

That individual was quite right in saying that no witnesses supported the proposal to increase the disclosure level.

On the contrary, those same witnesses, including the Information Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner and the president of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, all had plenty to say about the bill and the amendments put forward by the Conservatives. However, none of what was said by the experts was retained by the Conservative majority in the committee.

For example, the Information Commissioner proposed replacing the term “independence” with “activity” after many witnesses insisted that the bill was a threat to journalism and investigative journalism in particular. Obviously, the Conservatives rejected that recommendation.

Then the commissioner issued a very clear plea to the committee, asking it not to add a new exclusion to the assortment of exceptions and exclusions already set out in the bill, because that exclusion would require clarification from the courts. The Conservatives added it anyway.

In this case as well, the Conservatives flatly refused the Information Commissioner and added a new exclusion to the bill for journalistic sources, an exclusion that we know will be completely ineffective, useless and very costly and will not really do anything to protect journalistic sources. On the contrary, it exposes sources and undermines many sources' confidence in CBC journalists.

The stated purpose of the bill was to clarify section 68.1 of the Access to Information Act, which has been the subject of litigation. The bill's sponsor reminded us that that section was not a model of clarity. It is important to remember that that section has already been clarified, not by Parliament, but by the courts. This matter was resolved two years ago, to the satisfaction of all parties involved.

The bill, as it is being presented today, completely reopens this closed file and makes a mockery of the Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal decisions. This would be like taking a circular saw to a wound that is just starting to heal. What this means is that a bill that is supposed to be in the taxpayers' interest will in fact cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in new court cases. New definitions will be needed.

The Information Commissioner very clearly said not to add a new exclusion in the bill. She said:

...please consider this: you are going to create another difficult situation if we create another exclusion to an exemption. How that's going to work, I really don't know.

These comments did not come from just anyone. She knows that such a bill will lead to even more litigation and court challenges.

Today, this bill's sponsor recommended that we remove these clauses from the bill, and I commend him for stepping up. We now know that these provisions will cost taxpayers dearly. We know that this bill is very far from being a model of clarity and that it would replace a solution with a problem.

It is not easy for the Conservatives to justify this bill to ensure transparency, when the bill itself is not transparent at all and it will cost taxpayers a fortune.

Although the bill's short title is “CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act”, its salary disclosure provisions do not even apply to the president of the CBC, whose salary falls below the disclosure threshold, which the Conservatives just raised by $250,000.

Behind the doors of a committee room in Ottawa, the Conservatives quietly increased the minimum salary disclosure threshold to $444,661. This is 11 times the salary of an average worker in Canada.

I wonder how the Conservatives will justify such a move. How will they explain such a decision to their constituents? What will they tell their party faithful, who have been fighting for years to have the government monitor the public purse and spend carefully, and to make it more transparent and accountable?

Those in this room who support greater transparency, accountability and respect for the public purse, and those who care about doing a good job on this bill as legislators, now know what they have to do.

Motions in amendment
CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

November 22nd, 2013 / 2 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-461.

First I would like to compliment the member for Edmonton—St. Albert. He has obviously made an exceptional effort to get a better appreciation and understanding of getting a bill passed through the House, which can be a challenge at the best of times, as we all know. He has identified an issue that we collectively in the House hear a lot about. In the last number of months we have heard a lot about transparency and accountability, whether in this House or the Senate chambers.

In his own way the member has identified another way that we can ensure more transparency and accountability. I very much respect that.

It is most interesting to see the original wording of the bill and where it is today, where I had the privilege to second some amendments.

I am hopeful that members will see this situation for what it is. This private member has taken an exceptional amount of time to get a good understanding of an issue and then put it forward to the House of Commons. I have been a parliamentarian for over 20 years, and one of the things that I really respect about the House is the fact that we have private members' bills. We have hundreds of them.

Sadly, less than half will actually be dealt with. I think I am right in saying they number 200 or something of this nature, and if we sit enough days, my bill might actually come before the House, but most bills will never be voted upon.

It is a privilege to be in the House. It is a great opportunity if one gets the opportunity to bring an idea before the House. I like to think that at the very least we should preserve that aspect about private members' hour. It should not be based on party policy forcing all government members to vote a certain way or all Liberal members to vote a certain way. The same applies to the New Democratic Party. This should not happen during private members' hour when we are dealing with an issue of this nature. My understanding is it is supposed to be a free vote.

In looking at the legislation and the amendments that have been brought forward, and based on what I witnessed in the second reading vote and on my understanding of the issue of transparency and accountability, I believe the bill as amended should be able to pass on merit alone.

In the procedure and House affairs committee we were talking about proactive disclosure and how we in the Liberal Party have proactive disclosure. People can click on to the net and see the cost when I have flown to Winnipeg and come back. My hospitality costs are there . It is all there to be seen. The Conservatives are not exactly sure what it is yet, but they are saying “us too”. The NDP is saying it will at some point.

Why do I say that? It is because the member for Edmonton—St. Albert has found something all of us should be supporting. There were some reservations when it came in for second reading, if memory serves me correctly. I would have voted against it going into committee. The reason for that was the CBC aspect, but the CBC is no longer a factor in it now.

One of the nice things about committee is that members are afforded the opportunity to make some changes. We should value that aspect. It is the same thing with report stage. That is an important aspect of private members' bills.

One thing we have to be very careful of—

Motions in amendment
CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

November 22nd, 2013 / 2:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

The member asks what that is. That is a private member's bill being hijacked. That happens. One of his colleagues in the immigration committee, for example, had a bill that went to committee. The former critic for immigration will recall it quite well. The bill was turned into something it was not intended to be. The person who sponsored the bill at the beginning had no intention of doing what the government was trying to do through amendments. It ultimately came back to the House, because it was so far out of scope, and a Speaker's ruling had to be made.

We should be valuing the importance of private members' bills. How can a private member's initiative be changed to the degree where one is going against what the private member originally wanted? If I, as a private member, bring in legislation and explain the direction I want to take it, and once it gets to committee the government makes changes to that legislation, it has, in essence, hijacked my bill.

I think my bill is ranked at number 200. Hopefully mine will be voted on and it will go to committee. It is not easy to get that far.

The member for Edmonton—St. Albert has been very successful in getting it to the committee stage.

Motions in amendment
CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

November 22nd, 2013 / 2:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

The point is that it was sent there. I believe that any changes made to a private member's bill should have the consent of the private member who sponsored the bill. If the private member does not agree with the changes, what makes others believe that they have the right to take it away from the private member? That is something that really confuses me. We should be very careful.

Mr. Speaker, on occasion, in private members' business hour, the Liberal caucus does not always vote collectively as one unit on a private member's bill. It is because Liberals support individuals looking at private members' bills for what they are: private members' bills. I have seen first hand that Conservatives have stood in their places and voted both ways on a particular bill. That is not something to be embarrassed by. They should be applauded for it, because they are private members' bills.

My recommendation to all members of the chamber is to look at what the amendments are saying. If it gets beyond $444,000, it has to be disclosed. What percentage of the population makes a half million dollars? It is incredible. It is almost at the point where we should not even bother.

Motions in amendment
CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

November 22nd, 2013 / 2:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Sure, there are a number of them, but what is being proposed in the amendments is far more reasonable. It deals with the issue.

My challenge to members is to give the bill back to the member who actually sponsored it and listen to what the amendments are actually saying. Let us keep the tradition of the House in terms of voting for private members' bills on their own merits. That is my appeal to all members of all political parties.

Motions in amendment
CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

November 22nd, 2013 / 2:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

John Williamson New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on the bill and its amendments. I have to say that from my vantage point, it is interesting to see some of the strange bedfellows who have jumped in to support the member for Edmonton—St. Albert.

The member for Winnipeg North talked about how he is confused by this. I find that statement to be accurate, largely because it seems that he is unaware of the content of the amendments that are being proposed here today and how they deal directly with the CBC and the reforms that are important and necessary.

It is worth highlighting, as well, that the opposition member, along with many in the opposition, voted to defeat the bill when it was sent to committee stage at second reading. I and others look forward to seeing how they will vote on the bill, and if that amendment is successful, how they will vote after that, if in fact they are sincere about the need to protect and report on how tax dollars are spent. I have my doubts, but we will see.

I am speaking today because when I spoke on the bill initially I called for some of the very amendments that are being put forward today. While I was supportive of the bill, I felt that the level for reporting of federal employees should not be the $180,000 that the member for Edmonton—St. Albert was proposing but in fact should be the same salary as a member of Parliament, which is approximately $160,000.

I still feel that way. I think that represents the top 2% of income earners in this country and it is a good level for Canadians to consider when they look at how their dollars are being spent and who is being paid what.

I will point out that in fact the bill is not out of line with legislation we see elsewhere in the country, albeit at the provincial level. For example, Nova Scotia and Ontario require the disclosure of the name, salary and job title for anyone making $100,000 or more from their respective provincial governments. These sunshine lists, as they are called, and rightly so because they do provide some insight for taxpayers, hold those governments accountable for the salaries given to the top bureaucrats, civil servants and anyone else who earns six figures or more per year from the government.

I should note as an aside that Manitoba, where the member for Winnipeg North is from, sets its transparency level at $50,000. My own province of New Brunswick has a disclosure limit set at $60,000. In addition, any employee of the Government of New Brunswick receiving in excess of $10,000 in retirement is also subject to public disclosure.

These acts across the country at the provincial level have worked and they have worked well to give taxpayers across the country a better idea of how governments are spending their money. I will note these numbers are reported annually and they have been a good thing for taxpayers and open government.

That philosophy represents my view on the bill. I will say, regardless of the outcome of the vote on the amendments of the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, I will be supporting the bill. We heard earlier from the parliamentary secretary. Broadly speaking I agree with what he was saying in terms of the need for transparency and accountability. I just happen to not agree with that member on where that threshold should be. Again, my view is that it should be $160,000. I said that when we had the first debate on the bill, and I continue to maintain that. I will be voting for the amendments as put forward by the member for Edmonton—St. Albert.

I am also going to do it for another reason. The other place, as we refer to the Senate, not so recently changed a private member's bill from the House of Commons, Bill C-377. One of the arguments they used for increasing the threshold level in that bill, which was a good piece of legislation and one I supported, was that they set the disclosure for union transparency at the same level, about $444,000, I believe.

I would like to send a message back to the Senate on that bill that we ought to work in a way that expands transparency, both for the public sector as well as for the unions.

That encompasses my thinking on the bill. Again, I find it interesting how the opposition has suddenly rallied behind the bill. I only wish that had more to do with the well-being of taxpayers across the country and not political opportunism.

I regret that my former colleague, the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, no longer sits on this side of the House. Having said that, his bill would improve transparency within the Government of Canada. That is why I will vote in favour of it. I urge my colleagues on this side of the House as well as my colleagues on that side of the House to do the same.

Motions in amendment
CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

November 22nd, 2013 / 2:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Murray Rankin Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, at the outset, I want to be as clear as I can about my position on the bill, and it is rather convoluted how we got here. In its present form, with the amendments offered in the motion by my friend from Edmonton—St. Albert, I would be 100% behind what he has done and I commend him for his amendments to the bill. However, if those amendments were not enacted by the House, I would be utterly opposed to this legislation for reasons I would like to outline.

I understand these amendments were required after the Conservative caucus gutted the original bill brought in by the member when he was still on the government bench. These changes to the bill before the amendments on the motion paper were rammed through by the Conservatives on the committee. It would allow scrutiny for only those people earning more than $444,000.

As the member for Winnipeg North put it eloquently, that is a very small number of people, almost half a million dollars a year, and only those people with incomes higher than that income level would be subject to the scrutiny of this legislation, which is shameful and is entirely inconsistent with the views of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada when she testified before the committee. If anyone should be worried about privacy, it would be she and, in fact, she is entirely on board, as I will explain in a moment.

The purpose of the amendments is to provide true accountability to the taxpayers and all Canadians to know just how much money people are earning in the public sector. It seems to me the threshold was set at a very fair level. I commend my friend for New Brunswick Southwest for acknowledging this. It is a very fair threshold. That is what only 2% of the population make, namely $160,000 some or more. I commend him for referencing that situation. I agree that would provide more accountability than the anemic legislation that would only allow specific knowledge of salaries and bonuses when they exceeded some $444,000. I think Canadians would see right through the sham of that bill being portrayed as some kind of access to information or accountability measure, on the contrary.

The legislation has been changed in the committee, as I said, to try to make it up to $444,000. I see that as exactly the opposite of transparency.

There was something said in the committee by the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie that struck me as rather shocking. He pointed out that the author of the bill, the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert, said in his testimony that Canada had fallen to 56th out of 90 countries with regard to transparency. I am quite ashamed of my country's record on access to information. We used to be seen as a bit of a beacon. Now we are seen as a laggard when it comes to information and access. I will speak about this in some greater detail in a moment, as I put this, I hope, into some broader context.

What did the Privacy Commissioner say about the fact that individual salaries would be made known? Is that some kind of privacy breach? We would think that as the watchdog in that field, she would be the first to be concerned, but she in fact was not. We have a very superb Privacy Commissioner who has served the country with distinction over the last few years, and I was really impressed with her testimony.

My friend from New Brunswick Southwest has already given some rather interesting statistics on this. I would like to repeat some of them and emphasize a couple of others.

Some governments use thresholds to disclose the salaries of public sector employees. Some governments, for example in Manitoba, as he pointed out, have a very low threshold, $50,000. People making therefore more than $50,000 it is perfectly okay to know what their salaries, including bonuses, would be. British Columbia has $125,000 threshold. Other places, Ontario and Nova Scotia have $100,000 and so on. After that magic number is reached in a given province, one is able to know just how much those individuals are paid.

The Privacy Commissioner said something really telling. She said that in the private sector, publicly traded companies had to disclose the compensation paid to their chief executive officer, chief financial officer and the next top three executives, all their shares, all their options and all their bonuses for anyone earning more than $150,000 in total compensation, which is remarkably close to the threshold that has been proposed in the motion by the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert.

Given these examples, I want to quote the Privacy Commissioner. She said:

...it would appear that disclosure of salaries for individuals in leadership roles within organizations, in both the [Canadian] public sector and private enterprise, is already best practice.

She also said:

In the opinion of my office, and taking into account best practices elsewhere in Canada, the disclosure of the salaries of the most senior officials in the federal public sector does not represent a significant privacy risk relative to the goal of transparency and the broader public interest.

Therefore, we are good to go, to use an expression that is used a lot in the Prime Minister's Office. We are good to go with this legislation, according to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. I respect very much that she has given us the green light to do this.

With regard to bonuses, it was very clear, at the committee stage, that the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert intended bonuses to be considered part of the compensation package. He pointed out that sometimes, and I was shocked to learn this, bonuses can be as high as 39% of one's remuneration. Consequently, it is a very wise thing to have included. I commend him that in the motion he prepared and put on the order paper, he is explicitly including those bonuses, and I thank him for his efforts.

I want to put this in a broader context. This is a bill purporting to amend the Access to Information Act. I studied this at graduate school and lobbied for the Canadian Bar Association when the first Access to Information Act was being considered in the House. Later I worked for the committee that studied the Access to Information and Privacy Acts as a research officer when the six-year review was undertaken.

The first government to have to live with the Access to Information Act was the Conservative government of the right hon. Mr. Mulroney. The government has had to live with this legislation. Others have talked about it.

I have to say, when I heard today and yesterday that emails were being deleted in the Prime Minister's Office, or are at least alleged to have been by the RCMP, I was quite shocked. I was actually, frankly, saddened to hear that this is what we have come to in our country.

We have heard about the pathetic ranking of our country as a laggard on access to information. However, to think that the RCMP believes that people are destroying emails, which requires, under the Library and Archives Act of Canada, explicit permission before that is done, is absolutely pathetic, if that is true.

The Conservatives talk about an accountability act, and I was proud when they brought that in, but to see the implementation of that act and the way the government is acting now vis-à-vis freedom of information is, frankly, absolutely shocking.

I want to again say that the context is relevant for this amendment. Our Information Commissioner, on October 17, in her annual report, used words I have never seen in a report by an independent officer of Parliament. She said this about the government's commitment to freedom of information. She said that the report highlighted weaknesses in the information system that need to be urgently addressed. There are institutions that do not have enough staff to even acknowledge that they have received requests for six months. She said,

All together, these circumstances tell me in no uncertain terms that the integrity of the federal access to information program is at serious risk.

This is not partisan rhetoric. This is the Information Commissioner of Canada reporting to Parliament on what she has discovered about the government's commitment to openness.

In conclusion, I respect enormously the amendments proposed by my hon. friend from Edmonton—St. Albert, and I hope that they are accepted by the House.

Motions in amendment
CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

November 22nd, 2013 / 2:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is really telling today that what we are talking about is accountability and transparency.

The member for Edmonton—St. Albert put forward a private member's bill that would have given more transparency. Yet the very government that purports to speak for and stand for accountability and transparency is the one that gutted the bill and raised the threshold for the disclosure of earnings and bonuses, et cetera.

This is not the first time. With the fiasco happening in the Senate, we have seen over and over again, day in and day out, that the government does not understand the terms “transparency”, “accountability”, or “telling the truth”.

CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

March 26th, 2013 / 6 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to express my opposition to Bill C-461. People who defend this bill will say that its purpose is to improve the CBC's transparency. My New Democrat colleagues and I want to show that it is actually a sleight of hand designed solely to target our national broadcasting service while weakening it in the face of its private competitors.

It is important to shed light on the Conservatives' real intentions. With this bill, the Conservatives are trying to discredit the CBC through insinuations that are not only unfounded, but also wrong. We wonder why are they doing this. Is it to punish our national broadcaster, whose only crime was apparently being too dedicated in its duty to inform Canadians, especially when it comes to the actions of the Conservative government?

With this bill, the Conservatives want to imply that the CBC operates opaquely and apparently has something to hide from Canadians. For example, the government wants us to believe that the CBC's most senior executives are hiding their salaries from Canadians. That is absolutely not the case. Every Canadian can go to the CBC website and find the executive pay scale. All you have to do is click on the “Reporting to Canadians” tab.

The hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert said that this information is worthless since we are talking about a pay scale and not a specific salary. Since exact salaries constitute private information, I would like to remind hon. members that no Canadian broadcaster is required to provide any information about its executives' salaries. The CBC therefore demonstrated great transparency by providing its executive pay scale.

Next, I would like to draw the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert's attention to the fact that the pay-scale method is necessary in a society that recruits its executives from a competitive market. The Conservatives always like to claim that they are the only ones who understand how the market works. They should therefore understand this basic principle.

What is more, salary amounts are decided by the board of the CBC, whose members are appointed by the Conservative government itself. In that sense, I really do not see how the Conservatives can continue to insinuate that there is any sort of problem with the income of CBC executives.

The Conservatives are also speaking out against a system of exemptions for the CBC. They are suggesting that there is no justification for such a system. Must I remind the government that there is no other public broadcaster in Canada? Is it not then natural for the legislation governing a public broadcaster to make specific reference to the CBC? Clearly, there is a discretionary exemption, as the Conservatives call it, since the CBC is the only company involved.

I want to remind the Conservatives that they are in no position to lecture the CBC on transparency. For example, every time the CBC refused to disclose documents in order to preserve journalistic confidentiality, the corporation sent the documents to the Information Commissioner for her to verify their protected nature.

Finally, it is my pleasure to remind the House that the Information Commissioner herself gave an A, the highest grade in access to information, to the CBC. The same cannot be said of the Conservative government, which has been criticized more than once by the same commissioner for its overly high rate of refusal, for its unreasonable response times, and for its excessive tendency to censor information.

Therefore, since we already know the salary grid of the CBC's managers and since it has shown exemplary transparency, what is the real aim of Bill C-461 and what will its consequences be if adopted?

First, it seems clear that the purpose of this bill is to attack our national broadcaster.

Ever since the last election, the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert has been on a crusade against the CBC. He has even gone so far as to say that Canadians do not need a national broadcaster. Fortunately, that is not his party's unanimous position, and the members of the Conservative caucus know that any attempt to suppress the CBC will fail. They know that Canadians treasure the continued presence of an independent information system. They know that Canadians love the CBC.

Noting the opposition to his bill, the same member has tried to attack the CBC's financing. First he suggested removing public subsidies. Realizing that his position was marginal, even within his own caucus, he has now resigned himself to trying to discredit an institution that is considered a model of transparency.

In fact, one of the primary goals of this bill is not to clarify the law, but to set off a spurious debate that will give him an opportunity to suggest that there is something fishy about the CBC's operations. And yet, the truth is that the CBC is already subject to many more transparency rules than its competitors.

What is this if not the Conservatives' mistrust of the CBC? It is no secret that the government sees the CBC as an adversary.

Why is the CBC seen as a threat? It is seen as a threat because it is still at arm's length from political power and the Conservatives have a hard time with that.

This is their logic: if the general public will not allow them to directly hurt the CBC, then they will interfere in how it does business and make it harder for the CBC to be competitive.

That is exactly what will happen when this bill is passed.

As if draconian budget cuts were not enough, the Conservatives now want to add as much of an administrative burden as possible to the disclosure of information.

With the passage of Bill C-461, requests for access to information will increase. These requests are not from Canadians wanting to know more about public spending. They come almost exclusively from certain members of the Conservative caucus and private competitors, their cronies.

Out of all the complaints regarding the CBC's performance in terms of access to information, 80% come from Sun News Network and its owner, Quebecor.

As a result, Bill C-461 seeks only to put the CBC at a disadvantage with respect to its competitors who are under no obligation to disclose information, even though they receive government subsidies.

In short, with this bill, the Conservatives are killing two birds with one stone. They are unfairly discrediting a corporation that continues to be exemplary despite budget cuts while threatening its independence and putting it at a disadvantage with competitors that they see as less of a threat.

We will be voting against this bill. It is nothing more than an ideological attack, another ideological attack, against the CBC, Canada's only public broadcaster.

The Conservatives should be proud of this institution instead of trying to destroy it at all costs.

CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

March 26th, 2013 / 6:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to address the House on Bill C-461, which is an interesting piece of legislation. At the end of the day, one may question whether the bill will be sent to committee, but it brings up what I believe are very interesting issues that are important to discuss.

I was listening to the previous member speak to the issue of CBC, its legacy and how Canadians perceive it today. I truly believe that Canadians from coast to coast to coast tune in to CBC radio and television networks on an ongoing basis. The services that CBC provides to Canadians are second to none in terms of they type of programming and ensuring that there is a high level of Canadian content, which is very important for the industry here in Canada and taking the talent we have to the next level.

Not only does CBC have direct benefits for the viewing and listening audience here in Canada, but we often find people abroad and around the world tuning into CBC Radio. Now because of Internet technology, we find that more and more people are tuning into the websites of CBC.

Historically, there has been a high level of respect for the integrity of news and other types of programming, particularly documentaries, that CBC has aired over the years. Members will find that Canadians trust and want to see that continue because it is very important in terms of our own heritage as a country. We need to be able to feel comfortable in knowing that we have an industry that will continue to be there in a very healthy fashion.

Let there be no doubt, CBC does afford the opportunity for Canadians to have more than one radio or TV broadcasting program. It provides competition to the other industry stakeholders. It is not like we have 20 or 30 different broadcasting networks. Canada is not in a position to have those kinds of numbers. We have two or three private companies that have invested hundreds of millions of dollars, such as CTV, Global and Sun Media, which are healthy competition for the CBC.

I think we have to be very careful that we do not buy into what I believe, and many Canadians believe, is a hidden agenda from the Conservative right. There are many within the former Reform Party, now Conservative Party, who believe that Canada would be better off without the CBC and that there is no need for it. Therefore, generally speaking, people need to be aware that there are those, even within the House, who would like to see the demise of CBC TV and radio.

I am not one of those people. I believe in the CBC and the services that it provides to Canadians. Members will find that the Liberal Party of Canada believes in the valuable contributions of the CBC, whether from its broadcast news, other types of broadcast programming or its radio division and the services it provides to not only Canadians here in Canada but abroad as well. At the end of the day, the Liberal Party will stand up for the CBC and will fight to ensure that it is going to be there for future generations.

That said, the Liberal Party also believes in accountability and transparency. It is interesting that the bill attempts to deal with deputy minister level one salaries and higher. That is an important aspect of the bill.

Transparency and accountability are important. We know that the government, probably more than any other government that predates it, is somewhat reluctant to provide what we believe is important information, which Canadians should have the right to know. There is no hidden agenda there. We do believe there needs to be more transparency.

It is interesting that the bill has come before us at a time when we are debating the budget. For members who were here listening to the leader of the Liberal Party talk about transparency and the budget lines in the tables, there was a question posed about those line-by-line comparisons that used to be there.

In the name of accountability and transparency, we would argue that the government has done a disservice in terms of providing that transparency and accountability. That is why we find it interesting that we now have a private member's bill asking for more transparency and accountability from within the very Conservative cabinet.

I suspect that if the bill does happen to pass out of the House and is sent to committee, one of the areas of discussion would be in regard to cabinet and to what degree they are prepared to ensure there is more accountability and transparency in terms of freedom of information access requests. The government goes out of its way to avoid that sort of accountability, yet many of its members are calling for more accountability with the CBC. I will have to be excused for not necessarily believing that the government is being genuine on the issue.

At the end of the day, Canadians as a whole cannot be blamed for being suspicious of anything the Conservatives want to do in regard to the CBC. This is because a very high percentage of Canadians believe in the value of the CBC. They see what the Conservative record has been. They see the petitions that have been introduced in the past number of months in regard to targeting the CBC, and some of the comments that have been put on the record in regard to the CBC. There seems to be this opinion that there is this pent-up frustration from many of the Conservative, or maybe the past Reformers within the party.

There is a potential hidden agenda there that is not healthy for our country, if we believe in the preservation of heritage and the promotion of the role that CBC has played both in the past, in the present and hopefully well into the future. This is why we approach it with some skepticism.

On the other hand, we do believe in the merits of ensuring that there is more transparency and accountability with respect to the ministers and the government as a whole. It would be nice to see the government approach things in a more accountable and transparent way and be clear in terms of the future of the CBC from the government perspective.

If the government was more transparent in regard to the CBC and if it had a long-term vision that it was prepared to share with Canadians, maybe then there would not be as much skepticism.

I suspect the freedom of information request that would be filed if this legislation were to pass would come from CBC's competition and many of the Conservative government members. This is really where the drive for this additional information is coming from. That is why I would caution members on what we will be voting on and to be very suspicious and watchful if it ends up going to committee.

CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

March 26th, 2013 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe
New Brunswick

Conservative

Robert Goguen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak for a few minutes on the subject of Bill C-461, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act (disclosure of information).

I begin by thanking the member for Edmonton—St. Albert for his efforts to bring forward this issue. Bill C-461 promotes greater transparency and accountability, not only in relation to CBC but also in relation to the public service as a whole.

Overall, the government agrees with what Bill C-461 is trying to accomplish. The public has a right to access information from the CBC as it receives funding from the government. The public has a right to find out the salaries of the very highest paid individuals in government institutions. These are important things the public needs to know.

That being said, we have looked at Bill C-461 and we believe it requires certain modifications. Therefore, the government will propose amendments. These amendments will not hinder or detract from the main goal that Bill C-461 tries to achieve.

Before I describe these amendments the government will propose, I will begin by spending a bit of time describing for the House what Bill C-461 seeks to achieve. I will first focus on the part of Bill C-461 that relates to the CBC.

Currently the Access to Information Act only allows a requester to access records that deal with the general administration of the CBC. Only requests that deal with such records will be considered and processed by the CBC. As a result, any record that contains information that relates to the journalistic, creative or programming activities of the CBC are excluded from coverage by the Access to Information Act. This means that if the CBC receives an access request that involves any records containing information that is journalistic, creative or programming activities, these records are not even processed as the access regime simply does not apply to them.

Generally speaking, broad exclusions are undesirable in an access to information regime from the perspective of openness and transparency. The current exclusion for the CBC is a problem because it excludes too much information. It is unclear and it also raises problems of interpretation and of application. In fact, it led the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics to undertake a study of the CBC's application of the exclusion. It also led to a court dispute between CBC and the Information Commissioner. I will come back to this later. Bill C-461 proposes to replace this problematic exclusion with an exemption, which will be more beneficial to the access regime.

When I say that the current exclusion covers too much, the point I am trying to make is that not all of the CBC's journalistic, creative or programming records are so sensitive that they deserve to be excluded from coverage by the Access to Information Act. However, I am certainly not suggesting that these CBC records should automatically be disclosed to a requester. On the contrary, Bill C-461 proposes that the CBC can protect these records with an exemption that can be used at its discretion.

The exemption would contain an injury test specific to CBC. That injury test would allow the head of the CBC to decide to protect the information from disclosure if it was determined that disclosure would be prejudicial to the CBC' s journalistic, creative or programming independence.

These activities are at the core of the CBC's mandate as a broadcaster and it is recognize that disclosure of information about such activities may hamper the CBC's ability to function in such a competitive environment. The requirements to demonstrate harm to a category of activities in order to protect information from disclosure is the type of exercise that many government institutions already perform on a large number of federal government records in the course of responding to access requests.

There is a secondary benefit to the changes proposed by Bill C-461 with regards to the CBC. It will allow for a very important review of the role by the Information Commissioner, an independent officer of Parliament with the responsibility of overseeing the application of the Access to Information Act. Review by the Information Commissioner of CBC's records was the subject of the dispute I mentioned earlier. The exemption for records of the CBC that Bill C-461 proposes will make it crystal clear that the Information Commissioner can carry out her crucial oversight role in relation to the CBC.

I will speak now about an exclusion for confidential journalistic sources of the CBC. While I have spoken now about the problems caused by an overly broad exclusion, there is no doubt that an exclusion offers the highest level of protection for information. There are some limited and specific categories of information that should be covered by a targeted, well-defined exclusion.

With respect to Bill C-461, it is the government's belief that information that would reveal the identity of confidential journalistic sources should continue to be excluded from the act.

When we previously spoke about Bill C-461, we noted that the ability to protect the identify of confidential journalistic sources was a pillar of journalism. Individuals who are confidential sources of information are understandably nervous about being identified. If a broadcaster cannot offer them complete guarantee of anonymity, they will go to another broadcaster or journalist.

As Bill C-461 is currently drafted, it would not allow the CBC to provide its confidential journalistic sources with an ironclad guarantee of continued anonymity. This is because the proposed new exemption in Bill C-461 contains an injury test that can result in their identity being revealed if the test is not met and will allow the Information Commissioner to review documents that identify them.

The position that we are taking with regard to the confidential journalistic sources is consistent with the 2011 Federal Court of Appeal decision on this matter. The court considered the CBC's exclusion and concluded that for journalistic sources, the exclusion was absolute and the Information Commissioner could not examine such information.

Bill C-461, with the amendment proposed by the government, would essentially reflect the outcome of the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal. I will stress that both the CBC and the Information Commissioner expressed satisfaction with the outcome of that decision.

I will speak now about disclosure of information on officers or employees of government institutions.

The next area where Bill C-461 would seek to increase openness and accountability is with regard to the expenditures of public money. Bill C-461 would increase openness and accountability by requiring more disclosure on expenditures in two areas: one would be the reimbursement for work-related expenses received by public servants; and the other would be the exact amount received by the highest paid individuals in government institutions.

Let me start with the issue of exact salaries.

In the public sector, job classifications are accompanied by a salary range within which someone is paid. Where they specifically fall within that range depends upon a number of factors, including time spent in the position and performance reviews.

Until now, the only information regarding salaries that could be made available to an access requester was the salary ranges of individuals enquired about. This salary range, along with other disclosable information, was enough to give a requester a good idea of how much an individual was remunerated by the government. We believe that being able to obtain salary ranges for the majority of public servants pursuant to an access to information request is appropriate.

In 2006 the coverage of the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act was expanded to a number of crown corporations. This change was brought forward with the Federal Accountability Act. Information on parent crown corporations and their wholly owned subsidiaries is now accessible under the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act. As a result, the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act now include a number of government institutions whose employees and officials are much higher paid than the vast majority of civil servants. We support the idea put forward in Bill C-461, that the highest paid individuals in the public sphere should have their exact salaries disclosed.

However, we propose an amendment to permit the disclosure of the exact income of those individuals that exceeds the highest level of the deputy minister level. This is a more practical level to administer than pledging the threshold in the middle of the deputy minister classification as is currently in Bill C-461. It also better reflects the intention of disclosing the income of the very highest paid individuals.

This is a sensible amendment as it crystallizes the fundamental idea that if an individual, in the course of their employment, incurs an expense and is compensated for that expense by the government, then that information should no longer be treated as personal information. The more noted expenses, when they are paid back to the employee, will be known by all. It is important to be transparent because we want the government to be money wise and only spend money where it is necessary.

Both the provisions of Bill C-461 requesting exact salaries and reimbursement of expenses go toward furthering transparency in the mechanisms of government. Individuals and institutions that are trusted with the public purse should be able to demonstrate where and how money is being spent.

The government supports Bill C-461, with the amendments I have described, because it would go toward achieving the transparency and accountability sought.

CBC and Public Service Disclosure and Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

March 26th, 2013 / 6:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have served with the member for Edmonton—St. Albert on various committees, including in the last Parliament when we served together on occasion on the justice committee. I respect his work because he speaks his mind and his opinions are based on his values. However, just because I respect his approach to Parliament, it does not mean that I always agree with him and this is a case where I do not agree with him and am opposed to this bill. In trying to figure out where I stood on this bill, I did a bit of an analysis, which I would like to share with everybody today.

The first step is to look at what the bill would do. I want to focus in on section 68.1 of the Access to Information Act. Section 68.1 reads:

This Act does not apply to any information that is under the control of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that relates to its journalistic, creative or programming activities, other than information that relates to its general administration.

There is an exclusion here. Why the exclusion? These sections are drafted to ensure that a public broadcaster's administrative functions are not excluded from the reach of FOI, or freedom of information, and accountability. It is the program and content activities for the public broadcaster that need to be distinguished and excluded. It is an acknowledgement of the separation between media activities and other activities as a crown corporation. This bill proposes to amend the Access to Information Act to repeal that exclusion for CBC for information related to journalist, creative or programming activities and replaces it with an exception.

When considering a section like this, it is useful to compare ourselves to other jurisdictions to see what is happening in similar situations in other countries. The public policy goal of an exclusion like this one is to ensure public accountability, while protecting independence and integrity. Let us take a look at the other jurisdictions to see how they strike that balance.

We have heard that other countries have similar legislation, like Australia, and have had this legislation for years. In fact, it has been well over 20 years.

Since 2000, the Irish public broadcaster, RTÉ, has been subject to the Irish freedom of information act in relation to its administrative activities, but it is excluded in relation to a range of material, including information gathered or recorded for “journalistic or programme content purposes, whether or not a programme is produced on the basis of such information, or is broadcast”. RTÉ's exclusion also extends to other activities like the identification of sources of information, editorial decision making about program and schedule content and post-transmission internal review and analysis of any program or schedule of programs broadcast.

Since the U.K.'s freedom of information act was enacted in 2000, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC, has been subject to the act except in respect of information held for purposes of “journalism, art or literature”.

The first step of the analysis is to explain the purpose of this exclusion and it seems we are on the same page as other countries with public broadcasters.

Let us look at the change and figure out what exactly this change would do. I will read clause 18.2 of Bill C-461, which states:

The head of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation may refuse to disclose any record requested under this Act if the disclosure could reasonably be expected to prejudice the Corporation’s journalistic, creative or programming independence.

It is important to note that when the Federal Court of Appeal, when it has been asked to review whether documents should be released, it has settled matters such that both the Information Commissioner and the CBC have supported. At best, this bill is gratuitous. The access to information system was already working and the CBC was often proactive in its disclosure of information when it came to things like expenses. At worst, this bill is an attack on the CBC's viability as a journalistic source that puts its investigations at risk by jeopardizing its ability to protect its sources.

The attempt to reverse this burden of proof, to force the CBC to prove that a request is “injurious”, is part of an ideological attack on public broadcasting in Canada. Further, the protection that will remain is defined narrowly, too narrowly to adequately protect journalistic work. These changes put an unjustified burden on the CBC and will make the CBC vulnerable to unfair and compromising requests, not to mention expensive legal battles.

What is clear is that the integrity of a journalistic entity that is free of corporate influence is in jeopardy.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression has weighed in with a statement. If people are listening at home, they can find that statement on the group's website. In its statement, it writes that Bill C-461 would:

...significantly weaken the CBC’s ability to deliver a key component of its mandate: carrying out public service journalism and creating programming completely independent from the government. That mandate was given to the CBC by Parliament decades ago and remains in force. To carry it out, CBC journalists must be able to conduct research and prepare programs without pressure to disclose the results prematurely or surrender operational details. The corporation must be able to acquire broadcasting rights and creative content without being required to disclose negotiating positions or strategy. In this respect, arm’s-length public broadcasters differ from other government departments. That is why other parliamentary democracies protect these broadcasters with exclusions like the one current in section 68.1 of the ATIA. Canada should do no less.

The CJFE goes on to describe what effect this attack on public journalism would have on the quality and breadth of news Canadians would be able to expect from the CBC. They say:

...what whistleblower would approach a CBC reporter? How could CBC journalists in good faith promise to protect their sources? How, both commercially and ethically, could the CBC sustain any investigative journalism if the process and the research could be revealed to CBC competitors or to the subjects of CBC investigations? In fact, a chill would fall upon CBC journalists and the broadcaster’s ability to produce journalism with integrity would be seriously jeopardized. A bill that ostensibly aims to increase accountability would destroy the public broadcaster’s ability to hold government and the powerful to account.

I have heard some of the debate in the House in relation to Bill C-461 over the past couple of months, and certain Conservative members have come forward to say that the bill does not single out the CBC. I beg to differ. The bill is called the CBC and public service disclosure and transparency act, so it is pretty clear that it is about the CBC. It applies to the CBC and no other organization. That is pretty settled.

I have also heard statements saying that the bill is not an attack on the CBC. The member who brought the private member's bill forward is on the record saying:

I don’t know that we need a national broadcaster in 2011.... We have to wean them off...of the taxpayer's dollar....

In my opinion, this has nothing to do with transparency and everything to do with attacking the CBC.

Journalistic freedom is the foundation of democracy. It is unconscionable that the Conservatives are attacking public investigation. The CBC has an important role to play in investigative journalism. My New Democrat colleagues and I believe in a strong and independent public broadcaster. It is essential that the CBC remain a trusted news source on which Canadians can rely.

Bill C-461 should be defeated.