House of Commons Hansard #240 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-64.

Topics

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Reform

Bob Mills Red Deer, AB

moved that Bill C-309, an act to amend the Access to Information Act (disclosure of results of public opinion polls), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, most Canadians believe that this is the best country in the world. However, that does not mean they agree with the status quo and do not want changes. Canadians want constructive change and near the top of every list is the desire for a more open and accountable government.

Open government means a free flow of information between the government and its citizens. It means that government informs the public rather than manipulating them. Open government means that when tax dollars are used to commission polls about the thoughts and opinions of Canadians, everyone has the right to assess the results of these polls in a timely manner.

Canadians who want access to poll results should not have to jump through bureaucratic hoops in order to get the answers. Unlike the last Parliament which was very secretive this Parliament must change the system. Never again should Canadians be faced with the situation where the information commissioner has to take the Prime Minister to court to force him to release publicly funded poll results as happened in the Mulroney regime.

The kind of backroom government that has been so common here in Ottawa must change and it must change quickly. The Canadian public will not accept that sort of secrecy any more. They will not put blind faith in their politicians. They have learned through experience that left to its own devices, government will take advantage of the situation.

Government will selectively release important information to manipulate the public and advance its own agenda. In fact, we recently witnessed a perfect example of just this type of behaviour by the Parizeau government in Quebec. While this example did not involve polls, it did involve a series of publicly funded studies that examined the consequences of separation.

As all members are probably aware, the Parizeau government realized that some of the studies cast serious doubts on the viability of a separate Quebec. These studies responsibly pointed out the economic pitfalls that would invariably be associated with separation and the Parizeau government did not like it. Instead of releasing all of the taxpayer funded studies, Mr. Parizeau only released those that reinforced his own position.

The point therefore is to make all polls public in a timely manner. Not only was this manipulation by the Parizeau government dishonest, it also was an example of the need for legislation that specifically prevents this kind of behaviour.

The current government has not been as secretive as the previous one. If the Liberals truly believe in the concept of open government, then they should not be afraid to put their money where their mouths are. By making open government the law of the land, Parliament can show all Canadians that times have changed and that the rights of citizens to know what their government is doing is a fundamental one. If Parliament is really serious about open government, then all members should give their consent to make Bill C-309 votable and then we should pass it.

The bill would amend the Access to Information Act to ensure that all federal departments, boards or agencies that commission public opinion polls gave notice to the designated minister and the Speaker of the House of Commons. The designated minister would then be obliged to submit to the House of Commons the results of the polls and report the following: a description of the nature of the poll; a copy of the questions asked and a summary of the responses given; the period when the poll was conducted; and the cost of the poll. The minister would be required to lay this report before the House no later than 15 days after the poll was completed. If the House is not sitting, the report would be deposited with the information commissioner within the same deadline, published in the Canada Gazette and then presented to the House of Commons during the first five days after it resumed sitting.

If Bill C-309 was made votable and passed, the results of all public opinion polls commissioned by federal government bodies would become public in a very timely fashion. This prompt disclosure would make the results available while the information is still relevant to the current concerns of the public and is what the Canadian people are demanding.

Although I hope I am wrong, I predict Liberal members will speak against the bill. Members opposite know very well that they made election promises to "make open government the watchword of the Liberal program". I doubt they are willing to live up to that promise.

This reluctance of the Liberals to honour their red book promises was clearly demonstrated earlier in the year when they were the only members from any party to vote against open government by defeating Motion No. 304. I proposed this motion. It would have opened up Parliament and crown corporations to scrutiny under the Access to Information Act. I was told it was not to be passed at that time because the whole question was under review and massive changes were to be made to the Access to Information Act. Everyone agrees that it needs revision. I wonder if we will hear the same reasons now.

Even though Liberal members had been given assurances that M-304 would not breach the confidentiality of their offices or disrupt the competitive edge of crown corporations, Liberal members unanimously voted against that motion. This was especially strange considering that several members had told me privately they favoured the motion and thought it was a great idea. We all know what really happened. Instead of allowing their members to vote freely on the matter, the top brass stepped in and cracked the party whip. Even though the chief government whip has given his word to the House that Liberal members are allowed to vote with their consciences on private members' business, those members are told what to do and as always they do it.

I would now like to anticipate the line of argument from my colleagues opposite. I predict they will say that since they have been in government Treasury Board policies on communications and information management have been changed in order to address the problems of disclosure of public opinion research. I predict we will hear that these guidelines and the promises of the public works and government services minister make Bill C-309 unnecessary. The problem is already solved, they will say, but this is not correct.

It is true the change in the Treasury Board guidelines tinkered with the old Mulroney system but this did not mean the problem was solved. It was not and the government knows it. News clippings abundantly reveal the continuing problems with the new and improved Liberal system. Two headlines in the Globe and Mail recently say it all: Liberal poll results rules much like the Tories'',Liberals will still allow polls to be kept secret''. A Winnipeg Free Press article entitled ``Imitating Mulroney'' says:

Public Works Minister David Dingwall called the new guidelines a "breakthrough". In fact, they are little more than Brian Mulroney's policy warmed over with a little red sauce for artificial flavour. These flimsy guidelines will not require ministers to reveal information gathered at public expense, if in the opinion of the minister that information is considered advice to the government.

What does it mean, advice to the government? By tradition, advice must stay locked up in a bomb-proof vault until the minister passes on to a better place or until the paper it is written on turns yellow and disintegrates.

Let me move on to a very interesting article that was published in the normally Liberal friendly Toronto Star after the new Treasury Board guidelines were put in place. Its title is: ``Liberals restrict access to poll results''. It reads:

-previous Conservative governments were attacked for keeping taxpayer paid for polls secret, including constitutional polls. Now, the Liberal government seems determined to do an even better job of delaying and hiding poll results.

We are talking about millions of dollars of taxpayers' money being spent on public polls and their findings not being made open to the public or to this House. The author of this article, Ken Rubin, correctly calls the government's new access scheme fraudulent. He describes the flawed new process as follows:

  1. The lengthy up to 90 day period for publication of poll reports goes far beyond the already too long 30 day release period possible under the Access to Information Act. There will be instances in which publication is well after 90 days.

  2. The up to 90 day period for publication release begins only after a final written report is received from the pollsters. That's even though the polling results are immediately conveyed-sometimes months earlier-orally or in draft written form to the government.

  3. A summary report of polling results could be all that is published, leaving out the guts of the research usually found in the technical tables.

  4. Some polls still will be kept secret through applying partial or total exemption of poll results under the Access to Information Act.

It will be up to the minister to decide.

  1. The Treasury Board directives formally encourage departments to consider applying for exemptions under the Access to Information Act. This policy endorses the view that polls are something other than publicly paid for, routinely released results of public response to government commissioned questions.

  2. The Treasury Board's practices will make more progressive federal departments think twice before publishing certain "sensitive" poll data; after all, departments have to go to the Treasury Board to fund their polls and focus group research.

  3. Once the government has decided to publish a poll result, that poll is no longer covered under the Access to Information Act. This means recipients could lose the right to complain, all the way to the federal court, about the polling results received after late receipts and publishing delays.

There is much more in this report, but we all get the point of the problems with this new legislation. The change in Treasury Board guidelines was a finesse by the government, not an honest attempt to address the existing problem. This is unacceptable and more concrete steps have to be taken.

I do not claim Bill C-309 by itself can fix the problems of secretive government. It cannot and no one would say it could. However, if this legislation were passed it would be a step in the right direction.

Parliament can talk about open government until the cows come home but unless we are willing to legislate change it means nothing more than words. It is time to legislate open government.

In the sincere hope that members will have the courage to act, I ask for unanimous consent to make C-309 a votable item. If this is done all members of Parliament will have a chance to get on the record on this very important issue.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House?

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Essex—Windsor
Ontario

Liberal

Susan Whelan Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, I rise to commend the hon. member for this proposal to extend the application of the Access to Information Act.

I am a firm believer that open government is essential to the preservation of the respect which members of the public give us as politicians and to the trust they place in their government. The Liberal Party is committed to the principle of open government.

I am not sure, however, this amendment is necessary. It is my understanding the act already provides for access to public opinion polls. Section 4 of the act provides that everyone has a right of access to any record under a government institution. In so far as opinion polls constitute such records, they are covered by the act. If specific poll results are not disclosed to the public it is because in specific circumstances a legitimate interest that competes with presumption of access is invoked. It should be noted the act performs a careful and complex balancing between a variety of interests. I am concerned that amending the act to address a specific and limited aspect of the act would disturb the various balances within the act.

In 1992 the trial division of the federal court pronounced on the question of release of public opinion research in the case of Information Commissioner v. Prime Minister. That case dealt with public opinion polls commissioned during previous constitutional negotiations. The decision of the federal court trial division of November 19, 1992 provides guidance on disclosure of such information.

In addition to section 4 of the act, the Treasury Board secretariat has issued guidelines for federal institutions on the release of public opinion polls. The Treasury Board communications policy amended last July provides that first, government institutions must make every effort to disclose results outside the formal resolution process prescribed by the Access to Information Act of public opinion research.

Second, in the spirit of the Access to Information Act, institutions are encouraged to make the final report of public opinion research available within 30 days of receipt and should resort to the 90-day allowance only if constrained by publishing requirements.

Third, in those cases in which a minister elects not to disclose the final report in response to an access to information request, the minister must send a letter to the information commissioner informing the information commissioner of his or her decision inciting the provision of the Access to Information Act that the minister has exercised. A copy of the letter will be sent to the Treasury Board for purposes of monitoring implementation of this policy.

With section 4 of the act interpreted by a recent court case dealing with opinion polls, and with a new government policy which guides government institutions on the disclosure of public opinion polls, it is not at all clear to me that there is a present and pressing problem with respect to the release of public opinion research that justifies an ad hoc amendment.

Another reason I would not support Bill C-309 is that the Minister of Justice has announced his intention to reform the Access to Information Act. I understand a review of how public opinion polls are disclosed or not disclosed to the public will be part of that review.

I trust the Minister of Justice will reform the act in providing for more open government, including greater access to polling information. I am concerned that Bill C-309 would amend the act in an ad hoc fashion.

It has been about 12 years since the act was first passed. A parliamentary committee and the information commissioner have both made extensive recommendations for reform. I believe it is time for a fundamental review that would look at all aspects of the act.

In addition I have concerns with specific details in this proposal. The requirement that every public opinion research contract be reported to the minister and to the Speaker of the House of Commons and that reports be tabled in Parliament or with the

information commissioner and published in the Canada Gazette seems like overkill.

An amendment that provides that no exemptions apply to the release of public information opinion research would have been sufficient for members' purposes. The media, citizens and parliamentarians are quite familiar with the relatively easy process of filing access requests. In any event the Treasury Board policy calls for informal dissemination public opinion research. New and duplicated reporting requirements merely add red tape and cost, which we can ill afford at this time.

Another problem I have with Bill C-309 is that it would apply to any department, branch, office, board, agency, commission, corporation or other body established by or pursuant to any act of Parliament or established by or pursuant to any proclamation, order in council or other instrument made or issued by or under the authority of the governor in council.

By defining which institutions are covered by this proposed amendment in this way the proposed amendment goes entirely against the way the rest of the Access to Information Act is structured. The act applies to all government institutions listed in the schedule, approximately 140. The purpose of listing the institutions is to make it clear to everyone which institutions are covered by the act. Going away from a list approach creates the possibility of confusing the issue of whether the act applies to a particular institution. It may mean having to go to court to find out whether the act applies to a particular institution in a given circumstance.

As a result of Bill C-309 some institutions not currently subject to the act will be subject to the specific amendment. For example, Canada Post is not subject to the act but will be subject to the proposed clause 5(1).

I am also concerned about the definition of public opinion poll, which I find extremely broad. It could include quantitative and qualitative research conducted among members of the public using a prepared questionnaire or interview schedule. A good proportion of this research would be of very limited public interest.

I do not believe Bill C-309 is needed. There is already a right of access to public opinion poll research under the Access to Information Act. There is recent case law that provides guidance to the government in disclosing such polls. There is a government policy on disclosing poll results. The Minister of Justice has stated his intention to reform the Access to Information Act.

Given all this, I do not think it is appropriate or necessary to proceed with an ad hoc amendment on the specific issue of public opinion polls. I have problems also with the fact the bill would introduce significant new bureaucratic reporting requirements, deviate from the way the rest of the act defines government institutions and potentially could apply to research of very limited public interest. For all these reasons, I cannot support the bill.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Osvaldo Nunez Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, the purpose of Bill C-309 tabled on February 22, 1995 by the hon. member for Red Deer is to amend the Access to Information Act. Its main objective is to oblige the government to disclose results obtained and methods used in public opinion polls commissioned by the government through various agencies.

The proposed legislation provides that the government shall lay before this House a report of the results of public opinion polls it has commissioned.

We support this initiative because it encourages openness and the democratic exercise of power. The debate on public opinion polls and the need for making this tool more transparent is mainly about whether these polls undermine the democratic process by influencing the behaviour of society in general.

Recent studies have shown that publication of these polls can have an impact on a close race, especially towards the end of the campaign. The publication of public opinion polls can have a positive or negative impact on the morale of volunteer campaign workers and donors.

Party strategists complain that it is hard to retrieve lost ground when the media have decided, on the basis of public opinion polls, that a party is no longer in the running. Opinion polls may be purposely misinterpreted, if the technical information provided is too incomplete to assess the validity of the results.

Clearly, the secret use of this powerful instrument is a first step towards arbitrary use of power and a practice that is a threat to democracy. What seems to be a highly scientific instrument that confers a certain authority becomes, in the hands of unscrupulous politicians, a tool for political propaganda and manipulation. I am thinking, for instance, of the group for Canadian unity, a special unit of the Privy Council of this government.

Working on behalf of the No coalition, the intergovernmental affairs office, located in an office tower in downtown Ottawa, attempts to implement the vision of the No forces, the status quo, which will make debtors and paupers of all Quebecers and even Canadians. This anti-referendum unit funded with public money has a budget of more than three million dollars. Part of this money is spent to commission public opinion polls whose methods and results are used to influence the democratic process in the Quebec referendum.

This Canadian unity group, more obscure and secretive by far than the centre for Canadian unity was during the 1980 campaign,

commissions public opinion polls on a weekly basis and uses them to manipulate public opinion in a democratic society. In fact, because of the secret nature of these polls, nothing prevents this government from using methods that are questionable from a scientific point of view and thus commissioning results that will influence the vote.

Nothing prevents the government from only disclosing polls that are favourable and eliminating those that might be less favourable to its negative vision. Polling companies play a role that has an impact not only on elections but also on policy development. Governments use public opinion polls to define their positions on various controversial issues and to determine their priorities. Federal ministers therefore take the initiative of commissioning polls to test public reaction to various options. In short, the government is no longer concerned about the content of its policies but focusses on their form based on public opinion polls. The famous Axworthy reform is an excellent example.

The amounts allocated by the federal government for public opinion polls are astronomical. During the period from April 1990 to November 1991, a mere 19 months, apparently over $10 million in expenditures were approved by the Department of Supply and Services and committed by the federal government for public opinion polls. That amount does not include contracts awarded directly by departments.

For all these reasons it is essential for transparency to become the main objective of democratic governments when they make use of public opinion polls. Bill 309 calls for effective measures to ensure government transparency when public opinion polls are used. The report submitted to the House of Commons must therefore indicate the nature of the public opinion poll, the questions asked and a summary of the responses given, the name of the person or firm commissioned to conduct the poll and finally, its cost. This is a bill with the potential to change the face of Canadian style democracy.

Speaking of surveys, I would like to comment very briefly if I may on the results of the survey carried out by Léger and Léger for Le Journal de Montréal and the Globe and Mail , released last Saturday, the day before yesterday.

With two weeks to go until referendum day, the yes side shows a solid 49.2 per cent compared to 50.8 per cent for the no side. In only a few weeks we have taken over five of the federalists' percentage points, reducing the difference to a mere 1.6 per cent.

This considerable advance is in large part due to what the press is calling the "Bouchard factor", but it must be pointed out that this week we gained only two percentage points.

Before distribution of the undecided voters, 45 per cent of respondents stated that they would vote yes to the referendum question, while 42.4 per cent indicated that they would vote no.

Among those whose minds were definitely made up, I must point out that 52.2 per cent of francophone respondents stated that they will be voting yes, compared to only 34.3 per cent who will vote no.

There are a number of explanations for this upturn in support for the sovereignist camp. We have the most popular, most credible, most loved leaders in Quebec on our side in Mr. Bouchard, Mr. Parizeau and Mr. Dumont. Lagging far behind them are the spokespersons for the no side, the Prime Minister of Canada, the Minister of Labour, Mr. Johnson, and the hon. member for Sherbrooke.

We will win this coming October 30 because we are promoting the project of a just society that is fair for all, a project of generosity and compassion for the most disadvantaged segments of our society: the unemployed, welfare recipients, immigrants, refugees, pensioners and so on. On the other hand, the blueprint for society of this government, of the Liberals, the Conservatives and the Reform, is to protect big capital, those who are already advantaged. The program of the ministers of finance and of human resources development, of Ontario's Mike Harris and Alberta's Ralph Klein is to protect the rich and neglect the poor.

In conclusion, I state that the Bloc Quebecois supports Bill C-309.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Dennis Mills Broadview—Greenwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I should like to speak for a few minutes in support of the private member's bill of the hon. member for Red Deer who has done some excellent work on the issue.

In 1980-81 I had the privilege of working on the original access to information bill. I believed then and I still believe now the intention of the government at that time was to do the very thing the private member's bill suggests.

In the last 13 years to 14 years the whole access to information process has become locked in a system I call the bureaucratic MAD treatment, maximum administrative delay. As a government member I have had great difficulty on more than one occasion in getting the access to information system to work for me.

The objective of the hon. member for Red Deer is to refer the bill to committee. He has not asked the House to accept the bill line by line, comma for comma. If small amendments are required I believe they can be accommodated in committee.

The whole discussion on access to information is something that would serve the government and serve the House well. What the member is saying in the bill is very much a part of our government's red book wherein we were committed to operating a much more transparent, a much more accountable, a much more open government.

Day after day the Prime Minister lives a life of transparency. We all know that these polls are being conducted and there are the results of the polls. We have nothing to hide when we conduct polls. They are done to advance public policy in a more refined and better way for all Canadians.

We on this side of the House celebrate that members of Parliament should work hard at developing and thinking some of their own ideas. This example very much fits that description. The member for Red Deer has put forward the idea that all public opinion polls should be much more accountable to Parliament and I support him in that regard.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Reform

Philip Mayfield Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of Bill C-309, an act to amend the Access to Information Act (disclosure of results of public opinion polls).

As I look through the bill it makes complete sense to me. I am sure that anyone who believes in the democratic process would agree that the bill is simply common sense. Every day public polls are conducted by media outlets, associations, academics, and especially by government departments.

There are two principal differences between the groups I have listed. First, the government is the only one funded solely by the taxpayers of Canada. Second, the government is the principal one that does not make the results of its polls easily and readily available to the Canadian public. Is there a paradox in this situation? Last year the Winnipeg Free Press in an editorial wrote:

During the election last fall, the Liberals made transparency and openness in government a central theme. What a difference a victory makes.

Yes, what a difference a victory makes. We all know that the former Conservative government was obsessed with public polling. In 1992 the Conservative government spent an unprecedented $140 million on public polling. Most of that money was awarded to chums of the Conservative Party, a firm called Decima polling.

How nice it would have been to be working at Decima in 1992. I see why the Liberal government criticized the Conservatives during the 1993 election campaign. Expenditures on polling prior to 1992 were about $10 million a year. With an increase to $140 million, who would not want to make it an election issue?

I will briefly outline the history. It is important the House knows why the Liberals are arguing against Bill C-309. Liberals will tell us that there is no problem when comparing their policy to that of the Progressive Conservatives. This may be true. Hopefully no government will ever again reach the total polling expenditures as the Conservatives did in 1992.

The one key point that must be clear in the debate is that the Liberal government is doing very little to change the old style polling established by the Conservative government. The Winnipeg Free Press stated last year:

By tradition, advice from polling must stay locked up in a bomb-proof vault until the minister passes on to a better place or until the paper it is written on turns yellow and disintegrates.

This tradition is still alive and well with the Liberal government. In May 1994 the Liberal government introduced what it said was an alternative to this tradition. It introduced a series of polling measures that the Minister of Public Works and Government Services said were based on "principles of transparency and openness". The only thing transparent is the Liberal commitment to tell the Canadian people what the Liberals want them to know. The only thing that is open is the Canadian taxpayer's wallet as he or she pays for the veil of secrecy created when government polls are conducted.

Bill C-309, an act to amend the Access to Information Act, prohibits the blatant manipulation of public information gathered by government departments. The bill would force any government department or unit that commissions a public opinion poll to give notice to the appropriate minister. The minister is then obliged to submit to the House of Commons the results of the poll. The minister would present four key components of the poll: first, a description of its nature; second, a copy of the questions asked and a summary of the responses given; third, the period of time when the poll was conducted; and fourth, the cost of the poll.

This seems to be a logical progression of events. Ministers of the crown should not even need legislation compelling them to submit poll results. By their very nature as chief representatives of departments in a democracy, all information gathered at the department should be open to public scrutiny. As it stands, the ministers are picking and choosing the poll results that are most beneficial to them in promoting their policies.

The government will argue that it has answered all the concerns of Canadians about access to public polls. The government will claim that in May 1994 it released guidelines to ensure that information was made public. However last December the Toronto Star called the guidelines ``a fraudulent new access scheme''. The Toronto Star was absolutely correct.

There are a few catches that the Liberal government failed to mention when it introduced the new guidelines. It failed to mention that the government still has the ability to keep some poll results secret. It is able to do so if the individual minister feels the results would be injurious to the public interest or to federal-provincial relations. That seems to give the ministers room to impose total personal discretion. What one cabinet minister may see as injurious to public interest may be necessary information to the average Canadian.

Mr. Kenneth Rubin, an expert on government documents, called this ethics package "so vague it is hard to criticize it precisely, but the specific rules for withholding polls are what the Tories practised". This vagueness is a blessing only for cabinet ministers as they are able to interpret it to their own benefit.

Another benefit to cabinet ministers and their friends in the polling companies is that they are given 90 days to release poll publications, which is an absolute absurdity. After 90 days the issue is likely dead and Canadians have little interest in old news or dead issues. Also quite often the government has already used the information to its advantage by this time.

The 90-day period of silence is stretched even further as often the polling companies give the government a verbal or a brief written synopsis of the results. There is no requirement to release poll results until 90 days after the government receives the final written report. This in reality can add months to the 90-day period. The information commissioner in his annual report in June called this "a loophole of monumental proportions".

Even then, if the 90-day period is not long enough, the minister can still apply to have it extended indefinitely. In effect a minister can sit on an issue as long as he or she chooses. The government can also use the extended period provision to avoid criticism and legal action. Once the government has decided to release the poll results the poll is no longer open to further scrutiny under provisions of the Access to Information Act. That means any right to complain to the federal court about information quality or delays is no longer an option.

If all this security is still not enough for cabinet ministers, they have even more ways of ensuring the Canadian public does not receive poll results accurately. They can instruct their friends at the polling companies to provide only summaries of the results and leave the real meat and bones of the research in the technical tables.

Another creative method of avoiding the public is that the government can purchase omnibus polling packages from companies that are providing them to other organizations as well. These poll results then remain the property of the polling company and do not have to be made public, even though government money paid for this information.

Bill C-309 responds to all these loopholes by offering a straightforward method of dealing with the publishing of poll results. It requires the ministers to submit polls to the House of Commons no later than 15 days after the poll is completed. If the House is not sitting the report must be submitted to the information commissioner, published in the Canada Gazette , and presented to Parliament upon its return. This is simple logic and is democratic. Bill C-309 eliminates all the vagueness that allows the government to abuse the system.

The information commissioner wrote in his 1995 annual report: "The Liberals promised to do better than the Conservatives, much better. Many Canadians thus anticipated a new government with the self-confidence to be candid". In my opinion, it is quite clear that this government is no more candid than the former government. This is not merely my opinion. The information commissioner, who is an expert in the field, agreed when he added in his report that "expectations for a bright new day with sunshine in all the old dark places were unrealistically high". The information commissioner is clearly not satisfied with this government's commitment to openness. Canadians are not satisfied either.

The information commissioner and the Reform Party are not the only ones that are not content with the government's lack of commitment to open government. The Ottawa Sun criticized the government accurately last fall when it stated: ``Who knows, one of these days the government might even poll you for your opinion on whether it should be forced to release the results of all its opinion polls. Tell them what you think, just don't ask them for the results. You might be told it's none of your damn business''.

It is the business of Canadians to know what questions and issues are being polled. Canadians deserve the right to know what is the popular opinion of the nation. They deserve to know what the government is doing with the results it receives. They deserve to know if the government departments are polling for legitimate reasons or for the government party's own political gain. Finally, Canadians deserve the right to see how much money is being spent by the government and for what reasons.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Colleagues, I find myself in a situation we all do from time to time. I know the practice is not to recognize people in the gallery. However, I would want the group from St. Timothy Catholic School to know that if I could recognize them I would, but it is not our practice to do so.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Hamilton—Wentworth, ON

Mr. Speaker, that was very well done, if I may say.

I will make my remarks brief. I rise to speak in support of Bill C-309. It is a pleasure to do so. I believe reform of the Access to Information Act is very necessary and long overdue. My feeling on Bill C-309 is that while I support it wholeheartedly, it does not go anywhere near far enough. The time has come, in the name of opening up government, in the name of opening up the bureaucracy, to review the provisions of the Access to Information Act.

I have had a lot of experience with the Access to Information Act over the years, particularly in the matter of getting historic records. As the member for Broadview-Greenwood said, the act as originally designed is not the act as it is currently practised. We have a situation where an act that was originally intended to open up government documents is now being used in many instances to withhold government documents.

I want to say to the member for Red Deer that I join him in supporting this bill and putting this bill forward. I hope it is a first step for a complete overhaul of both the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Reform

Mike Scott Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to recognize the individuals on the other side who are supporting this bill. I would like to ask those members who do not support the bill why they do not support it. Why did we not have unanimous consent to have this bill made a votable bill?

When these people were in opposition to the Conservatives they ripped at the Conservatives all the time. They said we have to change the access to information laws, open government up, and let Canadian taxpayers, who are footing the bill for this information, have access to it. Why the change of heart once the Liberal Party was elected as government? Why the difference?

I think the fundamental reason for that lies at the very heart of what is wrong with our approach to governing in this country. It is because we have among the three old-line parties an elitist, top down approach to governing. Once the political party of the day gets into power it is not much interested in listening to the people in the sense of shaping policy or developing legislation. It is very much a command and control government that we have. It wants to have information so that it knows how to shape its messages and sell its policies but it is not really interested in having policy developed or shaped by the Canadian people. In this milieu, it is not particularly helpful to have information available to the public. It is much more advantageous to keep that information to yourself and use it for your own purposes and not allow the Canadian people to have access to it.

I would use the gun control bill as a perfect example of a bill that is widely hated by Canadians. The government is refusing to acknowledge that fact. It is using polling as a means of trying to determine how it can best sell this odious piece of legislation. It is not really interested in listening to the views of Canadians from coast to coast who take real offence to this legislation.

I would make the argument that the situation we find ourselves in is not likely to change. We will have opposition parties forever decrying the lack of access to information and ridiculing and condemning the government of the day for not changing the access to information rules. However, once these parties get into power they will act the same way unless we have a fundamental change in our whole approach to governing.

That is what the Reform Party of Canada stands for. We believe that not only do we come here with a set of policies and principles we would like to put in front of the Canadian people, but we also suggest there has to be a fundamental change in the way Canada is governed. Ordinary Canadians should have much more say through referenda, through initiatives, and through recall to have their views and wishes incorporated into the policies and legislation of the government.

Until we have these fundamental changes, until we have a break away from this elitist, top down approach to government in which information is always going to be very tightly corralled, where there is no advantage in making that information known to the general public, we are never going to have the changes we would all like to see. I would suggest that while the members opposite talk about opening this up and having better access to information, it is not going to change until we change the system.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Seeing no other members rising, I wonder if the House might be disposed to this. The motion stands in the name of the hon. member for Red Deer. The understanding is that no one else will speak after the hon. member for Red Deer closes the debate. I would seek the member's co-operation, if he would reply under the right of reply for two minutes and no more, to in fact close the debate on Motion No. M-309 which stands in his name.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Reform

Bob Mills Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, what we have heard is a general agreement that the access to information legislation needs to be reformed. I would like to believe there is an honest will to do that and that the justice minister will deliver on the promise to change the legislation.

The problem is there are a lot of issues on the justice minister's plate and I honestly do not believe he will get around to the changes in the legislation or will be able to deal with them in this Parliament. For those of us in the House who believe there should be changes, I believe that the onus is on us to continue to bring forward these ideas and the desire of the Canadian people to have more openness in government. The people are demanding it. They are saying that it must happen. I believe that we as parliamentarians

must respond. I would urge all members to get behind the changes and to pressure their parties to make these changes.

I would like to thank the House for this opportunity. I would like to thank the members who spoke in favour of the bill. We should keep up the fight to ensure that the justice minister does find the time to change the access to information legislation.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I thank all members for their co-operation.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. Pursuant to Standing Order 96, the order is dropped from the Order Paper.

The House resumed from October 6 consideration of the motion that Bill C-64, an act respecting employment equity, be read the third time and passed.

Employment Equity Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Reform

Jack Frazer Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege this morning to rise to speak to Bill C-64. I will be speaking against the bill.

Bill C-64 extends and supersedes the 1986 Employment Equity Act, which covered crown corporations and federally regulated private sector employees. It covers banks, airlines, railways, and telecommunications, which employ about five per cent of Canada's workforce.

According to the government, the purpose is to "achieve equality in the workplace so that no person shall be denied employment opportunities or benefits for reasons unrelated to ability and, in the fulfilment of that goal, to correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced by women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities by giving effect to the principle that employment equity means more than treating persons in the same way but also requires special measures and accommodation of differences". It is to be reflective of Canada's population as a whole.

While it does not bear directly on the federal scene, it certainly impacts on the bill at hand. I would like to quote from Friday's editorial page of the Globe and Mail . It is entitled ``Why merit matters'', and reads as follows:

Ontario's new Conservative government has introduced legislation to repeal the one-year-old Employment Equity Act. All Canadians, whatever their status or background, should be glad.

Despite the denials of its supporters, Bill 79 was unquestionably a "quota law". Employers were expected to set targets for creating a workforce that reflected the racial and gender make-up of the community at large. The bill was also clearly discriminatory. By requiring employers to favour members of the designated groups, it effectively required them to discriminate against members of the undesignated group: that is, able-bodied white men.

But these are not the worst aspects of Bill 79. The main evil of the law is its implicit attack on the principle of merit.

Appeals for the importance of merit tend to have an elitist sound to modern ears. In fact, merit has always been cherished most dearly by the disadvantaged, who regard it as a ladder to better things. For generations, even centuries, disadvantaged people have pleaded to be released from the pigeon holes in which others place them and evaluated on their ability as individuals. "See me for who I am, not what I am. Judge me on what I can do, not what I look like".

The supporters of employment equity would throw all this out the window. The merit principle, they will say in their honest moments simply hasn't worked. The disadvantaged are still disadvantaged. The colour blind, gender blind world is an impossible dream. We need to try something else. So instead of disregarding the group identity of people in hiring and promotion, we will fixate on it. Instead of encouraging employers to hire the best person for the job, we will require them to tot up their workers like so many jelly beans. Instead of encouraging new immigrants to become part of the wider society, we will tell them to define themselves by race.

In a diverse society with high levels of immigration, this is a terribly dangerous thing. Designed by well meaning people to encourage integration, employment equity in fact works against it, encouraging Canadians to huddle together in groups and feeding the unhealthy obsession with race and gender that has seized Canadian society in the 1990s. This obsession has already infected universities, museums, writers' organizations and women's groups. Bill 79 would have made it a law. Every Canadian should give it a hearty, "Good riddance".

This does not directly bear on Bill C-64 but I think the same arguments apply against the imposition of Bill C-64. In our case new equity laws will immediately cover approximately 230,000 Treasury Board employees. They will affect all federally regulated businesses and businesses with over 100 employees undertaking federal contracts.

Due to the increased cost this law will cause, it will hold off implementation indefinitely on certain agencies such as CSIS, the RCMP and the armed forces. In practice Bill C-64 means enforcing racial and sex based numerical goals to correct perceived past discrimination. The numerical goals are quotas in disguise. If numerical goals are enforceable they serve exactly the same function as quotas.

For years employment equity has been at work within the public service. It will be difficult or impossible to introduce it at the moment because the government is cutting jobs and has a hiring freeze in place. Public service employees declared surplus have ironclad job security which guarantees them another reasonable job offer within the public service.

Admittedly men still account for more than 50 per cent of public servants and this is also reflected in the executive ranks. Most of the top managers within the bureaucracy were hired 25 years ago when government was growing. The bureaucracy still reflects a nation of a quarter century ago. For those same 25 years women have been entering the workplace with roughly the same educational credentials and the same job aspirations as men.

In the private sector women have successfully moved into every profession: medicine, law, accounting, advertising, banking. Progress has been impressive. Why? The world has changed for women. Gender alone is no longer a very big influence on opportunity and life. Education and ability count for far more. Unquestionably racism and sexism do exist but discrimination alone does not explain the vastly unequal outcomes in life for different groups of people.

Government and Canadians have an obligation to open doors for the disadvantaged but they are not always who we think they are. This matter is more complex than simply passing laws or imposing quotas. Current data and statistics are not enough. With the reduction in the public service the new laws will not radically affect or change the face of the current bureaucracy. Most of the data and conclusions are taken from self-identification surveys which are to identify women, disabled, aboriginal peoples and visible minorities, but the accuracy of these data is at best questionable.

Many individuals do not perceive themselves to be disadvantaged or do not wish to admit it. Employer specific surveys do not reflect information accurately. In many cases people do not view themselves as disadvantaged unless specifically required to address the issue but are protected with anonymity such as in national surveys.

The 1992-93 report on employment equity in the public service states the number of visible minority employees may be underidentified by one and a half times. The number of disabled may be underidentified by two and a half times.

With distorted data, conclusions based on the underidentification of designated groups means there may be already higher numbers of disadvantaged people in the workforce. Alternately there is an incentive to falsify self-identification surveys based on perceived advantages of being considered disadvantaged. For example, a 1994 annual report on the Employment Equity Act noted that as of 1991 nearly 2.3 million Canadians reported having a disability, an increase of 30 per cent over 1986 surveys.

Due to fiscal constraints the government will be using employment equity figures from the 1991 census until the year 2003. How reliable are these figures? Statistics Canada acknowledges that in 1991, 10 per cent of the aboriginal population was not even enumerated. Only 3 per cent of Canadians reported their ethnic/cultural origin as Canadian.

The existing Employment Equity Act calls for a comprehensive review every three years. The last review was in 1992, but the mandatory review for this year has not been undertaken. Basically the government is moving ahead with new legislation without having the benefit of this review.

Since Canada has a shrinking bureaucracy there will be little direct impact on government but there will be an impact on businesses with over 100 employees who wish to conduct business with the federal government. What does that mean for them? No comprehensive study has been done in Canada on that outcome.

To quote the Reform minority report on employment equity, the American magazine Forbes is the only source which has attempted to calculate the costs of affirmative action. It cited that the cost for regulation and compliance alone stood at $17 billion to $209 billion annually. It verified that U.S. affirmative action costs were $113 billion per year since 1980, or 4 per cent of the GDP.

In 1992 the Conference Board of Canada defined small, medium and large businesses and gave the annual average cost of employment equity for each category. Due to the lack of comprehensive studies in Canada, Reform took these figures, with the assistance of the Library of Parliament, to cover businesses across the nation. If all Canadian businesses were subject to equity legislation which was in place in Ontario, where firms with more than 50 employees were asked to have an employment equity plan, the total annual direct costs would be $1,035,223,000.

These direct costs exclude compliance, opportunity and other indirect costs. The Forbes study showed that total costs were six times the direct costs. Based on this, the cost to Canadian business would reach $6.5 billion per annum, nearly 1 per cent of our GDP. The Library of Parliament has confirmed in writing the reasonableness of our figures.

In essence this is another costly tax on business. The government's debt and deficit are already choking our economy. Taxpayers are unable to sustain even more expense, be it direct or indirect. The department of public works is already implementing a strategic procurement initiative which applies to all government depart-

ments and grants preference to aboriginal businesses bidding on federal contracts up to $2 million.

By giving preferential treatment to native businesses in government procurement, the government hopes to provide a sustainable economic base for native self-government. However, employment equity carries a stigma and a presumption of racial or gender inferiority. Equity programs do not remove sex and race bias from the workplace; they institutionalize them.

Brian Lee Crowley's article "Does counting bodies add up to fairness?" details findings of a 1987 study. What happens when women are promoted under a program emphasizing gender over ability is that they consistently rated their performance more negatively, took less credit for successful outcomes, were less eager to persist in their leadership roles. They also viewed themselves as more deficient in leadership skills. In other words, it diminished their worth in their own eyes.

In other areas such as education, law school, if doors are opened to individuals who are ill prepared to take on the challenge, the outcome can lead to failure and creates a dependency on government programs rather than fair competition.

This spring the supreme court sent a clear message the charter is meant to protect individual rights rather than group rights. Section 15 of the charter of rights and freedoms claims Canadians are equal before and under law. It adds governments cannot override this basic equality to enhance groups disadvantaged because of their race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

Madam Justice McLachlin in the Miron case stated the larger purpose is simply the protection of individual human dignity and freedom which are violated whenever individuals are denied opportunities based on the stereotypical application or presumed group characteristics rather than on the basis of individual merit, capacity or circumstance.

This hard hitting ruling clearly spells out that every person has the right to be judged on his or her own merits and not on the basis of group characteristics.

Reform's minority report to the standing committee's report "Employment Equity: A Commitment to Merit" has two very clear messages: employment competition based on the merit principle is key to both equality and productivity, and that employment equity legislation is the denial of basic human rights. I encourage all members of the House to read that report. It is not the status quo, but it does contain pertinent facts that tend to be glossed over.

Politically, employment equity gives the appearance of being the expedient means to achieve equity in the workplace; it is politically correct. It is hard for the government to move into new directions, to change the status quo. We grant that.

In the example I quoted earlier, on the Harris government's scrapping the employment equity law we heard screams of "unfair". For some, change becomes uncomfortable and they are unable to envisage innovative directions where there is equality of opportunity.

The government is intent on moving forward with a new law without a proper review. I stated earlier that some government agencies would be exempt, defence being one. The Department of National Defence has conducted a diversity survey which could be and probably will be a step toward affirmative action. During the defence review Liberal members pushed to have hiring quotas official defence policy. The Canadian forces anti-racism policy does exempt affirmative action programs from classification as racism.

In the 1970s promotion of thousands of francophones was distorted by going well down promotion lists to find someone with a suitable background. By this I do not mean 10, 15 or 20 names, I mean 40 or more. The same is going on at the moment for women, although to a lesser extent. Eleven per cent of the Canadian forces are women.

If all Canadians are equal before and under the law, we must not continue to support laws that patronize designated groups, in essence assume their mediocrity. Merit should be the underlying principle. Anything that detracts from the merit principle, civilian or military, is bad policy. Diversity studies clearly signal the government is moving to introduce characteristics other than merit to hiring or promotion programs.

Government's role should be to ensure equality of opportunity rather than the equality of results in the public sector. It is government's responsibility to provide a standard of secondary education which is accessible to all, local responsive post-secondary institutions, affordable student loans based on need, bursaries and scholarships based on need and excellence, sensitivity training in the public sector which supports inherent equality, dignity and worth of all.

We should ensure that laws against discrimination are enforced. Government should lead by example, by laying out objective testing regimes, by broad based advertising of all job postings and by offering facilities to accommodate disabled people wherever they may work. As Madam Justice McLachlin pointed out, the protection of individual human dignity and freedom is important for all.

We are not all equal in ability. Those who wish to pursue education or a vocation should not face discrimination barriers. Those who pursue this course deserve to reap the benefits and rewards of hard work.

Clearly, legislated equity does not achieve its goals. It is costly and it is unfair. Merit should be the sole hiring criterion in an environment free from arbitrary obstructions to hiring or promotion. Merit must be restored as the sole basis for hiring and promotion in the public service.