House of Commons Hansard #41 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pension.

Topics

Business Of The House

11 a.m.

Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel
Québec

Liberal

Alfonso Gagliano Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I ask for the unanimous consent of the House at this time to move the following motion:

That, notwithstanding any standing order or usual practice of this House, the bill in the name of the Minister of Labour, entitled an act to provide for the resumption of continuation of postal services, shall be disposed as follows:

  1. Commencing when this order is adopted and concluding when the said bill is read a third time, the House shall not adjourn except pursuant to a motion by a minister of the crown and no Private Members' Business shall be taken up;

  2. The bill may be read twice or thrice in the same sitting;

  3. After being read a second time, the said bill shall be referred to a committee of the whole;

  4. During the consideration of the said bill no division may be deferred.

Business Of The House

11:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Does the hon. minister have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Business Of The House

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Reform

Bill Gilmour Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

moved that Bill C-216, an act to amend the Access to Information Act (crown corporations), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, my private member's bill has a very simple concept. Crown corporations are split; some crown corporations are subject to access to information and others are not. That is basically the crux of the bill.

The Access to Information Act was passed in 1983 and gives Canadians broad legal rights to get information from crown corporations and federal government institutions. The institutions then have 30 days to respond to those requests.

However, many crown corporations are exempt from the Access to Information Act. I will list a number of them. The Canadian Development Investment Corporation and Canada Lands Company are both exempt. Canada Lands Company is the federal arm that sells federal real estate. Why should it be exempt from access to information? This does not make any sense. It is selling Canadian assets.

Canada Post Corporation is also exempt. Why should it be exempt? I had a letter from André Ouellet, the head of Canada Post, objecting to my bill, saying that Canada Post is open and accessible in front of committees. I happened to be the Reform member on the public works committee in the last Parliament and we had members of Canada Post Corporation in front of us. They were anything but open. We were trying to get the subsidy on the 45 cent stamp whether it was going over to Purolator. We just wanted the straight facts on how much of the 45 cent stamp goes to Purolator. Canada Post simply refused to answer. However, the letter I received from the head stated it was very open.

I have introduced this bill because it would open up Canada Post to the Access to Information Act.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is another one. Why should CBC not be subject to access to information? It should have its books opened up. The Canadian National Railway is also exempt. The Canadian Wheat Board is an interesting one because there is legislation before the House now that would take the wheat board out of the exemption status and put it into the area where Canadians can get information.

The Cape Breton Development Corporation, Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation, Halifax Port Corporation and Montreal Port Corporation are also exempt.

This is interesting. Why would Montreal and Halifax be exempt, and yet there are a number of other ports where there is access? This whole area is a dog's breakfast because some are open and some are not.

All my bill would do is make all crown corporations subject to access to information. There are a number of other members in this House who have different access to information private members' bills in, two on the government side and two on the opposition side that I am aware of.

This shows Canadians' interest in having the government accountable, government corporations, the federal departments open so that Canadians can access them, can find out what is going on inside.

This is not a closed club. This is just Canadians' money, Canadians wanting to know what is going on. My bill is votable. I am looking forward to the day when we can all stand up in this House and vote for it because I think it is a bill that has broad acceptance right across the floor, right around this House.

The reason this bill is put forward is to enhance public confidence in our government. Confidence in government institutions is dwindling.

In the last session of Parliament the auditor general published a scathing report on the operation of crown corporations on October 5, 1995. The auditor general is saying that crown corporations need to clean up their act.

Their problems were either in corporate and strategic planning or performance in measurement and reporting. Crown corporations need to be brought up. They need to be enhanced so they are accountable to the public.

I mentioned Canada Post. The government refused to put Canada Post forward for access to information in the last Parliament. Yet the Radwanski report, the report that did a detailed study of Canada Post, recommended that in fact Canada Post be open to access. The government failed to take that advice.

It is taxpayer money in these corporations that we are talking about. It is not some business or whatever. There would also have to be, in my mind, some cushions. For example, if there is a crown corporation that is in the open market, there would have to be some cushion that would allow that corporation to not divulge all its information if it is competing with a private enterprise because it has to be a level playing field.

It could not be allowed to open everything up so that the other corporation is private but then get into its market. There are some stumbling blocks. They are not stumbling blocks but little bumps on the road that need to be ironed out.

I would like to go over some of the corporations that I was talking about before. These corporations are already open. The Bank of Canada is open to access. CMHC and Canada Ports are open.

As I was saying earlier, Canada Ports is free for access, yet the Halifax port is not. It is just all over the place so that if we go through the list it makes absolutely no sense why one corporation, a port particularly, is not available and yet another one is.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

An hon. member

You have my support.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Reform

Bill Gilmour Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

This member says that I have support. That is two votes. We are really adding up here. The clock is just ticking ahead and we are very early in the game.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

An hon. member

Three.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Reform

Bill Gilmour Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Do I hear four? This is moving ahead very quickly. I am not going to elaborate greatly on this because the bill is so simple. In fact, there are about five words in the whole bill that basically change crown corporations from being split the way they are, some accessible, access to information, and others not.

My bill simply makes all crown corporations open to access. I think it is a good bill. I think it is a bill that will be supported broadly across this House. I hope, particularly, that the government side sees this as the way to go.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Bruce—Grey
Ontario

Liberal

Ovid Jackson Parliamentary Secretary to President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak today on the bill by the hon. member.

First of all, I would like to thank the members of my riding of Bruce—Grey for returning me to Parliament. I came to this country in 1966 with my family, my wife Verona, my daughter Sonja, who was six months old at the time, and my son Andrew. I knew it was one of the best countries in the world. It has certainly proven itself to be so.

I was a high school teacher and in 1968 I moved to Owen Sound and entered public life. I did so because I wanted to make a difference, to make the community better. I became a Liberal member because of the the programs of the Liberal Party of caring for the aged, the young, health care and education.

There is no question that sometimes when I am sitting in the House I am reminded of my old classroom days. I taught auto mechanics to a young man named John Garvey who is now one of the best mechanics we have in our city. I had many conversations with him about his future and his career. I had conversations with many young men in the locker room after a basketball game, such as Kevin Belbeck who is now a veterinarian and has a good life.

On June 2, I was reminded by the arrival of my grand-daughter, Haley Jackson Bruin, a member of the next generation of the Jackson family of this great country of ours. I know her future will be sustained because we in the House, the highest court in the land, do a good job with our human and material resources.

Bill C-216 tabled by the hon. member for Nanaimo—Alberni is one that I cannot support. The hon. member's bill will redefine the current definition of government institution in section 3 of the Access to Information Act to mean any department or ministry of state of the Government of Canada listed on schedule I, any body or office listed on schedule I, or any crown corporation as defined in the Financial Administration Act.

In effect the bill would redefine government institution in the Access to Information Act to include all crown corporations. A weighty proposal, indeed, and one which warrants thorough examination.

Passed in 1983, the act gave Canadians a broad legal right to information recorded in any form under the control of most federal institutions. Access rights are not absolute. They are subject to specific and limited exemptions, balancing the freedom of information against individual privacy, commercial confidentiality and national security. The hon. member's bill would alter that balance.

Some 27 crown corporations are already subject to the act. We recognize in principle that crown corporations can be subject to the act. For example, the Bank of Canada and Canada Post are subject to the act, while Atomic Energy of Canada Limited is not.

Bill C-216 would snare all crown corporations under the Access to Information Act. It assumes no difference in purpose among crown corporations. It does not consider the different environments in which they operate and it makes no allowances for the different demands placed upon crown corporations.

Canada's crown corporations operate at arm's length from the government in providing services to Canadians. They do so within the market in competition with private interests as the sole actor in a given area. Therefore not all crown corporations operate in the same environment or under the same conditions.

Those crown corporations that operate within the market do so in a competitive setting. The market is useful in allocating certain goods and services, but it is not perfect. A public presences helps ensure the delivery of goods and services to Canadians where delivery through private sector alone is found wanting.

We must ask ourselves how Bill C-216 would affect crown corporations operating in the market. By placing all crown corporations without exception under the Access to Information Act, the bill would put requirements on crown corporations that are not placed on private sector competitors.

Bill C-216 will place crown corporations at a competitive disadvantage. The Access to Information Act requires that government institutions respond to access to information requests within 30 days. Time, personnel and other resources will be devoted in order to comply. This is understood. However the free market operates within a slim market for its expenses. Bill C-216 would force crown corporations to spend time, money and energy answering questions that their competitors are not required to answer.

Canadians want crown corporations to compete under fair and equitable conditions. Under the bill a competitor could bind a crown corporation in endless requests for information, putting a drain on time, people and finances that no private competitor would have to endure. Under Bill C-216 a competitor could obtain vital business information about a crown corporation with no obligation to reciprocate by disclosing similar material in return.

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited is an example of a crown corporation that operates in a highly competitive environment. It competes on a commercial basis in the marketplace and should be treated the same as its competitors. AECL is thus able to protect its sensitive commercial information as well as commercial information received from global customers and partner companies. If AECL or Canada Post were unable to protect confidential commercial information from competitors, its ability to compete could be seriously affected.

The hon. member's Bill C-216 would jeopardize equal treatment in the marketplace for AECL, Canada Post and other crown corporations. Has the hon. member consulted crown corporations on the bill? Does he not believe in fair and equal treatment in the marketplace, or would he prefer that all crown corporations simply withdraw altogether from the market?

Those who speak on behalf of Bill C-216 may use the language of accountability and transparency, but by putting conditions on crown corporations that are not placed on private companies they show disdain for or at least misunderstanding of the idea of a public presence in the marketplace.

This is a great House where we can debate and discuss ideas. The hon. member must have felt some things could be changed when he drafted the bill. These things could happen if the government wanted to do so. However, as I have explained, his bill would jeopardize a lot of the business the Government of Canada is trying to do for people. We already have built-in mechanisms and ministers report to the House on these matters.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege and an honour for me to represent the people of Jonquière, who elected me in the last election and expect greater transparency in their government institutions.

I am pleased, therefore, to inform you that the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of Bill C-216, an Act to amend the Access to Information Act, presented by my colleague for Nanaimo—Alberni.

This bill is aimed at broadening application of the Access to Information Act to include crown corporations as defined by the Financial Administration Act, making them more accessible to the people of Quebec and of Canada, and requiring them to be answerable for their administration.

The Bloc Quebecois cannot do otherwise than to approve this bill, in the name of democratic principles, the taxpayer's right to know, and our desire to see greater transparency in the administration of public affairs.

I will remind my colleagues in this House that the Access to Information Act was passed in 1982 and implemented the following year. This act obliged governmental institutions to give access to their documents.

I will pass over the exceptions to access to information in order to address our primary concern, which is the fact that a number of crown corporations are not subject to this act. On numerous occasions during the 35th Parliament, the Bloc Quebecois has spoken out on having the Access to Information Act apply to all publicly funded government institutions.

For those of you who were in this House during the previous Parliament, I will remind you that the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques tabled a motion, Motion No. 260 to be precise, which read as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should make all Crown corporations subject to the Privacy Act.

I would remind you, to guide us in our reflection on Bill C-216, that all of the arguments around Motion No. 260 focused on broadening the scope of the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act.

Each of us can take the statement of principle adopted by the House as an invitation to move to another stage in amending the Access to Information Act. The Bloc Quebecois is not the only one to argue for broadening of the Access to Information Act. We can go back as far as 1987, when the Standing Committee on Justice and the Solicitor General recommended that crown corporations be more accountable.

The committee recommended that the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act be extended to include crown corporations and wholly owned subsidiaries that appear in the Treasury Board's annual report to Parliament on crown corporations and joint ventures.

In principle, the committee wanted the Access to Information Act to be applied to crown corporations in which the government had controlling interest and which provided the public with goods and services on a commercial or semi-commercial basis.

The committee's recommendations are unequivocal. The commercial nature of certain corporations is no reason to exclude them from the provisions of the bill before us. In fact, the Standing Committee on Justice and the Solicitor General felt that the legitimate secrets of these corporations would be properly protected by the various exceptions provided by the Access to Information Act.

In this regard, sections 18 and 20, which concern issues relating to Canada's economic interests and disclosure of trade secrets, provide for such exceptions. I do not agree with the viewpoint we will no doubt hear expressed on this sort of argument, which I consider without merit.

We will recall that John Grace, the commissioner of information in 1993-94, recommended extending the Access to Information Act to cover all federal institutions, including crown corporations.

What is more, the crown corporations are covered by the Official Languages Act since its enactment in 1969. In addition, subsidiaries established under federal law, which are the exclusive property of crown corporations, come under the Financial Administration Act since its amendment in 1984. So, there are precedents for Bill C-216.

A number of questions have been raised regarding the Canada Post Corporation's operations and its funding. There is a flagrant lack of transparency. Many Canadians and Quebeckers think that the government should be more actively involved in supervising Canada Post in the public interest.

Extending the Access to Information Act to Canada Post would allow us, parliamentarians, to make the corporation accountable for its overall administration, about which we hardly know anything. And this is but one instance where parliamentarians have very little information to work from in answering the numerous inquiries from their constituents.

All in all, 15 years after its coming into effect, it is high time for the government to broaden the scope of the Access to Information Act as provided for in Bill C-216.

Many taxpayers wonder about the enormous salaries paid to crown corporation executives, as social programs are being slashed. No wonder they are sceptical.

Too many Quebeckers and Canadians are disillusioned by federal institutions, public administration and politicians. The time has come to change tack and show our commitment to the democratic values of our society. A relationship of trust must be restored between governments and the public, and I sincerely believe that passing the bill before us would be a positive step in this direction.

I therefore ask my hon. colleagues in the House of Commons to carefully consider the merits of the proposed amendments and support this bill aimed at broadening the Access to Information Act to include crown corporations.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to get this debate on track immediately.

I obviously support Bill C-216. I think it is an excellent bill in every way, and very important right now. However, this morning when I arrived at my office, the effect of Bill C-216 was clearly felt because on my desk were representations by letter from the CBC and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited complaining that this bill, if passed into law, would be a serious threat to their competitive position and other things.

Let's just get it straight for everyone. Section 18 of the existing Access to Information Act fully protects the competitive position of any government institution. I will read a section from that. Section 18 states: “The head of a government institution”, which could be CBC or AECL “can refuse to disclose any record requested under the act that contains trade secrets or financial, commercial, scientific or technical information that belongs to a government institution and has substantial value”.

Furthermore, in subsection (b) of section 18 it states that the “government institution can refuse to disclose information that can be reasonably expected to prejudice the competitive position of a government institution”.

I have the greatest respect for the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board, the hon. member for Bruce—Grey, but the reality is that the current Access to Information Act fully protects an institution's competitive position.

If you go further through section 18 you will find other provisions. In fact, it is too broad because it does not put a monetary value on the commercial information that belongs to the government institution. It should, and I think an amendment is in order there. Let's get it straight from the outset that there is no problem with respect to the competitive position of Canada Post or anyone else. That is a red herring. It is a red herring that has been around for years and it is time we were done with it.

Second, I received a letter from the CBC and it raised an additional concern, that we should hesitate with regard to applying the Access to Information Act to an organization like the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It brought up the question of journalistic integrity.

I have been a journalist for a long time, both as a reporter and as an editor, and I cannot say that I can remember a single instance in which I received or sent a note that I was not willing to let the public see. Journalists are like politicians.

The reality is that neither journalists nor politicians want to do anything that is improper. When we talk about journalistic integrity, we mean not only what is open and public but also what is not open and public. There should be nothing in journalism that should not be available to the public to read. There may be some things that would cause embarrassment, but that is another case entirely.

I cannot see the problem of opening up the CBC to the Access to Information Act. There may be an argument that the journalists receive all kinds of information in confidence from the people they talk to. Indeed, editors and reporters do discuss with individuals in confidence when they are preparing stories.

Section 19 of the current Access to Information Act covers that as well. It says that a government institution may refuse to disclose any information which is considered personal information under section 3 of the Privacy Act.

I happen to have that section 3 of the Privacy Act. I will not read all of the types of personal information protected by the Privacy Act and consequently would be protected under the Access to Information Act, but section (b) says it would be information relating to the medical, criminal or employment history of an individual. Another section says correspondence sent to a government institution by the individual is implicitly confidential and the views and opinions of another individual about the individual.

When we examine that section of the Privacy Act which is covered by the Access to Information Act, we realize that a journalist and an MP for that matter in dealing in a confidential manner with the public, those confidential dealings would be excluded under the Access to Information Act.

The CBC has no case for exclusions under the act because the act already provides for the type of concerns the CBC might raise. On the other hand, what would we get if the Access to Information Act did apply to the CBC or AECL? What would we get access to? We might get access to records that deal with mismanagement. We might get access to records that deal with nepotism. I understand from some of my sources that nepotism is a little bit of a problem in the CBC. We might get access to records that deal with laziness or political correctness. I bet the CBC has a problem with political correctness.

Would we not as parliamentarians and the public love to see documents pertaining to political correctness. What it boils down to is this. We cannot regulate institutions whether they are for profit government institutions or whatever unless we have transparency. We cannot have accountability without transparency. We must have a certain level of confidentiality.

In the Access to Information Act there is plenty of provision for that and maybe too much. The important thing is for open government. An institution that proclaims itself to be an institution of integrity should be willing to have much of its documents open to the public so that we the taxpayer, the MPs who are actually paying the salary of the CBC, can see whether its is running as efficiently as it should.

I support Bill C-216. I think every member of this House should get onside.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gilles Bernier Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House today to speak on private members Bill C-216, an act to amend the Access to Information Act with respect to crown corporations.

My party has always favoured more openness and transparency in government. It is important for taxpayers to know how their government is spending their money. It is important for Canadians to understand what are the priorities of their parliament and how the bureaucracy is implementing the government's agenda.

This bill raises a new issue. Should the Access to Information Act be extended to include crown corporations as defined under the Financial Administration Act? Some crown corporations are already subject to the Access to Information Act such as Canada Mortgage and House Corporation. Others such as Canada Post and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. are not. The argument made most often by these companies is that because they are subject to competitive pressures of the marketplace, they should be exempt from the access act. Their legitimate fear is their competitors will use the act to obtain sensitive competitive information which could be used to undermine the corporation's competitive advantage.

I phoned the information commissioner's office not long ago to try to resolve these competing interests. What I learned is that under section 18 of the Access to Information Act government institutions can exempt competitively sensitive information. Here is what the act says: “The head of a government institution may refuse to disclose any record requested under this act that contains (a) trade secrets or financial, commercial, scientific or technical information that belongs to the Government of Canada or a government institution and has substantial value or is reasonably likely to have substantial value; (b) information the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to prejudice the competitive position of a government institution”.

It goes on to also exclude “information the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to be materially injurious to the financial interests of the Government of Canada”.

Section 18 then may offer exemptions significant enough under the act that crown corporations would be able to comply with the act without having to disclose sensitive competitive information.

These are issues which must be resolved before a change to the Access to Information Act can be contemplated. In principle we support this bill subject to some changes which I foresee as necessary to protect the integrity of the crown corporations.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Kent—Essex
Ontario

Liberal

Jerry Pickard Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, the bill before us in the House seeks to make all crown corporations subject to the Access to Information Act.

When the hon. member introduced his bill he mentioned that crown corporations such as Canada Post, among others, should be subject to the Access to Information Act in order to make them accountable. He also mentioned that crown corporations are exempt from the act even though they are subsidized by the taxpayers of Canada.

I found his comments very interesting because I have a special interest in Canada Post as the Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Public Works and Government Services who happens to hold the responsibility for Canada Post.

I would therefore like to concentrate my remarks on the impact the proposed amendments would have on Canada Post Corporation. First, let me put to rest a fundamental misconception. I am happy to inform the hon. member that since 1988 Canada Post Corporation has not received a single cent of taxpayers' support.

How did it accomplish this impressive feat? It did it because of the direction provided by the Liberal government that created Canada Post Corporation back in 1981. I mentioned before in 1981 Canada Post was incorporated for the purpose of operating on a self-sustaining financial basis. As one of the few crown corporations under the Financial Administration Act, it is recognized that Canada Post operates in a competitive environment. It also is recognized by members on this side of the House that it is not dependent on the appropriations of the Canadian government.

The hon. member said that Canada Post Corporation needs to be open and accountable and I have to say that it is entirely that position this government supports. However, if one looks at the facts, one sees that it is already the case at Canada Post. One only has to read Canada Post's annual statement this year to see that the crown corporation is committed to these principles in both its operation and financial reporting.

Actually the front page of the report says “A Look Inside Our Business”. If the hon. member had taken time to read the report he would have noticed that Canada Post Corporation has its results on a segmented basis and includes an opinion from an independent auditor confirming Canada Post does not cross-subsidize competitive services with revenues from basic letter service.

The report also provides a detailed discussion of the financial results to the highest standard, that required of publicly listed companies. Canada Post is in fact far more open to public scrutiny than its competitors and that is because of this government's commitment to openness.

Since October 1, 1997 Canadians can count on an additional level of accountability at Canada Post with the appointment of a Canada Post ombudsman who will provide an independent avenue for customers whose issues or problems cannot be resolved through normal channels.

As I mentioned earlier, Canada Post has a commercial mandate. This mandate was reconfirmed recently when Canada Post underwent a review of its mandate. In its final response to the Canada Post mandate review, the government confirmed that the corporation requires a commercial mandate in order to ensure that Canadians enjoy a universal postal service.

The private sector competes with many of the services offered by Canada Post. Having financial objectives comparable to that of the private sector, Canada Post cannot successfully continue to meet its mandate if it cannot compete on a level playing field with its competitors.

A Federal Express spokesman appearing before a Canada Post mandate review committee in 1996 highlighted the concern that all companies operating in competitive markets have in regard to access to proprietary information. He said, “I would obviously love to see Canada Post's detailed financial information but I do not think it is fair because, should I see it, then our competitors ought to see mine”. I am in favour of fairness, but what the hon. member is proposing is obviously not fair. Even the Federal Express employee recognized this.

The government must have regard to public interest. In many of the markets in which Canada Post participates, it faces vigorous competition including that posed by large, well financed multinationals such as United Parcel Service and FedEx.

The requirement that Canada Post disclose costs, revenue, operational and consumer information would certainly create a very uneven playing field. Although I do not dispute the merits of accountability and openness in the sectors of the federal government, one must consider the impact of applying across the board disclosure rules to commercial crown corporations.

In this case Canada Post would be placed at a very obvious disadvantage with its competitors unable to collect information themselves but their competitors know all the competitive strategies enlisted by Canada Post. Under the disclosure environment being proposed, these competitors would be under no obligation to release their operational figures to Canada Post.

The reduced competitiveness of Canada Post resulting from compliance with the Access to Information Act would impact on Canada Post's ability to require self-sufficiency. This may in turn reduce the level of postal service to Canadians at a much higher cost to postal services.

Canadians deserve an affordable universal postal service. Despite the challenges posed by this country's size, low population density and extreme weather conditions, Canada Post has been able to provide a postal rate that continues to be among the lowest in the world. That is very good for Canadians and something we all should be proud of.

In conclusion, this government is committed to openness. The government is committed to accountability. However, the legislation before us would cause more harm to Canadians than good. It is not in the public interest and that is why I cannot support it.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Reform

Monte Solberg Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, when I came into the House today I did not intend to speak on this particular matter. However it is an important bill and I feel compelled to stand and rebut some of the things my colleagues across the way are saying.

I would first point out to my hon. friend that Canada Post is a monopoly. That is its biggest competitive advantage. I do not think any of the competitors of Canada Post are going to be able to succeed in somehow imperilling the ability of Canada Post to get by when it is a monopoly. In fact the hon. member said it would reduce service. Well I point out that we have no service today. We have a postal strike and that is because there is a monopoly in Canada Post. I thought it was important to point that out.

I want to speak to Bill C-216 from the perspective of a westerner. I note that one of the things Bill C-216 would do would be to open up the Canadian Wheat Board to an access to information request. I cannot say how important that is to western producers today.

As members and many Canadians across the country know, right now in western Canada there is great dissatisfaction with the Canadian Wheat Board on a number of fronts. One of the ones that is most important is that producers in the west do not know for sure that they are getting the best possible price for their grain. Yesterday when I was in my hometown I saw a bumper sticker on a truck which read “We want the Canadian Wheat Board to be subject to access to information requests”. That is very reasonable.

What we need to point out here is that farmers who grow their own wheat do not have the ability ultimately to find out how much the wheat board is selling that grain for, whether or not it is getting the best possible price. It is impossible for them to determine that. I would argue that when we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars, when we are talking about the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people, they should as a basic right know what is going on with their grain and what is happening in terms of the price they are getting for it.

I strongly support this legislation, Bill C-216. I urge all members to consider supporting it. It does after all bring accountability to crown corporations at a time when, I would argue, unfortunately politicians are held in fairly low regard partially because it seems as if we try to protect our own interests.

One way to ensure that we do not do that is to open all the crown corporations up to access to information legislation so that Canadians can scrutinize these things. The auditor general can scrutinize them. Right now he does not have the ability to do that in some cases. Then we could ensure that money that is being spent on behalf of Canadians is being spent wisely and in their interests.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-216 which seeks to have the Access to Information Act apply to crown corporations.

I want to say at the outset that I have a great deal of respect for the private members' bill process. It is one of the few ways in which members have an opportunity to come forward with various legislative initiatives, hopefully to make sure that our government and its operations are working well and that the best interests of our constituents are well represented in this place.

It is very relevant for me to speak on this bill because the Candu division of AECL is in my riding, in fact within a couple of hundred yards of my home. I have had communications from them. I wanted to rise because they are constituents. I want to speak on behalf of the Candu group of AECL.

It is very important that whenever we have legislation and although there may be some emotional reasons and there may be some specific very good reasons why certain bills should be in place, from time to time we have to be very vigilant that there would not be unintended consequences. It is extremely important. We have to be very, very careful of there not being unintended consequences.

When one of the previous speakers addressed the bill, he tried to articulate what reasons one may have for having the Access to Information Act extended to crown corporations. In general, accountability and transparency are very important. The member articulated four specific reasons and I would like to repeat them because they characterize what the possible intent and perhaps misguided position may be with regard to this bill.

The first reason was to identify mismanagement in a crown corporation. The auditor general is responsible for the audits of crown corporations. He has available to him all of the necessary expertise to deal with that. In fact the auditor general does report.

I cannot for a moment believe that some individual—not necessarily a member of Parliament as we must keep in mind that we are talking about the public at large—would obtain information through the Access to Information Act which would somehow expose mismanagement. This is suggesting that somehow uninformed communications or broad questions may impale some crown corporation.

These kinds of things are the responsibility of the auditor general and are done very well by the auditor general. I do not believe for a moment that mismanagement is a valid reason to expose crown corporations which may or may not be involved in commercial activity. I do not believe that would be a compelling reason to have this bill pass and have crown corporation information subject to the Access to Information Act.

There were three other reasons given and I want to group them. As a group they substantiate the fact that there is a more frivolous intent here. There were four reasons given. The first was mismanagement. The other three were to expose laziness, nepotism and political incorrectness.

Those were the four reasons given by someone who has been a champion of getting underneath charitable institutions and crown corporations. However to start having witch hunts on laziness, nepotism and political incorrectness seems to be a very unsubstantial line of thinking as to why we might need this kind of legislation.

It is important to get back to the real issue. The real issue is whether or not there are unintended consequences as a result of changes, such as making crown corporations subject to the Access to Information Act.

I want to deal specifically with the case of AECL. I want members to know that the main commercial business of AECL, which is the export of Candu reactors, is not supported in any way by taxpayers' dollars. I want to repeat that. AECL's main commercial business, the export of Candu reactors, is not supported in any way by tax dollars. There is no public subsidy on the export of Candu reactors.

Canada has never lost a cent on the Candu export deals. Money loaned by Canada stays in Canada to pay for sophisticated equipment manufactured in Canadian factories and technical project services.

Since AECL competes against some of the world's largest multinationals, it has to operate like a business and protect its commercial information.

There is also the flip side. AECL in its commercial activity deals with literally hundreds of suppliers and service vendors. Information concerning those other companies which employ tens of thousands of people is also in the records of AECL. To the extent that AECL would be subject to the Access to Information Act, not only would we be talking about the commercial activities of AECL, we would also be talking about the activities of all of those companies which deal with AECL.

I want to raise this point as it is an important one. No matter where legislation comes from, whether it be government bills or private members' bills, we have to be vigilant about the risk of unintended consequences. I believe that the AECL example is a good one. Its commercial activity is not subsidized by the government which may present a problem or a risk to AECL as well as to hundreds of other businesses which deal with AECL and which employ hundreds of Canadians.