House of Commons Hansard #89 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was standing.

Topics

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-216, an act to amend the Access to Information Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak today to Bill C-216, an act to amend the Access to Information Act.

In 1981 when the bill which led to our existing Access to Information Act was passed, it was clear the legislators of the day had a strong desire to create a new era of government openness and accountability. Today there is no question that government is open, transparent and accountable to Canadians, thanks to the Access to Information Act.

While the legislators of 1981 saw fit to exclude a number of crown corporations, since making their information accessible would possibly harm the public interests, these excluded institutions nevertheless have managed to become open, transparent and accountable themselves through means other than the Access to Information Act. Our Access to Information Act deserves credit for creating a culture of openness which permeates the public sector regardless of whether this or that public corporation is subject to access laws.

All branches of government are aware of how highly valued openness and accountability have become. Their daily operations are guided by that awareness. Given the kind of public sector we have today, the proposed amendment looks like an excessive, unnecessary and possibly even hazardous venture.

Let us discuss Canada Post for the next few minutes, especially since the member opposite thinks it makes such a compelling argument for revising the act.

What do Canadians need to know about Canada Post? Do they need to know, for example, how federal assets are managed? Of course they do. However they already receive that information from sources such as the corporation's annual report and the corporate plan summary. They also receive this information when corporate officials are questioned by members of parliament from both sides of the House at their regular appearances before parliamentary committees.

The members who took part in the February 17 meeting of the natural resources and government operations committee can attest to the frankness of the discussion when the minister responsible for Canada Post and the president of Canada Post answered questions on a broad range of subjects.

Do they need to know whether Canada Post cross-subsidizes? Yes, but Canadians already have that answer after several independent audits have investigated the allegation. Most important, Canadians can count on getting an annual answer to that question not by virtue of new federal legislation but rather by virtue of Canada Post's decision to begin reporting its financial results on a segmented basis, product line by product line, beginning with its 1996-97 annual report.

Do they need to know if Canada Post is open about the handling of their complaints or concerns? Absolutely and certainly. It was for that very reason that the first Canada Post ombudsman was named last August. Thanks to this impartial public advocate Canadians will now have new recourse if they feel their complaints have not been adequately dealt with.

If the ombudsman's investigations find that further recourse is possible the individual will get a fair treatment, and rightly so, which he or she would deserve. If the opposite is found then the individual will be able to resist and rest assured that Canada Post did its utmost to accommodate them. I fail to see what the member's sweeping amendment would add to that process.

Frankly, I find it surprising that a party which has always proclaimed itself as wanting less rather than more should embark on a campaign now to create bureaucrat obstacles to the successful management of crown corporations. It is all the more surprising given the Reform Party's platform which advocates the privatization of Canada Post. Clearly, Reform thinks Canada Post should become less and not more of a concern to Canadians. So which is it? We have become used to hearing contradictions from the other side of the House and we have yet another example before us today on this matter.

When he spoke of Bill C-216 during the earlier debate my hon. colleague from Mississauga South warned us of the unintended consequences of the bill. I agree with him that we have to be very, very careful of there not being such consequences. Let me remind the member, as well as all members who may be enticed by the bill, that where Canada Post and other crown corporations are concerned Bill C-216 is a solution in search of a problem. We all know that a certain road to a certain place is paved with good intentions, but I would caution all members in the House against travelling down that road.

By enacting this sweeping amendment to the Access to Information Act I believe big business would profit long before ordinary Canadians. In Canada Post's case the corporation would be placed at an obvious disadvantage while its competitors would be able to collect the information which would allow them to devise tailor-made competitive strategics against it.

Under the disclosure environment the member is proposing these competitors would be under no obligation and certainly no encouragement to release the same information about themselves. With this kind of inequality in the marketplace the demise of Canada Post would not be very far behind.

I wonder what favour the member thinks he would be doing Canadians by removing a key competitor in the area of message and parcel conveyance. I wonder how the member could explain to Canadians how less competition is a good thing, especially when no Canada Post competitor provides service from coast to coast to coast.

Canadians have a committed public corporation in Canada Post, a corporation dedicated to providing all Canadians with basic service whether they live in Tofino or Port Alberni. The member's bill does nothing but threaten the very foundation of that commitment.

What about the expense of managing the flood of requests that would confront any crown corporation operating in a competitive environment should the bill become law? Did the hon. member think about that when drafting his proposals? Is it true that Canadians have a vested interest in crown corporations since the government is the sole shareholder? That is true.

The time and expense of processing access to information requests and defending the application of exemptions to corporate records cannot be justified.

To amend a piece of legislation you need better reasons than to say that some crown corporations must comply with the Access to Information Act while others are exempt. Before considering such a drastic measure, the public interest would have to be in jeopardy.

I do not see any proof of that with regard to Canada Post and other crown corporations exempt from the Access to Information Act. I have heard no compelling argument to apply the act to corporations that are already open and transparent.

For these reasons I cannot support a bill that would cause more harm than good to these institutions and the Canadians they serve. I would ask that all members do likewise.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak today to Bill C-216, an act to amend the Access to Information Act. The amendment aims at changing the definition of government institutions in the Access to Information Act to include any department or ministry of the Government of Canada, any body or office listed or any crown corporation as defined in the Administration Act.

I support the spirit of the bill if the spirit is indeed to provide Canadians with greater access and knowledge about the operations of government. As a New Democrat I support greater access to information and greater accountability of government for spending decisions. I hope that everyone in the House feels the same.

However, I would like to see an amendment to the bill which would exclude the CBC from its jurisdiction. The reasons which make this exclusion necessary are obvious. If the CBC were to be subject to the Access to Information Act it would no longer be able to operate as a public broadcaster at arm's length from the government. This would undermine the legitimacy and credibility of the CBC which is mandated by parliament to provide a public broadcasting system pursuant to the Broadcasting Act.

If Bill C-216 defines the CBC as a government institution then any information the CBC has in its possession would be accessible to everyone. This could seriously hurt journalistic credibility and it would seriously hurt the public's access to important information which we depend on our public broadcaster to provide.

Let me make a case in point. Last month the CBC did an excellent series of radio documentaries on the growing influence of the Hells Angels in Canadian society. This program would not have seen the light of day if dozens of individuals had not been guaranteed anonymity. Their safety, their lives and the lives of their families depended on the anonymity provided by the corporation.

Current affairs and news programming depend on an intricate system of secure information, guaranteeing sources, building up contacts and guaranteeing confidentiality. All of these processes would be made impossible if the CBC became open to scrutiny under the Access to Information Act.

Under the bill in its present form, the CBC would no longer be able to protect its sources. All past, present and future records under all CBC departments would be subject to access applications. A public broadcaster cannot operate in this fashion.

This is not to say that the operations of the CBC should remain outside of public scrutiny. The CBC is fully accountable in terms of providing information to parliament and to the Canadian public. There are ways of holding the CBC accountable which do not undermine the very mandate with which it has been charged.

If adopted in its present form, Bill C-216 would substantially impede the CBC's journalistic and programming capabilities. I will therefore not be able to support it.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Bloc

Antoine Dubé Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, it is my turn to speak on this subject and, like the other Bloc MPs, I must say I am in favour of this bill because it is aimed at providing MPs and the general public with greater access to information.

This bill has only one clause, which extends it to all crown corporations, since a number of these are currently excluded, such as the CBC, to which my colleague has referred, the Canadian Wheat Board and Canada Post. It is intended to avoid any ambiguity.

For example, a schedule to the present act calls for the 20 departments currently in existence within the federal government to be listed specifically, along with 109 government organizations or agencies. In order to be really sure that some crown corporations are not left out, there is also the Financial Administration Act, which applies to all crown agencies reporting to the federal government.

It seems to me that this is a good idea. First of all, the present legislation has some things in it which reassure me. The desire is to extend it to all crown corporations, but it must be kept in mind that protection of personal information comes under another act. We know that act prevents the release of any kind of personal information, particularly in the case to which my colleague referred. The purpose is to protect any information concerning private citizens.

As far as businesses are concerned, as soon as there is a question of commercial relations, of competition, there are also provisions to protect companies, even the three crown corporations currently under discussion, which would now be subject to the act. The others are already covered and are protected in the event of business competition. I have trouble understanding the reservations some colleagues may have with this, as it is clear in the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act that they are protected.

Another reason we are in favour of this bill is that a committee was struck to include all parties in the House, the Standing Committee on Justice. It began to study the whole matter in March 1987, at which time it was already recommending extension of the Access to Information Act to all crown corporations. So, this goes back a long way. And all parties were represented.

The CBC in particular argued in its brief to the committee that the corporation felt it was being targeted by the Access to Information Act and claimed to be restricted with respect to a number of programs it planned to broadcast. Arguments similar to those I mentioned earlier were put forward. The disclosure of any form of personal information was prohibited under the law. This meant that the CBC would be protected.

However, while in favour of extending the bill to all crown corporations, I have a number of concerns. As a member of Parliament, I asked several of my colleagues from different parties how long it takes to obtain information under the current access to information legislation. It depends on the subject of course. Those who managed to obtain information under this act in less than three weeks or 20 days were few and far between. Some said it could take as long as three months. That is quite a long time.

Often, while not refusing to provide the information requested, the access to information commission will ask for further details, thus delaying the process even further. I do not think it is in the public interest to allow this to go on any longer. However, the bill put forward by our colleague from the Reform Party does not go that far. It simply seeks to apply the bill to a few more corporations.

Let me give you another example. Given the time it takes the access to information commission to provide information—it can take up to three months, as I said—some government service policies were established. For instance, it is the policy of the former Federal Office of Regional Development for Quebec, or FORD-Q, now known as the Economic Development for Quebec Regions Agency, to wait three months before providing information like the name of companies benefiting from a government program. That is a very long time.

In many cases, the grant or loan is awarded. Even in the present situation this gives very little opportunity, for instance to an opposition MP or even the media, to acquire information, given the turnaround time. Since it takes so long, people are often going to give up trying to find out, and just let it go.

In my capacity as the member for Lévis, in the fall of 1996 I was involved with a subsidy for the building of a vessel for the Department of National Defence. The Lévis shipyard had made a tender but was not selected, it seems, as the top bidder. I tried to analyze their tender. I can tell you that this was back in August 1996 and at that time, because it was related to defence, we managed to get some of the information, but 85% of what I would have been interested in was deleted. They said that these parts revealed defence equipment specifications, or contained data that could be harmful to the competitive nature of a manufacturer.

At the present time, the system we have is far from perfectly accessible. On the contrary, because of the delays, the mechanisms, the exclusions set out in so many legal provisions, it is difficult to obtain all the information requested.

I would like to take advantage of the fact that there has just been a vote to state that it is most unacceptable for anyone in this House to want to vote against Bill C-208. It was finally adopted with the support of the majority, but this was a bill that called for penalties for falsifying or concealing official documents. I am somewhat concerned to see that some people would not want to see information as freely available as the public would like it to be. I am astonished that the NDP, a party I respect greatly for its defence of social causes in general, for its defence of citizens, would object to the public's having easier access to information.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Reform

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise today in the House and speak in favour of Bill C-216 which has been introduced by my colleague from Nanaimo—Alberni. Bill C-216 would make all crown corporations subject to the Access to Information Act.

As it now stands, some crown corporations are subject to the act while others are not. For instance while the ports of Halifax and Montreal are exempt from access to information, other ports are not. Canada Post, the CBC, the Export Development Corporation and the Canada Lands Company are also shielded from access to information requests.

What Bill C-216 does is bring some measure of public accountability to these crown corporations. While they receive taxpayers' dollars, taxpayers have no right to delve into particular aspects of the operation of those corporations. Surely everyone can recognize the unfairness of the present situation.

During the 1993 campaign the Liberals promised openness and transparency in government. However, five years later they have still kept this veil of secrecy over particular crown corporations. The Liberal cabinet has consistently argued that some organizations cannot be open to access to information because it would place them at a competitive disadvantage. They argue that their competitors could access sensitive information about their operations. This is simply not the case.

As was pointed out in December when Bill C-216 was in its first hour of debate, section 18 of the Access to Information Act allows the withholding of financial, commercial, scientific or technical information. Anything the corporation deems to be sensitive or of substantial value does not have to be disclosed.

Section 18(b) of the act specifically states that what does not have to be revealed is “information the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to prejudice the competitive position of a government institution”. I cannot see how this could be any clearer. I also cannot see how cabinet expects us to swallow its story about placing crown corporations at a competitive disadvantage.

Bill C-216 is about accountability and the public's right to know how their dollars are being spent. When Canada sold Candu reactors to China the financing was handled through the Export Development Corporation. The Export Development Corporation is a lending institution backed by taxpayers' dollars. Essentially we lent taxpayer money to China so that it could use it to buy Canadian reactors.

This unusual way of structuring foreign purchases of Canadian products raised concerns among many taxpayers. However, getting to the bottom of this deal and answering the legitimate concerns of taxpayers is impossible since the EDC is not subject to the Access to Information Act.

I have heard similar concerns in the west as it applies to the Canadian Wheat Board. While Bill C-4 will remove crown corporation status from the wheat board, the bill has yet to pass the Senate and so the board to this day remains a crown corporation and thereby is exempt from access to information requests.

Farmers cannot get any information relating to grain sales, sales contracts or administrative and general expenses. They cannot get any information as to why the board has been unable to collect some $7 billion in overdue payments from particular countries.

Canada Post has also come under fire because of its exemption from the Access to Information Act. Competitors have complained that the Canadian post office uses its mail monopoly to cross-subsidize its courier company Purolator. Canada Post denies that this is happening but it also refuses to completely open its books to public scrutiny. Canada Post is able to cross-subsidize and then deny it in the face of competitors' complaints.

The Radwanski report released in October 1996 did a complete mandate review of Canada Post. The report recommended that Canada Post be opened up to public scrutiny. Recommendation No. 30 of the Radwanski report reads “that Canada Post Corporation be made subject to the freedom of information act and to annual audit by the auditor general”. As with many recommendations in that report, the Liberals simply ignored it.

I was pleased to note that during the first hour of debate on the bill, the bill received support from most parties in the House. Liberal backbenchers supported it, the Bloc Quebecois spoke in favour of it and the Conservatives offered support in principle. It is encouraging to see that parties in the House can support good legislation coming through private members' business.

The situation reminds me of a similar circumstance involving a bill from the member for Sarnia—Lambton. The member introduced a bill that would ban negative option marketing. It had the support of the House but like C-216 it was denounced by cabinet. That is a strong statement in itself with respect to how government runs, its structure and the influence of individual MPs. That is a debate for another day.

I am just simply pleased that the majority of parties in this House can see the need for Bill C-216 and are prepared to support it.

John Grace, the information commissioner, said of Bill C-216 “It will make citizens better able to judge the performance of their governments and more informed voters. The guarantee of public access to government documents is indispensable in the long run for any democratic society”.

In a democracy there can never be enough public scrutiny, never enough accountability. Bill C-216 provides more public scrutiny and more accountability. It can only serve to strengthen our democratic system and our institutions.

I am looking forward to the vote on this bill. I urge all members of the House to vote in favour of this very important piece of legislation.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Shaughnessy Cohen Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this bill.

It is interesting that today as chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights I had the pleasure of receiving along with my colleagues, Mr. John Grace, the access to information commissioner. He will be leaving government service after nine years in this position. I know all of my colleagues on the committee and I am sure in parliament join me in wishing him well and thanking him for his many years of service. His service has been exemplary.

The Access to Information Act provides certain basic rights to Canadians. I am proud of the fact that Canada has been considered a world leader in this field since the act was proclaimed in July 1993.

Citizens have an unprecedented right of access to federal government records. Valuable concomitant privacy protection is afforded by the companion legislation, the Privacy Act. Government departments and agencies annually respond to between 12,000 and 13,000 requests under the Access to Information Act and to approximately 40,000 requests under the Privacy Act.

Canada now has about 15 years of experience with and scrutiny of the Access to Information Act. I welcome this opportunity to discuss means by which this legislation can be improved.

This private members' bill proposes to subject all federal crown corporations to the Access to Information Act and would accomplish this by changing the definition of government institution in section 3 of the present act. The present definition refers to “any department or ministry of state of the Government of Canada listed in schedule I or any body or office listed in schedule I”. Bill C-216, which we are debating today, adds to the definition “any crown corporation as defined in the Financial Administration Act”. The passage of this bill would summarily bring more than 20 additional federal institutions and agencies under access legislation.

I am convinced that the intent of this bill is laudable in that its objective is to enhance the accountability of government organizations. I also subscribe, as I know do all of my colleagues in the House, to more openness in government and to the opportunity for us as citizens to have more information. But I believe a negative impact on the commercial interests of crown corporations will result from this bill if it passes. This negative impact would largely outweigh any possible support in my mind.

We must remember that crown corporations have been created as the result of a deliberate choice of the Parliament of Canada to deliver particular programs and to deliver particular services by means of organizations other than the private sector or traditional departments and agencies of government. These corporations have a responsibility to serve the public interest but to do so within a commercial environment. This means that to the greatest extent possible they must be permitted to operate on a level playing field with their competitors, free from administrative burdens associated with other government bureaucracies.

In our previous debates on this matter, several issues have been raised. We have considered various exemptions within the current legislation that might provide adequate protection for the business interests of crown corporations. Section 18 has been cited by the proponents of this private members' bill as a possible means of protection, and I use the term possible advisedly.

I would suggest though that section 18 provides only a discretionary exemption. It allows federal institutions to withhold information, the release of which would be injurious to the commercial interests of those organizations and more importantly to the interests of Canada.

There appears though to be no agreement as to whether the act in its current form or even as amended by this bill offers the necessary protection to the commercial interests of various crown corporations. We therefore have to turn to the obvious questions.

Are we prepared to jeopardize the financial viability of these organizations by subjecting them to this legislation without first consulting to determine what unique factors exist within their market environments? Further, are we prepared to risk injury to the public interests that crown corporations serve by not first ensuring that we have adopted the appropriate protective mechanisms for their operations? I am not certain we should be taking risks like these unnecessarily.

I wish to address the issue of the administrative burden and the concept of the level playing field.

The Access to Information Act imposes a costly administrative burden on institutions. It is one thing for a government department to assume these burdens. It is quite another thing for a venture that is supposed to be commercially viable to do so.

According to recent statistics it costs on average more than $1,000 to complete a request submitted under the current legislation. These same statistics show that federal departments and agencies recoup less than 1% of the cost of providing information to applicants.

In the commercial world this is not good business. In the context of overhead it automatically places crown corporations at a competitive disadvantage with their private sector counterparts.

When I refer to the level playing field, I am referring to the fact that providing a right of access to information held by crown corporations could make them vulnerable to unscrupulous competitors. Some could view this right as an opportunity to submit unreasonable and voluminous requests, as has been the experience of some government agencies, particularly in the provincial sphere. I am thinking now with respect to access to information requests.

Even if the corporation is ultimately able to protect its sensitive information, the processing activities associated with responding to a barrage of requests could be crippling. Processing charges for applicants, which are stipulated within the access to information regulations, are minimal. There are many private sector companies with very deep pockets. They could sustain a very long and costly campaign without fear of retribution.

The same problem would not happen with a private commercial venture. There is no Access to Information Act that would allow someone to harass them or to go after them for a prolonged period of time with voluminous requests.

In summary, I want to emphasize four points concerning crown corporations and the potential impact of Bill C-216.

First, crown corporations were created to serve the public interests in a commercial rather than in a bureaucratic or heavily regulated environment.

Second, at this time the provisions of the Access to Information Act as presently drafted would not guarantee adequate protection for the commercial interests of crown corporations if this amendment were to pass.

Third, subjecting corporations to access legislation could impose an undue and unfair administrative burden on their operations.

Finally, failing to consult crown corporations to determine their market environments in advance of scheduling them under this act would expose them, in my view, to unnecessary competitive risks.

We all appreciate the intent of Bill C-216. Although I favour more openness in government, I cannot accept this bill. I believe it is too simplistic a solution for a complicated problem.

I want to thank the hon. member for bringing this bill forward and giving us the opportunity to debate this issue. It is timely that he did so today because, by coincidence, the justice committee had an opportunity to meet with the commissioner. This bill, while it may be a good start, is too simplistic a solution. I think it was H.L. Mencken who said that for every complicated problem there is a simplistic solution and it usually does not work.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

7 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, first, let me say that we will support Bill C-216, since it is a step in the right direction. I was very surprised by the comments of the government member who just spoke, putting a price on democracy. There is indeed a price to be paid for democracy. However, it is not an expenditure, but an investment.

It is very surprising to see that Bill C-216 would not be supported for reasons of money. The government invests hundreds of millions in democracy, and it should fulfil that financial commitment to the end. I am extremely surprised that this bill will not be supported for financial reasons. I am surprised and very disappointed.

The other argument raised by the government is that the act may not be able to include all crown corporations. If so, why is the government not prepared to review the whole legislation? We must first include everyone, put everyone in the same boat. Everyone must be covered by the same act, the Access to Information Act. If sections 18, 19 and 20 are incomplete, then let us work on them.

We cannot oppose Bill C-216. It is simply not possible. The moment there is a link with the federal government—whether monetary or historical—it means there once was a financial link and we must be able to conduct some audits. Several sections of the Access to Information Act are complete, including those that protect individuals, competitiveness, trade secrets, and so on.

I think we can be very open, but the government should stop saying it is against Bill C-216 for whatever reason, such as the cost, the fact that sections of the act would have to be changed or that crown corporations have not been consulted. Yet they know there are access-to-information changes in the works.

We could simply look at the whole picture, but I am convinced that we must support Bill C-216 before us.

What is also surprising about the Access to Information Act, to broaden the debate a bit, is that it is actually difficult to obtain information. The purpose of Bill C-216 is to increase the number of crown corporations in respect of which a request for information may be made. The fact remains that eventually the legislation will have to be amended, because information is very difficult to obtain.

The workings of justice in Canada are a little strange: one is innocent until proven guilty. Under the Access to Information Act, corporations interpret the act and rely on a particular section of it not to provide the information requested. Therefore, to prove a point, one must turn to the courts. The effect of this is to slow down the access-to-information process, meaning that the ordinary citizen who requests information stands a good chance of spending many years and incredible amounts of money to obtain a snippet of information.

At some point, the House is going to have to take a proper look at this, with a view to amending the Access to Information Act and making it complete. Naturally, with the globalization of markets, we must admittedly be careful, but Bill C-216 must under no circumstances jeopardize crown corporations.

However, what Bill C-216 is proposing is that Canadian taxpayers' money not be jeopardized. There must therefore be an audit system for going after information. We must ensure that the auditor can go after information without harming the competitiveness and profitability of corporations. So much the better if they are profitable, we all agree. However, let us hope for a little more leeway to go after information and pass it on to people.

In the House, members' expenses are a matter of public record. We pay attention to how we spend, because we know that the information in our budgets can be made public. You tend to be a little more careful.

This reaction is natural. A crown corporation which is not currently subject to the act might change the way it operates if it is included in the act. The $1,000 which was suggested does not mean you cannot get your money back.

I was mayor in a municipality, we were bound by the Access to Information Act and we complied with it. The act might be expensive for crown corporations, but private corporations also have publishing expenses related to their annual financial statements, shareholders meetings, and so on. There is no reason to get excited about that.

In conclusion, the Progressive Conservative Party will support Bill C-216. But again, we must go further. The context has changed a lot since the act was first introduced. Again, globalization should prompt Parliament to consider amendments to certain sections to better protect crown corporations, of course, but also the population as a whole.

Access To Information Act
Private Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Pursuant to the order made earlier this day, the House is deemed to have divided on the motion and a recorded division is deemed to have been requested and deferred until Tuesday, April 28, 1988, at the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Access To Information Act
Adjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it appears that there is a growing movement both nationally and internationally to have jails and/or correctional facilities privatized. We see this happening more and more. I note, for example, that New Brunswick, Ontario and Nova Scotia are experimenting with jails planned, constructed and operated by private interests. Meanwhile I also note that the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand have more than 130 proposed or completed correctional facilities with varying degrees of private involvement.

Some advocates who favour privatization argue that privatization can result in significant cost savings, fewer problems with inmates and better rehabilitation and education programs. Opponents, on the other hand, contend that privatization benefits a handful of large companies at the expense of long term public safety. They argue that the private sector has an incentive to keep prisons full to gain maximum profit, reducing the incentive to reform offenders, seek alternatives to jail or support crime prevention programs.

There have been some studies done in this area and it is interesting to note that some evaluations indicate that private prisons can yield savings of between 5% and 30% largely through smaller payroll costs. However, other studies, including a 1996 report by the United States general accounting office, found conflicting evidence on what to expect from privatization in the way of costs and quality of service.

All this means that privatization is a contentious issue. It clearly needs to be weighed out carefully before proceeding. The pros and cons must be carefully considered prior to any move to privatize prisons and/or correctional facilities.

My question to the solicitor general is quite simple. Is privatization worth trying or are prisons best left in the hands of the public sector?

Access To Information Act
Adjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

Vaudreuil-Soulanges
Québec

Liberal

Nick Discepola Parliamentary Secretary to Solicitor General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I congratulate the member for Waterloo—Wellington. I have been parliamentary secretary for a little over two years and I have never had to replace the minister in the late show as often as I have in the past session. Both times have been because of the member's interest and I know he is very tenacious and I compliment him on this.

The member has made a very clear case and a lot of the concerns he has expressed I share and I know the minister shares. I want to reassure the member for Waterloo—Wellington that the ministry of the solicitor general is in no way considering privatizing correctional services. We have to date almost 12% of certain aspects of corrections being privatized. I do not think the hon. member would argue that maybe laundry facilities or fire protection equipment, services of that nature, might be privatized.

The examples he has cited, especially in the United States, of privatizing certain facilities have certainly not demonstrated that they are successful in actually reducing costs. I agree with him that we have to be very prudent.

There is one other point that has not been addressed. I would be very concerned if we are going to move and transfer the power to actually punish citizens in the hands of the private sector. That to me is a very serious concern, more than the actual cost factor.

I want to reassure the hon. member that there is no interest on behalf of the solicitor general to privatize correctional services facilities. If we were to do such a thing, I am sure there would be a full debate and an inquiry into the pros and cons of it. That would have to be done.

Access To Information Act
Adjournment Proceedings

7:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7.12 p.m.)