House of Commons Hansard #115 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was care.

Topics

Order in Council Appointments
Routine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Beauséjour
New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table, in both official languages, a number of orders in council recently made by the government.

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

June 14th, 2005 / 10:05 a.m.

Beauséjour
New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I am also pleased to table, in both official languages, the government's response to four petitions.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 15th report of the Standing Committee on Health. The committee recommends that the federal government appoint the Auditor General to provide external performance audits on certain health related government foundations.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fourth report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.

The committee is calling on the Department of Justice and the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development to table legislation based on the comprehensive recommendations of the pay equity task force no later than October and that the legislation be referred to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.

Pursuant to Standing Order 109 the committee has requested a comprehensive government response.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 14th report of the Standing Committee on Finance on Bill C-48, an act to authorize the Minister of Finance to make certain payments. The committee agreed on Monday, June 13, 2005 to report it with amendments.

I want to thank all the members who worked diligently and expeditiously on the clause by clause last night so the House could get the bill passed and we can get out of here for the summer.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, entitled “Accessibility for All”.

Accessibility must be a right and not a privilege. This is the report that I have presented here today and this is what it signifies in the lives of persons with disabilities, regardless of the severity. It is important to remember that we are all temporarily able-bodied so this report will have a far-reaching impact on all Canadians.

I would like to congratulate and thank the member for Thunder Bay--Rainy River, chair of the Subcommittee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities, and other members who worked so diligently. The views of witnesses who came before the committee are reflected in the many recommendations, some of which call for more thorough monitoring, review, coordination and improvement of systems in federal buildings, including the parliamentary precinct.

I also want to thank my colleagues from the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I move that the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, presented on Wednesday, May 11, be concurred in.

The fifth report deals with the appointment of John Reid, who is the current Information Commissioner of Canada, and asks that his appointment be extended by an additional year, effective July 1, 2005. The recommendation would not preclude Parliament from further extending the appointment after the one year extension.

This is a very important motion and that is why I want to speak to it. Right now, as everyone in the House and probably every Canadian knows, we are experiencing a time of great political turbulence and instability and we need someone who is as experienced as Mr. Reid to continue on in his role as Information Commissioner.

Mr. Reid has served with great distinction over the past seven years in this capacity. Furthermore, it is not without precedent that we can, if we wish, extend his term of office. We have already seen that the Governor General had an extension of one year to her term. Basically, the reason for that extension was again due to the political instability in which we currently find ourselves. It is certainly appropriate that the House and Parliament at least consider the extension of Commissioner Reid in his current capacity.

I want to speak for a moment or two to the capabilities of Mr. Reid because, quite frankly, as I mentioned a few moments ago, he has served with great distinction. Mr. Reid, as most people in the House would know and I hope most Canadians recognize, has served in many capacities throughout his career. He has been a parliamentarian. He was a member of the former Trudeau cabinet. He was first elected to Parliament in 1965, stayed as an elected member of Parliament through six consecutive elections and finally left this House in 1984.

However it was during his term of office that I think it really speaks to his capabilities and qualifications as Information Commissioner.

During his time in office in the mid-seventies when he was parliamentary secretary to Privy Council, he initiated a review of information practices, such as what was acceptable and what should be extended in terms of information and access to information, that all Canadians could receive.

In fact, because of Mr. Reid's fine work, eventually in 1983 the House introduced the first Access to Information Act by Minister Francis Fox. John Reid was instrumental in bringing that legislation to the floor of the House and eventually it became the law of the land.

That was the genesis, I suppose, of Mr. Reid's involvement with access to information. Subsequent to that, he was eventually appointed Information Commissioner seven years ago. Since that time he has again served the House and Parliament extremely well. His experience and his knowledge are such that I feel it would be remiss of the House to let a man of that quality go when we know we will be bringing down changes to the Access to Information Act itself.

The Access to Information Act is now 22 years old. The justice minister has promised to table new legislation before the House. It needs to be updated and amendments to that 22 year old act are needed.

The justice minister stated that by now he would already have tabled new legislation. Unfortunately, that did not happen. He forwarded and tabled a discussion paper instead. However the justice minister continues to assure the House that he will be tabling new legislation.

If we are to take the justice minister at his word and he does introduce new legislation to amend the Access to Information Act, we will need Mr. Reid to assist in the transition. This is a 22-year-old act that is in dire need of changes. It is paramount that we update the act.

We on the access to information committee recognize that. When I say “we”, I mean all opposition members on the committee voted in favour of extending the appointment of Mr. Reid for another year. The only members of the committee who opposed the motion to extend Mr. Reid's appointment were the members of the Liberal Party of Canada.

It is fascinating to me, when a former Liberal cabinet minister, someone who served for six consecutive elections and for close to 20 years in this place with great distinction, that members of his own party would be the only ones on the access to information committee to oppose his extension for one year.

We all have to ask ourselves why the Liberal members of the committee oppose such an extension. It cannot be because of his qualifications. He has served this Parliament well for seven years. It cannot be because of lack of experience. He probably has more experience as a parliamentary officer than anyone else. In addition, he has extensive experience in the field of access to information. His lack of experience just does not hold true. It has to be something else.

The only thing I can think of is that Mr. Reid has categorically stated that what he would like to see in new access to information legislation would be the increased level of information that would be available to all Canadians upon request.

Mr. Reid has stated that if his vision of a new act comes into being, we could probably safely say that incidents, such as the sponsorship scandal, would not have happened in the first place. Individuals, whether they be members of this place, members of the media or individual Canadians, would have the ability to receive information from government departments that would have triggered the fact that the sponsorship scandal was in full bloom.

However the Liberal members of the committee have stated that they do not want to see Mr. Reid's term extended. The only conclusion I can draw from that is that the Liberals do not want more accountability and transparency. They do not want Canadians, members of the media or parliamentarians to have the ability to find out what they have been doing behind closed doors. I have to say that if that is the reason it is absolutely shameful.

We have a situation in the country right now where Canadians have been outraged, with good reason, at what they have found out during the Gomery commission about the sponsorship scandal. We should all be working on behalf of Canadians to put into place processes and procedures that prevent that type of action from ever occurring again.

With the sponsorship scandal we have seen the literal theft of taxpayer money that was ultimately put back into a political party for clearly political purposes. No Canadian and no parliamentarian should stand for that. We should, as a body of parliamentarians, come together and state what can we do to ensure this never takes place.

In fact, as we all know and every Canadian knows, Justice Gomery has been charged with the responsibility of trying to get to the bottom of the sponsorship scandal and then recommending processes that will prevent that type of action from ever happening again.

Every member of this House from time to time have stated that they believe in what Justice Gomery is doing and agree with his mandate. Therefore one has to wonder why, when we have an individual like John Reid, the current Information Commissioner, who wishes to put in processes to strengthen the recommendations that we will be hearing from Justice Gomery to prevent things like the sponsorship scandal from ever happening again, members of the Liberal Party of Canada on the committee are opposed to extending his appointment.

Perhaps the Liberals do not want Canadians to have access to relative information. Perhaps the Liberals do not want parliamentarians to have access to information that could perhaps stop actions, like the sponsorship program, from occurring again. Perhaps, and I think this is probably closer to the mark, the Liberals did not want ordinary Canadians to have access to information at the cabinet level. Perhaps the Liberal Party is doing things in cabinet, having discussions in cabinet and perhaps there are cabinet documents that it does not want ordinary Canadians to see.

Why is there this need for secrecy? I think Canadians can draw their own conclusions but I would have to say that any parliamentarian who is fearful of Canadians, members of the media or some of his or her colleagues examining what he or she has done in the House or behind closed doors, he or she must have something to hide.

If the government is absolutely committed to what it says about openness and transparency in government, then it should be welcoming the extension of Mr. Reid's appointment. The Liberals should be encouraging all parliamentarians on their side of the House to extend Mr. Reid's contract for at least one more year but that is not the case. All we see from the Liberal side of the committee room is the rejection of Mr. Reid with no apparent reason.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

An hon. member

Because he does his job.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Perhaps that is the reason, that he does his job and he does it well.

Again, we find certain members on the Liberal side of the House who oppose his extension. They oppose an individual who has served in his position with distinction and who will, if he has his way, bring procedures into the Access to Information Act that will strengthen the act.

This is a situation where once again we see members on the opposite side of the House saying one thing and doing another. All they are doing, in my opinion, is giving lip service to the fact that they want more openness and transparency in government while their actions are doing everything but that.

In my estimation we cannot allow this to happen. I would love to hear one good reason why Mr. Reid's contract should not be extended but the Liberals have not given one. All they are saying is that they oppose it, which is absolutely shameful.

Mr. Reid is not a Conservative by background nor is he a Bloc member or an NDP member. He is not only a Liberal but he was a former cabinet minister in the Trudeau era. He served the House and Canadians for close to 20 years as a Liberal and yet the Liberal members do not want him to remain as Information Commissioner. They have no good reason. All they want is him removed or his contract not to be extended.

To the point of belabouring this topic, let us go back to what Mr. Reid has done and why the Liberals do not want him to remain in this position. Mr. Reid has stated for the record, without equivocation, that he wants to strengthen the Access to Information Act to make it more transparent and easier for all members of the Canadian public, parliamentarians and members of the media to gain information and access to information from the government side of the House.

If there are situations that occurred that precipitated in a sponsorship scandal, Mr. Reid wants to ensure that all Canadians would be able to access the information on those transgressions as they were occurring. Right now we do not have that. Mr. Reid would like all Canadians to have access to every funding arm of government in terms of getting information. Currently they cannot do that.

How can the government members stand in the House day after day and say they believe in accountability, transparency and openness? They agree, or at least they say they agree, with the mandate of Justice Gomery when in practice they do exactly the opposite. I think that is absolutely shameful. When we say one thing, we have to act as if we mean what we say. In other words, we can talk the talk but we have to walk the walk. This government does nothing like that. I think it is absolutely shameful.

Again, I urge any member on the Liberal side to stand in the House or even at committee and make one argument for why Mr. Reid's extension should not take place. The Liberals have failed to do that. I encourage all members today to put forward that argument. I encourage them to tell me whether it was his lack of experience that prevented them from endorsing Mr. Reid's extension. Was it the fact that he did not have knowledge of the department? Of course not.

Once again, this is a man whose actions in the mid-1970s resulted in the first Access to Information Act being presented in the House in 1983 and who, upon his appointment as Information Commissioner seven years ago, has done nothing but perform his duties admirably, with distinction and, to his credit, in a non-partisan, impartial manner. That is why those Liberal members do not want to see him reappointed.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

An hon. member

They want a partisan hack.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

They want a Liberal lapdog in that position.

When the new Access to Information Act is introduced in the House, the members opposite want someone appointed to that position who has no prior knowledge or experience so they can lead the new information commissioner by the nose, with a ring in the nose, and tell that person what to do and what not to do. They do not want somebody who is impartial. They do not want somebody who knows what cabinet confidentiality is all about.

How can we allow this to happen? How can any Canadian allow this to happen?

In the last year we have seen information come out of the Gomery commission that pertains to the largest political scandal in Canadian history. All I have heard from members opposite are these comments: this was a rogue group of politicians; it did not reflect on the Liberals; we want to get to the bottom of this; we are mad as hell and we will not stop until we get all of the answers. How can they say that?

How can Liberals stand in the House with any credibility and state to the Canadian public that they actually want to get to the bottom of this incident when exactly the type of legislation Mr. Reid is proposing that we introduce would prevent this from happening? They should be endorsing Mr. Reid's appointment or reappointment and yet they are not.

I see members opposite chuckling, because they know that once again they are pulling a fast one on the Canadian public. They think this is humorous. They think this is funny. This is serious business. I am absolutely offended by members who think they can get away with another one.

Eventually the Canadian public will understand what those members opposite are all about. They are about trying to suppress information rather than letting Canadians access information. This is something that all Canadians and parliamentarians in the House should absolutely reject with every fibre and ounce of strength they have.

Eventually this motion will come to the floor of the House; at least I am hoping that it will. I am convinced that all members on this side of the House and members of the New Democratic Party will endorse Mr. Reid's reappointment for one year. I can say right now without fear of retribution that we will see members opposite rejecting or attempting to reject the appointment of Mr. Reid. This is a government that has lost all credibility and should have lost all confidence of the Canadian public when it comes time to talk about things like transparency and accountability.

Let me conclude by saying that while the members have talked the talk, again they have not walked the walk. If members opposite are serious about transparency, accountability and openness in government, I invite them to stand in their places today and join with me in asking for the immediate extension for John Reid as Information Commissioner of this Parliament.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do very much agree with one thing the member said, which is that Mr. Reid has served admirably and with distinction.

It was a seven year appointment. The appointment is coming due. Members may not have realized that the rules in this place changed. As past chair and now vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, I will note that in all committees we have had new powers to review all appointments. Indeed, every standing committee now has a majority of opposition members on it, so that when the review comes up they will have an opportunity to make sure there is an appointee once Mr. Reid's seven year term expires.

Mr. Reid was appointed by the government. He has excellent credentials and he has done an extremely good job on behalf of Canadians, but to extend for a year is tokenism, somewhat, and in fact this is not even Mr. Reid's wish.

I would also remind the member that we had an all party committee on the Access to Information Act and that indeed it will be a matter to be addressed by the House. I think the members participating in that all party ad hoc committee on the Access to Information Act did a total review of it, led by our former colleague, John Bryden. There are important improvements that can be made and there was consensus, and there will be consensus as we move forward.

I had hoped to be able to speak to this motion. I would simply like to ask the member if he is confident about the process that has been established, since this Parliament began, for the full review by committees of appointees such as the new chairman and CEO of Canada Post, which our committee has done. Also, there was the appointment last Parliament of the new Privacy Commissioner, which our committee also did.

Is he confident that in the process parliamentarians will be able to review the appointees, whether it be for the Access to Information Office or any other officer of Parliament? Indeed, the rules cover any director of any agency or board that has funding directly or indirectly from the government. Is he confident that appointees will be subject to parliamentary review, a review for which in each committee the opposition has the majority?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am on the access to information committee. Let me remind the hon. member that all opposition members of that committee unanimously endorsed the extension for Mr. Reid for one more year with a proviso that the extension could go beyond one year.

The member also states that Mr. Reid does not want this. That is absolutely not true. Mr. Reid has been consulted and has said that if asked he would gladly serve in that capacity for another year. To suggest that Mr. Reid does not want to continue in that capacity is absolutely false.

Again, I would point out to the hon. member that we have discussed this at committee extensively. Once again, for the record, all members of the committee except the Liberals agreed unanimously to extend Mr. Reid's contract by one year.

As I mentioned in my opening address, a precedent has been set, because this government, without consultation or with very little consultation, determined to extend the contract of the Governor General by one year, because, as the Liberals put it, of the political instability of the current government. They felt that having some continuity in that position would actually strengthen the confidence that all Canadians have in what might be a short term government.

Mr. Reid's purview is such that he would be the one responsible for overseeing the transition of this new act that may be coming forth. I must say, because I see the member for Winnipeg Centre entering the House, that--

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

I remind the hon. member that he is not to refer to members being here or not. All members are in the House.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I withdraw the last comment.

Let me rephrase this. At committee, at one point in the not too distant past, the Minister of Justice had committed to the member for Winnipeg Centre that there would be a new access to information act presented at committee. In fact, there was no such act. There was only a discussion paper. This is one more example of how this government does not want Canadians to have access to information. We must reappoint Mr. Reid.