Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure today to speak to Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans).
First, I would like, as my colleagues have done, to remind the House that our party supports Bill C-29, which will partially fill some of the gaps in Bill C-2, which we considered earlier. While Bill C-29 fills some of those gaps, it does not fix all of the problems. There are things that we thought it was very important to fix some time ago and that we would have liked to see in Bill C-29 that are unfortunately not there. However, this bill does fill one important gap by providing better rules governing loans, to ensure that the ceilings are not deliberately circumvented.
As I said earlier, Bill C-29 fills some of the gaps in Bill C-2, but it does not fix everything. One of the things we would have liked to see incorporated in this bill is stronger provisions relating to protection for whistleblowers. Second, we would have liked to see reform of the Access to Information Act, because as we know the Information Commissioner has repeatedly pointed out that various measures were completely unacceptable and prevented members of the public from obtaining documents even though they should be available to the general public.
Unfortunately, we have seen this government, and not just this government but also the previous government, bring in a reform of the Access to Information Act in 2005 that essentially had two consequences. The reform proposed by the Liberals meant that administrative charges doubled for requests by the public and by groups and journalists, generally for information from various departments. Second, we realized, and we continue to realize, that when we, as elected members, make access to information requests, we run into certain exceptions. Very often, those exceptions are used by the government to make sure that documents that should be made public are unfortunately not accessible. In my opinion, that demonstrates once again that this government is completely lacking in transparency with respect to government decision-making and with respect to documents that are available to them and that could be used to inform the public about major issues.
We will recall that the government and the Conservative Party promised in the last election campaign to overhaul the Access to Information Act. On that point, I will quote a passage from the Conservative platform in the last election campaign.
The Conservative government had promised to reform the Access to Information Act. Here is what it said at that time: “A Conservative government will implement the Information Commissioner's recommendations for reform of the Access to Information Act.”
We must recall what the Information Commissioner said. He replied that the reason we need action and not further studies is because governments continue to distrust and resist the Access to Information Act and the oversight of the Information Commissioner.
Thus, a reform of the Access to Information Act is what was needed, and what is still needed. This reform needs to go even further than what the Liberal government proposed in 2005. Unfortunately, the current government is not fulfilling its obligations and not respecting the commitments it made to the people of Quebec and Canada during the last election campaign.
Let us not forget that Bill C-29 could have been an opportunity for this government to begin this overhaul of the Access to Information Act, thereby allowing the public to obtain essential documents in order to better understand the government decision-making process.
We also would have liked to see this bill protect whistleblowers. When there is a legal challenge, these whistleblowers cannot act and cannot defend themselves on an equal footing with other citizens or organizations that have ample means with which to defend themselves. Unfortunately, these whistelblowers will only be reimbursed for up to $1,500 in legal fees, which is a ridiculous amount for such coverage.
This demonstrates that, despite the sponsorship scandal, this government did not listen to the wishes of either the public or Justice Gomery, who called for greater transparency and greater reform. A few weeks ago, I heard Justice Gomery again say that too much power is concentrated and centralized in the Prime Minister's Office and that it was not healthy for a democracy. We would have therefore liked to see greater access and better coverage of legal fees for whistleblowers when the time comes to seek legal counsel.
We would have liked more guarantees to protect all Canadians who report wrongdoing within the government, not just public servants. Currently public servants enjoy some protection, but I think anyone who witnesses wrongdoing should benefit from the same protection under the current legislation as public servants.
Finally, and it is unfortunate, this bill fails to prevent the government from excluding crown corporations and other entities from the application of the Public Service Disclosure Protection Act. Quite often these crown corporations give out contracts or sometimes appoint cronies as CEOs at the behest of the government. We must make sure the government cannot exclude these crown corporations from the Public Service Disclosure Protection Act.
Bill C-2 is good, but it could be better. Bill C-29 is not good enough either. However, we agree that we need to have as many legislative guarantees as possible in order to prevent political parties, and leadership candidates in particular, from circumventing the ceilings. Furthermore, I must say it is totally unacceptable that these ceilings can be circumvented by taking out personal loans. Just look at the last leadership race when Bob Rae received loans totalling $705,000 and the creditors were John Rae and Bob Rae himself, who gave $125,000 to his own campaign. We must not be able to do indirectly what we are not allowed to do directly.
In closing, we support Bill C-29, but we would like to see better protection for whistleblowers and also a reform of the Access to Information Act.