Open Government Act

An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and to make amendments to other Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.

Sponsor

Pat Martin  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Oct. 7, 2004
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

SupplyGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2005 / 3:55 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate my colleague from Dufferin—Caledon for his speech. He is our acting chair. I am pleased to ask him this question.

It is not that easy to understand the Liberals' position. In committee everyone agreed that the Information Commissioner would introduce the bill. Today's motion by the Conservative Party is directly linked to what had been recommended by the committee, which went against what the minister wanted. My colleague is right. The minister has submitted a framework for discussion. We are saying this is not the time for frameworks. It is time for a bill.

I refer to the words of the Information Commissioner, Mr. Reid, who, during his appearance at our committee on October 25, spoke of a major gap.

This is also found in subsection ( c ) of today's motion:

—establish a duty on public officials to create the records necessary to document their actions and decisions.

This is what the information commissioner said during his presentation in committee:

The most fundamental, pivotal proposal I am making is that a legal duty to create appropriate records be imposed and that an offence be created for failure to fulfill that duty. Although this latter provision did not appear in [Mr. Bryden's] Bill C-201, there is universal acknowledgement of the reality that the right of access is being rendered meaningless by a growing oral culture in government.

He finished his presentation by saying:

Conducting governance by winks and nods simply leads to poor decision-making, inept administration and corruption.

Does my colleague agree that the Liberals' attitude upholds a culture of secrecy and a culture of corruption, which could have been corrected by passing true access to information legislation that would do justice to all?

SupplyGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2005 / 3:30 p.m.
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Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate in the debate this afternoon. For members and those listening, the debate is with respect to a proposed new access to information act. I will read that resolution again. It states:

That, in the opinion of the House, the Access to Information Act should be amended to:

(a) expand coverage of the act to all Crown corporations, all officers of Parliament, all foundations and to all organizations that spend taxpayers' dollars or perform public functions--

That is not being done now. It goes on to state:

(b) establish a Cabinet-confidence exclusion, subject to review by the Information Commissioner;

(c) establish a duty on public officials to create the records necessary to document their actions and decisions--

It has been suggested in the committee that if this took place, the ad scam scandal never would have taken place because we would have known about these things. It goes on to state:

(d) provide a general public interest override for all exemptions, in that the public interest should come before the secrecy of government; and

(e) make all exemptions discretionary and subject to an injury test.

The rationale for this resolution is to provide an open and accountable government which is essential to restoring the faith of Canadians in Parliament.

The people in my riding have listened to what has happened in this place. They have listened to what has happened with the ad scam scandal. They listened to the Gomery report. They are very disillusioned with politicians, whether it be provincial, federal or municipal politicians. The Liberal government has given politicians a bad name and, quite frankly, I resent that. One reason the resolution is being brought forward is to restore the faith of Canadians in Parliament.

Officers of Parliament and corporations that use taxpayer money should be accountable to the taxpayers. We have just gone through yet another scandal, the Dingwall scandal. It did not really matter. It seems people can do anything they like. Mr. Ouellet is another one. The attitude that they can do anything they like goes on and on. That is the second rationale, that officers of Parliament and corporations using taxpayer money should be accountable to the taxpayer.

Transparency and accountability in the manner in which taxpayer money is spent is in the public interest and must take precedence over the current culture of secrecy, an entitlement of which the Liberals have taken advantage.

Crown corporations such as Canada Post and VIA Rail, which their politically appointed presidents were involved in the sponsorship scandal, must be accountable for their spending. That will only be done if they are subject to access to information requests. Is it not strange that these corporations are not subject to the access to information legislation?

Finally, the continuous stalling has been mentioned previously. The member for Winnipeg Centre has brought up about how we have gone over and over this topic on a continuous basis. The Leader of the Opposition and the members of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics out of frustration have drafted legislation which will eventually be brought before the House. Even though the Liberals talk about meaningful access to information reform, they continuously stall and delay important changes to access to information legislation.

I put a question to the member from the Bloc who spoke previously. What I believe happened is the Minister of Justice and the Prime Minister decided to look at unifying the two positions. They hired retired Supreme Court Justice Gérard La Forest to make a report. I doubt if we will ever see that report. Then they will say that they cannot doing anything until they look at that whole subject, which may never happen. It is yet another stall tactic.

An interesting piece of information that the House should be made aware of is this. In response to the Auditor General's report on sponsorship, the Prime Minister called for the Treasury Board to examine the possibility of the extension of the Access to Information Act to all crown corporations. Yet in 1995, 1998 and the year 2000 he voted against meaningful amendments to the Access to Information Act. His record really is not that good as far as trying to put meaningful change into the access to information legislation.

Historically, the act came into being on July 1, 1983. It has been mentioned that former member John Bryden brought forward Bill C-201. Some of the members who have been around this place know more of the history of the bill than I do. Mr. Bryden came before the committee. He talked about its history and how he had tried to implement the legislation. The bill died on the order paper in 2003.

The member for Winnipeg Centre brought forward the precise bill, I believe, in 2004. The Minister of Justice went to him and asked him if he would mind stalling his bill and putting it aside because the government was going to draft its own bill which would be the same, if not better, than the bill by the member for Winnipeg Centre. The member for Winnipeg Centre took the Minister of Justice at his word and set the bill aside. Nothing ever happened.

We then move into this discussion in the committee. The member for Winnipeg Centre ultimately joined us in the committee and we discussed the whole topic of the new information legislation. It was discussed that we would perhaps instruct the present Information Commissioner, John Reid, to put forward new legislation.

When that was announced, the Minister of Justice said that the government would draft another bill and introduce it in the fall. It is now November 15. I have not seen the bill. I do not know where the it is. All we have had is the Minister of Justice telling a retired justice to do a report on whether the two commissions, the privacy commission and the information commission, should be united.

The committee will put forward a report to the House shortly that we will have a new bill. The bill will come to the House for debate.

This has been the history of this legislation since its inception in 1983. There has been continual resistance by the Liberal government toward making meaningful changes to that legislation.

I referred to crown corporations. A lot has been happening with respect to them with the ad scam scandal and trying to get information out of them. Not counting the Wheat Board, eight crown corporations are still not subject to this legislation. They are VIA Rail Canada Inc., and that name seems to pop up in the ad scam scandal if I recall, the National Arts Centre Corporation, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Export Development Corporation, Canada Post Corporation, and that name seems to pop up in the ad scam scandal as well, the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, Public Sector Pension Investment Board and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

Why are those commissions not subject to this legislation? They are funded by public moneys. They do work for the taxpayer. Why can access not be made to those corporations just like any of the other institutions in this place?

There is no question that there would have to be exemptions for some of these crown corporations. There is no question that there would be issues of privacy. There would be issues with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. If we were too difficult, it would put it at a disadvantage with the private broadcasting system. I also understand that there might be issues of security. With some of these corporations there would have to be exclusions with respect to security. However, surely all of that could be straightened out and these crown corporations could be made subject to the legislation.

Access to information in Canada is a bit of a problem. A recent media report card was issued last May by the Canadian Newspaper Association. Eighty-nine reporters from 45 newspapers across Canada visited city halls, police forces, school boards and federal government offices to test how bureaucrats obeyed laws enshrining the public's right to know. I appreciate that some of these things are not under the jurisdiction of the federal legislation, but it is a downward movement. All the provincial legislation and other pieces of legislation came from the 1983 legislation, so it is most relevant that we look at the attitude of these public officials toward people trying to get information from these institutions.

“The public's right to government information that has an impact on our lives is in failing health, and will get worse unless we start fixing it”, said the president of the Canadian Newspaper Association, Anne Kothawala. It was the Canadian Newspaper Association that launched the audit. Do members know what the federal government's grade was for this audit? It was an “F”. That is a complete failure. My friend in the Bloc talked about going to school. It was bad enough getting a “D”. An “F” is far below.

Along with four of the provinces, the federal government failed. Of eight requests submitted to federal departments, all through the Access to Information Act, only two saw records released within the 30 day statutory period for responses. The other six did not even reply. Perhaps they are still looking for the information.

It turns out that quite frequently there is no information to release. It is a disturbing reaction to access to information legislation. Quite often there is very little or nothing on the paper to explain how millions of federal dollars are spent. A prime example of this, as I and others have indicated, is the famous sponsorship program. It seems that officials have stopped writing things down.

This is what Commissioner John Reid said in his evidence to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics on April 12:

--the troubling shift, especially at senior levels in government, to an oral culture. A right of access, no matter how strongly worded, will be of little effort if there are no records showing what decisions were made, what action was taken, who called the shots, and who knew.

How does one know when people go to restaurants and hand over money in paper bags? There is no record. Everything is oral.

Commissioner Reid went on to point out:

The overall creation and management of records in the federal government is in crisis. It is this crisis, more than any defect in the Access to Information Act, which puts at risk the public's right to know, to challenge, to participate in, to influence and ultimately hold to account, the government. I urge you to make information management reform a key element of your access to information reform work.

I have another quote from Commissioner Reid's April 12 evidence to the committee, which I believe would be instructional to all of us:

The right of access arose from backbench and opposition ranks, no government enjoys the rigours of transparency and accountability imposed by the right of access, and no government will nurture and strengthen the Access to Information Act without persistent encouragement from non-front bench members.

There it is. Governments do not enjoy access to information, but they should. They should do that because a fully informed citizenry strengthens democracy and improves government.

Former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Gérard LaForest in a 1997 decision wrote:

The overarching purpose of access to information legislation...is to facilitate democracy. It does so in two related ways. It helps to ensure first, that citizens have the information required to participate meaningfully in the democratic process, and secondly, that politicians and bureaucrats remain accountable to the citizenry.

In his 1998 book Secrecy: The American Experience , former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan concluded, “Secrecy is for losers. Because it shields internal analyses from the scrutiny of outside experts and dissenters. As a result, some very poor advice is used to inform many government decisions. Also secrecy distorts the thinking of the citizenry, giving rise to unfounded conspiracy theories and an unnecessarily high level of mistrust of governments”.

That is what we have today, an unnecessarily high level of mistrust of governments. It is because of the government over there that this has happened. In a review of Senator Moynihan's book in Newsweek , George F. Will observed, “Government secrecy breeds stupidity in government and in the thinking of some citizens”.

All parliamentarians are aware that our current Access to Information Act needs to be strengthened and expanded. The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics voted unanimously that the legislation be amended. That unanimous vote included all of the Liberal members on the committee. We will see what happens when we have a vote in the House.

I had the opportunity of attending a conference that was held by the Canadian Newspaper Association in Ottawa this year. A presentation was made on this general topic. At that conference, it was stated that more than 20 years after the nation's first law establishing the public's right to know, there are attitudes of “why do you want to know” and “why should we tell you”. Those attitudes from the bureaucrats and people that hold the information of the government prevail in many departments and ministries at all levels of government. We as parliamentarians have to stop that.

What stood out most for me were the excuses given by bureaucrats and others across the country, not just in the federal institutions but in other provincial and municipal institutions.

In Kingston a public health employee told a person requesting restaurant inspection records that he would have to go to court first. A citizen asking for information on municipal employees' sick days in Edmonton was told that such records are private. City officials in Summerside, P.E.I. decided that information about police complaints and suspensions could not be released to the public. In Peterborough a request for water test results inspired an official to declare, “I am not interested in giving that out”.

I could go on, but the excuses are priceless. They are sad. We need legislation to fix the system.

SupplyGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2005 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am trying to understand the position of my colleague, who is on the committee and has given us his Liberal interpretation of access to information. In fact, the motion by the Conservative Party actually mirrors the bill the committee called for. It asked the commissioner to draft the bill. Part (c) of the motion we are discussing today refers to establishing “a duty on public officials to create the records necessary to document their actions and decisions”.

When it comes to the exceptions, major and minor, my colleague has referred to, they all need to be discussed when we are studying the bill and calling witnesses. We are talking about the overall rule here. I will read an excerpt from the presentation made by Commissioner Reid, particularly the part concerning the necessity of records from public servants. When he spoke to us on October 25 in committee, he said the following:

The most fundamental, pivotal proposal I am making is that a legal duty to create appropriate records be imposed and that an offence be created for failure to fulfill that duty. Although this latter provision did not appear in Bill C-201, there is universal acknowledgement of the reality that the right of access is being rendered meaningless by a growing oral culture in government.

Let us keep in mind that Bill C-201 came from Mr. Bryden. So the independent analyst is telling us that there is no longer any exchange of written documents in the federal government; people no longer put anything in writing, they just talk. Denis calls Paul, or Tom, Dick or Harry calls Paul, or whatever, but nothing in writing. People keep saying “Don't write me, call me”. That is what he means by the oral culture.

He goes on to say:

The failure by public officials to be professional in creating records is also undermining the work of Parliament, the Auditor General, the National Archivist, the police and judicial inquiries. Conducting governance by winks and nods simply leads to poor decision-making, inept administration and corruption.

Here is my question for my colleague. Might she, by not wanting to debate this and not supporting the opposition in this serious undertaking of making access to information available to all, not be defending this culture of secrecy and corruption within the Liberal government?

SupplyGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2005 / noon
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly like the member's analogy of the sunshine; it is certainly the best disinfectant I know of as well.

The member may also be interested to know that I did communicate with Mr. Bryden during the member's speech to let him know that the member who is championing Mr. Bryden's bill was speaking and he could tune into CPAC and watch. Members may be interested to know that he said he unfortunately could not watch the debate because, as he said, incredible though it may seem, “I am still on antenna”. He does not get cable. I suggested to him that he should go to the web and watch the simulcast on CPAC.

I have a very simple question for the member, because I know how active he has been on this at the ad hoc committee that John started with us, as well as on his advocacy with regard to Bill C-201. With regard to the exemptions, the overrides, the confidentiality and the concept of public interest, since the member has worked so hard on this, could he help the House understand the extent to which serious consideration must be given to legitimate exemptions because of the necessity for confidentiality, privacy or national interest? At what point do we cross the line such that the public interest becomes a greater priority for parliamentarians?

SupplyGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2005 / 11:40 a.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre for introducing today's motion and giving us the opportunity in perhaps the twilight days of this Parliament to debate such a critically important issue for the health and well-being of our democracy.

I do not think I am overstating things by saying that freedom of information is the oxygen that democracy breathes. The single most significant thing we could do in this 38th Parliament would be to amend in a significant way our access to information laws and to strengthen the concept of freedom of information in our society.

I also compliment and thank some of the other members of Parliament who are dedicated to this goal. My colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel has been a tireless champion of this issue. My colleague from Mississauga South, who I am sure will be speaking to this motion, has dedicated much of his career to trying to drag the government kicking and screaming to embrace the concept of a regime of freedom of information.

It is fitting that other members have paid tribute to former member of Parliament Mr. John Bryden. Without exaggeration, he dedicated literally most of his time here as a parliamentarian to this issue. He was a member of Parliament for 10 years or so. Coming from the background of a journalist and an academic, he was a tireless crusader and champion on this very subject.

I cannot imagine the frustration he must have felt as he raised this issue over and over again with his own caucus colleagues, with his own Liberal government bureaucrats and was thwarted, undermined and frustrated every step of the way. Yet unilaterally, he formed his own ad hoc parliamentary committee of members of Parliament when he could not get his own government to embrace this concept. It is fitting that we recognize John Bryden today. He pushed the envelope as far as he possibly could within the limitations as a Liberal member of Parliament. He then crossed the floor thinking he might have better luck with the official opposition. He then sat as an independent and now he is no longer with us.

Sunlight is a powerful disinfectant. The freedom of information laws are the sunlight of politics, the natural enemy of the culture of secrecy that allows corruption to flourish. It is hard to overstate what a central place freedom of information holds in our political structure. The members of the House of Commons justice committee spoke about Canada's Access to Information Act as holding a similar significance to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court recently referred to our access to information laws as quasi-constitutional. That is what we are dealing with. That is the weight and import of the debate that we are having here today.

Clearly though, too many senior officials in Ottawa subscribe to the views of Yes Minister 's Sir Humphrey who said to his boss, “You can have good government or you can have open government, but Mr. Prime Minister, you cannot have both”. That seems to be the prevailing wisdom of the Liberal government today.

While transparency and accountability have been the buzzwords of the day in Ottawa, there are clearly many who resist them in practice. As I have learned in my exercise along these lines, very few government insiders are truly fans of the public's right to know. When members of the public submit requests for government information, too often these bureaucrats undermine the intent of the Access to Information Act by imposing unreasonable delays, performing inadequate searches, or charging prohibitive fees, and by opposing the expansion of the act as we have seen with the efforts of Mr. Bryden.

It is my greatest regret in my political life to date that I had it within my hands to change the access to information laws. I will back up a little. When John Bryden ceased being a member of Parliament, I adopted his bill and re-submitted it under my own name. In fact, it was the first private member's bill introduced in this Parliament, Bill C-201, a substantial overhaul of Canada's access to information laws.

Then, as fate and fortune would have it, my name was drawn in the private members' lottery and a bill in my name would be debated at a very early stage. I believe I was fourth in the order of precedence. Not only did I have this bill to which I was very committed listed in my name but my name came up in the order of precedence.

This would have been back in November 2004. We could have started debating that bill. It could have gone to committee where it could have been amended and improved, but there would have been more than ample time to actually put in place changes to the Access to Information Act. It would have changed the way we did business forever in this country.

There was widespread support. Not only did we have the support of all the opposition parties for that bill because of the work that John Bryden had done in the previous Parliament, but we also had the support of 40 or 50 courageous Liberal backbenchers who could not live with themselves if they did not support this initiative. We were well on our way to passing Bill C-201, having it become law and implementing it.

At that time the Liberal government, realizing the horse was out of the barn and this was going to become law, came to me and said it was going to do this anyway, that it was going to do it better and there was no stopping this idea whose time had come. The government said it would introduce everything that was in my bill and then some and if there was anything it forgot in the draft copy, I would have a role in making it at least as good as the one I proposed and maybe better. That was the government's commitment to me, that if I withdrew my bill, it would introduce a comparable bill which would go ahead.

That gave me the opportunity to choose another initiative to which I am dedicated, the bankruptcy bill. That was my choice for my private member's initiative. It was a tempting offer but, as I say, it became the biggest regret in my professional political life to date. Trusting the Liberals was the biggest single mistake that I have made in my political life to date because as we now know, in the fullness of time, they had no intention of introducing a bill.

Frankly, I do not blame the Minister of Justice. I think the Minister of Justice was sincere when he came to me and promised absolutely that there would be such legislation, but I think he underestimated the push back from the senior bureaucrats. I think he underestimated how much the Liberals actually opposed the idea of open government and freedom of information. I think he underestimated just how much the bureaucrats resist this type of thing.

Imagine if things had unfolded as planned. Many times in other speeches today we have heard people recognize the contribution that the Auditor General makes in keeping us on the straight and narrow. We rely heavily on the Office of the Auditor General to investigate and unearth misuse and maladministration of funds, not so much the actual malfeasance of the sponsorship scandal.

Imagine, instead of having one Auditor General that we had 30 million auditors general. That would be the effect of having true freedom of information laws, because every engaged citizen could play a role in keeping government honest. Government would not dare deviate from the straight and narrow because it would know it would be under the scrutiny of 30 million Canadians and a free press that would be able to analyze and assess the inner workings of government. Instead of one Auditor General we could have had 30 million auditors general and that would be good government.

Speaking of the role a free press plays in our efforts toward transparency and accountability, it would be wrong not to recognize the significance that the current Access to Information Act played in unearthing the sponsorship scandal, which will ultimately bring down the government in a few short days.

We should acknowledge that it was a simple access to information request that revealed the original scam, as it were, the fraud that was sponsorship scandal. It was in fact a Globe and Mail journalist, Daniel Leblanc, who originally filed that access to information request. Further requests were filed by people like Campbell Clark. I believe there were half a dozen journalists involved, including Brian Laghi and a number of other journalists. We should express our gratitude to them for helping keep government accountable.

All too often now when access to information requests are filed we get back a pile of blacked out pages. The information is incomplete. There is edited information. That information is rationed out to us as if we have to beg for it in the first place and then somebody else arbitrarily decides that the information will not be released.

The recommendations put forward in the bill that would have been law by now, Bill C-201, would have pretty much embraced the opposition motion that we are debating today. It would have allowed coverage of the act to all crown corporations. To me it is crazy that only about 60 of Canada's 246 crown agencies and corporations are subject to the Access to Information Act. I can get all the information I want on the Atlantic Pilotage Authority, but I cannot get any information on VIA Rail or Canada Post. The places that have billion dollar budgets are excluded. We have all seen what that can lead to.

Again, it is this culture of secrecy that allows corruption to flourish. VIA Rail and Canada Post were directly implicated in the sponsorship scandal. That is why their CEOs' heads had to roll. At the Royal Canadian Mint, people are getting fired right, left and centre because of their role. If we had had adequate access to information laws in place, we could have been spared not only the financial loss associated with the sponsorship scandal but all the grinding humiliation associated with it as well as the loss of the confidence of the Canadian public in our institutions.

Let me say again that amid an otherwise thin legislative agenda from this government, the single most important thing it could have done would have been a meaningful reform of access to information law.

Canada's information officer, John Reid, put this in one of his many presentations to Parliament. We should pause here to say that another champion of freedom of information is our current information officer, Mr. John Reid. We owe him a great debt of gratitude for having the courage to use his office to call upon government to do what is right. Government has to listen. In one of his appeals to Parliament, he said, “In one way or another, all the checks and balances designed to limit abuses of government power” are meaningless unless there is “access by outsiders to governments' insider information....A government, and a public service, which holds tight to a culture of secrecy is a government and public service ripe for abuse”.

Truer words have never been spoken. We should acknowledge that Mr. Reid has put forward this substantial document and has brought it to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics as a recommendation for reform to the bill. It goes beyond what Bill C-201 was calling for. I am the first to admit that Bill C-201 was not perfect.

One of the key and fundamental points that Mr. Reid brings to the table is that if we are going to allow better access to government documents, we must make sure that those government documents do in fact exist. In other words, one of the points he brought forward under his idea and under his bill, the open government act, is that it would become an offence to fail to keep adequate records. The last thing we want to do is drive information underground so that the government can avoid an access to information request being filed. In other words, we need documentation.

We should hearken back to what Auditor General Sheila Fraser first said when she was commenting on the sponsorship scandal. What struck her first as they began their audit investigation was the “appalling lack of documentation”. I believe those were the words she used.

There are two significant quotes of hers. One was that senior government officials “broke just about every rule in the book”. Second only to that, and what rings true to me, is the phrase “appalling lack of documentation”. People who do not want to be caught do not put anything in writing, so as we move forward with calling for amendments to this act, we must be cognizant of the fact that it has to be considered an offence to fail to record significant information.

I know that people who are more knowledgeable than I have dealt with this bill in great detail, but I have become a convert. In the time that I have spent studying this bill and working on the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, of which I am a vice-chair, I have come to the conclusion that this is the single most important thing we can do.

By extension, Canada has a role to play in helping to clean up developing nations and democracies of the culture of corruption that holds those countries back. We also have to put our own backyard in order first before we have any credibility on the international stage. As we lend help and support to developing nations, we should first put together a transparency and accountability regime that we can be proud of and point to by example.

In actual fact, we have fallen in the international standard. I believe there is a chart kept by Transparency International, in which Canada enjoyed at one time the number four position in the world as being the most open government. We have fallen way behind. I believe Canada fell 16 positions after the sponsorship scandal was revealed.

The international community knows that there are transparency issues in this country. That has an effect on confidence, both investor confidence and the confidence of the electorate. There is a profound number of layers and levels to the benefits associated with genuine freedom of information and access to information.

It would take a combination of courage and self-confidence for this government to move forward with meaningful access to information amendments, but I can tell members that the benefits we would reap would be immeasurable. Not only is there the finding and revealing of evidence of corruption that may from time to time take place, there is also just the simple maladministration or abuse of funds. That may not be criminal, but revealing it may in fact be a cost saving measure. Many of these issues that could be revealed by tighter scrutiny would be an ultimate cost saving.

The strengthening of the health and well-being of our democracy would be one of those less tangible benefits that we could all enjoy. Restoring the trust of a jaded electorate is one of those benefits that is difficult to measure.

As Mr. Bryden dedicated much of his career to this issue and champions such as John Reid are calling upon Parliament to address this issue without haste, it is fitting that in the twilight days of the 38th Parliament the House of Commons should be seized with this important and compelling issue.

I wish there were more Liberal members present to take note of the appeals made by the majority of the members of the House of Commons today. I can only hope that this issue will resonate from this day forward into the next Parliament. Perhaps the first bill introduced in the next Parliament will also be comprehensive reform of the Access to Information Act. It could end up being the most significant and lasting legacy of this or subsequent Parliaments.

SupplyGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2005 / 11:10 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion by the Conservative Party. A little background is needed to understand how, among other things, the Conservative Party came to table this motion today.

It is my pleasure to provide this background. It all began with the creation of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in this Parliament. Why was it established? Following the revelation of the sponsorship scandal, which I will address in part during my remarks, the Liberal government decided in the latest election to establish an independent committee to question officers who are supposed to be independent officers. The Information Commissioner is supposed to be one. No decision has been reached on the manner of their appointment, but it is hoped that the transparency of the Liberal Party will result in all parties being invited to appoint the Information Commissioner so as to guarantee his independence.

The background means that the access to information file is not new. I was surprised by my Liberal colleague's presentation. He is right. The act has not been amended for 23 years. Still, some Liberal members of this House have introduced bills. They include hon. member Bryden, who introduced Bill C-201 in the preceding Parliament, before the sponsorship scandal was revealed. At the time, there was already a certain Liberal intent in this Parliament, since the MP introducing C-201 was a Liberal.

Then, at the start of the present Parliament, the member for Winnipeg Centre, who had the privilege of introducing the first piece of legislation, had the unfortunate idea of negotiating with the Minister of Justice. A number of other bills could have been introduced, but his first thought was to introduce a bill to amend the Access to Information Act, which was practically identical to the bill tabled in the previous Parliament by MP Bryden. So he had the unfortunate idea of negotiating with the Minister of Justice, who told him not to table a private member's bill, since the government was going to table a bill to amend the Access to Information Act and especially to make it more transparent.

I agree with my committee colleagues. In order for there to be transparency, all government agencies, corporations and foundations needed to be subject to the Access to Information Act. We had just gone through the sponsorship scandal, which we are still going through. We are well aware that Canada Post and Via Rail are not subject to the act. I will spare you the indiscretions of their presidents, the money they spent to promote Canada and the commissions paid to the agencies, which were in turn handed over to the Liberal Party. That is what happened. Those who elected a large majority of Bloc Québécois members in Quebec and Liberal members in the rest of Canada expected more transparency, especially since the Prime Minister said he wanted to champion transparency.

The reality is that we, the newly formed committee, called the Minister of Justice as a witness. We asked him, since he had reached an agreement with the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre, to introduce a bill. But what he brought forward was a framework for action. We realized that this framework addressed what the minister wanted and was not a bill. As my colleague was saying, after the presentation by the Information Commissioner, who said he was prepared to introduce a bill, the unanimous reaction in committee was to ask him to go ahead. We asked him whether he was prepared to introduce a bill that reflected his view of ideal access to information legislation. At the request of the committee and despite the fact that the minister did not want a bill, the commissioner went ahead with it. The minister instead wanted us to discuss a framework. Former MP Mr. Bryden gave a presentation in committee and shared his thoughts, as did our colleague from Winnipeg Centre, who was prepared to introduce a private members' bill. We welcomed the minister, who told all those people he would introduce a bill, but in the end submitted a framework for action. Accordingly, we asked the commissioner to introduce a bill.

This is what the Conservative Party is basing itself on today in its opposition day. I will use this document, which was produced by the Information Commissioner.

It is a bill in due form with explanations and everything that is needed and which was prepared by the Information Commissioner. So I am surprised today to hear my Liberal colleague tell us that, ultimately, this is not what was requested. And yet we were unanimous.

We asked the Information Commissioner to introduce this bill, which is not a framework and which we are using today for discussion purposes. It is what we are relying on as we make our interventions and hear from witnesses in committee. All that is done when we have a bill. When we have a framework for action or frame of reference, there is a discussion before the bill is introduced. So the committee was not fooled. Even the Liberal members followed us in committee.

We do not want any more procrastination now. We want a bill that we could discuss, that we could call witnesses on in order to finish with the access to information file. We think that the Minister of Justice just wants to gain time so that people cannot ask any questions of crown corporations, including Canada Post and VIA Rail, all the foundations and all these agencies that manage the assets and much of the money of Quebeckers and Canadians. People might ask them questions about how they spend this money.

We certainly would have liked the presidents of VIA Rail and Canada Post to account to all the people who had questions for them, but that was impossible. It is still impossible today. And in view of the Liberal position, it will continue to be impossible because the Liberals do not want to act. They want to gain time before amending the Access to Information Act. Why? Because of the sponsorship scandal, because if people start asking questions, they will find other things and because, ultimately, the senior executives of crown corporations are all government political appointees.

So they had better not try to tell us that the government, in an effort to be transparent, intends to resolve the democratic deficit. Forget it. We saw this recently: the current Prime Minister appointed Dennis Dawson—his political organizer in the Quebec City region—to the Senate. It has not stopped and never will. This Liberal Party is using public funds to win elections and it will never stop. We saw this yesterday. It is using money belonging to all Quebeckers and all Canadians in order to win elections.

This is a perfect example of this Liberal political corruption. It is even worse to make indirect use of something no one else would dare say or do and to make it systemic: the Liberals created a system. We see it today in the Liberal Party's answer with regard to access to information and transparency. Ultimately, all the Information Commissioner wanted to provide—I will read the text—is a bill that was supposed to be transparent. He has called it the “Open Government Act”. The Information Commissioner no longer wants to call it the “Access to Information Act” but rather the “Open Government Act”.

In theory, the government, which wants to be the government of transparency, should be applauding but it is not. Today, we are being told that we have not examined it enough, subjected it to enough questions or called enough witnesses. The problem is that we cannot even begin to call witnesses because the bill has not yet been introduced. That is how the Liberal Party works.

The commissioner presented his position, when he appeared before our committee on October 25, 2005. So it is public and in no way secret. Here are a few excerpts from his speech:

This committee asked me, before the summer break, to provide a proposed reform bill and I commend the committee for its determination to ensure that we have, in Canada, the strongest possible right of access to government-held information. Members from all parties understand that transparency of government is essential to accountable government.

Obviously, we unanimously asked the commissioner to provide what he considered to be the most appropriate bill possible. Thus, he has proposed a bill entitled the Open Government Act.

The following extract pertains to C-201. This was MP Bryden's bill. Members will recall what I said earlier. A Liberal MP introduced a bill before the sponsorship scandal. So, at the time, there was an incipient desire among the Liberals to really resolve the access to information problem.

The commissioner continued as follows:

My proposal, like Bill C-201, expands the number of institutions to be covered by the act; it reduces the scope of secrecy permitted by the act, it expands the powers of oversight by the commissioner in the courts, and it increases incentives for compliance and penalties for non-compliance.

The intent is to strengthen the Access to Information Act and in particular to have it apply to all the corporations not covered by it, including VIA Rail, the National Arts Centre, the CBC, Export Development Canada, the Canada Post Corporation, Atomic Energy Canada Limited, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and all foundations. As this money belongs to the public, the aim of the commissioner is to give the public the right to question those who manage it. In my opinion, this needs to be done especially when the managers are Liberal agents. And this has been the case for the past 13 years.

The commissioner continued in his presentation with the following statement, “None of these improvements can ensure accountability through transparency unless there is a foundation of professional record-keeping by public officials”. One of the important parts found as well in today's motion by the Conservative Party, is for officials to keep records. He went on to say, “The most fundamental, pivotal proposal I am making is that it be a legal duty to create appropriate records to be imposed and that an offence be created for failure to fulfil that duty”.

He then talked about Bill C-201. As I was saying, Mr. Bryden's bill was introduced before the sponsorship scandal. This scandal has also revealed that documents vanished and that it was impossible to find them. The commissioner said so, “Although this latter provision did not appear in Bill C-201, there is universal acknowledgement of the reality that the right of access is being rendered meaningless by a growing oral culture in government”. In other words, we no longer write anything down, we just talk. That is how it works. We no longer write to each other for fear of getting caught. That is how the Liberal Party of Canada operates and manages public funds. These are the very words of the Information Commissioner, an independent officer appointed by the Liberals by the way.

He continued by saying:

The failure by public officials to be professional in creating records is also undermining the work of Parliament, the Auditor General, the National Archivist, the police and judicial inquiries. Conducting governance by winks and nods simply leads to poor decision-making, inept administration and corruption.

In other words, the Liberals' paperless mode of government can lend itself to corruption. It is not surprising that we had the sponsorship scandal. The decision had already been made to no longer keep documents but instead to just talk about things and make decisions based on that.

The Information Commissioner is the one who carries out investigations when questions arise. He noted what was going on only in the departments he needs to oversee, not the crown corporations headed by appointed Liberal Party cronies.

Further on in his annual report, he grades the departments, including the Privy Council Office. Hon. members need to understand that this is the body that gives all departments access to information, and supervises them. It got an F. This means that it no longer responds to over 30% of access to information requests. It is all very well for PCO spokespersons to say that they are short of staff and pressed for time, but the result is the same: they are not responding to requests.

As for delays and denials, the commissioner wrote the following on page 10 of his annual report:

The main causes of delay appear to be:

Inadequate resources in ATIP offices;

Chronic tardiness in the retrieval of records due to poor records management and staff shortages in offices—;

Difficulties encountered during the consultation process with third parties and other government institutions;

Top-heavy approval processes, including too much "hand-wringing" over politically sensitive requests and too frequent hold-ups in ministers’ offices; and

Poor communication with requesters to clarify access requests.

I repeat, one of the five reasons is “top-heavy approval processes, including too much 'hand-wringing' over politically sensitive requests and too frequent hold-ups in ministers’ offices”. In addition to documents not being available to the commissioner when he comes to do his job—because there are oral discussions rather than written documents—ministers and deputy ministers intercept requests in advance, hold on to them and examine whether they might pose a risk. When they see that they may be dangerous, they are not processed.

It is as simple as that. They interfere and provide no answers. It happens only in departments that fall within the purview of the Information Commissioner. There was no talk of new corporations that should be subject to it.

A certain regime has thus become entrenched in Liberal governance. It has existed for decades now, with the result that this entire oral system leads to corruption, as the Commission so aptly put it. This is what happens. We should not be surprised at these realizations, nor at the answers that the Liberals give us today, nor the fact that they are not prepared to review the Access to Information Act expeditiously. They simply do not want to.

The Minister of Justice has decided that we would have a framework that would allow us to have discussions and call witnesses before we have a bill, which would also be subject to debate and would be referred back to committee where witnesses could still be heard. That is the Liberal culture: it does not stop, it is the same thing day after day.

Once again, in our view, as far as transparency is concerned, the Liberals did not display it prior to the sponsorship scandal, nor during that scandal, and they are still not doing so after it. All this means is that, whether we are talking about Chrétien or the new Prime Minister, it is six of one and half a dozen of the other. That will not change and will never change as long as the Liberals are in power.

I will list the problems with access to information that even Judge Gomery had to deal with. We must not forget that the government sent a number of censored documents to the Gomery commission on the sponsorship scandal and refused to forward a number of crucial documents to the commission charged with investigating the case of Maher Arar.

How have we come to be defending an amendment to the Access to Information Act today? It is because we have examples, which we will list. The government misled Parliament in its answer to a written question on the order paper. In its initial response in February 2003, the government estimated at $137,500 the amount paid to the Prime Minister’s family business over 10 years. Following protests from the opposition, the government revised its answer in January 2004, bringing the total amount of federal grants to Canada Steamship Lines to $161 million.

These things are happening in Parliament. The culture that is entrenched in this government is an oral and figures-based culture. Obviously, figures talk. Since I am being told I have two minutes left, I will make full use of them.

We asked Parliament, the government and the then Minister of Finance who was in charge of the assistance programs to tell us how much Canada Steamship Lines had received in government grants. The answer to this question on the order paper was $137,500. Finally, after much research, the opposition said that this was not possible, that it had found other amounts in other areas. The government changed its position and came back in January 2004 to answer the question from February 2003—11 months earlier—and indicated that $161 million had been paid to the Prime Minister's company. This is how things work.

Clearly, the antics of André Ouellet, president of Canada Post, Michel Vennat of the Business Development Bank of Canada, Marc LeFrançois and VIA Rail were not enough. These people appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts and before the Gomery commission. Following their testimony, it became obvious that they had wasted public funds, on sponsorships and commissions paid to firms that are all named in the Gomery report, that were part of the sponsorship scandal and that lined their pockets. Now, after all that, these firms, VIA Rail, Canada Post and the Business Development Bank of Canada are not subject to the Access to Information Act.

As a result, the public, which wants to know whether these executives may have skimmed a little off the top or what expenditures they did make, cannot find out. It is out of the question. The government is saying no. It is rejecting something a Liberal member had proposed in Bill C-201 even before the sponsorship scandal. It is rejecting what the member for Winnipeg Centre wanted to do, which was introduce a private member's bill, in view of the promise that the minister was about to introduce a bill.

The government has merely created a basic framework, with the emphasis on the word “framework". In other words, you were supposed to stay within the “framework”.

It had already anticipated what we could not do.

Today, the Bloc Québécois will support the Conservative Party motion. It is a motion about transparency, and we want real transparency legislation when it comes to access to information. The public must be able to ask questions and obtain answers. We no longer have faith in this Liberal government, which has been in power for too long and has filled one too many pockets.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2005 / 12:50 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Gurmant Grewal Conservative Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise again on behalf of the constituents of Newton—North Delta to participate in the third reading debate on Bill C-11, an act to establish a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoings in the public sector, including the protection of persons who disclose the wrongdoings.

It has taken more than a decade for this weak government to fulfill its promise and produce this whistleblower legislation. Canadians have had to endure the tainted blood scandal, the HRDC boondoggle, the ballooning gun registry, and the sponsorship scandal, not to mention the numerous other smaller scale spending scandals which have been regularly occurring in this mismanaged government and which have emerged on a regular basis since the government came to power in 1993.

In each and every case, the existence of effective whistleblower legislation could have made a significant difference, but the government has not been interested. It lacks the political will. The Liberals have been more interested in protecting their own reputations than in ensuring good government and the careful handling of taxpayers' money.

It took the sponsorship scandal for the Liberals to finally make good on their 1993 campaign promise, coupled with the pressure from members of the opposition and the Conservative Party. However, even now it is obvious that their hearts and souls are not in this legislation. Up to now, it seems that the Liberal government's policy has been to control occupational free speech rather than permit it.

Rather than rewarding whistleblowers, like governments do in the United States and many other countries, the Liberals have bullied whistleblowers, intimidated them, harassed them, fired them, and ruined their professional and personal lives. The Liberals have always believed in secrecy, confidentiality and cover-ups rather than transparency, accountability and corrective actions.

Let us take a moment to remember some well publicized whistleblowing cases. Bernard Dussault, the chief actuary of the Canada pension plan, reported that he was asked to modify numbers to paint a more positive state of the CPP. He was fired from his job.

Michèle Brill-Edwards, senior physician in Health Canada's prescription drug approval process, was pressured to approve medication that had caused deaths in the United States. She went public. She had to resign from her job.

Joanna Gualtieri, DFAIT portfolio manager for Latin America and the Caribbean at the time, blew the whistle on waste and lavish spending on diplomatic housing and embassies. The inspector general and the Auditor General later supported her allegations. She was harassed and marginalized within the department. Finally she had to quit and go through the expenses of court, her career completely ruined.

Marilla Lo, senior analyst at the Treasury Board, claimed abuse and harassment, including discrimination for promotions, layoffs, and abusive management practices. She was ultimately fired from her job. Of course she later won a wrongful dismissal suit, but was then forced into retirement.

Brian McAdam was a 25 year veteran foreign service officer, an honest officer in Canadian diplomatic missions in the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, South America and Asia. In 1991 he documented evidence of corruption at Canada's foreign mission in Hong Kong, real evidence, which I have mentioned in my earlier speeches. He was demeaned and ostracized by his colleagues. He finally gave up and had to take early retirement.

Michael Sanders, a financial analyst with the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, blew the whistle on the absence of sufficient safeguards to protect taxpayers against the collapse of major financial institutions. His fate was to be fired from his job.

Dr. Shiv Chopra, a senior veterinary drug evaluator in Health Canada's therapeutic products and food branch, blew the whistle on the drug approval process for bovine growth hormones, saying that human health concerns were being completely ignored due to pressure from drug companies. His fate was to be fired from his job.

There are many other cases, including those of Corporal Robert Reid of the RCMP, Dr. Margaret Haydon of Health Canada, Bob Stanhouse, again of the RCMP, and Dr. Barry Armstrong of the Canadian armed forces. The list goes on and on, but my time is limited.

Canada is well served by professional and independent public servants, who are often the first to spot problems such as those in the sponsorship scandal. They know when their department has been told to suppress test data. They know when someone is submitting inflated travel expenses or phony invoices or when the work is not being done but the invoices are being submitted. They know what laws they are supposed to enforce and they know when they are not being enforced.

However, federal public servants who disclose wrongdoing in the workplace have little or no recourse if their manager chooses to retaliate against them. Bill C-11 proposes an improvement over the status quo, but it is far from protecting the real whistleblowers and it is not nearly as effective as legislation in other countries.

Five years ago, in the face of government opposition, I introduced legislation to protect bureaucrats who reveal wrongdoing in the workplace. In 2003 the Liberals refused to vote in support of my private member's bill because they did not have the political will to introduce any effective whistleblower legislation. They simply lacked the political will, and that is well reflected in Bill C-11.

When I blew the whistle on whistleblowing, the Liberals had their ears plugged. My private member's bill, Bill C-201, was debated in the House. It was written with the assistance of real-life whistleblowers, many of whom I have named before. They have suffered harassment and reprisals for doing what was right, for doing what was in the best interests of this country but not the Liberal Party.

One whistleblower, Joanna Gualtieri, was of great assistance. She founded the institution called FAIR. Ms. Gualtieri has highlighted a number of points that must be included in whistleblowing legislation if it is to be effective. The following points were included in Bill C-201 but are not found in Bill C-11.

First is full free speech rights. Protected whistleblowing should cover any disclosure that would be accepted in a legal forum as evidence of significant misconduct or would assist in carrying out legitimate law enforcement functions. There can be no loopholes for this one.

Second is to permit all disclosures of illegality and misconduct. Whistleblower laws should cover disclosures of any illegality, gross waste, mismanagement, abuse of authority, substantial and specific danger to public health and safety, and violations of policies, rules and conventions. They are missing from this bill.

Third is the duty to disclose illegality. It is also missing from the bill.

Fourth is that the coverage under the bill should extend to all personnel and affected communities. This is also missing.

Last, and of course, there should be safety from harassment after blowing the whistle.

Bill C-11 serves more as a tool to manage whistleblowing and rein in potential whistleblowers than it does to encourage disclosing wrongdoing. We need effective legislation that would really protect whistleblowers.

The Conservative Party deserves kudos. It is through our efforts that we have these amendments, such as whistleblowers now reporting to an independent commissioner rather than to the president of the public service, the commissioner reporting to Parliament rather than to a minister, the RCMP being included in the group of whistleblowers and the Access to Information Act restrictions being reduced to five years from twenty years. In fact, there should be no restrictions. However that goes to the Conservative Party's credit.

Similarly, there is the amendment on the removal of government bodies. The government had the arbitrary authority to remove certain bodies from coverage of whistleblower protection, such as the public service commission, the pension commission, CPP commission, Bank of Canada and many others. Compensation should be given by the commissioner and the penalties against reprisals should be given by the commissioner, not by anyone else.

All those things were the accomplishments of the Conservative Party.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2005 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Gurmant Grewal Conservative Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the constituents of Newton—North Delta to participate in the report stage debate on Bill C-11, the public servants disclosure protection act. Bill C-11 creates a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoing in the federal public sector. If enacted, this bill would finally give Canada whistleblowing legislation, something other nations have had for decades.

When we look into the background of the bill, we see that this government has had 4,350 days to fulfill its promise and introduce effective whistleblowing legislation. That is how long this government has had.

The former government House leader, the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, said in 1992, while in opposition, “Public servants must be able to report about illegal or unethical behaviour that they encounter on the job without fear or reprisal”. In his speech, the hon. member then went on to quote a Liberal caucus-approved document, “Public Sector Ethics”, calling for whistleblowing legislation.

However, once secure in office, the Liberals quickly forgot about their promises. In the end, it took the sponsorship scandal for this weak-kneed government to dust off its decade-old promise.

Meanwhile, we have witnessed billions of taxpayers' dollars disappear. The sponsorship scandal could have been avoided or at least quashed years ago if whistleblowing legislation had been in place. The same holds true for the HRDC boondoggle, the George Radwanski affair, the gun registry cost overruns and so on.

Public service integrity officer Edward Keyserlingk, referring to the sponsorship program scandal, said that whistleblowing legislation could have saved taxpayers millions of dollars by giving public servants “the confidence to come forward”.

It is little wonder no one blew the whistle on this scandal. In the absence of any whistleblowing legislation, even well-meaning public servants are reluctant to come forward because they know that making trouble will be a career ending move.

This government claims to support whistleblowers, but its actions indicate otherwise. Let us look at the case of the three scientists from Health Canada who were fired in June 2004: Margaret Haydon, Shiv Chopra and Gérard Lambert.

They were among this country's most outspoken whistleblowers. They raised issues such as the safety of a bovine growth hormone proposed for use in dairy herds to boost milk production, the influence of corporations in government drug approvals, and the need to keep animal parts out of the feed supply to keep beef safe. All three were fired on the same day for undisclosed reasons, which, Canadians were told, had nothing whatsoever to do with their whistleblowing. The government must think Canadians are hopelessly naive.

The Liberals have been boasting about Bill C-11 and everything they are doing for public servants who disclose wrongdoing. However, firing dissenting research scientists sends another message. It tells public servants that debate is discouraged in the federal government and no one's job is safe.

As far as Bill C-11 is concerned, in its original form the bill would have done more harm than good for whistleblowers. However, after a lot of hard work by Conservatives in committee, some of the major flaws have been corrected.

I do not want anyone to get me wrong. The bill is still far from perfect but thanks to the pressure applied by the Conservative Party, the government has relented and tabled amendments to create an independent commissioner to hear and investigate disclosures of wrongdoing. This was an essential change to the proposed legislation.

Other amendments have not been forthcoming, including: having the commissioner report directly to Parliament instead of to a minister; prohibitions of reprisals against those who make disclosures of wrongdoing to the public, media, police or anyone outside the narrow process prescribed in the bill; elimination of provisions to change the Access to Information Act to allow departments to refuse to release information about internal disclosures of wrongdoing for five years; and, the bill would still allow cabinet to arbitrarily remove government bodies from protection under Bill C-11.

The bill represents an improvement over the status quo but it remains clear that the government is more interested in managing whistleblowing than protecting and encouraging public servants who uncover evidence of wrongdoing.

It would be interesting to know if there could have been a better way to protect whistleblowers. Like the members for New Brunswick Southwest and Winnipeg Centre, as well as Senator Kinsella, I have for years been lobbying for a strong whistleblower protection. In October 2000, I introduced Bill C-508, the whistleblower human rights act, which was probably the first bill introduced in that session about whistleblowing protection.

My legislation, drafted with the help of actual whistleblowers, including Joanna Gualtieri, Brian McAdam, Robert Reid and many others, would have given people the confidence to come forward but the Liberals could not muster up the courage to support an opposition member's bill.

When the bill finally came to a vote in February 2003 as Bill C-201, because I had reintroduced the same bill, government members refused to lend their support to my initiative. If the government had been sincere about whistleblowing, Liberal members would have voted differently that day. We know the government did not want to pass the bill at that time. Instead, it revealed how phoney its promise had been.

The last time I participated in the debate on Bill C-11, I highlighted a good comparison of my bill, which was drafted by whistleblowers, to Bill C-11 at that stage. There was a big contrast. Many members on the Liberal side were nodding their heads in favour of some of the things that I was proposing in my bill.

The government needs to do more to encourage the reporting of wrongdoing and should stress that it is an important civic responsibility. In fact, it should be the stated duty of every employee to disclose any wrongdoing that comes to their attention.

Based on the experiences of the whistleblowers I have met, their careers and personal lives have been devastated. I believe an employee who has alleged wrongdoing and suffers from retaliatory action as a consequence should have a right to bring a civil action before a court. As well, allegations of wrongdoing should be rewarded like in California where whistleblowers are entitled to 10% of the money government saves as a result of their vigilance.

It is vital that the threat of employer retaliation be eliminated to encourage government employees to speak up. This will assist in curtailing the misuse of taxpayer dollars. Every day there seems to be new reports of corruption and scandal with the government that could be eliminated.

When I blew the whistle on whistleblowing, the Liberals had their ears plugged. Four years ago, in the face of government opposition, I introduced legislation which the Liberals refused to support at that time. Now is the time they should be serious about making this bill effective. Since it was first introduced some important amendments have been made but it is still flawed. I think we will let it pass so that a Conservative government will have the opportunity to make it stronger.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

June 14th, 2005 / 11:30 a.m.
See context

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of my colleague who is the chair of the access to information, privacy and ethics committee. I do feel that the only hope of steering this issue through at this time is if we maintain the continuity of the expertise that exists on this subject as developed by this information officer over his tenure of seven years. I think it would be very difficult for anyone else to pick up where this information officer left off.

What I find really frustrating, and I know my colleague shares my frustration, is that had I not been duped into dropping my bill, Bill C-201 would be law today. It would be one of those rare things where a private member's bill would have succeeded all the way and passed, and Canada would be a better place today had we allowed that bill.

I know it is jaded of me to assume this but I fear that the issue has more to do with political advantage than with actual merits of the argument in that the government would love to go into the next federal election saying that if it is elected it will introduce new access to information legislation. Whereas the truth is that when elected it did everything it could to stifle access to information legislation. It is one of those things that it is saving for the election campaign. It wants to be able to say that if Canadians want meaningful access to information law they had better re-elect another Liberal government because it is the only one that will deliver on it.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The evidence contradicts any such story but that seems to be the motivation here. As a result, another year will go by without freedom of information legislation.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

June 14th, 2005 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

I thank hon. members for their recognition but it was not my bill. It was a composite effort from all members of Parliament who are interested in this issue. Many on the Liberal side and the opposition side sat on a special subcommittee that Mr. Bryden put together for that very reason.

I think it is significant to note that Bill C-201 was the first bill, government or private, introduced in the 38th Parliament, which is why it is numbered Bill C-201. I think that is fitting because it is the single most important thing we could do to improve government.

If we had passed no other piece of legislation in this 38th Parliament, Canada would have been a better place had we passed Bill C-201. I say that without any hesitation. I do not say that to pat myself on the back. It is simply the conclusion that I have come to the more I study how critically important freedom of information is. We should not use that term lightly. We should reflect on the weight of those words. Freedom of information is a cornerstone of any western democracy.

In anticipation of speaking I was looking at some notes and reading something a history professor had to say. He states, “Secrecy has been the default rule of government for centuries. Revolutions in England in 1688 and in France in 1789 slowly overturned the absolute rule of monarchs and ushered in the right to free speech and the legislative process of law-making was open to public scrutiny. But within the bowels of the bureaucracy secrecy was still very much the rule and remains so to this day”.

This was stated by the author of Blacked Out: Government Secrecy in the Information Age which is to be published this year. He goes on to state, “As modern governments expanded their operations and reach, government clerks evolved into bureaucrats with extraordinary new powers to shape the content of government policy and secrecy became the rule of the day. Secrecy became the new absolute power”.

That is a worrisome thought.

In the last couple of weeks I am sure we all noticed a survey, the results of which were on the front pages of 45 newspapers across the country. It was sponsored by the Canadian Association of Journalists and the Canadian Newspaper Association and was entitled “Access denied”.

These journalists conducted a comprehensive survey of every municipal, provincial and the federal government to find out just how easy it is to get access to information under the current regime that exists. Guess where the federal government ranked in their survey? There is no big surprise here. It ranked dead last.

I believe the Province of Alberta ranked first, where 93% of all access to information requests were fulfilled to the satisfaction of the applicant. They were not always completely filled but they were filled to the satisfaction of the applicant unless there were reasonable grounds, such as national security or personal privacy, that the information could not be shared.

Manitoba, I am proud to say, my home province, ranked second, where 88% of all applications for information were filled to the satisfaction of the applicant.

Guess where the federal government wound up on that survey? Twenty-five percent of all access to information requests were filled to the satisfaction of the applicant. That is less than one-quarter.

Open government can and does exist. Two of the most successful provincial governments in the country have no problem living up to the principles of open government.

The federal government, however, is slammed shut with access denied. We do not have the right to know, no matter what it says on paper. Notwithstanding the fact that we have an officer of Parliament charged with the enforcement of the Access to Information Act, we cannot get that information. It is like giving people directions and then telling them that they cannot get there from here. Well we cannot get the information that we deserve as Canadian taxpayers in this particular regime.

Mr. John Reid, Canada's outgoing Information Commissioner, made a very poignant statement recently when he said:

In one way or another, all the checks and balances designed to limit abuses of government power are dependent upon there being access by outsiders to governments’ insider information.

A public service which holds tight to a culture of secrecy is a public service ripe for abuse.

We have graphic evidence of that before us daily in the House of Commons. We could spend all of our time chasing what the government likes to call “rogue bureaucrats”, or trying to plug the random ad hoc examples of abuse when we are lucky enough to stumble across them, or we could go to the root of the problem and wipe the slate clean. We could shine the disinfectant of sunlight on this culture of corruption that exists. If it is a powerful disinfectant, we could expose this and let the free democracy in which we live do its job to cleanse corruption from our system.

We have an example of how we might do that, which has been lovingly crafted by my former colleague, John Bryden, into Bill C-201. Let me give a bit of the sad history of what happened to Bill C-201 and where it is languishing today.

Not only was I the first one to table a bill in Parliament, government or private member, on the very first day that I could, a bill that had broad cross party support from all of the parties in the House of Commons, but then, by the greatest of good fortune, my name was drawn in the private members' lottery as the fourth bill to be debated in this 38th Parliament.

The government found itself with a real problem. The Liberals had a minority government, they had a bill they were deathly afraid of and they had a private member with an opportunity to debate the bill in four day's time. They sent out emissaries to approach me and, very wisely, chose one of the Liberals who I have great admiration and respect for, the current Minister of Justice, to be the emissary.

The minister told me that the government had every intention of introducing all the things I was calling for in my bill and that if I would withdraw my bill, take it off the Order Paper, agree not to have it debated in the House and subsequently passed, the government would introduce comparable legislation at least as good if not better in this session of Parliament. That was the commitment made.

Having not just fallen off the turnip truck, I wanted to have that confirmed so I pressed for specifics and details. I received, “Yes, this will be in there; yes, the crown corporations will be there; yes, cabinet confidences within reason will be in there; yes, all of the good things that were crafted laboriously over a decade in Bill C-201 will be included in government legislation and it will be prioritized to be in this session of Parliament”.

That was in October 2004. We now find ourselves in June 2005. The months started ticking by. Department of Justice officials produced bill after bill but we are still waiting for access to information legislation which was supposed to be priority number one.

Six months later, at the access to information committee, with great fanfare and pomp and circumstance, the Minister of Justice tabled at that committee, not a bill, but a discussion paper so we could begin the process of trying to analyze and determine if research is necessary to find out if there might be a problem with the Access to Information Act. What an absolute travesty, a breach of trust, a breach of promise and a clear violation of the commitment that was made to me to produce access to information legislation.

The government has no interest in open government. It is a government more along the lines of Sir Humphrey of Yes, Minister . It believes we can have good government and open government but not both. That is the empirical evidence we have to deal with. What other conclusion can we draw?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

June 14th, 2005 / 11:10 a.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, as difficult as it is to follow a gifted orator and journeyman member of Parliament like the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, I would like to begin by complimenting my colleagues on the opposition benches for giving us the opportunity, on a day for their opposition day motion, to debate not one but two pressing issues. Contrary to what my colleague from Glengarry—Prescott—Russell says about not using opposition days well, in actual fact they have turned one issue into two and have given Canadians the opportunity in the twilight days of this Parliament to debate the issue that I feel is paramount, and that is access to information.

Let me begin by saying that freedom of information is the oxygen that democracy breathes. There is no greater champion in our country on the issue of freedom of information than our outgoing Information Commissioner, the hon. John Reid, who has valiantly tried in the last seven years to break down the barriers to open government and true access to information.

I would be remiss not to recognize and pay tribute as well to another long-standing champion on this issue who is no longer with us, John Bryden, a former member of Parliament. In his final days as an MP he was with the Conservative Party. He dedicated his entire career toward trying to open up Canadian government to freedom of information so citizens could access the inner workings of the governments that represent them.

Like many Canadians, I look to the senior statesman in Canadian journalism in many ways, Hugh Winsor, for inspiration and comment. He has an article in today's Globe and Mail and the headline reads, “A major government irritant is bowing out”. That sums it up. This is why John Reid is leaving us. He has been a major irritant to the Government of Canada because he has been forthright and honest about his dogged pursuit of changing the access to information rules.

I will not read what Mr. Winsor has to say but I recommend strongly that other people have a serious look at this. He makes the point quite clearly about what happened to Mr. Reid.

There were predictable turning points in Mr. Reid's career. One of them, as my colleague from the Conservatives pointed out, was his presentation to the government operations committee. It was not viewed very favourably when he pointed out glaring loopholes that had been built in to what the government tried to call whistleblowing legislation. It was really more like an act to protect ministers from whistleblowers, which is what Mr. Reid exposed, and that was not viewed too favourably.

I think the thing that was really the turning point in Mr. Reid's career, and my colleagues may agree, was he backed an access request to see former Prime Minister Chrétien's daily agendas. They may have shown how much time he was spending at the Royal Ottawa golf club. He also backed an access request, which he deemed to be appropriate, calling for the daily briefings for Art Eggleton when he was the minister of national defence.

The Privy Council Office attempted to block Mr. Reid's scope by filing 25 applications in the Federal Court for judicial review of his rulings. In other words, Mr. Reid saw it to be absolutely fitting and appropriate that we should have public access to the former prime minister's daily itineraries and Mr. Eggleton's briefing notices.

The PCO clammed up in this culture of secrecy that dominates Ottawa today. It went to ground, threw up the barriers and started filing what we would call in the private sector slap suits. In other words, it filed 25 court appeals for judicial review to silence this issue. It lost all of them. Mr. Reid was found to be absolutely accurate. His interpretation of the access to information laws was correct, and the government should release this information. To this day it has refused. We have not seen those agendas. This is a graphic illustration of what is wrong with the freedom of information laws in our country.

The laws exist on paper, but it is like the bill of rights in third world countries where it looks good on paper but the proof is in the pudding. To this day we are still waiting for these things. Even though Mr. Reid won all 25 applications in the federal court, the government is still not coughing up the documents and the commissioner has had to go back to the federal court.

Mr. Reid's career has been seven years of frustration. After focusing attention on the need for reform and trying to enforce the laws as they are, it has been nothing but headaches.

We will be very sorry to see him go. We very much regret what I view to be a binding recommendation of a newly created access to information, privacy and ethics committee. A House of Commons standing committee recommended that Mr. Reid's term of office be extended for one year. Partly because of the sensitive nature of the work the committee is doing and the point that we have reached in terms of trying to achieve access to information, for the purposes of continuity, the committee feels it is critical that the same information officer maintain his office for one more year.

We have noticed a worrisome trend. The Government of Canada has ignored the recommendations of House of Commons standing committees. I am sure we could parrot off four or five recent examples where the standing committees have very clearly given direction to government to take a certain route and they have been ignored, completely contrary to the Prime Minister's commitment to do something about the democratic deficit.

Sunlight is a powerful disinfectant and some of us view freedom of information laws as the sunlight of politics. Freedom of information laws are the natural enemy to a culture of secrecy that has allowed corruption to flourish in the country. It is hard to overstate what a central role freedom of information plays in our culture.

The House of Commons justice committee referred to Canada's Access to Information Act as holding a similar significance to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court recently referred to our Access to Information Act as quasi-constitutional. That is what we are playing with here. These are fundamental rights that are the cornerstone of any western democracy, yet they are being trampled on, ignored and trivialized by the experience, certainly in the past seven years when Mr. Reid has been our access to information officer.

Too clearly, many senior officials in Ottawa subscribe to the views of Sir Humphrey in the British comedy Yes, Minister when he said to his boss, “You can have good government or you can have open government, but Mr. Prime Minister, you cannot have both”. We do not want to reduce ourselves to the level of a sitcom here, but we are approaching that point in our treatment of access to information laws. While transparency and accountability are the buzzwords of the day in Ottawa, in practice there are many who resist them and who spend their every waking moment trying to find ways to confound people's right to know, their right to access to information. Very few government insiders are fans of the public's right to know. That is the fundamental problem that we have.

When members of the public submit access to information requests, too often government officials undermine the intent of the act by imposing unreasonable delays, or performing inadequate searches, or charging outlandish fees or fees that constitute a barrier to getting that access to information, or in the larger policy level, by opposing the expansion of the act so it might apply to more activities of government. That is where my interest comes in.

It is hard for me to understand, for instance, why only 49 of 246 crown agencies and corporations are subject to the act. Why can I get easy access to information on the Atlantic Pilotage Authority and not on Canada Post or VIA Rail?

In the last Parliament I was proud to second a private member's bill, Bill C-462, which was put forward by my former colleague, Mr. John Bryden. In that bill, John Bryden for 10 years tried to break the barriers within his own party, his own ruling government, to introduce meaningful amendments to the Access to Information Act. Being a former journalist, Mr. Bryden had firsthand knowledge of the barriers that are in place.

When Mr. Bryden was not re-elected in the last election I took over his bill and introduced an identical bill, in fact word for word, under my own name, Bill C-201.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

March 21st, 2005 / 11:10 a.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in favour of Bill C-277. Its summary states that the enactment amends the Auditor General Act in order to allow the Auditor General of Canada to act as auditor or joint auditor of crown corporations, certain other bodies established by acts of Parliament and certain corporate entities without share capital.

Let me turn to another bill for a moment, Bill C-39, which has already been before the House. It is the enabling legislation for the first ministers' accord on health care and it sets up a third party trust for wait times reduction transfer. The Government of Canada will set that money aside this year but it allows the provinces to draw upon that money until 2009. The House will not review that agreement until 2008. That is a lengthy period of time without oversight on how that money will be spent.

If the Auditor General were allowed to audit the foundation there would be transparency to Canadians and all their demands on health care funding. It is absolutely essential that we commit to openness and transparency in funding that is being spent by the government on behalf of taxpayers.

I want to quote from a document I found useful in considering how health care funding is provided. It is from the CCAF and the Canadian Healthcare Association. The document is entitled, “Principles for Governance, Management Accountability and Shared Responsibility”. It states:

Health system partners need to demonstrate commitment to public transparency and accountability. They do this by explaining to, and involving the public in, what they plan to do, how well the system is performing, and the implications of both.

A third party foundation that has no parliamentary oversight is not the way to achieve public transparency. If the government continues to insist on using these bodies as a way of providing funding, we need to provide the public with confidence that this money is being spent well, that the money is providing the benefit the public needs and that any deficiencies are being identified and acted upon. We do not want to see a repeat of needing to implement a Gomery inquiry.

Another part of that report reads:

Reporting principles and standards are key to the integrity and utility of reported information and aprerequisite for fair comparisons and benchmarking.

These are critical elements in terms of what we have seen over the last several years of various private practices in accounting like Enron.

The Auditor General provides Canadians with reporting principles and standards in regard to how tax dollars are spent, principles and standards the Liberals seem willing to ignore by salting money away in foundations instead of spending it in a transparent manner. The bill would give Canadians some assurance that money directed into foundations is being spent appropriately.

I would like to turn to another foundation, Canada Health Infoway Inc. It was set up in 2001 to help develop efficient data systems for health care. Make no mistake, the NDP knows that more efficient methods of health information transfer are absolutely vital to our Canadian system, but how do we know if Canada Health Infoway is providing good value on that strategy? Four years after it was set up, the need for improved methods of health information transfer is still front and centre with the wait times reduction fund, the need to better understand what parts of the country are underserviced by health professionals and as a way of developing a comprehensive pharmacare system.

In a recent article in the Ottawa Sun the headline read, “Suspect Worst of Foundations”. The article reads:

Canada Health Infoway Inc: Set up in 2001 to help develop efficient data systems for health care, the foundation so far has managed to spend $30 million administering $51 million in grants. (How's that for efficiency?)

These are the kinds of facts and figures that cry out for the need to have the Auditor General look at what is happening with these foundations, instead of treating them as an arm's length mechanism to tuck away funds that do not have the kind of oversight that parliamentarians should have over these kinds of funds.

When we are talking about oversight and transparency, another bill is being put forward to the House, Bill C-201, which talks about the need to look at crown corporations and access to information. It is just another example of how private members need to bring forward business to encourage the government and the rest of the House to really walk the talk when we are talking about transparency and accountability.

I would urge all members from all parties to support this very worthwhile private member's bill.

Access to Information ActRoutine Proceedings

October 7th, 2004 / 10 a.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-201, an act to amend the Access to Information Act and to make amendments to other acts.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be introducing a bill today entitled an act to amend the Access to Information Act or, as it has come to be known, the Bryden bill, because the bill has been championed for the past 10 years by the former member of Parliament, John Bryden.

The bill seeks to expand the Access to Information Act so that it would include all crown corporations and virtually all the activities of government so as to expand the accountability and transparency of government so that we can shine the light of day on the activities of the government and so that scandals can no longer operate under the shadow of secrecy which I believe has plagued this Parliament since I have been a member of Parliament.

I am very pleased and honoured to introduce this important legislation today.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)