An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (travel expenses)

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

Sponsor

Massimo Pacetti  Liberal

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

Status

Not active, as of Nov. 28, 2005
(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.

Income Tax ActRoutine Proceedings

November 28th, 2005 / 3:25 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-462, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (travel expenses).

Mr. Speaker, how many times have we dreamed about travelling abroad? Instead of getting away to a foreign destination, why not spend time relaxing in Canada?

Today, I am pleased to introduce an act to amend the Income Tax Act to provide a maximum deduction of $1,000 from a taxpayer's income in respect of the expenses of purchasing tickets for the taxpayer or members of the taxpayer's family for travel by airplane, train or bus if the travel involves crossing at least three different provincial boundaries.

It seems that Canadians from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island can agree that we live in a beautiful country filled with natural and cosmopolitan wonders alike. However, why do so many Canadians think about travelling abroad instead of discovering their country first?

As chair of the finance committee, I had the opportunity to travel across Canada this fall during prebudget consultations. I wondered how many Canadians got to visit all corners of our vast country. The bill would promote national unity by allowing Canadians to learn more about their fellow citizens and could only have a positive effect on local economies with the additional money spent during these trips.

This private member's bill would be revenue neutral to the finance department.

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

SupplyGovernment Orders

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

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

moved:

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; (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; (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.

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in this House and speak to this very important motion, one that I believe all Canadians as well as all members of this House should participate in and which members will hopefully vote in favour of at the end of the day.

Before we go into the actual details of this motion and why I believe it to be important, I think it is also important to once again give a bit of a history lesson to those Canadians who may be watching as to why I believe that access to information is such a vital part of our democratic process, both in government and across the land. For quite a while, in my opinion, there has been a need to expand and change the access to information legislation. In fact, members have attempted, on a number of occasions in the past few years, to introduce a new piece of legislation to this House.

I recall that back in 2004, a former member of this House, John Bryden, introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-462, which dealt with changes to the Access to Information Act. This piece of proposed legislation came in the form of a private member's bill. That private member's bill received widespread support from members on all sides of this House when it was first introduced. In fact, it made it past second reading with I believe unanimous consent by members of this House and then was referred to committee. Unfortunately, that is when it died.

However, it was about to be resurrected by the member for Winnipeg Centre, who had sought on a number of occasions over many years to introduce and support changes to access to information, because, and let us make no mistake about this, access to information is a fundamental part of every Canadian's right to know what governments do and what political parties are doing in government.

The member for Winnipeg Centre, who felt so strongly about increasing the level of access to information within government, was about to reintroduce this private member's bill first introduced by John Bryden when he had a conversation with the current Minister of Justice. At that time, the Minister of Justice told the member for Winnipeg Centre that he, as minister, was about to bring forward new legislation, legislation that would be complementary to John Bryden's bill and would open up and make more transparent the dealings of government. He convinced the member for Winnipeg Centre to stand down on his private member's bill.

The member for Winnipeg Centre, being a man of a trusting nature, a man who believes the word of others, ultimately decided not to enter his private member's bill dealing with changes or new legislation regarding access to information, believing that the Minister of Justice would keep his word and introduce his own piece of legislation at his earliest opportunity.

Lo and behold, what happened? In April of 2005, I believe, rather than introduce legislation, the Minister of Justice brought forward a discussion paper. There was no legislation. It was a discussion paper. To add insult to injury, this discussion paper was not complementary to Mr. Bryden's original private member's bill. It did not support the initiatives, the thrust and the objectives of Mr. Bryden's private member's bill to open up levels of government so that all Canadians could determine for themselves what their government was doing. In fact, this discussion paper suggested that there be even more secrecy in government than there is currently. It was, in other words, an absolutely opposite view to the intent of Mr. Bryden's bill.

I can only say to members of this assembly that what the Minister of Justice brought forward was an absolute betrayal of trust from the conversation and the commitment that he made to the hon. gentleman from Winnipeg Centre. He did not bring forward legislation to deal with increasing the level of access to all government departments, crown corporations and foundations. He did absolutely the opposite. I think that is shameful.

I know that the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre will speak on this matter himself later today, but I must say for the record, and I think all Canadians should understand, that the Minister of Justice betrayed not only the member but all Canadians when he made a commitment to bring forward legislation and then reneged on his promise and his commitment.

It is also important for Canadians to understand why it is so important to bring forward changes to the current legislation. Why should we bring forward this motion today? Why should we bring forward in the future a proposed piece of legislation that deals with access to information and increasing the levels of access? In light of what has transpired over the course of the past few months in Canada as a result of the government's actions with respect to the sponsorship scandal, I think it is quite apparent that we need to be more open, accountable and transparent in all of our dealings in government.

I would suggest to members today that had we as a government, a party, an assembly, passed increased access to information legislation, there is a chance, although I cannot guarantee it, that some of the things we saw happen with respect to the sponsorship scandal might never have happened, because the ability to allow Canadians access to information is vital to guaranteeing good, transparent, accountable and democratic government. If Canadians had had the opportunity to investigate through access to information requests what was happening with the sponsorship program, there is a chance, although perhaps not a high degree of probability, I agree, that some of the activities within the sponsorship program may never have occurred.

Unfortunately, the sponsorship program is an example of that cloud of secrecy and it shows how this is pervasive not only in the government but within the Liberal Party. If there is legislation that allows opposition members and Canadians at large the ability to ask questions and receive answers as to the activities of government, it will in effect act as a deterrent to any proposed or planned or perhaps even inadvertent abuse of the public trust. All parliamentarians, after all, whether they be on the government side or the opposition side, have a responsibility to respect the taxpayers and the Canadian public.

After all, we are servants of the public, not the other way around, but unfortunately we have seen time and time again that this government has done just the opposite. Rather than be responsible to the Canadian public, rather than be accountable to the Canadian taxpayer, the government has consistently over the last 12 years been secretive and has acted, as Justice Gomery puts it, on “a culture of entitlement”. In other words, the government feels that what is best for the Liberal Party of Canada is best for all Canadians, but in fact we all know that is absolutely not the case.

The access to information piece of legislation that I am referring to, which I hope will eventually see the light of day and be passed in this assembly, is something that is absolutely vital to ensure that Canadians' interests are protected. Time and time again, we have seen examples of crown corporations engaging in activities that later are found to be perhaps irresponsible and perhaps illegal. Yet we only find out that information through investigation by outside parties. It would appear that it is never this government which brings forward some of the problems that have occurred within crown corporations, agencies or foundations. It takes others to dig out that information.

If a set of rules is put in, as the Minister of Justice attempted, to try to make it more difficult to get information on potential wrongdoings or on just incompetence, it is not serving the interests of Canadians and Canadian taxpayers. That is just the reverse of what we need to do.

We all remember what happened in the past few months with a former cabinet minister by the name of Mr. David Dingwall. We remember some of his activities, particularly some of his lobbying activities. Basically he engaged in a lobbying effort that was contrary to the rules. In other words, he accepted a contingency fee from a client based on the success he would have in lobbying for a contract for that particular client. It was contrary to the rules. We found out nothing about that wrongdoing until much later. In fact, the statute of limitations had run out, so we were not able to have Mr. Dingwall prosecuted. We were not able to have Mr. Dingwall punished by this assembly.

Part of the reason we were not able to do it is that we did not know. That is the whole point I am trying to get at. The public has the right to know about the activities of the government and the activities of people who lobby the government. The public has a right to know about all the activities done supposedly on its behalf.

In Mr. Dingwall's case, it gets progressively worse, because from there he was then appointed head of the Canadian Mint. After resigning, he stated for the record when asked about a potential severance that he was “entitled to his entitlements”, which I believe was part of the reason that Justice Gomery put that famous phrase in the Gomery report, saying that the government basically lives under a culture of entitlement, where its members feel they are entitled to either cash or benefits and perks to which in fact they should not be entitled.

Beyond just this culture of entitlement that is so pervasive in this government, there is a culture of secrecy. I believe that if we combine the culture of secrecy and the culture of entitlement, that is a surefire recipe for potential abuse, for corruption and for scandal.

We have seen examples time and time again over the last 12 years where there have been “scandals” perpetrated upon the Canadian public by the government. Whether it be the example of Shawinigate, the HRDC boondoggle or of course the sponsorship scandal, with which all Canadians are so familiar by now, I believe that if there had been an increased ability of Canadians and members of the opposition parties to receive that information through access to information requests, while it at the very least would have stopped some of the abuse, it would also have acted as a deterrent.

Members of the government would have had to--and future governments would have to--think twice before engaging in activities that might be considered either illegal or bordering on illegal, because they would have realized that members of the media, members of the Canadian public and members of the opposition would have the ability to request that information through ATI requests and receive that information in a timely fashion. It would act as a deterrent to future misuses of power. That is something all members should agree upon.

Right now we talk about the government's wish, in the words of the Prime Minister, to increase the ability of the government to increase the access to information. I can only say it has been my experience, in listening to the Prime Minister talk about more openness and more transparency or accountability in government, that once again it is only lip service. The Liberals seem to talk the talk but they never seem to walk the walk.

I point out that on a number of occasions, three that I know of, this very Prime Minister voted against increasing access to information legislation in the House. On the one hand he is saying that it is his commitment to increase the level of accountability and transparency of the government and put to an end things like the sponsorship scandal and other abuses of government power, but we have seen no evidence that the Prime Minister actually believes what he says, because he has voted against changes to the access to information legislation on at least three separate occasions. Not only is that contradictory, it is unconscionable.

The Prime Minister has a responsibility as the head of the government, as does any prime minister, to be responsible to the Canadian taxpayer and the public. Yet he has proven absolutely no such knowledge of his responsibility.

Even though the Liberals and the Prime Minister have talked about meaningful access to information reform, they have proven to continuously stall and delay important legislation to this very day. For the life of me, I cannot understand why they would do so.

Let us talk about other areas where access to information serves a useful purpose. I am not talking not about direct scandal and corruption. I am talking about the waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars. The most glaring example of how an ATI request has brought to the light the abuse of these dollars is our national gun registry.

My colleague, the member for Yorkton—Melville, several years ago repeatedly made access to information requests about the cost of the national gun registry. It took a long time, but eventually he was able to uncover the massive waste of taxpayer dollars that have gone into this boondoggle called the national gun registry. Had he not had the ability to receive this information through ATI requests, even though it was deliberately slow walked by the government, the Canadian public perhaps even today would not have realized the massive cost overruns that the program has cost Canadian taxpayers. The program was originally thought to only cost $2 million. It has escalated to close to $2 billion now.

If there is no more glaring example of why ATI, access to information, requests are necessary to protect the Canadian public and its taxpayers that is it. How many more examples of abuse of taxpayer dollars could we find out about if we had proper ATI legislation today? The problem is we do not.

Many crown corporations are exempted from access to information requests right now. We have heard of abuses by heads of crown corporations, whether they be Canada Post or the Canadian Mint, but we have not yet had the ability to file a formal access to information request and receive information from the government about our questions. Why? Because the access to information legislation does not cover all crown corporations. It does not cover foundations which have billions of dollars of Canadian taxpayer money sitting there. Not even the Auditor General can find out what is happening in those foundations. That is a travesty and it should not be allowed to happen.

Clearly, if we were to increase the level of access to information requests to include crown corporations, foundations and basically every public function that deals with taxpayer dollars, democracy would be far better served.

We understand, as per the motion, that there should be exemptions, cabinet confidentiality is one example. However, we can make exemptions as the motion purports. What we need to do is come together on this, realize, understand and agree that without the ability for governments to provide information when requested to the media, to the opposition or, more important, to the Canadian public, we will not be serving those very people who have elected us to this place.

Therefore, I hope every member of this assembly will vote in favour of the motion to show the Canadian public that they understand the meaning of transparency, democracy and accountability.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

June 14th, 2005 / 12:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this concurrence motion of the committee report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. The report recommends the extension of the term of the Information Commissioner for one more year.

Before I get into my comments, I want to know why the words “corruption,” “bribery,” “scandals,” “cover-up,” “culture of secrecy” and all these other terms have been used by the opposition members so frequently. This is to let members know that as long as those terms are not directed at an individual member or to a member of the other place, the rules of this place allow that to happen.

It is unfortunate. Those statements that are made in this place are the same statements that they could not walk outside the door and say in public without being subject to prosecution under the laws of Canada. It is in my view a very unfortunate circumstance where members of Parliament will use the protection of this place to say things that they would not otherwise say outside.

The Access to Information Act came into force in the early eighties. It is an act that has not been substantively changed since that time. I do not think that there is any member in this place that would suggest that it does not need to have a thorough review by Parliament. The public and all stakeholders, including those who are currently exempt from the act and who may be coming under the purview of the act, would have an opportunity to have input as to why there may be exemptions. There are a number of exemptions now.

I would like to briefly outline the purpose of the current Access to Information Act. It states:

The purpose of this Act is to extend the present laws of Canada to provide a right of access to information in records under the control of a government institution in accordance with the principles that government information should be available to the public, that necessary exceptions to the right of access should be limited and specific and that decisions on the disclosure of government information should be reviewed independently of government.

There have been some suggestions made here. As a matter of fact, when I walked outside the chamber and greeted members of the public, they said they had heard about this debate going on. They said they heard that we were firing the Information Commissioner.

It is amazing, depending on the words that people use, because it appears to be something that indeed is not. The fact is that the Information Commissioner is an officer of Parliament, as are the Auditor General, the Privacy Commissioner, and the Official Languages Commissioner. All of these positions are special officers of Parliament.

These officers are appointed for certain terms, a stated number of years. They cannot be simply taken out of that position for some administrative reason or other. They have total independence. I think members would agree that the current Auditor General has often been in a position where she has been very critical of certain things that happened within the administration of government. That position cannot be suspended and the Auditor General taken out of the role.

In fact, to get rid of an officer of Parliament requires a debate in the House and a vote by both chambers. It is an extremely important process. These are very important positions in terms of the support to the governance of Canada.

There can be no question that once someone has been honoured to be appointed to one of these positions that their credentials and abilities go totally unquestioned.

We have had an incident where an officer of Parliament was found to have done some things which were inappropriate. He ultimately resigned from this place without there being a vote on it. I want to make it very clear that as far as I can hear from the commentary of members in this place and from other stakeholders, as it were, Mr. Reid, whose term comes due this month, has performed his duties admirably and with distinction. That is not in question.

If the situation arises where there is an officer of Parliament whose term is coming due and there is no specific provisions within the act for an extension, there could be reappointment for another full term. I do not believe that has happened before. It is a very significant commitment for someone in his or her career. Certainly, the people who take on these roles as officers of Parliament have very distinguished careers elsewhere. Whether it be in politics, or as in the Auditor General's case, in the professional accounting field, they have earned high recognition in their field of endeavour and, to their credit, the accolades of their peers for excellence.

When an officer of Parliament is appointed and knowing the process that we now go through, there is no question about the merit of that individual.

There is another aspect to be considered here. An officer of Parliament's position is coming due and there is this instantaneous motion to extend it for a year, right at the time when the appointment is to expire. The timing of this smacks of disingenuousness.

I do not think members will be surprised to know that a recruitment for replacements for this position has been ongoing for some time. The process to get to a short list and to enter the formal process of the appointment of the new commissioner is well advanced.

Why is it that right at the point the process is to move forward, there is a suggestion that we had better extend the appointment for a year? I question the timing. It is very peculiar and unusual for this to happen, because there has been a commitment that an election would be called in this place within 30 days of the tabling of the final report of the Gomery commission.

Depending on the timing of various things, it is very likely that somewhere around the end of this calendar year, an election will be called. It means that between now and then it is quite unlikely that anything could reasonably happen with regard to changes in the Access to Information Act. It is also quite unlikely that the House would have an opportunity to have input into the development of legislation and as well, to have it go through the normal legislative process within six to nine months in any event, if there was full cooperation, but I can say that there are some very important discussions and debates to be held on this.

In my view, it would appear that the earliest a bill could be dealt with on this very, very important matter would be at least another year to two years to get it through all stages. That means should there be an extension of the current commissioner's appointment, he may very well be in that position for the next year, but he would not likely be involved to any great extent in shepherding any legislation through this place.

Maybe the motion should have been a renewal of the commissioner's position as an officer of Parliament for another term under the prescribed form. It is not to say that there is not other candidates who, given their current roles in life, may wish to make a commitment for a significant period of time.

Those kinds of things do not fit into everybody's plans, whether it be their professional or their family plans. It is an important responsibility. It means they have to reside here in Ottawa. A significant commitment has to be made.

I want to pay tribute to John Bryden, our former colleague from Ancaster--Dundas--Flamborough--Aldershot, a riding name that the chair occupants often had difficulty remembering. Mr. Bryden took a lead role in this place for 10 years. I was part of that. He started an ad hoc committee which was internal to our caucus for some time. We opened it up and it became a formal ad hoc task force with representation from all parties in the House. Substantial witnesses, including Mr. Reid, spent a lot of time with us. I must admit that some of his insights were excellent but I did not agree with all of them. It would be a very boring world if everybody agreed on all things.

One of the aspects he thought would be useful to pursue was to combine two officers of Parliament. He wanted to combine the Privacy Commissioner's office and the Access to Information office which deal in very similar domains. There was some disagreement or maybe no consensus as to whether or not combining these two officers of Parliament would be a useful thing to do.

The Access to Information Act is no small act. In the format which I printed it, it is some 26 pages long and includes a number of important sections.

It lays out for instance who can have access to government records. Every Canadian citizen has the opportunity. Any permanent resident within the meaning of the laws of Canada shall have the right and on request be given access to any record under the control of a government institution. There are some exemptions. This was the area in which John Bryden was interested. We are talking about crown corporations and other agencies, et cetera, and I will get to that in a moment.

A request for access to a record under the act can be made in writing to the government institution that has control of the record, and it shall provide sufficient detail to enable an experienced employee of the institution with a reasonable effort to identify the record or the necessary information.

The member for the Bloc may have misspoken when he referred to requests for information going to the commissioner. The role of the Access to Information Commissioner is not to receive communications from Canadian citizens and then start looking for things. There are rules. They exist at virtually every level of government. An individual has to request information directly from the agency, board, department or institution. Within every one of those departments, agencies or institutions, et cetera, there are designated personnel who are required to keep abreast of developments with regard to these matters and to ensure that the provisions of the act are followed.

There are timelines. There is a nominal cost for any request. One request was over one million pages long. I do not know what a Canadian citizen would want with a million pages of documents, but there was a cost and that citizen had to bear the additional cost for the excessive number of pages.

Within the act there are some exemptions. The current act states that the head of a government institution shall refuse to disclose any record requested under this act that contains information that was obtained in confidence from--and now we have third party information--the government of a foreign state or an institution thereof; an international organization of states or an institution thereof; the government of a province or an institution thereof; a municipal or regional government; or an aboriginal government.

There are certain types of information that are protected or are exemptions, but the institution itself may be subject to other appropriate requests for information.

I do not intend to go through the current act. There is an understanding in this place and I think there is a consensus that there are some important amendments for consideration that should be made with regard to the Access to Information Act. Indeed, we have a responsibility as parliamentarians to ensure that legislation remains at current levels. Former member of Parliament John Bryden worked tirelessly to champion these changes or a review of the act. He even rewrote the entire act himself and tabled it as private member's Bill C-462 in the last session of Parliament.

I looked at a speech that Mr. Bryden gave in that Parliament. I thought it would be useful to show the commitment of the former Liberal member of Parliament who worked so diligently for all those years. In his speech of February 24, 2004, he said:

Let me give members a sense of what is the problem. Right now, under the current Access to Information Act, out of 246 crown agencies and corporations, only 49 are covered by the Access to Information Act.

This is very significant. Out of 246 only 49 are covered, which means that almost 200 are not subject to the act. We have to ask ourselves why.

Mr. Bryden is one of the reasons we were motivated to set up the ad hoc committee and to consult with Mr. Reid and others about what we could do. He gave an example. The Atlantic Pilotage Authority is subject to the act. He gave as examples the Bank of Canada, Canada Post and VIA Rail which are not subject to the Access to Information Act.

One could ask if it is important that the Canadian public have access to the Bank of Canada to request copies of certain information. Members should understand that certain things will be exempt. It is going to take some time to deal with these, but in the meantime it is not to say that the government has not been doing anything.

Two things have happened. First was the establishment of a standing committee responsible for access to information. It is an important committee and it is doing good work. The other is with regard to the whistleblowing legislation. That legislation is ready to go through clause by clause study next week. We are close now. Under that legislation there will be broad authorities of all agencies and crown employees throughout the government. Virtually anyone who gets paid by the Government of Canada will have an opportunity to go to an independent commissioner to bring information or knowledge to deal with some of the issues that members have raised in their speeches.

That is an important move forward. The Access to Information Act is a little step further. We are now talking about the Canadian public, citizens and landed residents to have access to information within these various institutions. It is a very important debate.

I thank the member for raising this issue. I am not sure whether or not a modest extension is the most appropriate way to go, but it has been an interesting debate. I hope that as a consequence of this there will be a renewed interest by all members to ensure that we have a good plan to update the Access to Information Act.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

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

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.