An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Access to Information Act (transparency)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.


Justin Trudeau  Liberal

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


Defeated, as of April 1, 2015
(This bill did not become law.)


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Parliament of Canada Act to require the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons to open its meetings, with certain exceptions, to the public. It also amends the Access to Information Act to modernize and clarify the purpose of the Act and to give the Information Commissioner the power to make compliance orders.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


April 1, 2015 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2019 / 4:55 p.m.
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Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to participate in this important debate. I want to say at the outset that what we are technically addressing is a motion by the government that would refuse the 19 or 20 amendments to Bill C-58 that were proposed by the Senate. The NDP opposes the motion. It cannot support a bill that does not include the amendments that were brought to this place by the Senate. I will explain why in my remarks.

It is a very disturbing situation we find ourselves in. During the election campaign, the government committed to transparency. Indeed, the Prime Minister, when in opposition, introduced Bill C-613, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Access to Information Act. We could call it the transparency bill. Bill C-58, therefore, is not something the Liberals simply decided to propose on a whim. It was the result of a considered effort by the government to deliver on an election promise on transparency.

It was a total disappointment when it came forward. That is not me speaking. It is from the former information commissioner of Canada, Suzanne Legault. Members know, just as I do, how unusual it is for an independent officer of Parliament, such as the Information Commissioner, to give the kind of criticism I would like to read into the record today.

On September 28, 2017, when the bill first came forward, she said that bill would “take people’s right to know backwards rather than forward”, according to the National Post. The article went on:

In her first substantive comments on the legislation, [the former commissioner] said the measures fail to deliver on Liberal election promises. “If passed, it would result in a regression of existing rights.”

She put forward 28 recommendations to improve the legislation, and they are not found, in any significant degree, in Bill C-58. That is why, when I stood in this place during debate on the bill earlier, I reluctantly said, with sadness, that we had to oppose the bill. If the government is not even prepared to take the baby steps represented by the Senate amendments, clearly we cannot afford to pass what even the commissioner so eloquently said was a regressive bill. She is right, for reasons I will come to.

Like the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, who is justly acclaimed for his awards in the world of journalism, I received an award as well for my work on freedom of information. It was from the hon. Ged Baldwin, who was once the member of Parliament for Peace River, for work I did at graduate school and then with the Canadian Bar Association, so many years ago, lobbying for an access to information act. It was modelled on legislation other countries have taken for granted. The United States has had it since the sixties, Sweden since the 18th century, and so on.

Finally, Canada got an access to information act. However, it is old. It was passed in the eighties. It is from horse-and-buggy days, yet some of those old features have not been corrected in the bill before us.

I care deeply about the issue. I think it is central to a democracy. The Supreme Court of Canada has called the right to know, freedom of information and access to information a “quasi-constitutional right” Canadians have. When the former commissioner says that the bill is regressive and is a step backwards, despite the bold promises of transparency the Prime Minister made when he was leader of the third party in the House, we can imagine the disappointment of Canadians.

Of course, it is not only this Canadian who has that disappointment. I should point out that Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and the Centre for Law and Democracy called the bill “inadequate” and asked that the government withdraw it.

The Senate has brought forward improvements, and for the government to say it cannot even go there is frankly shocking.

What is wrong with the bill? I do not quite know where to start. One thing it gets right, I concede, is that for the first time, there is an order-making power for the commissioner.

Just to step back, what should an access to information act contain? It should contain three things.

First, it should contain a general statement that the public has a right to government records.

Second, it should have obvious exceptions to that rule. We can all guess what they are. They are all included in this legislation, and then some. They include cabinet confidences, business information, policy advice, solicitor-client records and information that if disclosed would be injurious to national security or international relations. There are the rules, and there are exceptions.

Third, there should be an independent umpire in the game. Until this bill goes through, that umpire, the Information Commissioner, has only been able to make recommendations, which the government has frequently ignored. Now there would be something like an order that could be made and enforced in the Federal Court. That is something I believe is worth support. I also support that there would be a legislative review of these provisions within five years. I think that is good.

I talked about Liberal promises. One thing the Liberals talked about constantly in the last election was that the bill would be extended to the Prime Minister's Office and ministers' offices. Those records would be available. They are available in provincial laws. They are certainly available in my province of British Columbia. That was a black and white election promise that has now been broken by the current government. There is no way to sugar-coat that.

The Senate amendments would improve it and give it a bit more teeth, but that is simply not on in terms of this legislation. I am grateful to the Senate for the 20 amendments that would, if passed, allow us to begrudgingly accept the improvements in this bill. However, the government has now put us on notice that it does not want to go anywhere near them. It likes the bill the way it is, despite the fact that it was castigated by everyone who knows about access to information in Canada. The academics and journalists who studied it and the advocates out there who use it as a tool to hold their government to account all said that it is not going to work and that it is just not enough. That was sad to me.

In opposition, the Prime Minister said, “a country's access to information system is at the heart of open government.”

I talked about transparency. The Liberals seemed to like it in opposition. The Prime Minister said during the campaign, “transparent government is good government.” That was something he said during the campaign.

Let us get more specific. He said:

We will...ensure that Access to Information applies to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.

Unfortunately, that did not happen in this legislation.

What the government likes to talk about is what it calls proactive disclosure, which is a good thing. That is when a minister travels and puts his or her expenses on the website so Canadians can see whether there has been abuse. That is done proactively. If one goes to the website, there it is. Frankly, it is old hat in Canada. It has been around for decades in the provinces. However, as much as I like that, the fact is that it is not what people want. If they want to apply to that minister's office to understand about a particular contract or something for which the minister is responsible, they cannot get anywhere with it, because the ministers' offices are not subject to the law. It is a bizarre aberration.

I had the good fortune of being the unpaid adviser to the attorney general when B.C.'s freedom of information act was brought forward. I can say that we did a lot of consultation. I think there were 52 amendments made on the floor. The bill was passed unanimously and was praised as the best bill in the Commonwealth when it came forward. Unfortunately, it needs more work. I hope it is amended, like this bill. Nevertheless, it was the gold standard at the time. There was never any question about ministers' offices not being covered.

The government has what is called in the trade a “Mack truck clause”. It was not changed. It is the clause that was section 69 in the original bill, the cabinet confidences Mack truck clause. What does that mean? Rather than just being an exemption, an exception to the rule, of which I spoke earlier, the act does not even apply to it. What does that mean? It means that we cannot have the commissioner's office or anyone else deciding whether stuff has been stuffed into a cabinet record to evade the law on the right people have to access information. It is called a “Mack truck clause”, or often, “cabinet laundering”. That means that the government sticks a record in the cabinet. I am not saying that this happened. I am not suggesting bad faith, but it is certainly possible under the law. That is why it was so criticized during the day.

What else does the Senate do that the government will not go near? We have heard a lot about Mark Norman today. The Senate would add a clause that would create a new offence forbidding the use of any “code, moniker or contrived word or phrase in a record in place of the name of any person, corporation, entity, third party or organization” with a view to evading the duty to disclose and release records under the act.

We all know why that is there, because it is notorious that to evade the law on access to information, the Department of National Defence did not even use the name of Mark Norman or his rank. It used a phony word, contrary to the spirit of the act and certainly the letter of the act. This would make it clear that this could not be done in the future, which seems to be good public policy.

It seems to me obvious that if the government intends to evade the letter and spirit of the act, as this government has done, we would want to correct that misbehaviour. The Senate saw through that, proposed amendments and brought them here, and the government has not even allowed us to talk about them. We are going to just put them all aside. That is quite disturbing. It is not a theoretical problem, in other words. It is a real problem that the Senate wanted to address, because we got wind of it in the litigation involving Mark Norman. The government will not fix it. It does not even want to go there.

There are some other changes that are technical in nature, but the big principle is that the bill, after so many years of ossification, is rusting out. The bill came forward before we even had computers, and now the government is doing tinkering and patting itself on the back for doing what in other jurisdictions has been the law for a generation.

I am hard pressed to find things to say about the bill that are positive. I appreciate the fact that there would be a five-year review and that, as I said earlier, finally, in keeping with all the provinces' laws, the order-making power would be available to the commissioner. That is pretty thin gruel after all these years. Nevertheless, it has to be acknowledged as a positive change. However, on balance, the bill is very, very disturbing.

I wish I could be here saying that the bill has merit. I wish I could be saying that there were some of those things I talked about, like cabinet confidences being a regular exception for which courts and others would have the theoretical ability to review disclosure decisions, but there is nothing here that would do that.

There is another issue. That is the duty to document. One of the modern issues that has come forward is that to evade the public's right to know, there is a great oral tradition that seems to have emerged. Things are not written down in government documents. Either little yellow stickies are put on them, which are removed when disclosure applications are made, or, more frequently, a record is not made at all. We have seen that in British Columbia, the development of the so-called oral culture of government.

The notion of documenting and having a duty to record for future generations and others just exactly what decision was made and for what reasons is lacking. In administrative law, there has been a growing commitment, the courts have found, to provide reasons for decisions that are made. Sometimes access to information has been a tool to elucidate the reasons a particular decision was made, so people have been calling for a duty to document. There is no such thing in this law, I am sad to say.

In conclusion, the government has taken off the table all the work the Senate did that would have made it possible to support this bill. The Senate amendments made it better, said Caroline Maynard, the Information Commissioner of Canada. Had those amendments gone through, the New Democratic Party would have supported this bill.

To take all those amendments off the table and leave what has been soundly criticized, in all quarters, by academics, user groups and journalist groups, and say that we should be happy with what is remaining is simply an outrage. We cannot dignify this with our support.

Foreign Lobbyist Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

April 5th, 2019 / 1:45 p.m.
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Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Madam Speaker, I am happy to bring us home regarding the debate on Bill C-278 and the important public policy discussion started by our colleague from Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke.

I find it quite interesting to listen to NDP members and the Liberals in this debate. The Liberal speaker who preceded me suggested that everything was fine regarding lobbyist registries and that the regulations did not need to be updated. This is after two months of scandal related to intensive lobbying efforts by SNC-Lavalin to change the course of justice in Canada, which has led us to the largest political scandal in Canadian history.

In fact, the OECD has a group looking into the SNC-Lavalin affair. The OECD is an international body that has never investigated Canada before for rule-of-law concerns. This all stems from lobbying that commenced four months into the government's mandate, which led to the insertion of the remediation agreement provisions into the budget implementation act, an omnibus bill.

That lobbying was all above board and done correctly, but to dismiss concerns about the need to ensure our lobbying registries are the most current and effective in the world is a false argument at a time when we have been consumed by a scandal that, at its centre, was the government advancing the interests of a private corporation.

When my friend from Timmins—James Bay stood up, he had a piece of paper in his hand that looked like the bill, but he clearly had not read it. He went on a rant about a lot of his old nuggets from the Harper government days and talked about grassroots efforts. We know that money coming from foreign sources, unions or elsewhere does not represent truly grassroots efforts. At the very minimum, we should expect full transparency disclosure of any monies used to influence public discourse, public debate and the review of legislation in Canada.

Why do I say this? Why is Bill C-278 critical at this time in our history?

Today, at the G7 meeting in Europe, the Minister of Foreign Affairs said, “interference is very likely and we think there have probably already been efforts by malign foreign actors to disrupt our democracy.” This was what the Liberal minister said today at the G7 meeting about foreign influence in elections and democracies. This is why my colleague brought forward Bill C-278.

The last Liberal speaker should get on the phone to correct her minister. Perhaps she could say to her House leader that the Liberals should support what the Conservatives are doing to ensure we prevent interference.

Bill C-278 does two discrete and very easy-to-understand things. It would require lobbyists to disclose the source of their funding as well as disclose the intention of those foreign funds and lobbying efforts to influence proceedings in Canada, be they regulatory proceedings on pipeline review or legislative proceedings on the legalization of cannabis. Last I checked, most Liberal operatives seem to working that industry these days. All that will do is bring disclosure.

What is wrong with a little sunshine? We have this new chamber that allows in a bit of diffused light. That diffused and opaque transparency is what we get from the Prime Minister.

I find this the height of hypocrisy. As a private member, the member for Papineau was not really known for doing much in this place before he became Prime Minister, and I respect the role he has. His one private member's bill from the last session, about which maybe my Liberal friends who were elected in 2015 do not know, was Bill C-613, and I always thought it was ironic that it used the Ottawa area code. That bill was meant to update access to information laws.

When he was in opposition, he talked about having transparency by default. As Prime Minister, he has done the opposite. In fact, he has not lived up to one shred of the intention of Bill C-613.

The last information commissioner chastised the Prime Minister for his conduct with respect to access to information. We have just today debated code words being used within the government to delay disclosure in the Norman affair. We have heard that ATIs asked for by La Presse will not be available from the government on the SNC matter until after the election. There has been zero transparency from the Liberal government, this Prime Minister and the small group of people around him.

Let me say why this sunshine is needed and particularly why l am concerned that we seem to be fine with not tracking foreign money in our country. I would invite members, including Liberal and NDP members, to watch Wendy Mesley's interview with Vivian Krause. Because in the U.S. there is disclosure of tax records, of foundation reports to the IRS, of unions' disclosures of money spent on the legislative process, she is able to analyze U.S. documentation to track the spending of money in Canada.

In fact, it should very much concern Canadians, including in my province, where in the great recession when the auto industry was at the edge, the resource industry in western Canada led to more jobs than the auto sector did in Ontario. People in my community of Durham should be concerned that the Rockefeller Foundation, the Tides Foundation and the Hewlett trust were part of a Corporate Ethics International campaign to, in their words, “landlock Canadian oil”.

In fact, they were putting and syphoning money into Canada, into activist groups, into activities to actually stop regulatory proceedings with respect to resource development and getting those products to market. As a result, last year alone our national interests received $15 billion less than the world price for oil because of a deflated price that has hurt Alberta immensely. That is less tax revenue that we can spend at the provincial and federal levels on things that matter to Canadians. I think people should know if those projects are being delayed, cancelled or influenced by foreign money.

Therefore, what is wrong with a little disclosure, particularly from a Prime Minister who said transparency should be the default setting in government? Today we hear from the Liberals that the regulatory process is in order and the bill is not needed, yet in Europe, the minister is saying there is likely interference going on now with respect to our parliamentary democracy and our election this fall.

Bill C-278 is intended to address that. Let us at least get it to committee so we can talk about this situation. If we go on social media, on Twitter, what we see would probably keep most of us up at night because of the terrible environment. The last Clerk of the Privy Council called it a vomitorium.

The influence of paid operatives on Twitter may have influenced other elections before ours. Should we not know if some of those foreign influences are paying organizations on the ground here in Canada to impact Canadians and our decisions on our resources, on our projects, on our infrastructure, on whether indigenous Canadians will be able to benefit from resources on traditional lands. It is impacting our indigenous peoples and our democracy.

Bill C-278 is a modest proposal. I know the grassroots members of the NDP will survive without foreign money. They should support the bill. If the Liberal members listened to their own minister today, talking to G7 leaders about interference by foreign actors in political elections, then the Liberals should also support the bill. That is why I want to thank the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke for bringing it to Parliament.

January 17th, 2019 / 1:10 p.m.
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Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

I take issue with the amendment suggesting that the entire meeting should be in camera. I agreed with Ms. Vandenbeld's suggestion that this is a Canadian issue, and so Canadians deserve to hear, at least on a preliminary basis, what the Canadian response on the ground has been.

As Mr. Lukiwski has said, perhaps there should be a statement by Ambassador McCallum outlining the situation and outlining Canadian actions with respect to the Canadians detained on security and administrative grounds, and perhaps we could have one round of questions. If there were then some information he thought was sensitive, he could hold that for subsequent rounds, which would be held in camera.

I'd remind my Liberal friends on this committee that when the Prime Minister ran to seek the trust of Canadians, he ran on an open and transparent government. In fact, Bill C-613, Justin Trudeau's private member's bill in the last Parliament, set as a standard open government by default.

I think the default position should be that we hear from Mr. McCallum, that all Canadians hear a response from our ambassador on the ground so that families get some reassurance on Canadian action. We could have one round of questions from the three parties, and then the subsequent rounds could be held in camera, thereby allowing him to reserve sensitive information for the in camera session. I think that is a very reasonable compromise here to make sure that Canadians, through their parliamentarians, can have assurances with respect to safety.

I would add that just this morning I responded to a Canadian who said that the travel advisory was changed but that their travel insurance cannot be activated unless there is another change to a travel advisory. People are watching these things very carefully, and I think they need to hear from our ambassador, who is very well adept at appearing at committee. Perhaps that is a compromise in the spirit of working together on this.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 2nd, 2018 / 12:45 p.m.
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Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I found the exchange very interesting. It was a great speech by my colleague from Calgary Shepard. What is interesting is that our friend on the other side from Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame gave a speech in the last Parliament on transparency. In fact, he spoke on Bill C-613, sponsored by the Prime Minister, on accountability with respect to access to information. The lovely bromides we heard when he spoke in opposition are not being met in government. He said that bill would be “more accountable” than government had ever been. The bill had a subtitle of transparency.

He mentioned Suzanne Legault with respect to access to information and a range of things. Madame Legault criticized the Prime Minister for not meeting the needs of access to information with the bill before us. Now we have a political financing bill that is simply PR to respond to some of the inappropriate actions of the Prime Minister.

Is this really about transparency or is it about message control by the Prime Minister's Office?

November 6th, 2017 / 5 p.m.
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Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I don't find your ruling hard to believe, because that's why I proposed this amendment instead of the other one. I would love to eliminate all fees, but I was anticipating the ruling that you just made.

I've only suggested removing the additional payment in section 11, essentially eliminating subsection 11(2). I'd remind my friends on the other side of the aisle that the Liberal Party platform says, “We will make it easier for Canadians to access information by eliminating all fees, except for the initial $5 filing fee.” Even more wonderful, from our historical archives, is a private member's bill from 2014, Bill C-613. It was put forward by the member for Papineau, who said in his speech at the time that the act “would require that only the initial $5.00 request be paid by Canadians, with no additional fees added on later.”

We have the member for Papineau's private member's bill, and the pledge from the Liberal platform. It seems to me that subsection 11(2) is in error, and the effect of my amendment would be to get rid of it.

(Amendment negatived [See Minutes of Proceedings])

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 26th, 2017 / 1:15 p.m.
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Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, the selective memory of our current government is interesting. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself, when he was a member of Parliament in the last Parliament, tabled Bill C-613, which absolutely flies in the face of what his current government is tabling. It is like the debt. It is like the carbon tax. It is like the small business tax that the Liberals promised to lower.

Once they got into power, they kicked up their heels and brought all their friends in and paid them via high-priced patronage appointments. They kind of forgot what their promises to Canadians were. However, I will tell the member that we on this side and Canadians will not forget.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 25th, 2017 / 1:30 p.m.
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Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I hate interrupting my friend in full rhetorical flight, but he is referring to the Liberal leader's Bill C-613 in the last Parliament and suggests that it was about proactive disclosure. He has been saying this in the House, when the bill, which I quoted in my speech, does not take that approach--

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 25th, 2017 / 1:20 p.m.
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Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my friend from Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan. Normally we would bring modernization forward in such a way as to see the improvements that are recommended either by officers of Parliament, such as Madam Legault and others, or by aspirational politicians of the past, such as the member of Parliament for Papineau when he was in opposition and wanted to see far more from government. Now he is not fulfilling that.

I would also direct my friend to an interesting comment. I quoted at length my friend from Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, who was the democratic reform critic in the last Parliament, when the Liberals were the third party. He also suggested in question period to my friend from Muskoka, who was the minister at the time, that salaries and full contract details for members of the Prime Minister's Office should be disclosed. I would like the member from Newfoundland to go to the PMO and suggest to the senior officials that full details on salaries, contracts, and the email correspondence should be accessible under access to information, because certainly that is what the Prime Minister sought as modernization through his bill, Bill C-613. It is also what the member from Newfoundland asked the Conservative government to do with respect to open government. I hope the modernization my friend asked about, the aspirations of the Liberals when they were in opposition, will slowly start meeting the reality of the Liberals in government.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 25th, 2017 / 1:20 p.m.
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Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, when we are giving our speeches or asking questions or making comments here, we all focus on elements of our own past. I quoted the Information Commissioner and how she responded to how the government had responded to her recommendations. She said, “I am very please that most of these recommendations over the years have been implemented by the government.” I know that the member was not in the previous Parliament. However, she can refer to Madam Legault's comments.

Did the Conservative government do all of what was in Bill C-613, or in Pat Martin's private member's bill? No, it did not. I remember debating Pat Martin about one of his versions of the bill and suggesting that he bring the same disclosure he aspired to in government to his legal defence fund. Members might remember that from the last Parliament. He actually had unions contribute in a roundabout way, which I felt went around the rules for fundraising, to pay some of the bills for a libel action he had. I remember that debate. To his credit, Pat Martin did bring it regularly.

However, what I am highlighting today is the acute hypocrisy of the Prime Minister, because not only did we all see it in the “Real Change” document, and we have all referred to the Liberals' promise, but he brought a private member's bill forward in the last Parliament as the member of Parliament for Papineau. Just as we all bring bills or motions forward on areas we care the most about, that is what the Prime Minister said he cared the most about.

As I said, if we compare Bill C-58 to what he brought forward in Bill C-613 in the last Parliament, one cannot even recognize it. Certainly, at an absolute minimum, of the 31 broken promises, I think we all would agree that with respect to the Prime Minister's Office and all the cabinet offices, this is the most egregious of the broken promises. I am highlighting, based on my experience here in Parliament, where I think this falls short the most.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 25th, 2017 / 12:55 p.m.
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Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise today to be part of the discussion on Bill C-58. As many of the members of the opposition have pointed out with some degree of consistency and clarity, this is perhaps the best example of the legacy of broken promises by the government. This broken promise in effect comprises 31 broken promises. In the midst of my speech I will address how this is not just a simple broken promise. Rather, it affects the entire open government concept paraded by the Liberals in the last election and goes to the heart of the sincerity of the Prime Minister on this subject. Many of the new members of Parliament were not here in the last session when the Prime Minister was the leader of the third party. However, when listening to my speech, members will learn that this was a centrepiece of the Prime Minister's time as MP for Papineau. He seems to have forgotten his passions from his time in opposition.

My friend, the member for Kings—Hants and President of the Treasury Board, in his remarks on this bill last week spoke a lot about his time in cabinet and how proud he was to be in the cabinet of Paul Martin. What was absent in his remarks was that he is no longer in that cabinet but in the cabinet of the current Prime Minister. Possibly he did not work that into his remarks because he was handed the biggest broken promise of the new session. It is never fun to have a prime minister make a minister come to the House of Commons to try to sell a dead fish. That is essentially what this bill is.

I will remind the members who did run on the Liberal platform of their promise. We all remember the various hashtags used by the government in the last election, hashtags about hope, hard work, and real change. “Real Change” was the title of their policy platform. What was contained in that platform? I will quote, “We will ensure that Access to Information applies to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.” That was a real change in the section of their platform that talked about open and accountable government.

On the page before that in the document the Liberals also talked about giving real independence to and listening to government watchdogs, such as the Information Commissioner. Many previous information commissioners have provided commentary that the Liberals suggested they were going to act on. I am sure there are countless former watchdogs who are quite disappointed that the Liberals ran on this commitment but have fallen far short. If we look at the Liberals' campaign promise to earn the trust of Canadians, they said that the Prime Minister’s Office would be governed by access to information, as well as all ministers' offices. There were 31 different offices they pledged to bring under the umbrella of access to information. Those are 31 broken promises contained in Bill C-58. Of the litany of broken promises by the government, this is probably the most ambitious because there are 31 broken promises rolled into one.

I would love to have seen the emails about the Prime Minister's trip to a private island, along with the current Minister of Veterans Affairs and various members of Canada 2020 or the Liberal Party of Canada. I have a hard time distinguishing them. We know dribs and drabs about that trip because senior officials at the Privy Council Office had a hard time making sure that the Prime Minister could remain in touch. This was at a secluded billionaire's island. The Government of Canada had a hard time keeping up with the vacation ambitions of the Prime Minister. Had the Prime Minister kept his promise, I would love to have read a bit about what his senior officials thought and how they were pushing the government to accommodate this very unusual request.

Similarly, with regard to the investigations of the Prime Minister by both the Ethics Commissioner and Commissioner of Lobbying, it is unparalleled for a Prime Minister to be subject to one, let alone two, investigations in his first two years. I guess that is real change, and certainly a big change from Mr. Harper. There were no investigations of him over nine years by those officers of Parliament. Now we have two. I would love to see the emails of Gerald Butts and Katie Telford on how to handle the investigation of the Prime Minister's fundraising dinners with Chinese billionaires, the same ones who are building a statue of his father in Canada before the Prime Minister's government builds a statue and monument to the Afghanistan mission. The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation is going to make sure that Pierre Trudeau has a monument before the 40,000 Canadians who served in Afghanistan do. I would love to see a little bit of the commentary on that.

What we have heard from government members, and we are at the beginning of debate so will hear these talking points quite regularly now, is that instead of keeping their promise and providing that 31 offices would now be subject to the Access to Information Act, they are going to produce proactive disclosure. This is their key defence of their broken promise. They are going to release schedules, agendas, and draft question period documents and say those should satisfy us. No, they will not. As members will see, if they stay with me a few moments, this is far more than a broken promise in the real change campaign document to Canadians. Why is that?

I am going to refer to remarks by the Liberal MP for Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, a good guy, I might add, a friend. In the last Parliament, he said, “It almost seemed that the Conservatives wanted to have a little more proactivity involved in the sense of what we are doing here with the Liberal Party of Canada, when in fact, we were the ones who brought forward far greater measures on proactive disclosure than this House has ever seen.” He gave a really good speech. I recommend that the member and some of his colleagues refer to it. In the same speech he said, “A country's access to information system is the heart of open government.” These are wonderful words by my friend from Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, the longest serving member in the House from Newfoundland and Labrador.

Why such eloquent prose? What was that member speaking about in the last Parliament? He was speaking about a private member's bill on reforming access to information. Who brought forward that bill? It was the MP for Papineau, now the Prime Minister of Canada, whose own private member's bill in the last Parliament championed open government and reform of access to information. When he spoke, no wonder my friend from Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame was so eloquent in his praise and prose. It was his leader's bill, his leader's raison d'être, as the MP for Papineau.

I always found the number of that bill, Bill C-613, interesting. All government officials are generally in the 613 area code, so I always thought Bill C-613 was kind of ironic. It was the open government bill. The actual name of the bill was an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Access to Information Act (transparency). We know that when a member has a bill tabled and debated in the House, it is the most important issue to them.

We have seen great bills brought forward by passionate members of Parliament. For example, my friend from Cariboo—Prince George brought forward a national framework for post-traumatic stress disorder for our first responders. We have debated that framework, that passion of his, in this Parliament. In the last Parliament, when the Prime Minister was leader of the third party, what was his passion? It was access to information reform and open government.

Someone in the PMO should remind him of that and send him an email. However, we will not be able to see those emails because he is carving that out in these reforms. However, someone should remind the member for Papineau. He is still the member for Papineau. He is also the Prime Minister, and I respect that role. However, I am here to remind him what he brought to Parliament, when he would regularly grill the Conservative government of the day. I remember because I was in cabinet.

From the Prime Minister's bill on reforming and improving access to information, what did it start with? Proposed section 2 read:

2(1) 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 all government institutions in accordance with the principles that

(a) government information must be made openly available to the public and accessible....

That was the thrust of the Prime Minister's private member's legislation. In fact, it went on to talk about when it should be held back. I refer to paragraph 2(1)(b) of that bill, which stated, “necessary exceptions to the right of access should be rare, limited and specific.”

With this farce of a bill, how does it measure up against the Prime Minister's Bill C-613? It fails dramatically and terribly. Therefore, the hope and hard work the Prime Minister championed in opposition are long forgotten. His hopes and his promises on open government, which made it all the way to the Liberal platform, were dropped once he formed government. I hope Canadians see this for what it is. Once again, the photo ops and the hashtags do not match the conduct of the government.

I will leave the Prime Minister's Office with one last quote. The people of that office were not here with the member for Papineau in the last Parliament.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 25th, 2017 / 12:20 p.m.
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Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is no question that our government has made a commitment to openness and transparency and better access to information. That is exactly what this bill is all about. In fact, in the member's speech, he talked about more openness and transparency for the Prime Minister's Office and ministers' offices. I want to assure the member that this bill would apply to the Prime Minister's Office, ministers' offices, and administrative institutions that support the work of Parliament.

There are things in this bill, including the elimination of the access to information fee, so now there would only be a $5 fee presented in the bill. As well, there is empowering the commissioner to order the government to release information, and a mandatory five-year review. Each of those three things was actually included in a private member's bill by the now Prime Minister, prior to him serving as Prime Minister, in Bill C-613. Also, the bill would support ensuring that the access to information is done, and would put in supports, so that we would get timely responses.

Would the member opposite support those things in the bill that would help Canadians gain the access to information that they want?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 22nd, 2017 / 12:15 p.m.
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Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-58, the access to information reform legislation. It is with considerable disappointment that I must, on behalf of the NDP, be opposed to the initiative. However, I am also pleased to hear the President of the Treasury Board acknowledge that at committee, there might be a possibility for improving the legislation to give it some credibility.

If I may be permitted at the outset to make a personal statement, access to information, freedom of information, has been one of my passions. I did graduate work on this topic. In law, I worked with the Government of British Columbia in drafting the legislation there, as well as in Yukon. Back in the early eighties, I worked on behalf of the Canadian Bar Association to try to get the first access to information act through in a credible way. The former member of Parliament for Peace River, Conservative member Jed Baldwin, gave me an award of merit from the House for my work on freedom of information. Therefore, I come to this with a passion for the topic.

Three things are necessary for any credible law and, after 34 years, we all agree that this law needs modernizing. I salute the government for finally doing something in that regard. First, it has to have a clear statement that information is a right. Second, there have to be exceptions to the rule of openness that are narrow and have to demonstrate some harm from the disclosure. Third, there has to be an umpire, someone neutral, who can order a government that does not wish to provide the information to make it public. Those are the three things by which any reform must be evaluated. Sadly, this bill comes up short.

People sometimes have their eyes glaze over when we talk about access to information. That is usually the end of a conversation. People go back to doing something else. I want to tell Canadians who may be watching this why it is important. How many times have we read an article that starts with “Information released today under the Access to Information Act” reported thus and so? The answer is frequently.

The Globe and Mail used the Access to Information Act for its April 2016 investigative series “Unfounded”, which revealed that police had been dismissing one out of every five sexual assault claims as baseless. It took a year to get the information. The delays were ridiculous, and I will come back to that. That was the tool that was necessary for Canadians to understand what their police were and were not doing about sexual assault.

Just last week, the CBC reported that the Prime Minister's controversial Bahamas vacation cost Canadians over $215,000, far more than was initially disclosed to Parliament. That came about through a document released under this act.

Yesterday morning, I woke up to hear that after a year, reporters finally obtained the original contract from the Phoenix pay fiasco, once again thanks to this act.

Transparency is important. It was a major theme for the Liberal Party during the 2015 election. In fact, before that, the Prime Minister introduced Bill C-613, an act to amend the Access to Information Act. I would invite all Canadians to look at what the Prime Minister wanted to do with that bill while in opposition compared to what is being proposed today. I think they will see a yawning divide. What he said, though, in introducing that legislation, was that “a country's access to information system is at the heart of open government”. He is right.

Our Supreme Court also said that what we are talking about today is in fact quasi-constitutional in nature. This is not an ordinary act. It is something that the courts have recognized as essential to an open, modern democracy.

The New Democratic Party has introduced private members' bills to modernize the act so many times I do not want to list them all, but in 2006, 2008, 2011, 2014, this is something we tried to fix. Every time, the Conservatives and then the Liberals voted them down.

In March of 2015, the Information Commissioner released 85 recommendations to modernize the act. I invite Canadians to look at that list of recommendations and what we are left with today.

The point is that this is essential to fix, as the President of Treasury Board properly pointed out.

When we introduced this bill in the early eighties, computers were hardly a fact of life, email did not really exist in the public service, and record-keeping was very different than it is today. Clearly this is long overdue. It is too bad that the government has not taken the opportunity to do the job properly. Almost all civil society groups that have studied this have been outspoken in their opposition, some angry, but most simply sad and disappointed that this is what we are left with.

Let me talk about what the government did not do. That is how we have to assess this exercise. The exemptions to the rule of disclosure, the list of the things that the government can properly withhold, are very badly drafted, very discretionary, do not even have to show a harm. However, there is one that is different from all the others.

Back when this bill was introduced under the former Prime Minister Trudeau regime, it decided to cut out a category of records called “cabinet confidences”. It does not even apply to cabinet confidences. Everyone who has ever studied this has said that this is the Mack truck clause. In fact, some of the more humorous commentary describes this as “cabinet laundering”. All the government has to do if it does not want something disclosed is to slip it into a cabinet briefing book, and voila, the black hole. It never gets to be seen. It is not even subject to the act. One would have thought that after 34 years, job one would have been to maybe talk about that. It is not even mentioned. The black hole remains. Cabinet laundering can continue.

Information delayed is information denied. Every journalist in the land understands that. I had a journalist stop me on the street the other day, and she said that when she is asking for information, she usually gets something on the very last day of the 30-day period. Day 29 she is told that there is going to be a delay, and then the government asks for another delay. If she complains to the Information Commissioner, she is told that the office is swamped and it might take several months to get the story out. Even then, if the government does not want to do it, the Information Commissioner would recommend that it can say no.

Information delayed is information denied. That will not be fixed by this bill in any meaningful way.

The other thing is that we live in an oral culture. In fact, one of my colleagues refers to it as “the Post-it culture”. I will explain. If a government member has a record that they know is going to be subject to disclosure, maybe they put a little Post-it note on the document that says what the juicy bits are. That happens. I know that the Speaker will be surprised to hear that.

The duty to document decisions is not even part of this bill. I talked earlier about computers where we can delete transitory records and the like. However, the fact is that an oral culture is alive and well and living in Ottawa.

Let me get to the bill. What does Bill C-58 do, and why can we not support it? I would first like to quote from the Centre for Law and Democracy which said:

the Bill is far more conspicuous for what it fails to do....

It fails to expand the scope of the Act. It does place a number of proactive publication obligations on various actors – including the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices...but this falls far short of bringing these bodies within the ambit of the Act.

Certain types of information have always been available, at least in recent years, such as travel expenses, contracts over $10,000. By policy, these have been available for years. Now it is put in the bill, and the government thinks it should get a gold star for doing that. I am not sure why.

Again, quoting from the Centre for Law and Democracy:

While more proactive disclosure is always welcome, as anyone who has used the Act knows, it is absolutely not a substitute for the right to be able to request the information one is interested in from public authorities.

I think that is clear.

Today the minister made a lot of the notion that there is to be order-making powers under this bill. It is true that if we look closely, we can see that it is, in the words of a colleague, a chimera. It does not really do that.

Let me talk about how it works in the provinces. Let us take British Columbia, for example. The Information Commissioner makes an order: “Disclose that record, government. I know you do not want to do it, but it is not able to be withheld legitimately under the exceptions.” That is it. If the government wants to seek judicial review of that decision, it does so.

Let us compare that to the convoluted order-making power that the minister was so proud of in this bill. It seems to say that if the government agrees with a decision of the commissioner to release the document, it will be released. So what? If the government disagrees with the commissioner's recommendation, then the government could take him or her to Federal Court. Imagine how expensive and litigious this would all be. The government has created, in my submission, an unwieldy, unnecessary, and unaffordable system.

I wish I had time to go into the section that deals with this. It talks of the ability to make an order, but in the interest of time, suffice it to say that it is beyond complicated and likely unworkable. It would not really do what the minister has said it would do. I wish the Liberals had followed the simple route that most provinces have followed.

Though it is true that there would be proactive disclosure of a number of kinds of information from ministers' offices, the point is that Canadians would still not be able to request the information they want from those offices, appeal to the commissioner, and get an order to release it. It is just not there. The promise made in the election that we would have open offices and that people would get the information is not what is happening. That is very disappointing.

The Liberals also talked about the five-year review that is a feature of this act, and thank goodness it is there. That is nothing new. However, it is not like the Bank Act, for example, under which the legislation would sunset if that review did not take place by that time, so who knows how long it will actually take before we get to the review that is promised? That is very different from what the platform promised.

The Liberals talked today about something new, which is the ability to go after bad-faith, long, frivolous, and vexatious requests. That is a new restriction, not a change for the positive. I can appreciate why it is necessary, and, yes, it exists at the provincial level, but here is the punchline: this bill would give the final decision to the government to decide whether the request is too big, too long, or frivolous. Everywhere else, of course, it is the commissioner who gets to decide. Do members remember what I said about an umpire in the game who is neutral? I do not think the minister who does not want the information to be disclosed is in the best position to do that. I cannot believe they think that is a significant reform that we should be proud of.

The government is probably going to pat itself on the back for this bill. It is probably going to say, “We promised openness and transparency, and openness by default, and that is what we delivered.” The truth is far from that. I want to be optimistic—I always try to be—and give the government the benefit of the doubt. The minister stood in this place and said, “We will be open to amendments at committee”, and we are certainly going to be there to try to give him the opportunity to make this credible, because it is not credible now. It is kind of like the promise the Liberals made in 2015, when they said that 2015 would be the last election that would be fought under the first-past-the-post rules. That was a different promise. That was a different time and place.

The Prime Minister came to my riding when he was running in the election and said that he would have a full review of the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal. Do members remember that promise? That kind of did not happen either. There was one about mail delivery. We were going to be open to mail delivery, I think. That was another promise.

Canadians deserve better than this bill. It is a start, to the extent that it adds exemptions; it does not go after the big changes and exemptions. Members heard me talk about cabinet confidences; the other nice one is the policy advice to the minister. They did not touch it. All they have to do is put all these documents into something that they give to the minister, and that is policy advice to the government. That massive loophole remains.

Once again, what they did not do is how we judge their reform initiative. It actually adds a loophole that would allow the department to refuse to process a request if it deems it to be overly broad, deems it would unreasonably interfere with the operations of government, or deems it to be made in bad faith. It is quite remarkable that the Liberals are patting themselves on the back. By simple comparison to the other legislation in the country, it is obvious that this bill does not pass muster.

The bill also ignores so many of the recommendations made by the Information Commissioner, as I pointed out, and by the ethics committee that also studied this legislation. It appears the government did not even read those. Much like the Harper government, the Liberals continue to disregard the recommendations made by the non-partisan watchdog. One sympathizes with the Herculean efforts made by Ms. Legault over the years to try to get both sides of this place, Conservative and Liberal alike, to take seriously the citizens' right to know. I salute for her efforts, futile though they have been to date.

I want to say by way of conclusion that the New Democrats have long advocated for giving the Information Commissioner real oversight and order-making powers. We believe that proactive disclosure is important and offer congratulations for putting into legislation what has been the practice to date so far, but I point out that the commissioner does not have oversight powers with respect to that proactive disclosure, so I guess we have to take the government's word for it.

Even if the Liberals were well intentioned, let us remember that we are making legislation that applies for future Canadians, for future generations of Canadians. How long did it take to get to this place with a new bill? It has taken 34 years. We have to get it right. We cannot say, “Don't worry; we are going to have a review in five years, or maybe another year or two after that”, because they do not have to do that if they do not want to. That has been our history, excepting the Bank Act.

We have to do it better. We can do it better, and I am not the only one saying this. The Centre for Law and Democracy, which has been cited already, has made the same point. Democracy Watch has explained it. Professor Mark Weiler, the web and user experience librarian who testified, wrote to our critic, the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, on this file, as follows: “I am greatly concerned that Bill C-58 will actually diminish the capacity of Canadians to access unpublished materials held by the government. The Access to Information Act should enhance the ability of Canadians to access information the government chooses not to publish.... Bill C-58 would actually make the Access to Information Act more difficult to use.”

What are we going to do about this? To go back to the basics, there has to be a strong statement of the right to know, and there is some verbiage to that effect in the new law. The exemptions have to be narrow, and they have to be about injury, not just in a box, a particular category of records, such as policy advice. It has to be shown that disclosure would harm some government interest. The Liberals did not do that; they didn't touch any of them. They only added one.

The third thing is that there has to be real order-making power when the umpire says the government has got it wrong. That did not cause a revolution in British Columbia when we did it, and that order-making power led to something like 90% of cases being mediated without the need to have a formal order-making hearing. Very, very rarely do we go to court; it is statistically insignificant.

There are ample precedents for doing this right. The order-making power that is in the bill is beyond comprehension. It will be expensive and it is totally unnecessary. Why do we have to make it so complicated when the principle is so obvious and when there are so many examples across the land?

I want to end on a positive note. We hope the government was serious when the President of the Treasury Board stood in the House earlier today and talked about the need to modernize this law and said that this is only the first phase and it is only a work in progress. He said he welcomes reports at committee, including amendments.

Trust me, we will have many of those amendments. We can do better. We must do better for Canadians.

May 5th, 2016 / 8:50 a.m.
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Kings—Hants Nova Scotia


Scott Brison LiberalPresident of the Treasury Board

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I also want to welcome our parliamentary secretary, Joyce Murray, and all of you committee members.

On June 2, it will be my 19th anniversary as a member of Parliament. At that point, I will have spent about two years in government and the rest in opposition. I've been on committees of Parliament for 17 of those years, and I tell you, it is from that perspective that I value the important work done by committees of Parliament. We intend on fortifying the roles of committees and of parliamentarians as we work on legislation and consult with Canadians. I thank you for the important work that you do on this committee.

I'm pleased to be here with Jennifer, our deputy chief information officer, to speak with you about access to information reform.

I would like to thank the members of the committee for their proactive approach to exploring the Access to Information Act and offering solutions to make it serve Canadians better.

This act is out of date. It hasn't been updated significantly since receiving royal assent, back in 1983. This is incredible given how much Canada has changed, particularly in terms of the changes to how information and data are produced, stored, and shared. All those areas have been revolutionized. Email, social networks, and smart phones rule the day, and we need to modernize ATI to reflect these realities.

We also must change the culture around government information. We need to move toward a culture of “open by default” when it comes to information. Our Prime Minister has recognized that for a long time. In opposition, he actually tabled a private member's bill, Bill C-613, to help modernize the act. During the campaign, our platform made commitments in terms of modernizing the act. These were actually reflected in my mandate letter, which, as you're aware, has been made public, as have all the mandate letters of ministers.

In my mandate, the Prime Minister asked me to:

Work with the Minister of Justice to enhance the openness of government, including leading a review of the Access to Information Act to ensure that Canadians have easier access to their own personal information, that the Information Commissioner is empowered to order government information to be released and that the Act applies appropriately to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.

Now that we're in government, we're acting on these commitments to strengthen and revitalize access to information.

Later today, I am issuing an interim directive on the administration of the Access to Information Act. I'd like to begin by speaking to you today about some of the immediate changes we would like to implement and intend on making today. This directive is guided by the principle that government information belongs to the people it serves and should be open by default.

It guides institutions on how to administer the act in ways that are consistent with our commitments to more open government.

It emphasizes that government information belongs to the people.

The directive stresses that providing access to government information is paramount to serving the public interest. It enables public debate on the conduct of government institutions and strengthens the accountability of government to its citizens, and indeed, the role of citizens and of parliamentarians.

The interim directive also stipulates that, from today forward, all fees apart from the $5 application fee will be waived. When feasible, requesters will receive information in the format of their choice, including open, reusable, and shareable formats.

These concrete measures make early progress on our commitments.

This is just the beginning. We are also moving forward with a two-step legislative plan I announced recently. We split the legislative reform into two phases and issued a directive right away specifically so we could make improvements to the Access to Information Act immediately.

Next we will table legislation that will include the implementation of the rest of our platform commitments. We also will bring forward significant improvements identified through public consultations and through the work of this committee. These measures will shed more light than ever before on the government.

One, we will give the Information Commissioner the power to order the release of government information. Two, we will ensure the act applies appropriately to the Prime Minister's and ministers' offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts. Three, we will implement a mandatory five-year review starting in this mandate to ensure the act stays up to date and consistent with modern needs and technology. Four, we will improve response times by addressing the problem of frivolous and vexatious requests to ensure the purpose of the act is respected. Five, we will improve performance reporting. We want to make sure evidence guides our decision and we can measure results.

These are significant changes. Take, for example, expanding the application of the act to ministers' offices. For the first time, Canadians will have an expanded view into the decisions of government.

This is significant reform that will involve every department, every minister's office, the Prime Minister's Office, the courts, the Information Commissioner's office, and this committee. We are engaging with Canadians in Parliament because we need to get this right as we work to develop the proposed legislation.

Your committee's input will be important to this process, and I particularly value the committee's advice on how to proceed on some of the government's commitments. I would like to address a few of those.

One, what is the best approach to enable the Information Commissioner to order the release of government records, and what are the implications for the commissioner's other responsibilities?

Two, what special considerations would need to be taken into account in extending access to information to the Prime Minister's Office, ministers' offices, and administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts? How can those considerations be addressed?

Three, we've now eliminated all fees except the basic $5 administrative fee, but we need to filter vexatious and frivolous requests if we want to make the system timely and efficient. I would ask this committee, is the $5 fee the best way to do that, or is there a better way? I know there's been witness testimony on different approaches to this, and I'm looking forward to hearing your views and through your report informed by witnesses what some of your ideas are in terms of the best way forward on this.

Another question is, would the public interest be best served by allowing institutions and the Information Commissioner discretion to not process access to information requests or complaints that are frivolous or vexatious, and how would that be determined?

Another question is, how should we assess performance of the access to information program? Ongoing measurement of the performance of it is important so that we can understand how this is working from a results perspective.

These are important questions. Once we've completed our consultations, we intend to introduce legislation in late 2016 and early 2017. I stress the work of this committee is important as it will inform our crafting of this legislation.

The second step of updating the ATI legislation is to launch a full legislative review, which will begin immediately after the first phase of legislative changes and will be completed some time in 2018.

This mandatory five-year review will guarantee that no government in the future can allow the Access to Information Act to become as outdated and out of touch as it currently is. It will provide a more in-depth assessment of how we can continue to build on the changes we've introduced and whether those changes are meeting their objective of better serving Canadians.

Some have asked why are we waiting until 2018 for the full review. Very simply, we want to understand how the first round of legislative changes is working. We want to better understand those changes and how they're working before the whole legislative review, the first of reviews that occur every five years after that.

Colleagues, I want to reiterate these proposed reforms are just the beginning. We're committed to more open and transparent government. Our budget reinforced that commitment with specific investments, including doubling existing resources to open government initiatives, $11.5 million over five years for Treasury Board Secretariat's open government activities, and $12.5 million over five years to enhance Canada's access to government information, including Canadians' own personal information.

These are important investments in open government.

Open and transparent government is the way forward. If citizens understand why their government takes a particular course of action, if they have been engaged from the beginning, if they have access to the same information government has, they will have more confidence and trust in the outcomes.

The idea of engaging Canadians early, and providing them with more of the same information we as legislators and as members of government have as we make decisions, is simple—that we believe in the collective wisdom of Canadians. Engaging them early means that better decisions can result from more open engagement, and that those decisions will also co-emerge with more public support because the public has been engaged from the beginning, as has Parliament.

Canadians have waited a long time to have their access to information regime modernized to meet current needs. I look forward to working with this committee. Your input and advice on how we can make improvements to the system is of great value.

We look forward to answering your questions.

Opposition Motion—Federal Science ResearchBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 26th, 2015 / 4:50 p.m.
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Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I can appreciate that members on the other side would be somewhat sensitive, even surprised in terms of the length of the list. Given that I have a limited amount of time, I appreciate the advice and maybe I should move on. However, members should keep in mind that this is all about the muzzling that takes place within the current government.

It is a long list, and somewhat of a dated list, but I applaud the member for standing up to point out that it is indeed a very long list. He should share with his caucus colleagues the profound impact that the Conservative government has had, in a negative way, on Canada's civil service and non-profit organizations in every region of our country by the message that it continues to send out. That message is primarily that if a person is not onside with the Government of Canada, the Conservatives do not want them to say anything and they should keep their mouth shut. That is the gag order, and we see that extensively.

My colleague, the mover of the motion, the member for Kingston and the Islands, put forward a wonderful question today in question period to the minister responsible for the Treasury Board. It was a straight-up question, and one would think he would have had a fairly simple answer, but he did not. It is amazing.

Here is the question that was posed by my colleague: “Mr. Speaker, PIPSC, the union representing government scientists, is asking for an unprecedented scientific integrity package in its collective bargaining agreement. Rather than asking for a raise, they are asking the government to unmuzzle science. They are explicitly seeking protection from “coercion to alter their data”.

It has to be a first in Canada. We have scientists coming together, who are so concerned that this has to be a part of the negotiations. It has to be a first.

My hon. colleague for Kingston and the Islands then said: “Canadians need to trust that government policies to keep us safe and healthy are based on objective evidence that has not been altered for partisan ends. Will the President of the Treasury Board agree to this no-cost ask in upcoming contract negotiations?”

I underline “no-cost” because I know Conservatives like to hear that. As some have implied through their heckles, one would think it would be a no-brainer and it would be a simple yes, but I invite members of the Conservative caucus to read Hansard. They might be a little disappointed in regard to the government's continual refusal to recognize the important role that Canada's scientists play, in many different ways.

I would like to give a very specific example that has had a profound impact, not only on my province but I would argue beyond Manitoba, in fact on all of Canada. If we listen to what some of the international scientists were saying, the impact has been felt around the world.

Canada has a great deal of fresh water. We are one of the countries that has been truly blessed with the amount of fresh water we have as a natural resource. When we think of the future and future generations, we in the Liberal Party do not believe that our grandchildren should have to deal with the problems. Where we can deal with the problems today, we should do that and show leadership.

The example I will give is the Experimental Lakes Area project. At a relatively small cost, into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, we had a wonderful facility. We still do, but not because of the Conservative government. This wonderful facility was providing world-class research on fresh waters and so much more.

The Government of Canada in its wisdom, or lack thereof, made the decision that it is no longer going to fund the Environmental Lakes Area. It was prepared to ultimately see it completely disappear. Quite frankly, if it were not for the Wynne government in Ontario, I suspect that it might not be there. It took another provincial government to come in and support this project.

I had the opportunity to talk with many people in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and other places, with respect to this issue. I brought forward petitions to the government.

The government will spend $750 million on government advertising. I do not recall one ad from that $750 million worth of advertising saying that the government is going to stop the funding of a few hundred thousand dollars to the environmental lakes in Manitoba and Ontario. That is very important research that was being done there. There was not a word.

It became the role of the scientists to raise the concerns and the protests to ensure that everyone was aware of what the Government of Canada was doing.

One would think that when Canadians started to react, the government would have at least been more sympathetic to the needs of the research facility and how the world benefited by the research taking place there. One would think that would have been an absolute given. It was not with this government, and not under this current leadership. That is unfortunate.

I think if we were to canvass the Liberal caucus member by member, they would be able to come up with examples in virtually every region of our country where the government has not been proactive in promoting and encouraging research. It is research and development and science that has so much potential in terms of creating jobs, improving our environment, health care. There is so much that can be done, yet we have a government that has turned a deaf ear to the situation and the needs of that particular community. It has happened at a very significant cost.

One of the earlier speakers talked about Canada's GDP and the impact it has on GDP. That is true. Compare the amount of research that we do today to what we have done on a per capita basis in other countries around the world. We often make reference to the OECD. At one time, and we have to go back to the Chrétien era, we would have been virtually the first of the OECD. Today we do not even rank within the OECD. We have dropped that far behind. One would think that the government would recognize that it has dropped the ball.

It is more than just economics, even though the economics would be nice. These are all good quality jobs, and the potential spinoffs are phenomenal.

If the government only recognized that there is a moral responsibility to encourage that research, to financially support it, what would actually happen?

I made a quick note of a number of points. I suspect we could use even more scientists at work in terms of developing research papers. Think of the issue of climate change. When we think of climate change, one of the things that comes to mind for many Manitobans is the issue of flooding. Flooding is a very serious issue in Manitoba, and it always has been, especially in the last decade.

I was a member of the Manitoba legislature when we had the big flood of 1997. Over five decades ago, it was the Progressive Conservatives who brought in what we called Duff's Ditch, which circles half of Winnipeg, to divert water. Flooding is a very serious issue, but it is not only in Manitoba. We have seen flooding occur in all provinces in one form or another. Natural disasters have occurred.

Only the government believes that there is no such thing as climate change. Climate change is real. It is there. Scientists will tell us that. The government does not like scientists telling us that. It does not want to know the facts on the issue, and one has to wonder why.

We talk about the issue of overfishing. Whether it is in the Atlantic, the Pacific, Churchill, and even our inland freshwater deposits in Canada, we all have a vested interest in ensuring that fish are going to be there for future generations. I will sidestep a swipe at the Minister of Finance's comment in regard to letting grandchildren deal with it.

We can deal with those issues. How do we deal with those issues? We rely on our scientists. Canada has some of the best, I would argue. I am a little biased, but we have the best scientists in the world. We should be very proud of the work they are doing. Not only should we be encouraging it, I would suggest we should be allowing them to talk about it. They should be able to talk with the media. They should be able to share among their peers. That is how they develop their ideas and bring it to the next level.

There is so much we could talk about in regard to the motion. Think of prescription drugs, health care, many different issues that are vitally important to our social fabric and lifestyle. Think of the economics and the leadership that Canada could play if it had a government that understood the benefits of taking off the muzzle and allowing our scientists to speak the truth on facts. What is there to hide?

Take the leader of the Liberal Party's ideas, as I pointed out with Bill C-613, and make it the default. Allow scientists in Canada to be heard, and maybe we will get more of our scientists wanting to stay in Canada. We know they have a passion for Canada and they want to be here, but they want their ideas to be heard and expanded upon.

Opposition Motion—Federal Science ResearchBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 26th, 2015 / 4:45 p.m.
See context


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, but they have. On that particular point, having had a member heckle, “Oh, but they have not”, I would encourage members of the Conservative caucus to think outside of the box. Particularly, think outside of the Prime Minister's Office box, because the information they are being fed from the Prime Minister's Office is not always accurate. I would suggest that it is more spin than accurate. It is not necessarily truthful, so they should think again about what is being proposed within the motion.

I will continue. It states:

(b) federal scientists have been muzzled and prevented from speaking to the media about their work; (c) research is paid for by taxpayers and must be done in the public interest in order to protect the environment and the health and safety of Canadians; and, therefore, (d) the government should immediately rescind all rules and regulations that muzzle government scientists, consolidate government-funded or -created science so that it is easily available to the public at large through a central portal, create a Chief Science Officer whose mandate would include ensuring that government science is freely available to those who are paying for it, namely, the public, and allow scientists to be able to speak freely on their work with limited and publicly stated exceptions.

What a wonderful motion. Yes, this is something that one would think is already happening, but it is not. It is about attitudes. It is about leadership. What sort of leadership do we get from the Prime Minister on this very important issue? We get very little.

Compare that to some of the things that we in the Liberal caucus have been saying throughout the day and previously on this very important issue. In fact, not that long ago, the leader of the Liberal Party brought in Bill C-613, regarding access to information. One of the core principles of that bill is that information is open by default, meaning that the government really needs to open its books and consider making information open by default. However, that has not been the case with this particular government.

There is a tangible demonstration that clearly shows the different styles of leadership from the leader of the Liberal Party and the leader of the Conservative Party. What does he have to fear?

My colleague from Guelph posed a question earlier today regarding the repercussions for those who dare go against or say something that is not consistent with the government. It is a significant cost. Let me go through some of the organizations or watchdogs whose staff have been fired, forced out, or publicly maligned, or who have resigned in protest. I must say that the list I have is somewhat dated. It could probably be updated with a number of others, but here is just a sample. This is the Prime Minister's style of leadership that we have witnessed.

At the Canadian Firearms Program, there was Chief Superintendent Marty Cheliak, who was the director general; at the Canadian Wheat Board, Adrian Measner was the president and CEO; at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Linda Keen was president; at Foreign Affairs, we had Richard Colvin, diplomat; the head of the Military Police Complaints Commission was Peter Tinsley; the Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces was Yves Côté; the former parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, was dealing with funding cuts; at the RCMP complaints commission, Paul Kennedy was chair; at the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, also known as Rights and Democracy, Rémy Beauregard was president; at Statistics—