Mr. Speaker, I listened to the minister speak, and as I sit in the House on a daily basis, as we all do, is it any wonder that we find it hard to believe that anything the government says it is going to do will actually come to fruition? We have seen broken promise after broken promise. If members do not believe me, just look at what some of those who are looking closely at Bill C-58 are saying. By ruling out the possibility to obtain information from ministers' offices and the Prime Minister's Office, the government is breaking its campaign promise to establish a government open by default. Moreover, the possibility to refuse certain access to information requests on an undefined basis jeopardizes the transparency and the openness of this government. That was from Katie Gibbs, the executive director of Evidence for Democracy group. However, there are more, and I will refer to more as I get through my speech today on Bill C-58.
I would be remiss if I did not go back a couple of hours, back to the future, and the egregious display of contempt for parliamentary democracy. It has been a practice in this place for many years that when opposition members ask questions directly and pointedly to the finance minister, as we did today, or to other ministers of the crown, that those answers are expected. They are expected on behalf of all Canadians. This is why we are elected to come to this place; it is to ask the type of hard questions that were asked today.
In the preamble to the movement of a motion to adjourn debate on Bill C-63, I will remind the House that we are talking about openness and transparency, which is something the government runs around saying. The Prime Minister stands up in front of microphones, posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat that the government is more open and transparent than any other government in the history of Canada. I would suggest that nothing could be further from the truth.
I would again remind the House of what I said before I moved the motion to adjourn debate. I said to the Speaker that before I resumed my comments, I wanted to go back to question period and what I thought, quite frankly, was an egregious display of contempt for our parliamentary democracy. This minister was asked multiple times whether he had sold his shares in Morneau Shepell in advance of his tax reform announcement, and he failed to answer the question on multiple occasions.
Therefore, in the absence of the minister answering those questions on a bill that, quite frankly, he has influence over, I would call into question the ability of Canadians to have confidence in him conducting further business on the bill. It is confidence, and not just on this bill, but any bill. The Minister of Finance was asked a minimum of 14 times today in question period whether in fact he had sold his shares in Morneau Shepell in advance of his tax reform policies being announced, and each time he skirted the question. He would not answer. He went on about the middle class and those working hard to join it. Well, right now, it is a matter of the middle class and those working hard to stay in it because of the policies of the finance minister.
We are expected to sit in the House and accept not just what the President of Treasury Board talks about in terms of openness and accountability, but there are multiple people, stakeholders, who have a vested interest in what the President of Treasury Board is promoting and proposing in terms of this access to information legislation, and they are being critical of it. They are being as critical as we are being on the finance minister, because he needs to answer the questions.
The government needs to force the finance minister to answer the questions as to whether in fact he had any vested interest or knowledge of the sale of those shares. It speaks to credibility, to transparency, to accountability, which the government is good at talking about, but when it comes to implementing or living by that, it does not.
What was funny about Bill C-63 and the motion we put forward was that every single person, save one, I believe the member from the Green Party, voted in support of adjourning the debate on that bill. They did that because they do not want to talk about it.
All we are asking is that the minister answer the questions that have been asked of him by those who represent Canadians in this House, every single one of us who are not members of the Liberal Party.
We are actually hearing about Liberal members who are questioning their confidence in the ability of the finance minister to conduct the business of the country. Why? It is because he has failed to answer the questions. He has answered, but in generalities. He goes back to the fetal position of saying that they are working hard for the middle class and those working hard to join it. However, he refuses to answer the questions.
If we are talking about openness and transparency, and this government is proposing Bill C-58, why is the finance minister not being open and transparent with Canadians? We can speculate that perhaps he knows that Canadians will not be happy with the answers. They will not be happy with the villa in France and why he hid that from the Ethics Commissioner, that he had complete control over Morneau Shepell shares and shares in various corporations, or that perhaps he was the one who sold that $10 million worth of shares just ahead of making that announcement. Openness and transparency: what an absolute joke.
I also want to talk about some other individuals who have concerns about what the government is proposing in Bill C-58. The bill proposes a good amendment, and I will give some credit here, by requiring more proactive publication of some information by giving the Information Commissioner the power to order the publication of some information, but it does nothing to fill the huge gaps in the act, as was promised by the Liberals.
We need more changes to have a government that is transparent and open by default. Again, the Liberals talk about openness and transparency, but they do not act in that way.
"The bill is a step backwards in allowing government officials to deny requests for information if they think the request is frivolous or made in bad faith. Public officials should not be given this power, as they will likely use it as a new loophole to deny the public information it has a right know.” Dale Conacher, the co-founder of Democracy Watch, said that.
Stephane Giroux, the president of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec said, “The most interesting fact for us was to have access to documents from ministers' offices. False alarm. It was too good to be true.”
In spite of the fact that the President of the Treasury Board is standing up and saying that all these changes have occurred within Bill C-58, the reality is that there are still significant concerns. I think there is concern among Canadians. This past weekend, I had lots of events in my riding, and one of the things I kept hearing about is confidence in the finance minister to continue to do his job, given the circumstances and the besieged state he has been in over the last while. The fact that every single member of the Liberal caucus voted to adjourn debate on this issue calls into question not just Canadians' confidence in the finance minister but the Liberal backbenches' confidence in the finance minister.
The Hill Times today reported that there are concerns among Liberal backbenchers that this is going to affect them in 2019. Do members know the reason they gave for that concern? Many of them will have been here for one term of four years. They are concerned about their pensions. That is what it said in the paper.
How about being concerned about the process of democracy in this country and making sure that no one benefits from having holdings, in the case of the finance minister, that they have not brought forward and been transparent about?
Never mind pensions, we should be focused on what the finance minister is doing by not being transparent and accountable to Canadians and question whether some of the legislation he is putting forward, such as Bill C-27, actually benefits him.
I would remind the House as well that it is not just a matter of benefiting him. What about the benefit to his family? What about his wife? What about his kids? What about his father? How many Morneau Shepell shareholders, or anyone directly or indirectly associated with that family, are benefiting as a result of the policies the finance minister is putting forward? We talk about being open and transparent, but the finance minister has been anything but, and we certainly saw that egregious display today in the House.
As parents, we teach our kids about the difference between right and wrong. We tell our kids what they cannot do and explain it to them. We tell them what they can do and explain the reasons why. We talk often to our kids about character. School systems, through the policies of education, speak about character. They speak about honesty and integrity, yet the finance minister is showing none of those character traits to Canadians with his actions.
We are dealing with a piece of legislation, Bill C-58, that, quite frankly, is difficult to support for many reasons, the least of which is the government not showing any strong movement toward openness and transparency. It is a very top-down approach by the government.
The former information commissioner, from 2007 to 2008, said, “there's no one [in government departments] to review what they choose not to disclose, and I think that goes against the principle of the statute. They've taken the commissioner out of the loop. If you ask for these briefing notes...[and parts of them had been blacked out], you had someone to appeal to.”
This is no longer the case with Bill C-58.
He went on, “We can't even go to a court. It's one step forward, two steps back.”
We have seen a lot of one step forward and two steps back with the government. My fear is that the openness and transparency the Liberals ran on are not there anymore. We have seen that the finance minister cannot even answer a simple question. He will not even answer a simple question. Quite frankly, after seeing this display we have been seeing over the course of the last several months to questions being asked, how can we have any faith? If the finance minister will not even answer a simple question, how can we expect the whole of government to be open, honest, and transparent?
I am saddened by what I see, quite frankly, as a new parliamentarian. I know the other side is going to say that there were circumstances in the past when similar issues happened. We are not talking about circumstances in the past. The Liberals were the same opposition that stood and talked about the egregiousness of the actions of previous governments. They ran to be different. They said that they were going to impose real change. We have seen nothing to suggest anything different. We are seeing a government that is more inward. We are seeing a government that is controlled from the top down. We are seeing a government where the Prime Minister's Office runs everything. Not just on this issue but on multiple issues, anything but what they said has come true.
Conservatives are not going to support Bill C-58. I certainly call into question the finance minister. I call into question his ability to manage the financial affairs of the country, given the circumstances we have seen over the course of the last several months.
Despite their campaign promises, the Liberals have failed to increase government openness and transparency with this bill. As I have said, it is no surprise. This is effectively a government that chooses to publish when it is accountable to Canadians. It is not being accountable all the time. It is going to pick and choose when it wants to be accountable to Canadians. In practice, what the Liberals have effectively done is give themselves the power to refuse to respond to access to information requests they find embarrassing. Under the principle of openness and transparency, should not everything be responded to?
I understand that there might be matters of national security that are not in the public interest, but this is something different from what they ran on, as far as openness and transparency goes. With the changes proposed by the Liberals, less information would be available to Canadians. Moreover, the Liberals would do nothing to address unacceptable delays, so we would continue to see that information punted down the field and would have unacceptable delays in when that information would be put forward to Canadians.
I spent some time talking about Bill C-58, but in the context of openness and transparency, I cannot emphasize enough the egregious nature of the issue we have been dealing for the last couple of months with the finance minister. Again today there was zero accountability, zero transparency, and zero openness. It is a pattern that has evolved with the Liberal government over the course of the last two years. It should concern all of us. It certainly concerns stakeholders who have an interest in this. However, it is not just a concern to all of us who are here to represent Canadians. It is a concern to all Canadians, because it is the small stuff that leads to the big stuff. If we cannot get simple answers to simple questions in this place of openness and transparency, how can we expect to get that information from a government that proves, day after day, that it is not interested in openness? It is not interested in transparency and accountability, in spite of the fact that it ran on that very thing.
They said they were going to be different. The reality is, and we have seen it over the course of the last two years, that nothing could be further from the truth. With the display of the finance minister over the course of the last couple of months, and certainly today, there is not much faith in the ability of the government to be open, transparent, and accountable. That is why Bill C-58 is flawed. We continue to be concerned about the actions of the finance minister and how the Liberal government and these Liberal backbenchers can continue to endorse the display we are seeing here on a daily basis.