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

Sponsor

Scott Brison  Liberal

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is, or will soon become, law.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Access to Information Act to, among other things,

(a) authorize the head of a government institution, with the approval of the Information Commissioner, to decline to act on a request for access to a record for various reasons;

(b) authorize the Information Commissioner to refuse to investigate or cease to investigate a complaint that is, in the Commissioner’s opinion, trivial, frivolous or vexatious or made in bad faith;

(c) clarify the powers of the Information Commissioner and the Privacy Commissioner to examine documents containing information that is subject to solicitor-client privilege or the professional secrecy of advocates and notaries or to litigation privilege in the course of their investigations and clarify that the disclosure by the head of a government institution to either of those Commissioners of such documents does not constitute a waiver of those privileges or that professional secrecy;

(d) authorize the Information Commissioner to make orders for the release of records or with respect to other matters relating to requesting or obtaining records and to publish any reports that he or she makes, including those that contain any orders he or she makes, and give parties the right to apply to the Federal Court for a review of the matter;

(e) create a new Part providing for the proactive publication of information or materials related to the Senate, the House of Commons, parliamentary entities, ministers’ offices, government institutions and institutions that support superior courts;

(f) require the designated Minister to undertake a review of the Act within one year after the day on which this enactment receives royal assent and every five years afterward;

(g) authorize government institutions to provide to other government institutions services related to requests for access to records; and

(h) expand the Governor in Council’s power to amend Schedule I to the Act and to retroactively validate amendments to that schedule.

It amends the Privacy Act to, among other things,

(a) create a new exception to the definition of “personal information” with respect to certain information regarding an individual who is a ministerial adviser or a member of a ministerial staff;

(b) authorize government institutions to provide to other government institutions services related to requests for personal information; and

(c) expand the Governor in Council’s power to amend the schedule to the Act and to retroactively validate amendments to that schedule.

It also makes consequential amendments to the Canada Evidence Act and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.

Elsewhere

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

Votes

June 18, 2019 Passed Motion respecting Senate amendments to Bill C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
Dec. 6, 2017 Passed 3rd reading and adoption of Bill C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
Dec. 5, 2017 Passed Time allocation for Bill C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
Nov. 27, 2017 Passed Concurrence at report stage of Bill C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
Sept. 27, 2017 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

June 17th, 2019 / 8:35 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have to comment on what just transpired. The Liberals are slapping each other on the back because they passed a motion that is meaningless. Tomorrow they are going to rubber-stamp the Trans Mountain pipeline, which will dramatically increase greenhouse gas production in the country. The hypocrisy is beyond belief.

That is extremely appropriate when we see the hypocrisy contained in Bill C-58, which should be called “another Liberal broken promise act”, because, again, the Liberals are breaking the solemn commitments they made back in 2015.

Members will recall that back in 2015, the Prime Minister made a whole series of commitments, including that he was going to work with all members of the House of Commons. Instead what we have seen is a new tool, never used in parliamentary history before, gag closure.

It is a particular motion that does not allow opposition members, once the gag closure motion is moved, to even utter one word on government policy, to offer any amendments, to ask any questions, to, in any way at all, intervene on the bill, the legislation, the business before the House. It has been moved several times already in the last couple of weeks. So much for the solemn commitment to improve the functioning of Parliament.

The Liberals also promised they would do away with omnibus legislation. The Harper government was renowned for that, throwing a whole bunch of different bills into one piece of legislation and throwing at the House of Commons. It was profoundly disrespectful to members of Parliament and profoundly disrespectful to Canadians.

However, the Liberals have doubled down over the last four years. They have now presented more pieces of massive omnibus legislation than in any other Parliament in our history.

Members will recall that Liberals and the Prime Minister talked about bringing in democratic reform, actually reforming our election process so every vote would count. That would make a lot of sense. Canadians voted for that. The Liberals only got 39% of the vote and yet they have 100% of the power in the House of Commons. They bring in gag closure, they bring in omnibus bills and that promise, that solemn commitment to bring forward democratic reform has been thrown away.

The Liberals also talked about dealing with climate change. Tomorrow they will be rubber-stamping a pipeline that will destroy any opportunity for Canada to meet any commitments that have been made internationally.

The member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie estimated that even before the pipeline, it would take Liberals 200 years to meet the Paris commitments. The planet will not exist at that time if Canada continues to be as irresponsible as the government has been, both under the Conservative government and the Liberal government.

The Prime Minister solemnly promised he would address the massive housing crisis in the country. Tragically, we know that is not the case. The Liberals said that they would address the health care crisis and promised, yet again, that they would bring in pharmacare. I think it is the third time, with a Liberal majority government, that Liberals promised to bring in pharmacare and yet have failed.

After four years, we have a litany of broken promises. Perhaps one of the most significant promises, even though this bill has not attracted a lot of interest, is the broken promise on information being provided to the Canadian public. That is why I call Bill C-58 the “another Liberal broken promise” bill.

The Liberals committed back in 2015 to provide information to the Canadian public. That makes a lot of sense. Canadians have a right to information from the government. It does not belong to the Harper government. It certainly does not belong to the Liberal government. That information belongs to Canadians.

Putting in place an effective information regime that allows people to access information, important government information, important information that should be available to the public, was a commitment the Liberals made back in 2015. Like so many other commitments, it has ended up on the scrap heap.

The Information Commissioner called Bill C-58, the “another Liberal broken promise” bill, regressive and went so far as to say that the access to information regime would be better under the status quo than under Bill C-58.

Is that not a sad commentary, that a Liberal government, four years later, has so little to show for itself except for a litany of broken promises solemnly delivered in 2015? Canadians believed them. I certainly thought, and I think most Canadians believed, that when the Prime Minister made those solemn commitments that he had at least the intention of keeping them. However, the Liberals have not. As the Access to Information Commissioner reminds us, the bill that the Liberals have brought forward is worse than what currently exists.

How did the Liberals fall so short? Despite committing to so many things, discarding their promises on the scrap heap of broken Liberal promises history, how did they even get the access to information wrong? Four points need to be brought to bear regarding why the Liberals failed so lamentably on access to information.

To be sure, the Conservatives did the same thing when they were in power. They said they would enhance access to information for the public, recognizing that Canadians felt they should have a right to access the information that was available to the federal government. It is a fundamental tenet of democracy, that information available to the federal government is available to Canadians. When we do things in the House of Commons and speak in public, that information is available. When government ministers do things in private, that should also be available through access to information.

It is the Canadians' government. It is Canadians who choose their parliamentarians. It is Canadians who ultimately decide who governs them. Because of this, it is fundamental that Canadians have access to information.

Bill C-58, which is worse than the existing access to information law, has a number of key exemptions or shortcomings, deliberate attempts to undercut the access to information regime that the Liberals planted in the legislation. It has essentially put poison pills in the legislation. They have a beautiful title about enhancing access to information, but we must look at the details, as New Democrats do. We always do our homework and always pore through legislation to ensure there is at least a semblance of reality in what is written in the legislation, as opposed to the political spin that comes from the Liberal government.

First, there was a recommendation that the coverage of access to information include ministers' offices and the Prime Minister's Office. This is another key commitment from the 2015 election that has been broken. Given the incredible scandal regarding SNC-Lavalin, it is absolutely fundamental that Canadians can access information related to what transpires in the Prime Minister's Office and in ministerial offices. It is a no-brainer. So many democracies around the world have already incorporated into their access to information regimes that ministers' decisions and decisions of the prime minister's office, that type of correspondence, are subject to access to information rules. Unlike in so many other democracies, the Liberals deliberately exempted the Prime Minister's Office and ministerial offices.

Second, as the Information Commissioner has long recommended, there has to be appropriate sanctions for non-compliance. If the government or government members try to get around access to information rules, there should be sanctions for that. However, that is absent from the bill as well.

The Information Commissioner was critical of what the Liberals offered in access to information, because it would do nothing to reduce delays or extensions. This means the Liberal government can basically rag the puck and ensure that information is not available to the Canadian public.

In the last Parliament, when the New Democrats were the official opposition, we spoke out repeatedly about the Harper government doing this. It simply delayed things beyond belief to ensure that for all practical purposes, access to information was simply not available. Again, the bill would do nothing to address this.

The bill would also do nothing to narrow exemptions for ministerial advice or cabinet confidence, ensuring that, with a broad brush, the Liberals could simply stop the access to information system to which Canadians have a right.

This is the fundamental point I need to make. Yes, Liberals made a whole series of commitments that they have ripped up with complete disregard to the solemn commitments made to the Canadian public. They basically threw them out the window.

However, in terms of access to information, this is one of the most egregious broken promises. The Liberals could have approached this in an open way. They could have said that they actually do want to make sure Canadians have access to information from their government and that this is a fundamental aspect of democracy. They could have said that they would work with the NDP, because we have always been the number one champions in this House of Commons for access to information. We believe fundamentally in it, and, as in so many other areas, we and members in the past have always championed the most effective approach possible on access to information, including the member for Timmins—James Bay, who has felt very strongly about this and has worked in this regard for years.

The Liberals could have done that, but instead they rejected the NDP amendments and refused to improve this. We now have a bill before us that can only be chalked up as another Liberal broken promise. As the Information Commissioner said, the status quo is actually better than what the Liberals have produced. That is a shame, and we are voting against it.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

June 17th, 2019 / 8:55 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Beloeil—Chambly. I have been here for 15 years and I have never seen a more dedicated member of Parliament. He is a good representative for his region, which I know very well from going door-to-door in the Chambly area. He is always here and he asks questions that get to the heart of his constituents' concerns. Like many other members, I continue to be very impressed by his work, his dedication, his discipline and his way of addressing people's concerns. I thank him for his excellent work. He just asked an excellent question.

Transparency and access to information are not rocket science. Witnesses told us what to do. They said that Bill C-58 was inadequate. The Information Commissioner said that he preferred to keep the status quo rather than seeing this bill pass. The Liberals refused to listen and include in the bill all the solutions, amendments and recommendations that were proposed by witnesses and the NDP. We proposed three dozen amendments.

The Liberals had all the solutions they needed in hand. We were not asking them to do the work. We were simply asking them to agree to let the NDP do it for them, because we were chosen to be the watchdog of Canadians in the House of Commons. We are always seeking to improve legislation. All the Liberals had to do was accept the work that we did for them and for all Canadians. Unfortunately, they refused to do so. They said that they would not accept the amendments or the testimony and that they were going to do as they pleased. That is why we have here a bill that is just a tiny step forward when we could have made some real progress. That goes against everything the Liberals promised in 2015.

As the member mentioned, in 2015 the Liberals promised democratic reform. They promised to put an end to omnibus bills, which are undemocratic. They also promised to work with the opposition parties and all members. Instead, they are imposing gag orders, a bit like in the 1950s, when the opposition was prevented from saying one more word about bills once a closure motion was adopted.

For all those reasons, I would say that this is yet another missed opportunity on the part of the Liberals.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

June 17th, 2019 / 9:15 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, as we debate Bill C-58 tonight, I cannot help but share the disappointment of my colleagues on the NDP benches. We were promised that this access to information legislation would create information available essentially by default, with more transparency.

I recall that when I used to practise environmental law, the joke among all of us at the time was that Canada's access to information legislation constituted freedom from information.

Now, we know that quite a lot of amendments were made in the Senate, and I know that the hon. parliamentary secretary wants to make sure that we are not caught in a time warp where we miss them. It is important to note that a lot of those amendments came from the government side. Amendments tightened up some of the language around vexatious questions being used as an excuse to reject access to information requests. However, I still find that this legislation falls far below the bar of what was promised. We did try, as Greens, to improve this legislation. I had 18 amendments come before the committee. Lots of us, as parliamentarians, tried to improve this legislation.

Given that there were some improvements, some significant ones from first reading, is there any temptation on the NDP benches to pass it as marginally better, or is it better to defeat it because it falls so far below the mark?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

June 17th, 2019 / 9:25 p.m.
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NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am here today to speak to the government motion on the Senate amendments to Bill C-58.

Before I do that, though, I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate my brother Toron and his wife Jacqui.Today is their wedding anniversary, and I know that they are spending the day with my nieces and nephew, Abby, Malcolm, Josie and Zylia. I just wanted to acknowledge that this is another day, as many of us know in this House, that we do not get to be with family. I wanted to make sure that they know that I am thinking about them today.

Today we are talking about something that is fundamentally important, which is access to information, the tools we have to access information as parliamentarians representing everyday Canadians, and how that information can be accessed by journalists and reporters in this country.

I have been in this place for almost four years. I have worked really closely with my constituents on these issues. I have talked to them about the different tools I have as a parliamentarian and where they need to go to get information. They need to feel more connected to the government and to the people who represent it here in this place. I am very passionate about this issue.

Today we are talking about Senate amendments that would improve what I felt was a bad bill by making sure that the Information Commissioner would have real teeth, real power, to address some of the issues that come up in this place.

One of the things I have found very distressing, and the member who spoke before me also addressed this issue, is how often folks request information and are given a letter from a department authorizing itself to delay. Someone asks a question and now is told that the wait will be another 200 days for that information.

One of the most startling examples was that The Globe and Mail reported in April 2018 that it took one year to receive RCMP statistics for its well-received investigative series “Unfounded”, which revealed that police have been dismissing one in five sexual assault claims as baseless. This is really important information. When we see these kinds of startling facts, we know that there is something happening in this place and in this country that we need to address. These important investigations need to happen so that we know that something in the system is not working that we need to see addressed in multiple ways. If that information is not released, how are we supposed to do our work, and how do Canadians trust us?

I asked a question earlier about cynicism. I see that growing. I see it growing all the time. I talk to people who are frustrated with the government. They feel that when they want information, they have no way of knowing it. The automatic response is that something sneaky is happening and that they cannot trust those people.

I think we need to discuss what happens to democracy when we have everyday Canadians feeling that every politician is sketchy. We have an oath in this country. We sit in these seats and represent thousands of our constituents. We have the honour, as I do, to represent hard-working people who do everything in their power to live a good life, look after each other and look after their community. If they cannot trust the people who represent them, that should concern every single one of us.

If information cannot be uncovered to understand how things work, and, when something seems unfair, why it happened, how do we build that relationship, and how do we improve democracy?

I just want to take a moment to acknowledge the member for Vancouver Granville, who used to be the justice minister. I have a deep respect for her. I have known her for many years. I am very proud to represent the nation she comes from. I am very proud to represent the people of her traditional territory.

When that happened with SNC-Lavalin, it sent shock waves through my riding. It was very personal. I had constituents from my riding calling me and saying that she was in their class, that they know who she is, that she was from their family. They could not believe what was happening. They asked, do Liberals not know who she is, because they know who she is? Constituents were frustrated by the lack of information. They were frustrated by the process that unfolded. It was very troubling to them.

When I think about that and look at that happen, it takes away that sense of trust and connectivity. It brings all of these issues to the forefront when they are not addressed in a good way, and, in my opinion, these issues were not addressed in a good way. A lot of constituents contact me and say that they still do not know what happened, but that what happened was not right.

We look at the systems, and that is important. As legislators in this place, what we look at, debate and discuss is the process, how something is going to happen. Right now, we know that the Information Commissioner still will not have the ability to review whether in some cases like that one cabinet confidence is being claimed and whether it should be claimed.

I think about this a lot. I want to see a better democracy. I was very frustrated when the government campaigned to have electoral reform. It was very meaningful. I did multiple town halls in my riding. It was really interesting. People came forward. They were not sure and they did not know if they wanted to move to a different system, but they wanted to talk to me about it. They wanted to hear information. We tried to bring people in who were non-partisan to talk about different systems and how they would work. We had a lot of intelligent questions.

I will admit, people walked out the door saying that they were not sure; they were not sure if that was the right way to go forward. However, when they were told that it was no longer a discussion, when the Prime Minister stood up and said that Canadians do not want electoral reform, people were upset. They felt that they did not get to be a part of the decision-making process. That is really important.

Sometimes people get frustrated in this House, and they let us know by their heckling. However, we need to look at these systems. We need to make sure that everyday Canadians are part of the decision-making process. When that does not happen, we should have systems in place for them to be able to find out why it did not happen that way.

Again, we are seeing a failed piece of legislation. I am really disappointed. It is another broken promise. One of the things that was talked about in the last election was making sure that the PMO and the ministers were subject to these acts. That was one of the promises of transparency, that Liberals were going to do it differently and that Canadians would see a more open, transparent government.

Unfortunately, what we are seeing, again, is that the PMO is still blocked off. It is something to really think about. When everyday Canadians cannot get access; when journalists cannot get information from these particular departments, these ministries, what are we telling people? We are telling people that their voice does not belong in those places. However, they do belong in those places. In fact, we are here to represent those very voices.

I am really disappointed in this legislation. I think we could have gone so much farther. It is time for daringness. When I listen to constituents in my riding, what they want to see is honesty, openness and an authentic touch. They do not want to hear lines repeated. Some people think that if they just keep saying the same thing over and over that people will believe them.

However, when we look at democracy, the invigoration of democracy, and when we talk about why people do not get out to vote, it is because we are allowing cynicism to grow. We are not making sure that we open these doors and allow things to go forward.

Toby Mendel, the executive director of the Centre for Law and Democracy, said, in response to this bill, “The proposed reforms are just not good enough. At this point, we need root and branch reform, not incremental tinkering.”

I am a person who stands in this House, who looks at a lot of legislation. Most recently, in my role as vice-chair of the indigenous and northern affairs committee, we looked at Bill C-92, which talked about indigenous children in care. One of the things that was really heartbreaking for me is what I see happening again and again, which is this: “We will do a little better. It will not be enough. It is not going to save people's lives in a profound way. It is not going to look at the very foundation of the things that are broken. But we are going to make it a little prettier on the surface, and hopefully that will fix it.”

A little bit better is not good enough. It is not good enough for democracy, and it certainly is not good enough for indigenous children in this country who are struggling in profound ways every single day.

We were told very clearly that the new score for Canada would be 92 out of a possible 150 with this legislation. That means we would get bumped up from 49th to 46th.

I do not like our country to be in the middle. I want our country to be challenged to do better, because I want Canada to be at the top. I want other countries in the world to see the work we are doing in this place and think they have to aim higher because of what Canada is doing. I want them to look at how accountable we are to our constituents, to the Canadian public, to our reporters, and that we are not afraid to have these discussions, even if they are really painful and really hard.

We have to talk about really painful things in the House. If we are not brave enough to do that, if we do not allow people to have the information they need to make decisions for themselves, it is like saying that we are separate. However, we are all one.

I remember one of the elders in my community, Alberta Billy, telling me that a long time ago the cedar trees were so big that they would go into the forest and pick one to build a canoe for the community. They would respect that tree and then they would make a canoe out of it to be used by the community.

We do not have those big trees anymore. We have to find two trees now and find a way for them to come together. Finding two trees that are going to fit seamlessly together is a lot of work. That is the world we live in now. We do not have those big trees.

If we look at that canoe as if we were all in this together, then we know we have a western world that came here as colonizers and we have an indigenous world and we are trying to build a canoe together.

Let us look at the fact that indigenous communities around this whole country had great systems in place. Let us look at how we can do better, be more accountable to the people we serve. That is what a leader is. It is the person who follows behind, who serves from behind. This legislation fails to do that.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

June 13th, 2019 / 3:15 p.m.
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Waterloo Ontario

Liberal

Bardish Chagger LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate and acknowledge the opposition House leader's new-found respect and regard for the environment. It probably means the Conservatives will be coming out with a plan soon. We have been waiting for it for well over a year now.

In answer to her question, this afternoon we will begin debate on the Senate amendments to Bill C-58, an act to amend the Access to Information Act. This evening we will resume debate on the Senate amendments to Bill C-69, the environmental assessment legislation. We will then return to Bill C-88, the Mackenzie Valley bill.

Tomorrow we will resume debate on the Senate amendments to Bill C-68, an act to amend the Fisheries Act. We expect to receive some bills from the Senate, so if we have time, I would like one of those debates to start.

Next week, priority will be given to bills coming back to us from the Senate, or we may have an opportunity to continue to debate the motion referred to by the House Leader of the Official Opposition.

Personally, I am reassured to hear that the Conservatives want to talk about the environment. Perhaps they will also share their plan with Canadians.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2019 / 3:20 p.m.
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Hull—Aylmer Québec

Liberal

Greg Fergus LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to the message received from the other place with regard to Bill C-58, an act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

I would like to recognize that this is my first official duty debating a piece of legislation as Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government, who is a fabulous minister, I might add.

I also want to acknowledge the many stakeholders who were involved in getting Bill C-58 to this point, starting with our colleagues in the other place, who conducted a very thorough and thoughtful study of this bill.

I must also recognize the contributions of parliamentarians and stakeholders and particularly the contributions of the Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner in the development of Bill C-58, as well as, of course, our colleagues on the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics who worked long and hard on the amendments being proposed.

I would especially like to note the interventions of a number of indigenous organizations, their influence on the matters we are considering today and with whom the government is committed to engaging more closely on these matters in the future.

Together, the ideas and suggestions in the letters and presentations at both committees contributed to ensuring that the concerns of Canadians were taken into consideration and reflected in the final version of the bill.

I would remind the House that the bill would implement some of the most significant changes to the Access to Information Act since it was introduced more than 30 years ago, changes which have not been seen since the advent of the World Wide Web. This is part of the Government of Canada's continuing effort to raise the bar on openness and transparency.

We believe that government information ultimately belongs to the people it serves, and it should be open by default. That is quite simply a fundamental characteristic of a modern democracy, and the bill reflects that belief.

In that context, we welcome many of the proposed amendments that would further advance this objective. I would note, however, that two of the amendments would effectively legislate matters that are beyond the intent of the bill, whose purpose, I would remind the House, is to make targeted amendments to the act.

Those targeted amendments include providing the Information Commissioner with the power to make binding orders for the release of government information and the creation of a new part of the act on the proactive publication of key information.

For the reason that it goes beyond the intent of the bill, the government respectfully disagrees with the amendment that would limit time extensions to respond to a request to 30 days without prior approval of the Information Commissioner.

The government is declining this proposal because these provision have not been the subject of consultation or thorough study in the context of the targeted review that led to Bill C-58. This proposal risks having unintended consequences, particularly for the office of the Information Commissioner.

The government does agree with our friends in the other place that the time extension provisions merit further study. These will be examined as part of the full review of the act which Bill C-58 requires to begin within one year of royal assent.

For the same reason, the government respectfully disagrees with the proposal to create a new criminal offence for 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. Once again, the provisions of the Access to Information Act concerning criminal offences have not been the subject of consultation or thorough study in the targeted review. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to review changes to this provision in the context of a full review.

A third amendment of concern would require the Information Commissioner to review the operation of proposed part 2 of the act regarding proactive publication and report the results to Parliament on an annual basis. Giving the commissioner oversight of proactive publication by institutions supporting Parliament and the courts would create the potential to infringe on both parliamentary privilege and judicial independence. For this reason, the government respectfully disagrees.

It is also proposed that the Information Commissioner's ability to receive and investigate complaints related to fees and time limit extensions be removed from the act. While the government recognizes the intent of this amendment, which relates to some of the other proposals that were advanced, the commissioner's authority to receive and investigate complaints regarding waiver of fees would be removed from the act, an outcome I am certain hon. members on all sides of the House would agree is undesirable.

Similarly, as the amendment with respect to the extension of a time limit was not agreed to, we must preserve the powers of the Information Commissioner to receive complaints concerning time limits and to investigate these complaints, and therefore this amendment is not necessary.

With these few exceptions, the government is pleased to accept the proposed amendments in the message from the other chamber, subject to some technical adjustments to ensure the proper functioning of these provisions.

For example, we agree with the proposed amendment that would eliminate the government's authority to set and collect fees, apart from the application fee. As the government has committed to Canadians, it will continue to charge no fees other than the application fee of just $5.

A related amendment proposed in the message would retain the right of requesters to make a complaint to the Information Commissioner regarding decisions to waive the application fee. While the Senate amendments would have removed that right, we consider that the Information Commissioner should continue to have oversight over the way the authority to waive fees is exercised by institutions.

Some of the amendments proposed in the other place would foster and, in some cases, require more extensive consultations and better communication between the Information Commissioner and the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. This is paramount to continue to ensure privacy protection while the government seeks to foster more openness and better access to government documents.

The bill already provides the Information Commissioner with new power to order the release of government information. To ensure that this does not compromise the right to privacy, an amendment proposes that the Information Commissioner must consult the Privacy Commissioner before ordering a release of personal information. This amendment also proposes that the Information Commissioner have the discretion to consult the Privacy Commissioner when investigating a complaint regarding the application of the personal information exemption. Both of these and some related amendments were suggested by the commissioners themselves, and the government has previously indicated that it supports these amendments. We believe they will strengthen the protection of personal information and further safeguard Canadians' privacy rights.

The government also accepts an amendment that would retain Info Source. Government institutions will continue to be required to publish information about their organization, records and manuals. Canadians seeking to exercise their right of access to government records will continue to have access to this tool.

As hon. members are surely aware, the government processes tens of thousands of access requests each and every year. It is an unfortunate fact that in a small number of cases, the requests are made for reasons that are inconsistent with the purposes of the Act. They may be made to harass a certain employee or work unit, for example. Such requests can have a disproportionate effect on the system and slow down resources on legitimate requests.

The government agrees with the amendment from the other place that the power of government institutions to ask the Information Commissioner for approval in order to refuse to act on requests should be limited to requests that are vexatious, made in bad faith or that would constitute an abuse of the right of access and would backlog the system. That would enable government institutions to focus their efforts on legitimate requests after having obtained approval from the Information Commissioner.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the main objectives of Bill C-58 is to provide the Information Commissioner with the power to issue binding orders for the processing of requests, including the disclosure of records.

The commissioner would be able to publish these orders, establishing a body of precedents to guide institutions as well as users of the system.

Originally, in order to give the commissioner time to prepare to assume this power, it would not come into force until one year after royal assent. However, the commissioner has asked that this power be available immediately upon royal assent. Reflecting the value it places on the commissioner's perspective, the government has already indicated its support for this amendment.

Another amendment asked for the Information Commissioner to file her orders in Federal Court and have them enforced as Federal Court orders. Under Bill C-58, the Information Commissioner's orders are legally binding without the need for certification. We believe that this amendment is unnecessary and would add a step in the process.

However, the government will look at these amendments at the one-year review of the act, with a year's worth of experience under the new system.

Providing the Information Commissioner with the power to issue binding orders to government and institutions is not a trivial change. It is a game-changer for access to information. Whereas now the Information Commissioner must go to court if an institution does not follow her recommendations, Bill C-58 puts the onus on institutions. Should they disagree with an order by the Information Commissioner, institutions will have 30 days to challenge the order in Federal Court.

As for the courts, I would remind the House that the government accepted an amendment that would ensure that Bill C-58 does not encroach on judicial independence. As the House knows, part 2 of the bill would impose proactive publication requirements on 260 departments, government agencies and Crown corporations, as well as the Prime Minister's Office, ministers' offices, senators, MPs, parliamentary entities and institutions that support the courts.

The amendment would also enshrine in law the proactive publication of information of great interest to Canadians, particularly information relevant to increased transparency and responsibility with regard to the use of public funds.

This includes travel and hospitality expenses for ministers and their staff and senior officials across government, contracts over $10,000 and all contracts for MPs and senators, grants and contributions over $25,000, mandate letters and revised mandate letters, briefing packages for new ministers and deputy ministers, lists of briefing notes for ministers or deputy ministers, and the briefing binders used for question period and parliamentary committee appearances.

Putting these requirements into legislation will ensure that Canadians will have access to this kind of information automatically, without having to make a request. It will impose a new degree of transparency on this government and on future governments.

As passed by the House, Bill C-58 would require similar disclosure by the judiciary.

Concerns have since been raised about the impact that the publication of individual judges' expenses could have on judicial independence, and those concerns are exacerbated by the fact that, due to the traditional duty of reserve, judges express themselves only through their judgments and can neither defend themselves nor set the record straight. The amendment proposed in the message that would require the publication of judges' expenses according to each court, rather than on an individual basis, would address these concerns and include additional measures to increase transparency.

The government also welcomes and accepts the amendment to remove the specific criteria requiring requesters to state the specific subject matter of their request, the type of record being requested and the period for which the record is being requested.

This was included in the original bill as a way to ensure that requests provided enough information to enable a timely response.

We listened to the Information Commissioner's concerns about this clause and especially to the indigenous groups who told us that these provisions could impede their access rights. I just want to note that this amendment, along with several others proposed in the message, was suggested by the former Treasury Board president when he appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in October.

The proposal and acceptance of this amendment reflect the government's commitment to guaranteeing that indigenous peoples have access to the information they need to support their claims and seek justice for past wrongs, for example.

As members can imagine, when it comes to records that are several decades or, in some cases, more than a century old, asking someone to state the specific subject matter, type of record and period requested may constitute a barrier to access.

I also want to assure the House that the government has taken careful note of the feedback from indigenous groups who felt that the governments did not consult them properly when drafting Bill C-58.

To respond to these concerns, the government supported the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, the National Claims Research directors and the Indigenous Bar Association in surveying selected first nations researchers and policy staff about the issues they were encountering with respect to access to information, compiling and analyzing the results in a discussion paper, and undertaking a legal review of Bill C-58.

Nonetheless, we recognize that further work is needed, with greater collaboration between the government and indigenous groups. I would draw the attention of the House to a letter written by the former president of the Treasury Board and sent to the committee in the other place. The letter detailed specific commitments to engaging indigenous organizations and representatives about how the Access to Information Act needs to evolve to reflect Canada's relationship with indigenous peoples, including how information and knowledge of indigenous communities is both protected and made acceptable.

This engagement, as with all engagements with first nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation, will be founded on the fundamental principle of “nothing about us without us”. The government is committed to ensuring that programs, policies and services affecting indigenous peoples are designed in consultation and in collaboration with them.

In that regard, I would remind the House that this bill represents only the first phase of the government's reform to access to information. A full review of the functioning of the act would begin within one year of royal assent of Bill C-58, with mandatory reviews every five years afterward to ensure that the Access to Information Act never again falls so far out of date. I would add that the government recognizes that engagement with indigenous communities and organizations needs to be a central part of these reviews of the act.

In conclusion, I would recall for the House that in its fifth global report, issued in 2018, Canada was ranked number one in the world for openness and transparency by Open Data Barometer, well ahead of many other nations, including many so-called advanced countries. I would note that in this most recent report the author states:

The government’s continued progress reflects a strong performance in virtually all areas—from policies to implementation. Its consistent political backing has been one [of] the keys to its success.

Bill C-58 would continue to advance our progress toward more open and transparent government.

I again thank our friends in the other place for helping to make a good bill even better. I share the Information Commissioner's opinion that Bill C-58 is better than the current act and urge all members to join me in supporting it.

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June 13th, 2019 / 3:50 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my hon. colleague on his first speech as the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board. I just wish he had better content for his first speech.

Bill C-58 is such a massive disappointment. I have never seen a commissioner like the Privacy Commissioner pan legislation as this was panned. I have to confess that while I try to keep up with absolutely everything in this place, I have not seen if the Senate amendments are capable of making this bill worth supporting.

I read an article which says that the Liberals' new freedom of information bill is garbage. I wonder if there is any reference that the hon. parliamentary secretary could direct us to from any impartial experts. Is there anything from a third party source that could be referenced at this point indicating that it is a substantial improvement?

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June 13th, 2019 / 3:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased and proud to speak to Bill C-58 as the official opposition critic for the Treasury Board.

Let us put things in perspective. The bill was debated and passed in the House. Then it was sent to the Senate, which proposed amendments. In accordance with our legislative and parliamentary procedure, once the Senate made its proposals, these must be brought back to the House for analysis, and the House must accept or reject the proposals. The government calls the shots in that regard.

Essentially, the government has decided to accept most of the Senate's amendments, but it opposed four proposals, two of which are particularly interesting.

In the time I have, I will take an in-depth look and clearly explain why those four proposals should be in the act. Unfortunately, the government rejected them.

That attitude has led to the one of the worst crises of public confidence in the government, especially when it comes to the respect that the government should have for the responsibilities of the Canadian army. In fact, just a few minutes ago, here in the House, we honoured some of our bravest men and women in uniform.

Bill C-58 is a tricky bill. It is tricky yet essential, since it concerns privacy protection and the disclosure of information. We basically need to strike a balance between the public's right to information and privacy.

I know what I am talking about, having had the good fortune and privilege of being a journalist for more than 20 years. On July 17, 1989, I was officially hired as a journalist by the TQS television station in Quebec City. That was the start of a 20-year career. Actually, the year before that, I was hired by the Canadian Press to fill in as a parliamentary reporter covering the National Assembly of Quebec. During the 1988 general election, Michel Dolbec, who was a journalist at NTR and the Canadian Press, left. I replaced him for six weeks. That was my first experience as a journalist. I am not going to get into my entire life story. My point is that this is very important to me.

This issue is quite important, because we are talking about the balance we have to protect, as parliamentarians, between the right to information, which means that we protect the good work of the free press in our democracy, and on the other hand, making sure that people have their privacy respected. It is not a very easy thing to address, but this is what democracy is all about. It is about letting the press do its job while making sure that people are well protected with regard to their privacy, and especially their private lives.

It has been quite a while since this legislation was first brought forward and all the political parties committed to reviewing it. It is important to remember that the first Privacy Act dates back to 1983.

If we look back 36 years, we were entering a new world. Certain rules were needed. Year after year, successive governments thought that the rules would need to be updated one day to ensure that the approach taken in 1983 was still relevant. In 2006, the Conservative government initiated the first update to that legislation.

As mentioned earlier by the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and member for Hull—Aylmer, who is also my MP when I am in Ottawa, the fact is that in 1983, the World Wide Web, the system that led to the Internet, was not nearly as widely used as it is today. It was basically restricted to very small scientific and military circles.

To get back to what I was saying, in 2006, the Conservatives laid the foundation for a much-needed update. From one government to the next, election after election, everyone committed to reviewing the legislation to adapt it to the realities of the 21st century, such as the advent of social media and greater access to information. This dramatically changed how journalists and investigators do their jobs, as well as the information to which everyone has access.

Members will also recall that in 2016, in the last Parliament, a report was tabled that included 32 recommendations. Most of them made their way into the legislation and have been implemented to various degrees. Some of the recommendations that were not included in the legislation were subsequently proposed by the Senate and were either implemented or rejected by the government, which is part of the legislative process.

This piece of legislation is quite important, because since 1983, we have had a law here in Canada on the protection of personal information. It has been a long ride since then, but we have to understand that in 1983, there was no World Wide Web, aside from in some laboratories, universities and the military. People in general did not have access to this new reality of the 21st century. That is why, when my party was in office in 2006, we touched up that legislation, and finally, in this Parliament, the government tabled Bill C-58.

The first version of this bill was introduced a while back. That may come as a bit of a surprise, since this bill was the next logical step after the Liberal Party's election promise to address the dire need for more democratic privacy legislation. This promise appeared in the Liberals' infamous election platform, along with a number of other broken promises. For instance, they promised to run three modest deficits. Instead, they have posted three huge deficits in the last three years. In 2015, the Liberal Party also promised a zero deficit by 2019, but we now have a $19.8-billion deficit. The government has not kept its word, and Canadians will pay the price.

The Liberals' election platform also included a promise to update the privacy legislation, which led to Bill C-58. That is why I am talking about it in this speech. Obviously, when we talk about something, we must get to the point, lay out the facts and stay focused. I just felt it was important to remind the House that the Liberal Party's 2015 election platform said that they would introduce legislation on this issue, and the result was Bill C-58. Their platform also included a string of broken promises that the Liberals will have to answer for on October 21.

I would like to table the document in question, that is, the election platform. Over the past three years, I probably tried to do so 150 times, which is barely an exaggeration, but my requests are always denied. Again today, after question period, I asked for leave to table an official document of the Government of Quebec's environment ministry, which was tabled in the National Assembly by the Quebec premier on November 29. Unfortunately, once again, the government refused to let Canadians have access, here in the House, to serious, rigorous, scientific and official data on the environment compiled by the Government of Quebec. We will definitely have an opportunity to come back to this. In short, this was an important piece of legislation for the government.

When the new cabinet was sworn in at Rideau Hall, in November 2015, after the November 19 election, the Prime Minister gave each new minister a mandate letter. The Minister of Democratic Institutions' mandate letter stated, “Work with the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Justice to enhance the openness of government, including supporting a review of the Access to Information Act.”

Then, there is the Minister of Justice; he, too, was called upon to work collaboratively in his mandate letter. Actually, back then, the position was held by a woman. I apologize for misleading the House. The fact of the matter is that the individual who once held the position of justice minister resigned and was ejected from caucus. She now sits as an independent.

This unfortunately happened in the wake of a situation considered to be shameful and outrageous by any Canadian who understands that politics and the judicial process must be kept separate. I will talk more about this later.

The justice minister's mandate letter stated the following:

Work with the President of the Treasury Board to enhance the openness of government, including supporting his 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.

I should also point out that the president of the treasury board in question also resigned. The Prime Minister claimed that he was behind all of this government's misfortunes in 2019. I will talk more about this later.

That is no small task that the Prime Minister gave his former justice minister, whom he later ousted from his caucus. Many of the tasks outlined in that letter did not even come close to being accomplished, but that is another story. Canadians will have their say on October 21, just four months and a few days from now.

In June 2017, after two years in office, the government introduced Bill C-58. I would like to recognize the outstanding work of my colleague in the upper chamber, Quebec Senator Claude Carignan. I believe I am allowed to say his name. Here in the House, we cannot identify MPs by their names, but I think I am allowed to do so when referring to a parliamentarian from the upper chamber.

Senator Carignan is a lawyer and the one responsible for the extraordinary legislation to protect whistleblowers. Members will recall that, two years ago, Senator Carignan introduced a bill in the Senate to provide better protection for whistleblowers. I had the great honour and privilege to sponsor that bill here in the House of Commons. We would therefore like to recognize Senator Carignan's outstanding work to protect access to information, freedom of the press and journalists' ability to do their job properly.

Senator Carignan played a major role in the analysis of this bill. Senator Carignan is a lawyer and a well-known parliamentarian who was nominated 10 years ago by Prime Minister Harper. He is doing a tremendous job with respect to protecting whistle-blowers. He tabled a bill two years ago in the Senate. I had the privilege of being the sponsor here in the House of Commons of this great piece of legislation.

I want to pay my respects to Senator Carignan, who played a major role in the study of Bill C-58 in the Senate of Canada.

In a speech he gave in the upper chamber on May 3, Senator Carignan noted that former information commissioner Suzanne Legault had expressed serious reservations in her report about Bill C-58, which had been tabled in the Senate in September 2017, writing:

Rather than advancing access to information rights, Bill C-58 would instead result in a regression of existing rights.

Later in his speech, Senator Carignan made the following remark:

Senator Pate spoke about this. A number of Indigenous groups have asked that Bill C-58 be simply withdrawn. Former information commissioners have spoken out against it. Several commentators hope it will not be passed. Senator McCoy pointed out that Bill C-58 makes a mockery of the very essence of access to information, and I share her opinion. She wanted the Senate to block the bill, but she dares not do it now.

Senator Carignan was warning of a very valid and relevant issue that had been raised by many commentators and journalists. Many professional journalists' associations felt that, although the government got elected by vaunting its lofty principles, the very essence of Bill C-58 fell well short of those goals.

As former information commissioner Suzanne Legault said, this was not a step forward, it was a step back. That is why the Senate did its work. Members will recall that the official opposition voted against the bill. Since we are now at the stage following the upper chamber's study of the bill and the tabling of amendments, let us focus on what the senators did.

That is why the amendments were tabled and voted for by a majority of senators. As I said, we are now studying the proposed amendments.

In the big picture, the government accepted most of the amendments tabled by the Senate, but unfortunately decided to put aside what we consider to be four key elements of this legislation and the amendment tabled by the the Senate.

The government said, in a very respectful way in the words that were read a few minutes ago, that it put aside amendments No. 3 and No. 12 and will also put aside paragraph No. 6. It also put aside amendment No. 15(c).

Now let us talk about two Senate amendments that we believe should be included in the legislation. Unfortunately, the current government is rejecting those amendments.

I will now look at amendment 12, which I mentioned earlier in my question to the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board. The amendment proposes:

12. New clause 30.2, page 17: Add the following after line 37:

“30.2 Subsection 67.1(1) of the Act is amended by adding the following after paragraph (b):

(b.1) use 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;”.

This is a key element that I will have a chance to debate later. I will also provide a specific example that we believe justifies keeping this subsection. Unfortunately, this amendment was rejected by the current government.

In the next few minutes, I will go over the tragic ordeal our country went through because of this government's arrogant attitude. I am referring to the sad affair of Vice-Admiral Norman.

The other amendment that we believe should have been accepted is amendment 3, which reads:

3. New clause 6.2, page 4: Add the following after line 4:

“6.2 Subsection 9(2) of the Act is replaced by the following:

(2) An extension of a time limit under paragraph (1)(a) or (b) may not be for more than 30 days except with the prior written consent of the Information Commissioner.”.

Before getting to the topic at hand, I want to commend the outstanding work of the legislative drafters. When we read clauses of bills, they can seem arduous and hard to understand. They are especially difficult to follow since the language is very technical. I would like to commend the outstanding work of the legislative drafters of the Parliament of Canada, who check, word for word, line by line—

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June 13th, 2019 / 4:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my B.C. colleague for reminding us about the respect that we, as parliamentarians, should have for rules and customs. It is not because we are full of ourselves that we want to have a lot of people here listening to the person who has the floor, who just so happens to be me right now.

I want to recognize the outstanding work done by the people who draft bills for Canada's Parliament, because that is an extremely difficult job. It takes years of practice and, above all, dedication to doing things right, down to the last detail. I very much appreciate their work.

In December 2004, if memory serves, I did a story on the legislative specialists working for Quebec's revenue ministry. They are the people who write budget implementation bills, which are extremely intricate. I would just like to pay tribute to the Hon. Lawrence Bergman, Quebec's revenue minister under the Hon. Jean Charest. Mr. Charest was well known here in the House of Commons from 1984 to 1997 as an MP, minister, deputy prime minister, party leader and deputy speaker of the House of Commons.

That said, we think it is important to include those four elements in the legislation, which is exactly what the Liberal government did not do. I mentioned that we Conservatives were particularly concerned about the issue of monikers. In the Norman affair, unfortunately, people with bad intentions—and I can say this with the protection of the House—started a witch hunt. I will prove this over the new few minutes. That is completely unacceptable in our democratic system, especially when we consider the respect that the political branch needs to show for the legal system and the military system. Unfortunately, there were attempts to lump everything all together, without talking about the financial repercussions it could have on Canada's shipping industry.

The people conducting the investigations used code names to cover up their work. In our view, that practice should be harshly condemned. We applauded the fact that the Senate adopted amendment 3, which would put an end to that practice. As the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board announced, it is their right and their prerogative, and I respect that. I am a parliamentarian first and foremost, and a champion of democracy above all else. However, we believe that the government is wrong to reject that amendment, because it pertains to an abhorrent practice and one of the most direct attacks by political authority on judicial authority and military authority, all for financial gain and dishonourable purposes.

I am going to talk about what happened with the Asterix, since that is what this is all about, as well as Vice-Admiral Norman and the contract awarded by the Government of Canada in 2015 for the construction of that supply ship. The contract was awarded to a shipyard in Lévis called Davie. Meanwhile, pressure was being applied by a competing shipyard, Irving, which interfered in the executive process of our parliamentary system by lobbying some of the most senior cabinet members directly.

We should first talk about Vice-Admiral Norman, one of the most decorated and honourable members of the Canadian military. His dedication, professionalism and sense of duty led him to accomplish great things. He is the son of an army officer and grandson of a First World War veteran; honour runs in his blood. Vice-Admiral Norman studied in Kingston before joining the naval reserve and pursuing a career in the navy. He is a specialist in above water warfare and has held a number of posts, including on the maiden operational deployment of HMCS Halifax, and as executive officer of HMCS Iroquois, commanding officer of the frigate HMCS St. Johns and, more recently, commander of Canadian Fleet Atlantic.

At every step of his career, from his days in the naval reserve to his promotion to one of the highest ranks in the navy, that of vice-admiral, he always acted with a level of honour befitting his rank, never betraying the faith placed in him by his peers.

Sadly, history will show that this government dragged an honourable man through the mud for their own, purely self-serving, financial purposes. The government disgraced itself. Incidentally, let's hope the Canadian public voices its extreme displeasure over this issue on October 21.

Let's not forget that all of this happened because, during the 41st Parliament, the previous government, a Conservative government, contracted the Davie shipyard in Lévis to build a supply ship.

As soon as the Conservative government was defeated and the new Liberal government took over, Irving immediately started pressuring the newly elected government to review the decision. This resulted in a judicial inquiry, which led to the vice-admiral, an honourable man, being dismissed and dragged through the mud by the current government, including the Prime Minister, who made some unfortunate comments. Heads of state need to choose their words carefully. Unfortunately, on two separate occasions, the Prime Minister said that there would be a trial, even though nothing had been announced. This was some utterly unacceptable political interference in the judicial system, not unlike what we saw with the SNC-Lavalin scandal. It is worth remembering all of this.

Since my time is limited, I will be brief, but I do want to remind members about the unfortunate Vice-Admiral Norman affair, which runs deep and which will leave a permanent scar on this government.

Paul Martin's Liberal government looked at the possibility of replacing some supply ships in 2004, but the decision was ultimately made in 2015.

There had been talk of the need for a new supply ship since 2004 and a number of steps were taken. Finally, on November 18, 2014, Vice-Admiral Norman informed the Standing Committee on National Defence that Canada needed new supply ships.

In 2004, Paul Martin's Liberal government announced that Canada would need a new supply ship. Then, on November 18, 2014, in front of a parliamentary committee, Vice-Admiral Norman stated that Canada was indeed in need of a new supply ship. In January 2015, the federal government decided that it needed to follow through on that request. On June 23, 2015, the current Premier of Alberta, the Hon. Jason Kenney, who was the defence minister at the time, announced that the government was in discussions with Davie shipyard in Lévis about a temporary supply ship.

This announcement was made on June 23, on the eve of Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, Quebec's national holiday or, as some call it, the summer solstice, but that is another story. This happened just a few hours before Quebec's national holiday.

On June 23, 2015, the defence minister, on behalf of the Conservative government, announced that it was initiating talks with Davie. On August 1, 2015, the Conservative government announced, a few hours before the election was called, that the Government of Canada had signed a letter of intent with Davie shipyard for the construction of a supply ship. Everything was going well up to that point. However, on October 19, 2015, Canadians cast their ballots, and the Liberal Party came to power. We are democrats and we respect the people's decision.

On October 8, 2015, the MV Asterix, which was chosen by Davie to be refitted as a supply ship, arrived at the shipyard in Quebec City.

November 17, 2015, is when the political interference in the entirely appropriate process initiated by the former government began.

I want to remind members that that is no small thing. I represent a riding in Quebec City, where the issue attracts considerable attention. Once again, for the third time, I would remind members, because this does in fact relate to Bill C-58, that in my 20 years as a journalist in Quebec City, I reported on the Davie shipyard between 150 to 200 times.

Of those 150 to 200 news reports, maybe three of them were positive because, unfortunately, as I recall, things were never going well for Davie. Our government granted funding to this shipyard, which was established in 1880. That is no small thing, and this is no small shipyard that we are talking about. It is the biggest shipyard we have with two huge dry docks where these sorts of big jobs can be done.

Some members will likely wonder why the Conservative government did not do anything about that in 2011. I will say two things. First, the government announcement in 2011 was based on the recommendations of a neutral and independent committee. Second, it is important to remember that, sadly, the Davie shipyard was technically bankrupt in 2011. No one takes any joy in that, but facts are facts. I would invite members to ask themselves whether they would be prepared to hire a company that is technically bankrupt to build their house. I am not so sure anyone would. That is what happened in 2011.

However, in 2015, under our government, Canada granted Davie a contract to build a supply ship and we all know now how well that turned out. I can confirm that the ship was indeed delivered on time and on budget. That does not happen very often. Davie workers and managers, the union leaders, and the new head and owner of the Davie shipyard all deserve our warmest congratulations and salutations for delivering this important part of Canada's arsenal, the Asterix, on time and on budget.

I was there on July 20, 2017, when Pauline Théberge, wife of the Hon. Michel Doyon, Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, broke a sacrificial bottle on the ship for good luck. We were there. I was very pleased and honoured to attend the ceremony along with a number of MPs and former Conservative ministers. Unfortunately, the current government was conspicuously absent from what was an important, positive and exciting event for Canada. That absence spoke volumes.

Getting back to our story about Mr. Norman and the contract for the Asterix, on November 17, 2015, just a few days after the Liberal government's cabinet was sworn in at Rideau Hall, James Irving, Irving's co-CEO, sent a letter to four Liberal ministers, namely the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Finance, the former minister of public services and procurement, and the former Treasury Board president, Scott Brison. We have heard that name a lot over the past few months, and as we will see, there may be something of a connection with what happened here.

Mr. Irving went to bat for his shipyard, which is basically his job, and communicated directly with four of this government's senior ministers, including the Treasury Board president, the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Finance. They might not be the three aces, but they are pretty close. They are at the top of the federal government hierarchy. Mr. Irving wanted to revisit the contract awarded by the previous government.

Then, as it turns out, on November 19, 2015, during a federal cabinet meeting that Vice-Admiral Norman did not attend, the Treasury Board president shelved the Asterix project for two months to review the contract that had been awarded.

It was not until later that we found out why. Cabinet confidences were leaked to CBC journalist James Cudmore, who, on November 20, 2015, reported that the letter was not signed by November 30 as it should have been.

That is where the problems in this story all began. On November 16, 2016, the RCMP started putting Vice-Admiral Norman under surveillance. There was a police car in front of his house in Orleans, a suburb of Ottawa. As I was saying, he was dragged through the mud, and it was despicable. On January 9, 2017, seven police officers conducted a raid of Vice-Admiral Norman's home.

Let me quote some information. The seven police officers arrived at Vice-Admiral Mark Norman's home. They “stayed [in the house] for six hours, and seized a desktop computer, a laptop, two cell phones and three iPads, one owned by [Norman's wife].”

Norman's defence would later argue that the RCMP, which had a warrant to seize “DND files and related material”, overstepped “by also seizing thousands of pieces of personal effects from the Norman family.”

This is totally unacceptable and outrageous. We are talking about one of the top soldiers in the Canadian Army. We are talking about the number two person in the Canadian Army, and the Liberals did not treat this honourable man as highly as they should treat a man who was so honourable in his career and in his personal life.

Other reprehensible events followed. The vice-admiral was relieved of his duties. On November 20, 2017, the Canadian government refused Vice-Admiral Norman's request for financial assistance for the legal expenses stemming from this crisis.

The Asterix was officially christened by the wife of the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec in July 2017. On December 23, 2017, the supply ship Asterix left Davie shipyard, near Quebec City, to commence operations. Over the past two years, the supply ship Asterix has distinguished itself as one of the best, if not the best, ship of all of Canada's allies. The contract our government awarded to the Davie shipyard was completed impeccably, not only in terms of budgets and deadlines, but also in terms of our military's needs.

Everything was going well until the political interference began. When asked about it, the Prime Minister twice said that Vice-Admiral Norman would be charged with a crime. He said that before any suit was officially filed in court. That is despicable. We are talking about clear interference by the Prime Minister of Canada, who is the head of the government, and therefore the head of the executive branch and, to some extent, the head of the legislative branch, in the judicial process.

This is not the only time he did this. We all remember the terrible SNC-Lavalin scandal, which led to the resignation of two senior government ministers, namely the former justice minister and the former president of the Treasury Board. Such political interference in the justice system is despicable.

The Prime Minister did not have to publicly announce that the Norman case would go to trial. We should let the courts and the justice system do their work. We cannot start predicting that certain cases will go to trial, unless we are talking about a backdoor deal, which we are not, even if it almost seems that way. That is what is despicable here.

What happened next? Vice-Admiral Norman was relieved of his duties under a cloud of deep suspicion. Police searched his home and confiscated his family's personal property. They went through his wife's iPad looking for information. Vice-Admiral Norman eventually requested access to evidence, emails and other records he needed to mount a full and complete defence. The government's lawyers continuously refused to grant him access to this important information, which was vital to mounting a full and complete defence of a man as honourable as the vice-admiral.

When the Canadian military's second-in-command is implicated in a case, we would at least expect the government to remain at arm's length. On the contrary, day after day, this government wanted to ensure that Mr. Norman did not have access to a full and complete defence. It refused to grant the financial assistance that would normally be provided to a man of his rank under such circumstances. Even when the charges were dropped, the government continued to refuse him this financial assistance, even though it had spent almost $15 million prosecuting him. The government steadfastly refused his request for financial assistance.

At the beginning of the court case, a request was made for access to important records, and there again, the government refused. Fortunately, the judicial system worked. A judge gave Mr. Norman access to certain pieces of evidence. Once everyone had access to this information, it suddenly became clear that there was no case and that this man should never have been dragged through the courts and the mud. This case will long be remembered by every Canadian as a shameful incident. Politicians interfered in a court case that was without merit.

Vice-Admiral Norman suffered for months and was left to defend himself alone and unaided. On May 8, the government realized that it might not have a case. It therefore dropped the charges against Mr. Norman and finally decided to pay his legal fees. My goodness, that is the least it could do. The government created this whole problem for nothing.

Once the government was forced by the court to disclose all of the evidence Mr. Norman was entitled to see, and once Canadian legal experts had access to this evidence, suddenly, there was no more story. What did this evidence include? Here is where I will make the connection to Bill C-58 and the Senate's third amendment, which was rejected by this government.

On December 18, 2018, Vice-Admiral Norman's team called two surprise witnesses, who provided evidence proving that Vice-Admiral Norman had the right to see names that had been redacted. The people in power had avoided using his name in their emails, specifically to avoid identifying him. This is a fundamental point. Furthermore, on January 29, 2019, a list was released showing acronyms and other military terms that had been used to refer to Vice-Admiral Norman.

Let me quote this in English because, in the proof, the important element was all written in English. Instead of talking about Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, they referred to him as “the boss,” “N3” and “C34”. The list was compiled by DND. Under questioning, the chief of the defence staff, General Jonathan Vance, said that “unless officials were specifically instructed to use these as search terms, subpoenas from Norman’s defence team may not have turned up documents that used those phrases.”

That is precisely why the Senate's third amendment must be maintained. The use of code names, especially in cases like this one, is completely unacceptable in our view. Mr. Speaker, let me correct something I just said. It is not amendment 3, but rather amendment 12. In my conversations with my colleagues, I have always called it the Norman amendment. This change aims to ensure that no one gets in the bad habit of identifying key people in criminal cases by code names. Incidentally, this was not actually a criminal case.

In the end, they realized that this man was more of a victim of the obnoxious attitude adopted by this government for purposes that I dare not even mention here in the House. The Liberals wanted to please certain friends here and there, rather than all Canadians. In our view, this use of code names should be stopped.

I know this brings up bad memories for the government. If I were a Liberal, I would definitely feel uncomfortable about this situation, the terrible Norman scandal, which has the Liberal government's fingerprints all over it.

This soldier dedicated his professional life to defending Canada with honour and dignity. He came from the humblest naval beginnings to rise through the ranks of the Royal Canadian Navy. At the peak of his career and his art, this man made sure that we could trust Canadian industry and the workers at the Davie shipyard in Lévis. Yes, everything was going well, yes, it was a success, and yes, it could be completed on time and on budget.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2019 / 4:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent for highlighting many of the issues we have with Bill C-58, and a lot of the failings of the government when it comes to transparency.

My colleague joined us recently on the operations committee, beating out 98 other Conservatives who were desperate to join me on that committee. Before he joined us, the committee put together a report on whistleblowers. Canada has some of the weakest whistleblower protections for public servants in the OECD.

The committee put together a unanimous report on how we could better protect public servants. We heard story after story, very similar to that of Vice-Admiral Norman, of public servants who came forward and had their lives destroyed by the government for daring to expose corruption and negligence, almost identical to Vice-Admiral Norman's story.

We put together a unanimous report, submitted it to the government. The then Treasury Board president, Scott Brison, took the report, promptly threw it in the garbage and did nothing. Later, we summoned him to the committee and he refused to return to the committee to report on why he was doing nothing to protect whistleblowers.

We have seen the Liberal government time and again refuse to be transparent. Are these the actions of a government that is trying to be open and transparent?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2019 / 4:55 p.m.
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NDP

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.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2019 / 5:15 p.m.
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NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from New Westminster—Burnaby for his very kind remarks.

He talked about the amendments. I was involved in bringing forth some 36 amendments to Bill C-58 at committee. Many of them were deemed inadmissible because they were beyond the scope of the bill we were amending, but they were part of the package that all of those academics and activists and journalists had asked us to bring forward. Twenty were ultimately accepted as admissible, but of course, the government disallowed every single one of them. Why the Liberals are opposed to this I do not know.

Journalist Jeremy Nuttall, who writes for the Tyee, talks about writing cheques for $5. People have to pay $5. It costs the government way more money to cash the cheque than to do otherwise. One cannot go online like can be done in British Columbia with a credit card and request the information.

The Liberals pride themselves on updating the bill but they are stuck with this horse and buggy bill. It is very hard to understand why they would not take the opportunity to improve it. It is not like all of the provinces have not done stuff that the government could learn from. The Liberals are so rigid and do not seem to accept that we can do it better for Canadians. I am not suggesting that the provinces' legislation is perfect by any stretch, but it is so much better than what we have here.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

June 13th, 2019 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Victoria is a tough act to follow, but I will do the best I can.

I will start by saying there is wide gulf between what the government promised in 2015 and what it has actually delivered. It is quite saddening to every Canadian who believes in parliamentary democracy and believes the people should have the right to determine the destiny of this country. We see the government having repeatedly betrayed the promises the Liberals made during the election campaign in 2015.

I will not spend too much time on the litany of broken promises, but certainly one is on democratic reform. In 2015 we were supposed to have the last first past the post election which is undemocratic. We are now going into another election with the whole aspect of democratic reform gutted, ripped up. It is a promise that has been thrown on the floor and trampled on.

The government wanted to take action on the environment. Instead, we get the Trans Mountain pipeline that the government has spent billions of dollars on and will spend tens of billions more as construction costs escalate.

When we talk about the House of Commons and respecting parliamentary democracy, we had the Prime Minister promising in 2015 an end to omnibus legislation, legislation that ties together a whole range of unrelated items. Instead, the Liberals have doubled down and created some of the most monstrous pieces of omnibus legislation that the House has ever seen in a century and a half.

The Prime Minister during the election campaign talked about eliminating closure and working co-operatively with the opposition parties. Instead, what we have seen this week is the most toxic muzzling of the opposition that has ever occurred in our history, toxic closure motions that allow only one member to speak. The government has used this device a number of times now. Once the government moves the motion, one member gets to speak. Most often it is a government member, and there is no time for questions or comments or anything by the opposition. Opposition members represent more than 60% of the Canadian population and they are completely muzzled and shut down.

We just saw the spectre of the worst Thursday question response that this Parliament has ever seen. There has always been respect for Parliament that when the Thursday question is offered by the official opposition House leader, a role which I played in the last Parliament, the government then gives some idea of the legislation to come before the House in the following week. For a century and a half when that question has been asked by the official opposition, the government has been forthcoming. It does not mean that sometimes agendas change, but there has been some inkling of the business to come before Parliament in the following week.

Today, we saw the government remove its mask and show its real face. There was no information forthcoming at all to any member of the opposition or even any member of the government side. We do not know when the Conservatives will get their opposition day. We do not know when the supply votes, which should take us a good part of the day and probably all night, will occur. We do not know what legislation is coming up on Monday morning. Members of Parliament will be leaving this place this week with absolutely no idea of what is coming before the House in the subsequent week. That is the first time any government has attempted to override and ride roughshod over parliamentary rights in our nation's history. It was absolutely despicable to see that.

This is not a small matter. When we think of all the members of Parliament having to organize their travel schedules to make sure they are here for those supply votes which often take 24 hours, for Conservatives to know when their opposition day is coming forward so that they can offer their suggestions, which often I disagree with, but always respect their right to offer them for what Parliament and the government should do moving forward, all of those things have been put in complete suspension. Members of Parliament now have to wait to see what the government will be bringing up Monday morning. It is unbelievable.

Therefore, when we talk about Bill C-58, it is in the same framework of broken promises and abuse of parliamentary democracy.

All members of Parliament have a role to play in the House of Commons. All of us should have the ability to represent our constituents. However, the government provides nothing but a blank slate, saying, “We'll let you know Monday morning what is actually going to come before the House. We're going to let you know, Conservatives, when you can offer your opposition motion. We're going to let all members of Parliament know when we are getting into the 24-hour voting cycle.” For those members of Parliament who also have to be present in their constituency and for those members of Parliament who also have family obligations, this disrespect for Parliament is unbelievable. It is unbelievable not to provide any sort of indication whatsoever about what is going to transpire in this place from Monday morning on.

Access to information starts with that. If the government respected access to information, it would start with parliamentarians, by saying to them, “Here is the schedule for next week. It may change, but here are our intentions about the bills to come before the House.” Yes, the Senate influences that, I have no doubt, but to give some sense of what bills may be coming forward, when the opposition day is or when we will be having all-night voting is just a modicum of respect and information that needs to be provided to parliamentarians.

The Liberals have done the same thing to Canadians that they are doing to members of Parliament. We now have Bill C-58, which was deeply flawed. It was criticized from right and left, from people who believe that Canadians have a right to access the information that belongs to them. This is not a Liberal dictatorship, or I certainly hope it is not or will not become one. Liberal governments, like all governments, should govern in the interest of all Canadians. There is no doubt that there is a fundamental right to information that all Canadians possess.

However, the Liberals presented a flawed bill. The New Democratic members and members of the other opposition parties all came forward with helpful suggestions that would make a difference and make a bad bill a fairly good bill. Liberal members on the committee and in the House simply gutted that and refused those amendments. The bill then went to the Senate, and the government had an opportunity to get amendments from senators. We might believe in the abolition of the Senate, but it certainly has a role to play right now, and it improved the bill, again. I think people were generally optimistic that at least the bad bill had become a fairly good bill, yet the government has gutted that again.

Ultimately, it is disrespect for parliamentarians, and it is disrespect for Canadians. For that reason, New Democrats will be voting against the government's proposal.

Bill C-58—Time Allocation MotionAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 10:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, this time allocation motion is for a highly imperfect piece of proposed legislation that deserves much greater debate and consideration by the Liberal government. It has been condemned by Canadians across the spectrum, by those who would demand the right to know how they are governed through access to information. It has been dismissed by the Information Commissioner herself as a regressive piece of legislation. She indicated quite clearly that the status quo would be preferable to the proposed law, which is being debated at third reading today.

The President of the Treasury Board has made excuses, and he urged Canadians, with a slight Churchillian twist, not to allow perfection to be the enemy of the good. Well, there is very little good in Bill C-58, which came through committee with some significant, but very few, amendments to correct a poorly written piece of legislation.

This piece of proposed legislation is beyond redemption. I would ask the President of the Treasury Board why he does not simply withdraw Bill C-58 and go back to the drawing board.

Bill C-58—Time Allocation MotionAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 10:35 a.m.
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Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the words of my colleague and friend, the President of the Treasury Board. Unfortunately, the bill he is reflecting on would not do what he purports it would do. Let me give a couple of quick examples.

First, when the ethics committee was studying this bill, it made 28 recommendations. However, the Liberal-dominated committee only accepted one of those recommendations.

Second, the bill purports to strengthen the act by allowing the Information Commissioner to order access to information from ministers' offices, as well as the Prime Minister's Office. However, what the minister has not mentioned is that while the Information Commissioner may have the ability to order such requests, it does not make it mandatory for a minister or the Prime Minister's Office to respect that order.

In fact, as the Information Commissioner has already pointed out, quite rightfully, had the current version of the Access to Information Act, which the government says strengthens the act, been in place during the sponsorship scandal, we would have never found out all of the illegal goings-on by the former Liberal government. Information Commissioner Legault said that if Bill C-58, in its current form, has been passed, it would have meant that journalist Daniel Leblanc, back in the early 2000s, would have been unable to get the information, which eventually led to the sponsorship scandal being unveiled to the Canadian public.

How can the minister possibly state, with any veracity, that the bill would actually strengthen access to information, when in fact all the witnesses pointed out it would do exactly the opposite?