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

In committee (Senate), as of June 6, 2018

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-58.

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

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

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 1:35 p.m.
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NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Yes, say the Liberals. Oh, my, what delusional sense of history do the Liberals have? That only came to light because Mr. Leblanc from The Globe and Mail dug and dug into government information. He used a part of the Access to Information Act and asked for the documents between this date to that date from a certain department. Under Bill C-58, that would not be allowed anymore. Who told us that? The Information Commissioner told us that. She said that if the same request had come in after this bill becomes law, we would have never learned about the whole sponsorship scandal. We would have never learned that Liberals in that part of the country were padding their pockets with public money. People went to jail over this, a government fell over this, as it should have, because it was stealing. It was stealing money under the guise of some sponsorship program, and it was only because of access to information that we found this out.

The residential school survivors have been fighting with government for decades for the simple acknowledgement that they or their parents attended a certain residential school at which they were abused horrifically, and for which the Government of Canada was dragged, finally, to apologize for. That only came to light because of access to information. Government does not disclose these things. The Liberals say that they are going to self-disclose and that should be good. We heard from the Information Commissioner's office that complaints have been rising since its new disclosure policy.

We have also heard from the Information Commissioner's office that with these terms, if a request is deemed vexatious by the government, it can deny the request. What does that mean? It is vexatious to whom, to some department that has been badly handling public funds? Yes, I bet that information would look vexatious. The government is going to tell Canadians it is sorry, they cannot have the information they requested because it thinks it is vexatious. It is going to hurt its feelings, and someone might get fired for doing bad. We want to be able to shine light on these things, not go in the opposite direction.

The Information Commissioner asked for order-making powers, and the Liberals promised this. The Information Commissioner would have the ability to demand documents from government and not have government delay and deny. With the amendments in this bill, the commissioner was asked how this would affect order-making power. She said it would not be a true order-making power, and may in fact delay the process for Canadians even longer because they will end up in the courts more often.

Lastly, we asked the Information Commissioner, the watchdog, an officer of Parliament who works on behalf of all of us, if the government consulted with her and if it offered more in the way of a budget, because enforcing this is going to cost a lot more money due to going to court a lot more often. The answer was no.

Again, the Liberals are talking about how they like to consult, how they like to include, how they like to be collaborative. With every proposal we made to change this bill, to try to save this bill from itself, to help Liberals keep a Liberal promise, one of the hardest things to do in politics, they rejected every single one. They allowed the technical amendments from their side and changed a comma here and moved a period there. Congratulations.

However, the fundamental DNA of this bill is designed to make access to information more difficult for Canadians. That is not me talking, that is the Information Commissioner, aboriginal groups, and advocates across the political spectrum who say that things will get worse under this law.

This is the sense of entitlement. This is a hypocritical approach to politics that discourages Canadians so fundamentally. If Liberals are sincere about working with the opposition, they would amend the bill based on the evidence we heard, rather than their own world view, which will make it so much more difficult for Canadians to hold truth to power.

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 1:50 p.m.
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NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to follow my impassioned colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley. I wish I had the same level of anger. I should, but today I really come to this debate with absolute sadness at the missed opportunity before us in Bill C-58.

When the Liberals introduced this legislation, they called it in their press release “the most comprehensive reform of Access to Information in a generation”. It sure was not.

I want to talk about what the Civil Liberties Association has said, what first nations have said, what trade unions have said, what journalists have said, all of which has been to pan this effort as an appalling waste of time.

I could not do better than to quote my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley, who in turn quoted the Information Commissioner, who has the most expertise of anyone on the bill. She said has said it is “regressive”. She has said to Canadians that if the bill were not significantly amended, “I would much prefer to keep the status quo”, namely, the Stephen Harper version of access to information than the one before us. That must be so galling for Liberals to hear. Then we heard today in the House, “Oh, no, that was before the wonderful amendments we brought in, which have made it all better so we should not be concerned”, referring to all those people who had concerns.

They have not made it right. They have made cosmetic changes to minor parts of the bill that make no difference to the main event, which has always been the exceptions to the rule of disclosure, the exceptions that carve away the right that was given in the main section of the bill, and those exceptions were not touched.

In committee I introduced on behalf of the NDP a dozen or more amendments to the exceptions, and not one was accepted. There were 20 amendments in total, but in regard to the exceptions, there were about a dozen amendments that many activists have talked about. This is not radical stuff. The Information Commissioner told us to suggest those amendments, not to make the bill regressive, but to make it better. How many of those were accepted? Zero.

The government has the gall to stand here before Canadians and take credit for something that is such an absolute farce. I find it appalling that we are in this position.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity, indeed the honour, to stand with five chiefs from across this great country who do research on residential school settlements, on grievances involving specific claims, on land claims generally, including cut-off land claims. Every single one of them said they were not consulted and that this law would make things worse. I thought no relationship was more important to the Prime Minister than with first nations. One could have heard a pin drop in that press conference as one after another stood up to castigate the Liberal government for yet another broken promise.

This is not just another bill. This is what the courts have termed “quasi-constitutional” legislation, in this case dealing with the essential right to know in a democracy. If we do not know what is going on and cannot find out, we live in a totalitarian state.

Back in the 1980s, the government at the time finally introduced an access to information bill, and a generation later it has ossified. It is legislation that no longer does the trick. The government did not even have computers in active use back then, so clearly things needed to change, and yet the changes the current government has proposed involve things like getting access to ministers' mandate letters.

Moreover, now the government can tell us what we want to know under something called “proactive disclosure”. Far be it for me to criticize making more information available, but proactive disclosure will involve the government letting us know by what it puts on a website, as if that were somehow the same as a person making a request to the Prime Minister's Office for information, as was done during the sponsorship scandal when The Globe and Mail and Daniel Leblanc told Canadians about the abuses of their tax dollars. That is because they had the right to make a request and, finally, ATIP delivered.

The government therefore wants to conflate access to information and proactive disclosure, a doctrine that has been around for many years in most provinces and in the federal government. It has been put in a statute and we are supposed to think it is the most comprehensive reform of access to information in a generation. It is just absurd.

I care deeply about this. I did my graduate work on freedom of information. I drafted the B.C. legislation and the Yukon legislation. I know when Canadians are being hoodwinked, and they are being hoodwinked by the bill before us. I think it needs to be withdrawn, and we need to do it right for Canadians. The experts are unanimous that the bill is in dire need of reform because the bill basically only codifies existing practices.

British Columbia and most of the provinces have a very simple way of enabling an information commissioner to order the disclosure of information. After a few days, if the government does not choose to judicially review the order of the commissioner, it is the law, and the government shall disclose it. I invite members to look at the so-called order-making power in the bill to see if they can figure it out, because the Information Commission does not believe it to be anything like what the term “order-making powers” would suggest.

Interestingly, I believe that the only private member's bill the Prime Minister sponsored when he was in opposition was on reforming the access to information and privacy acts. On the Access to Information Act, one of the specific things he wanted to do was to make ministers' offices open, which is to say that one could make a request and the office should respond, and likewise the Prime Minster's Office.

I will say it again, the government is conflating proactive disclosure, namely what it wants to tell us, and the ability of any citizen to ask for information and have the Information Commissioner order it disclosed. That is how it works in my province of British Columbia, and it works very well. Most of the time, cases are settled. Ninety-some percent of cases over the decades have been resolved through mediation. This need not be expensive. It need not be convoluted.

However, the government has provided something like a camel invented by committee. A horse invented by committee is a camel, and the bill before us is a camel. What if people wanted to know, for example, about the Prime Minister's Christmas vacations or whether a minister's villa were held within a private company? Would they be able to ask for that information? Well, it would not be proactively disclosed, I do not believe, which, of course, is one of the crucial difficulties with the proposed legislation.

Canadians also need to know that the government has not abolished the $5 fee, which is a tollgate on citizens' right to access. How much does it cost to cash a cheque for $5? It is $55. This is our government in action, which is why Canadians are basically paying millions of dollars to deny information to other Canadians. There is no duty to document, as requested by the commissioner. The exemptions have not changed, as I indicated, and every academic and every researcher comes down hard on this legislation. We know we are in trouble when the Canadian Association of Research Libraries comes down hard on a bill like this.

I want to end by saying, would it not be nice if quasi-constitutional legislation involving privacy and our rights to information were somehow taken more seriously, that we had an opportunity to really engage in debate at committee and, as a generational change, to get it right? Unfortunately, the government is about to deprive us of that right. The Liberals have used time allocation to bring down the guillotine so that we will not have any more opportunity to discuss this quasi-constitutional legislation in this place. It is a travesty. It is appalling. Canadians deserve better.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 3:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the good member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo.

It is often said that image is everything. I share that observation because never before in modern day Canadian history have we witnessed a prime minister who is as image conscious as the member for Papineau is. I am not here today to debate the merits or lack thereof of that point, but rather to point out how that branding exercise led us to Bill C-58.

For those who were not here in the previous Parliament, I shall indulge a little. Shortly after becoming the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, the member for Papineau was creating his brand. Part of that brand, and we hear it all the time, was the “sunlight is the best disinfectant” routine. It played well in the Liberal narrative that the former prime minister led the most secretive government in Canada's history, so the member for Papineau introduced a private member's bill to highlight that.

As some will know, during the last election the Liberals again made many of the same open government style promises, similar to what was in the Prime Minister's earlier private member's bill. As usual, these promises used many of the correct buzzwords. They looked good. They sounded good. There was only one problem: the Liberals got elected and now those promises have to be fulfilled.

That leads to our second problem. Bill C-58 does not do exactly that. In fact, it fails so badly that the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada stated in the headline of a news release that “Bill C-58 results in a regression of the rights to access to information”. If we think about that statement for a moment, it is not by a member of Her Majesty's loyal opposition, or the third party, but from the office of an independent officer of Parliament.

Not only that, the bill actually breaks the Prime Minister's own commitments. Despite the commitment to apply access to information laws to the Prime Minister's Office and his cabinet ministers, they all get a pass. It is yet another example of there being one set of rules for everyone else, but a look-the-other-way clause when it comes to the most senior Liberal insiders. That is a growing problem with how the Prime Minister and his small, elite inner circle does things. Many of our constituents are becoming tired of it.

I was not a supporter of the Prime Minister's earlier private member's bill. As I was the parliamentary secretary to the president of the Treasury Board at that time, I was aware that some of the proposed measures were administratively problematic, and I came into this place and said as much.

The problem here is that those challenges were always well known, but in spite of them, the Prime Minister was happy to campaign on them and promise them anyway. Therefore, like many of those priorities and promises, they get thrown by the wayside now that the Prime Minister and his small inner circle control the levers of power.

That is not principled leadership. To promise things one can deliver on, but chooses not to do so is a betrayal. There are other words to describe that, but I would never want to be unparliamentary.

Here we are. We have a bill that the Information Commissioner essentially condemns. Virtually all of those who frequently make access to information requests and use the ATIP legislation have also widely condemned the bill. In fact, during my research, I could find no significant support for the bill whatsoever. If there is, I would really like to hear government members say so. Basically, all expert opinion gives it a fail. It does not meet the promises the Prime Minister made.

In fact, The Globe and Mail reports that Canada's access to information system has become worse under the Liberal Prime Minister. We all know that the bill would not fix that. Many experts suggest that it will only make things worse.

I will not suggest the last government was perfect on the subject either, but we were on the right track. In 2013, the former government released nearly six million pages of information to Canadians, an increase of over a million and a half pages over the preceding year.

Under Bill C-58, we will have a law that says the Prime Minister's office and his ministers can tell Canadians to pound sand when it comes to access to information requests. Keep this in mind. This is the same Prime Minister who was happy to build his brand and score points after promising he would do the exact opposite.

I will again ask the question I recently asked. The Prime Minister, as we all know, came into this place and said “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” Why did he say that? Did he say it because it was politically convenient to do so at the time? Did he say it because it showed the principle should only apply to everyone else but himself and his ministers? Did he say it because it happened to be true?

Before I close, I will ask a question. Right now we have a very serious situation where single parents, primarily single mothers, are being unfairly targeted by the Canada Revenue Agency. As a result, in many cases, their Canada child benefits are being delayed, denied, or even clawed back in some cases. We also know that those with type 1 diabetes are also being disturbingly targeted by CRA.

I will credit many backbench Liberal MPs who I know are just as concerned about this situation as I am. I also know that several of them are reaching out to try to help some of those who are being unfairly targeted by this. Some have even stated publicly that they are also concerned.

The ultimate challenge is this. What is the minister going to do to solve this problem? Ultimately that is where the problem is. Thanks to Bill C-58, we will never know. That may be good enough for some. It certainly was not good enough for the member for Papineau, when he was handing out gift bags of election promises, a continued pattern of broken promises that results in one level of rules for senior Liberal insiders and another set for everyone else not the sunlight of disinfectant the Prime Minister promised.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 3:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Madam Speaker, I heard the member during question period, and he asks a great lob question.

In 2009-10, we invested in access to information. It was a 10% increase, which saw, by the time 2013 came around, a reduction in the amount of time it took to get access to information requests. We were improving that record.

The bill would make it easier for someone to call it vexatious request and to deny the request for that reason. When he was a member of Parliament in the third party in the corner, the Prime Minister put forward a swath of propositions to improve the system, campaigned on them, and, in his own mandate tracker, has said that the Liberals are on track to do them, when the bill would do nothing for it.

By the Liberals' standards of transparency, the mandate tracker and Bill C-58 leave much to be desired.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 3:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC

Madam Speaker, first, I would like to point out the quote I gave from the Information Commissioner, an officer of this Parliament. She says, “Bill C-58 results in a regression of the rights of access for information.”

No credible third parties have said that Bill C-58 will deliver specifically on what the member and his government campaigned. If he wants to say that Bill C-58 will revolutionize access to information, we would think someone out there in civil society would support the government. I do not see that. I do not hear that. Could it be because there is no one?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 3:20 p.m.
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NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Madam Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, at the conclusion of today's debate on the motion for third 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, every question necessary to dispose of the said motion shall be deemed put, and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until the expiry of the time provided for Oral Questions on Wednesday, December 6, 2017.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 3:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise to add some comments to the debate today. I am not pleased to rise to add comments, because, again, we have before us legislation that certainly does not live up to the standards the government has set for itself, and is significantly flawed.

One of the most concerning things about the legislation is this, and it is important for the listeners to hear is this. If the Liberals think the legislation is right, they should also listen.

This is from Suzanne Legault, the Ethics Commissioner. She said:

When I was preparing for this committee, I went back to the request that was made by Daniel Leblanc, the journalist who uncovered the sponsorship scandal. That request would not have met the...requirement under Bill C-58.

As people might recall, the sponsorship scandal was a Liberal scandal. Millions of taxpayer dollars were diverted. Therefore, for the Liberals to have legislation before us that they are saying is adding benefit and value, when Suzanne Legault says that about it, we wonder what they are trying to do and what they are trying to hide.

The amendments to Canada's Access to Information Act will affect every organization that shares information with the federal government and every individual who wants access to that information. While the Liberals are claiming to improve the act, the content of the bill is not only deficient in truly bringing the act forward, but it also opens a lot of loopholes for the Liberal government to refuse to process certain information.

I will look at something that has been happening over the last few days.

This morning I was at the AFN conference and I listened to the minister speak. She talked about how long comprehensive and specific land claims took and how that was unacceptable to the government. She talked about needing a process that moved forward in a more robust way to recognize aboriginal title rights and to resolve these long-standing issues. On the other hand, and this was quite ironic, she said this to the assembly of chiefs, that today we were debating this legislation in the House.

This is what some very important indigenous organizations have said about this.

The National Claims Research Directors stated:

Bill C-58 will greatly impair the ability of First Nations to document their claims, grievances, and disputes with the Government of Canada and will significantly impede First Nations’ access to justice in resolving their claims. The Bill...significantly undermines First Nations’ existing rights of access to information.

That hardly sounds like the commitment the minister made this morning to the chiefs, to have a bill before the House that would significantly impact their ability to do the very thing that she said needed to move forward in an expeditious way.

The Office of the Auditor General of Canada recently conducted an audit of Canada's specific claim process. The OAG report, released in November 2016, concluded that Canada's Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs introduced numerous barriers that hindered the resolution of claims, including by restricting information.

Therefore, if passed into law, Bill C-58 will impose substantive new barriers to the resolution of first nation claims. It will also provide legislative authority for the suppression of evidence, which first nations require to pursue their claims against Canada. Revisions to the act will enshrine into legislation overly prescriptive and inappropriate requirements for applicants seeking records, as well as providing legislative grounds for government bodies to deny access to records that are vital to first nations.

Therefore, it is important to look at what the government has said it will do and what it actually does when it puts legislation forward. This is truly another broken promise by the Liberal government.

During their election campaign, the Liberals claimed they would extend the act so it applied to the Prime Minister's and ministers' offices. However, that will not be the case.

Katie Gibbs, executive director of Evidence for Democracy, has stated:

By excluding the ability to request information from ministers' offices and the PMO, this government falls short of meeting their campaign promise to make government “open by default”.

Moreover, this legislation would enable the government to refuse any access to information requests if it believes they are vexatious, made in bad faith, or a misuse of the right to request information. Refusal to respond to a request will be subject to a right of complaint to the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner will have the power to force communication of every document or part of it under the control of federal institutions.

A government that chooses what to publish and when is not democratic and cannot be accountable to its citizens. That is fundamental. For all their talk about sunshine being a disinfectant, the Liberals have introduced darkness through the back door.

In a democratic state, a government should be open and transparent to its citizens, so why are the Liberals going out of their way to hide behind closed doors and refusing Canadians the right to fundamental information?

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, states:

The bill take a step backwards in allowing government officials to deny requests for information if they think the request is frivolous or made in bad faith. Public officials should not be given this power, as they will likely use it as a new loophole to deny the public information it has a right to know.

I am going to tell the House about a personal situation closer to home. I have a constituent who faced a significant small business challenge, and while he was in Ottawa he met with a number of different folks within the government, including some policy advisers. He needed to get some information from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. He was facing a difficult situation, and when he looked into getting information, he was told that it would take 479 days to obtain what he needed. He would have to wait one year and 4 months to obtain information that was critical for his business, and not only his livelihood, but the livelihoods of his many employees.

Despite the promise to be more transparent, the Trudeau government is failing. As the Toronto Star has stated:

The national freedom of information audit found the federal access system is bogged down to the point where, in many cases, it simply doesn’t work....

The researchers found the federal system continues to be far slower and less responsive than provincial and municipal freedom of information regimes....

Just one-quarter of requests to federal government departments, agencies and Crown corporations were answered within the 30-day limit. One-third of the requests had not received a response by the end of the audit, which means those requests were outstanding for three months or more, with most closer to four months. The RCMP, Health Canada and National Defence were three institutions that cited large backlogs of requests, leading to bottlenecks and delayed responses. Information on pages eventually released under the federal access law can be blacked out for a variety of reasons including national security, legal privilege and commercial confidentiality.

They would get stuff that was totally blacked out.

Clearly the system is not working. The Liberal government committed to fixing the system and, quite frankly, it has made it much worse.

The Liberals issued their own mandate tracker, which has been quickly derided, but gave themselves an A+ for moving this legislation forward and telling Canadians how valuable, important, and great it would be in terms of new transparency. That is completely inaccurate.

I started my remarks by saying if this were in place and if it had cut off the initial investigation of the sponsorship scandal, then it is clearly not a piece of legislation that should pass through the House.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 3:30 p.m.
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Conservative

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

Madam Speaker, to follow up on the exchange between my colleague on the Liberal side and my friend from British Columbia, the Liberals seem to be saying that these changes in Bill C-58 will increase transparency and assist Canadians in getting more information from their own government. In fact, it seems to be far more regressive than anything we have seen in the last 34 years.

Does my colleague from British Columbia think that if the changes in Bill C-58 are legislated, it would mean that the government would, on its own volition, be able to determine what information it chooses to give to Canadians?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 3:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Madam Speaker, I recently became chair of the access to information, privacy and ethics committee, where this bill was brought. We talked about all of its positives, which were few, and many of its shortcomings. The shortcomings were highlighted by the many witnesses we heard from.

I think the most significant would be the commissioner herself, who said:

When I was preparing for this committee, I went back to the request that was made by Daniel Leblanc, the journalist who uncovered the sponsorship scandal. That request would not have met the new requirement under Bill C-58.

That highlights what I want to speak to today. We have heard many talking points. It is one thing to actually be in committee and hear all the testimony exposing all of the problems with Bill C-58, but another to hear other members regurgitate talking points that just demonstrate their lack of knowledge of the opposition to the bill.

That is what I want to point out today, the contrast between that and a government that came in with sunny ways and wanted to have sunlight shining on problems to highlight issues.

I neglected to announce that I will be sharing my time with the member for Kitchener—Conestoga.

What I think people watching this debate today need to understand is that they have been sold the idea that the government is more open and accountable, and that what is really happening is the opposite. What is happening through Bill C-58 is actually more cover-up, from ministers' offices, the Prime Minister's staff, etc.

We are going to see more cover-up and more protection of information. Frankly, as the commissioner mentioned, access to information is why we found out about the sponsorship scandal, and why a previous Liberal government failed and did not get re-elected, because of that particular scandal and the really bad things that were happening that we found out about as a result of that information.

I am just going to read through a few quotes for the benefit of those watching today, from a few of the people who oppose the bill. It is not just Conservatives who are opposed to this, or New Democrats, although both parties are. It is groups outside this place who have spoken against it. I will first cite one particular quote by Mr. Marleau, the information commissioner from 2007-09:

For the ministries, there's no one to review what they choose not to disclose, and I think that goes against the principle of the statute.

He further stated:

They’ve taken the commissioner out of the loop. If you ask for these briefing notes, and you’ve got them and they were redacted, you had someone to appeal to. So there’s no appeal. You can’t even go to a court. It’s one step forward, two steps back.

Again, let us let that sink in a little. Liberals give the illusion that they are moving forward on the issue, and, really, they are moving backwards. It is deliberate, because they want to cover up or have the ability to cover up some things being communicated in the Prime Minister's Office.

Again, I have another quote, this time from Vincent Gogolek, another individual speaking against this bill:

All they have to do is claim it’s a cabinet document, and then with her new improved powers she still can’t look at it, which is ridiculous.... So, when in doubt, call it a cabinet document. That’s the big problem, and that remains untouched.

All that needs to be said about a particular document in government is that it is a cabinet document, and therefore black ink will go across it whenever it is requested. Again, it is one thing to say this about any particular government that does not make claims about being more open and accountability, but another to say it about a government that campaigned on being more open and accountable. This is what the Prime Minister's schtick was about: sunny ways and shining a light where there previously were shadows. It is is simply a bait-and-switch. It is saying one thing and doing another.

I have another quote, this time by Katie Gibbs, executive director of the Evidence for Democracy Group, who said:

By excluding the ability to request information from ministers' offices and the PMO, this government falls short of meeting their campaign promise to make government 'open by default'....

Moreover, the possibility of refusing certain access to information requests on an undefined basis jeopardizes the transparency and openness of the government.

Once again, another person outside this place is saying that the proposed legislation is supposed to be doing one thing, but it is doing completely the other. It is causing more cover-up to be possible rather than exposing the truth.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, said that the bill proposes good amendments by requiring a more proactive publication of some information and giving the information commissioner the power to order the publication of some information, but it does nothing to fill the huge gaps in the act as was promised by the Liberals. Therefore, we need more changes to have a government which is transparent and open by default.

Let us think about the sponsorship scandal and the evidence that was being put forward, and the government just saying no, that it is not going to talk about it.

Mr. Conacher says the bill is “a step backwards in allowing government officials to deny requests for information if they think the request is frivolous or made in bad faith.” Public servants should not have this authority, because “they will likely use it as a new loophole to deny the public information it has a right to know.

I will speak as chair of the access to information, privacy and ethics committee. Some of the information that was brought before committee really attempted changes based on the recommendations. It was our party's position to support the recommendations of the Information Commissioner, and there are several. It was our position to see those go through. Well, the bill was not changed. The bill has not been significantly changed, and therefore it is still a problem for us.

I was hopeful that the Liberals would take the Information Commissioner's recommendations and understand that maybe it was a flawed document initially, which they would now fix. However, that did not happen in committee, and I want Parliament and people watching today to understand that. Again, the government is saying one thing and doing another.

An article in iPolitics by Steve Mayer is entitled “Liberals shockingly timid on access-to-information reform”. This does not sound like a government that wants to change access to information in a positive way. It sounds like it is going the other way, as I said before. However, the article reads:

We don’t really know, though, because the emails that would tell the tale are in the inboxes of the prime minister’s staff, and the Access to Information Act does not apply to ministerial staff...What the government has decided to do is not what Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault recommended, which is to have Access-to-information officers determine whether emails and memos from ministerial staff are political or parliamentary (in which case they would remain confidential)

The commissioner does not even have the ability to decide which is which. It is all in the hands of the Prime Minister's Office and ministers.

The article continues with:

or pertain to running a department (in which case they would be releasable). Instead of doing that — which is what they promised —

Again, this is an article talking about what the Liberals said they were going to do in Bill C-58. It continues with:

[the minister's] changes to the act would provide for the proactive disclosure of documents — briefing books and notes for question period — that until now have been released only in response to requests.

This means many useful documents will be released routinely, and it follows similar measures that Trudeau began in opposition, when he unilaterally released personal financial information and got his MPs to start posting their expenses online.

Again, the article is not criticizing him for the positive steps that he has made, but certainly the cover-up continues.

As chair of the committee, there was a hope that this would be something that the Liberals would follow through on and take the recommendations of the Information Commissioner. However, we saw quite a different story. We saw a government that would talk one game in front of the cameras and one game on the campaign trail, but when it came to making solid legislation that would expose those shadows that I had mentioned, it did the complete opposite and would give the ability for ministers to shadow even more information.

Sadly, this is what we are debating today. I hope the government does see sunnier ways and votes against Bill C-58.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 3:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Madam Speaker, I have said that it is not doing what it is purporting to do in exposing those shadows. That is the biggest thing that let me down. I have always said in past campaigns that if it is a good idea, it is a good idea regardless of whether it comes from an NDP member, a Liberal member, or a Conservative member. If it is a good idea, it is a good idea. If there is truly this open and accountable government and we want to shine a light where it needs to be shone, I am absolutely supportive. We are deeply disappointed it did not go where the government promised it would go in Bill C-58 and that is unfortunate.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 3:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-58 and, in the words of our Prime Minister, shed some light on this less-than-true statement that members opposite have been making regarding this legislation.

Let us look at the mandate letter that was given to the Minister of Finance in November 2015. The Prime Minister wrote:

We have promised Canadians a government that will bring real change – in both what we do and how we do it.

That sure has changed. The Information Commissioner has been clear: this bill sets us back decades in terms of openness and transparency. I will share more of the Information Commissioner's thoughts a bit later in my remarks.

The Prime Minister went on to write in his mandate letter to the finance minister:

I expect Canadians to hold us accountable for delivering these commitments, and I expect all ministers to do their part....

We have also committed to set a higher bar for openness and transparency in government.

There has never been a more perfect example of how the current government is all style and no substance than this one, focusing on rhetoric and platitudes more than actual substance. This has to take the cake. The Liberals love to throw around terms like “openness and transparency” when in reality they are, through this legislation, making it harder for Canadians to access information under the current government. As members know, often the debates here in the House can be tainted with partisan political positioning, so rather than sharing my thoughts on the legislation, please allow me to read into the record parts of the Information Commissioner of Canada's report, titled “Failing to Strike the Right Balance for Transparency”. The commissioner stated:

The Liberal government was elected on a platform of openness and transparency, promising to renew Canadians’ trust in their government. At the beginning of its mandate, it committed to lead a review of the outdated Access to Information Act to enhance the openness of government.

Initial policy changes from the government, such as the elimination of all fees except the $5 application fee, were early indicators of positive change. Like many Canadians, I was hopeful that the government would follow through on its promise and introduce significant improvements to the Act.

Just before Parliament’s 2017 summer break, the government tabled Bill C-58, which amends the Access to Information Act.

In short, Bill C-58 fails to deliver.

These are the Information Commissioner's words, they are not mine. I hope that members of the Liberal government will not be disregarding the comments of an independent, non-partisan officer of Parliament.

The commissioner went on to write:

The government promised the bill would ensure the Act applies to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices appropriately. It does not.

The government promised the bill would apply appropriately to administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts. It does not.

The government promised the bill would empower the Information Commissioner to order the release of government information. It does not.

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

It imposes added obligations on requesters when making a request, adds new grounds for institutions to decline to act in response to requests, reintroduces the possibility of various fees, and, for some information, replaces the right of access and independent oversight with proactive disclosure. It allows the government to decide what information Canadians can obtain, rather than letting Canadians decide for themselves.

I might add that this is the Liberal philosophy: Government knows best what is good for Canadians. It is insulting, it is elitist, and it is arrogant.

More from the Information Commissioner's report:

It also introduces an oversight model where the Commissioner is not truly empowered to order the disclosure of information, and adds burdensome stages to the investigation process that may lead to delays. It does not take advantage of any of the benefits of a true order-making model.

Recent reviews of the Access to Information Act from myself and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics...have proposed amendments that are required to modernize the Act. These recommendations have largely been ignored in Bill C-58.

So much for consultation. So much for openness and transparency. So much for sunny ways. So much for sunshine being the best disinfectant.

Had the changes that the Liberals are ramming through today been in effect in the early 2000s, we would never have found out about the Liberal sponsorship scandal. It makes one wonder what exactly the goal is of the current government in introducing such archaic legislation. What does it have to hide today?

The government acts as if the measures it is taking regarding proactive disclosure in this piece of legislation are somehow groundbreaking. The reality is that the majority of information was already available either online or through access to information under previous governments.

The Liberals are trying to buy off Canadians with promising to proactively disclose how much a minister's steak dinner costs, while taking away their right to request information that could be embarrassing for the government. They give the rights to departments to deny access to information requests that they find to be vexatious or made in bad faith. Who gets to make the judgment as to what is vexatious or made in bad faith? Why, the Liberal government, of course.

I have been serving in opposition for over two years now, and one does not have to look too far into the past to see how thin-skinned the Liberal government is when it comes to asking it tough questions. We can look at the finance minister as an example. For the past several weeks, we have been asking on this side of the House for the finance minister to open up and be honest with Canadians regarding his assets. What does the finance minister do? He threatens to sue members of the opposition. One has to wonder how many journalists and Canadians will be threatened similarly by the finance minister, if he thinks their access to information request is vexatious or made in bad faith.

However, enough about Liberals, let us look at our Conservative government's accomplishments regarding access to information. On November 6, 2014, our government launched the action plan on open government 2.0. The action plan specified ways that the federal government was working toward creating more open and transparent government while maximizing the sharing of government information and data.

Key accomplishments include, one, the next generation open data portal that was launched in June 2013. This new portal was built based on broad public consultations with users to define new capabilities. Enhancements were made to expand the availability of high-value data, improve data integrity, enrich the usability of the site, facilitate intuitive discovery of data, and increase user engagement.

Second was on modernization of access to information services. These online services were launched in 2013 to enable Canadians to search completed ATI requests across all federal departments through a single search interface, and to submit new access to information requests via the web.

Third, in 2013, we issued a new open government licence for all levels of government in order to remove barriers to the reuse of published government data and information, regardless of origin. This licence has also been adopted by several provincial governments and municipalities across the country.

Fourth, we introduced a new government-wide web portal at Canada.ca that improved intuitive navigation features to help Canadians find information they need more quickly and easily. The portal enables users to quickly complete tasks, features government-wide search capabilities, better use of social media, and optimizes content for mobile devices.

In February 2014, we held the largest competitive open data hackathon in Canadian history, bringing together over 900 developers, students, and open data enthusiasts from across Canada to develop over 100 innovative applications using federal data.

Our Conservative government was also promoting transparency in public institutions and supporting taxpayers and hard-working Canadians through our support for private member's Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations). This important legislation would help to ensure greater transparency and accountability for labour unions by requiring them to publish their financial disclosures online for Canadians to examine. However, we know that these changes have been reversed.

No government is better at patting itself on the back than the current Liberal government. However, it is clear that while the government has been pumping out talking points about openness and transparency, the reality is that it is taking Canada down a very dark path.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise on Bill C-58, and to go down this path once again on how we got to where we are today. To those in the gallery and those listening at home, it probably seems like we hit pause, rewind, then play, time and again. This debate is back again, and we will hear some of the same arguments we have had time and again.

I want to refresh, for those who are in the House today, as well as those listening, how we got to this point. I believe it was day 10 of the 2015 election campaign where the member for Papineau, now our Prime Minister, made a campaign pledge that, under his leadership, the Government of Canada would become the most open and transparent government in Canadian history. A mere two years later, we have slid backwards. Now we have a bill such as Bill C-58 that not just the media, but former information commissioners are saying is a step backward, a sign of decline in this government's transparency.

It is interesting. There are some things I will discuss along the way, and what do they have in common? What they have in common is that if access to information were not available, Canadians would not have found out about these issues. The access to information process is there.

Again, I will remind the House of why we are here. We seem to always have to remind our friends across the way, the government, that the House does not belong to them or to me. The House belongs to Canadians, those who elected us to be here, to be their voices, from the 338 ridings across Canada. We are here to deliver their voices to Ottawa, not the other way around.

If Canadians have questions about what the government is doing, access to information is a tool that the opposition and the media can use to find out some of the real answers. We get talking points but not a lot of answers during question period, and access to information allows us to dig deep and find some of the answers.

I will give a few examples that we have dealt with over the last two years. About a year ago, around this time, maybe a little later in the month, there was a holiday trip taken by our Prime Minister and his family. Again, I will be on record to say that I never begrudge anyone spending time with their family and going away and enjoying time. We work very hard. However, when the taxpayers pay for it, Canadians should know how much money is being spent. There are costs incurred along the way. The only way that the real costs of the Aga Khan trip were made public was through access to information. If Bill C-58 had been in place, would Canadians have found out what the costs had been, or that our Prime Minister perhaps had some bad advice along the way? He blames others, of course. It is not ever his mistake or problem, it is others who are giving him bad advice. Therefore, access to information has protected us there.

That same year, in 2016, we found out that another cabinet minister had a preferred choice of transportation when she was back in her riding. Again, the taxpayers were on the hook for that. It was a limo, or sedan, or whatever it was called, that we were talking about.

How did we find that out? How did Canadians find that out? It was through access to information.

The other one that came up was the government's plan to introduce a carbon tax. Many people, including experts who are in the field, said that the carbon tax would not be revenue neutral. It would be a cash grab, and even at $50 a tonne, it would not allow Canada to reach its target. How did we find that out? An internal departmental memo highlighted that for us.

If we listen to the talking points the ministers spew during question period, and indeed in their media scrums, everything is fine, and we should trust them, because they know what is best for us. However, when we dig deeper and have that opportunity to really look at some of the departmental information, we really get the truth.

Another one we have been dealing with over the last few weeks is the ethical conundrum the Minister of Finance finds himself in. The information that has come out is from the opposition a bit and from the public and the media that have done some digging, through access to information.

There is another one that came out. Shortly after the 2015 election, the Prime Minister was building his team and was perhaps moving some high-priced friends here to work in Ottawa. Moving here from Toronto, the GTA, would appear to be fairly expensive, because I believe the costs were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for a couple of staff members. After that information came out and was made public, I think most members in the House, and perhaps the people in the gallery, will remember that some of those dollars were paid back, because the Liberals said they erred in their ways, or perhaps, as the finance minister has said in terms of some of his challenges, it was an administrative error.

I am going to use a very recent issue that has come to light. The Minister of National Revenue has denied, a lot, over the last couple of weeks that there have been changes to the diabetic tax credit, despite all the letters and the meetings we have had with constituents. On this side of the House, I believe all of the opposition is on the same page with this one. Diabetics right across Canada are having challenges getting their tax credit. However, despite this revenue minister standing up, banging her fist on the table, and vehemently denying that there has been any change, guess what? Through an access to information request, we have now found out that indeed a memo has gone out. Not only has it gone out within her department, it has gone out to other departments, letting them know that there were indeed some challenges and that this tax credit has changed.

If Bill C-58 was in place today, we would not know about those ideas and issues I just brought up. It would be great for the Prime Minister, his cabinet, and his team, because they would not have such long-looking faces on the backbench. It is not sunny ways across the way anymore. It is cloudy ways right across the front bench. The poor backbench and the parliamentary secretaries are having to come in and answer all the questions for the ministers. I think some of those parliamentary secretaries, not all of them, are really earning their keep, because they are having to answer these questions for these ministers who keep making these ethical mistakes. Only through access to information are Canadians really finding out about them.

For those who are tuning in, Bill C-58 is not really about opening up and being more open and transparent. As a matter of fact, it is a step backward. When the Prime Minister was campaigning, he said that his government would be the most open and transparent government in Canadian history. Let us pump the brakes a little on that, because once he got in, once he had 39% of Canadians' votes, he changed that.

He said he was just kidding. He did not really expect to get in. They could not have Canadians knowing what they are doing or what their ministers are doing and that they are not going to have access to that.

Maybe they have made some amendments to Bill C-58 that are good, but they are failing Canadians on their biggest promise, which was to make the government more open and transparent, including the Prime Minister's Office and the cabinet ministers' offices. As it sits today, if Bill C-58 passed, the minister of a department could decide that a request was vexatious and frivolous. A minister could see that a media outlet or a member of Parliament or an opposition member had signed numerous access to information requests and could decide that perhaps he or she was unfairly targeting that department, so that minister would deny them.

That is unacceptable, because we are not here for ourselves. We are here for the Canadians who elected us. They are the electors in my riding of Cariboo—Prince George. I feel so fortunate to be here, and hopefully we have made them proud as we stand up every day and fight. We fight hard in delivering the voice of the Cariboo to Ottawa, not the other way around. I know that my constituents want us to make sure that we are fighting all the time, that we are holding the government accountable, and that it cannot do the unethical things it has done to this point.

The Liberals want to rush Bill C-58 in. I am sure that as we move forward, this is really a stopgap. I remind members that for the first time in Canadian history, we have a Prime Minister under investigation. We have a finance minister who has two investigations. I think there could be more coming down the wire.

Despite their standing up, hand on heart, saying that the finance minister has followed the letter of the law and what the Ethics Commissioner told him right from day one, we know that it is not true. I have not been up in question period very much on this. That is the job of other members of our team. If they had followed the Ethics Commissioner's rules, would the finance minister have two investigations going? Would he have been fined any money? Would he have been told, “You made a mistake”? He blamed it on an administrative error, saying, “Oops, I forgot my French villa.” I do not know about other people here, but if I had a French villa, I would not have forgotten about it.

That brings me to another point. When members of Parliament are elected, we all are held to a higher account. We all have to go through the same process. For the most part, that is right. In the mandate letters, the Prime Minister tasked his ministers to go above and beyond to withstand even the closest scrutiny. We all have to go through the steps and declare our assets and do what we have to do to satisfy the Ethics Commissioner's rules and guidelines. They are absolutely right about that, but ministers of the crown are actually held to a higher standard, especially those like the finance minister, which is perhaps one of the most powerful positions in Canada. It can influence markets through the policies the finance minister introduces. The Liberals say that he followed the letter of the law and always worked with the Ethics Commissioner. I think there is a bit of funny business going on, because if the minister had done that from day one, the Ethics Commissioner would not say that something does not smell right here and fine him. She only fined him a small amount, but she still fined him.

Essentially, he was found guilty, because he was fined for some form of unethical transgression--

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 4:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

We are not sure if he paid the fine.

The Liberals always blame the governments that have come before them for all the issues they have. They claim that the Conservatives did this or that or that the NDP is just as bad. They are always blaming people. They never take full responsibility. The other thing they say is to trust them.

Members may remember last spring when the Minister of Justice was in Toronto meeting with some high-priced lawyers. There was a bit of a conundrum there. There were questions about whether she was there as a member of Parliament or there as the Minister of Justice who was looking to make some appointments. It was a pay-to-play event. The minister had to come before us. I do not think we got an apology.

My grandmother used to say if it looks like a duck, smells like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck.

There are some things we have seen over the last two years with the Liberal government that are just odd. Arrogance is one. We have a millionaire Prime Minister. I do not know whether our finance minister is a millionaire, a multi-millionaire, or a billionaire. Both are embroiled in some ethical scandals. That they sit there smugly is disappointing.

I know that there are good people on each side of the House. There are government members on the backbenches. When those two were up and the questions were going on, and it came up that the finance minister's father even sold shares at one point days before some legislation was tabled, we could see the members' faces. Oh no, not again. The reason Bill C-58 is so important and why the Liberals are rushing it is so Canadians cannot find that out. The government wants to shut it down. They want to pick and choose what Canadians see and hear. That is disappointing.

I am a first-term member of Parliament, and I have enjoyed every minute of my time here. There are great people on all sides of the House. One learns a lot from every member of Parliament. I really believe that members on the front bench of the government, cabinet members, have let the backbench down. They are the leaders within that caucus. We just heard one minister today make some terrible comments to some thalidomide victims. Time and again we see these missteps.

During the campaign, the Liberals said they were ready. They made promises. Let us talk about the one big promise they made. They said they were going to have only a $10-billion deficit. Where are we now with that? It is gone. It went right out the window. Does anyone remember their promise about electoral reform? That is another promise that is gone.

I have 29 seconds to go. I know I am going to get some great questions, because members opposite have been listening to me intently. I am ready for them.

Bill C-58 is not open and transparent. It is not sunny ways. It is cloudy ways. The cabinet and the Prime Minister are doing everything they can to slide back into a decade of darkness. They do not want Canadians to have the information they deserve.

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December 5th, 2017 / 4:30 p.m.
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NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Madam Speaker, having heard the previous Liberal question about this great bill, I will ask the member about four snappy quotes.

The first is, “The proposed reforms are just not good enough,” which was said by Toby Mendel, the executive director of the Centre for Law and Democracy.

The second is, “The bill take a step backwards”, which was said by Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch.

The third is, “Bill C-58 would actually make the Access to Information Act more difficult to use”, which was said by Mark Weiler, a distinguished librarian at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Finally, Bill C-58 “would result in a regression of existing rights.” Who said that? The Information Commissioner.

In the hon. member's somewhat broad-ranging remarks, he expressed his discontent with the bill. However, the Conservatives did nothing in 10 years in power and did not even introduce any amendments at committee. Have you no faith at all in the Liberals' ability to accept amendments, or are you reverting back to your pattern of not acting on this?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 4:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, first, I would invite my hon. colleague to visit my riding. My constituents are quite disappointed in the Liberal government. They know full well that Bill C-58 is under the guise of ensuring the Liberal government, the Prime Minister, and his cabinet are not going to be open and transparent with Canadians.

There are some things that Bill C-58 captures, but the Liberals can already do that. They do not need Bill C-58 for those.

Bill C-58 is a present wrapped up with a shiny bow and all that stuff. The sole purpose of it is to ensure the ministers and the Prime Minister have a say in what is made public. That is it.

For the hon. colleague to stand, which he does every day and I welcome his comments, and say that this is more open and transparent and that my constituents would be very happy with it, I welcome him to come to my riding and we will meet with the constituents one on one.