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 (House), as of Sept. 27, 2017

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 to decline to act on a request for access to a record for various reasons, including because it is vexatious or made in bad faith, and give the person who made the request the right to make a complaint to the Information Commissioner if their request is declined;

(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 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

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

September 26th, 2017 / 12:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in today's debate on Bill C-58.

The bill amends the 1983 Access to Information Act. Amendments to the act will affect organizations that share information with federal government institutions and people who want to access that information. It comes as no surprise that this Access to Information Act reform does not fulfill the Liberals' election promise to apply the act to ministers' offices and the PMO. That is the time-honoured Liberal way of doing things.

What is new here is that the government is implementing a proactive information disclosure regime. Under the new Access to Information Act, ministers' offices and the PMO will have to proactively publish several types of information.

Ethics and transparency matter to me, so I strongly condemn the fact that the Prime Minister is breaking yet another election promise. In fact, I find it offensive.

The Liberal government calls itself open and transparent, but it has once again missed an opportunity to prove it. It has failed to deliver the amendments it promised with respect to access to information from ministers' offices and the PMO.

Under our very eyes, the Liberals are being dishonest with Canadians and are once more seeking to make their decisions behind closed doors in order to make their friends rich and to hold on to power. This also reminds me of the marijuana legislation scandal last November when it was seriously suspected that the marijuana task force report was leaked before it was tabled. As if by chance, this benefited a company operated by the person responsible for the Liberal Party's finances. Oh, yes, that person is the co-founder of a company that produces marijuana and that saw its shares double in a week, even though the final report had not yet been released. We saw that the Minister of Justice was not too co-operative and did not want to face those facts.

Despite all their fine promises during the election campaign, the Liberals have failed to increase the government's openness and transparency. It is no exaggeration for me to add that, since the Liberals took office, even the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner has had a hard time overseeing and enforcing the guidelines in the document entitled ”Open and Accountable Government”, which, let us recall, comes from the Prime Minister himself.

This government is known for not walking the talk because it unscrupulously chooses what information to publish and when not to be accountable to Canadians. Once again, it is scandalous to see that only its cronies get preferential treatment.

How can the actions of such a government be described? It is easy, in fact. It is called the art of giving itself the power to refuse to respond to access to information requests when the government considers them embarrassing or shameful.

There is something to be ashamed of when one thinks of the scandal of the Prime Minister and his family vacationing down south at the Aga Khan's home at the expense of taxpayers. We received the information in dribs and drabs and waited more than eight months before finding out how much that luxury of the Prime Minister really cost us.

It is absolutely appalling that the changes proposed by the Liberals will ensure that even less information will be available to Canadians, and that they are obviously doing nothing to address the already unacceptable delays.

Monitoring this government is becoming virtually a full-time job because ethics is a value that it undeniably lacks.

I think the Liberals like to test limits. Not only did they give themselves the power to sidestep their duty to be transparent for Canadians, we know that they like to walk a fine line between conflict of interest and the appearance of conflict of interest, which is unacceptable for our Canadian democracy.

Last December, I had to raise this issue in an adjournment debate seeking to ensure that no preferential access or appearance of preferential access would be granted to individuals or organizations that have contributed to the Liberal Party at the many events where a parade of cabinet ministers have all the time in the world for their special friends who pay for preferential access.

I would like to remind members of the injustice, unethical behaviour, and lack of transparency.

It all began with the relocation costs of two employees and friends who work in the Prime Minister's Office. Their move cost Canadian taxpayers $200,000. Then we happened to get wind of a number of cocktail parties that cost $1,500 to get into, but guests could eat canapés, drink some good wine, and while they were at it, as I just mentioned, have privileged access to ministers and friends of the party in order to talk secretly about matters and issues that have to do with the portfolios of those ministers.

We also learned about the donation from a wealthy Chinese businessman, which made Canada a place where not only are ministers for sale or rent, but so is the Prime Minister. In exchange for a huge donation, he just might be able to get a foothold in our Canadian economy in any way he chooses.

Then there is the scandal involving the Minister of Justice, who turned blue in the face denying leaks from the task force on marijuana. Not only is the Liberal government and its Prime Minister irresponsible, but they are undermining our democracy in every sense of the word.

Once more, the Prime Minister thinks he is above the law and the obligation to be transparent. In our view, the Liberals are being dishonest with Canadians and are again trying to make decisions behind closed doors to make their friends rich and hold on to power.

We see that they have always favoured those who have the means to pay for the luxury of special treatment in true Liberal style.

Since the Liberals are unlikely to vote to put an end to this ethics and transparency scandal and to have the Prime Minister and the ministers take their duties seriously and with transparency, I would like to know what the government plans to do to put an end to this old Liberal practice.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 26th, 2017 / 12:25 p.m.
See context

Vancouver Quadra B.C.

Liberal

Joyce Murray LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I must say, that was a rather surprising speech. The Conservative MP started by criticizing Bill C-58 in its entirety. He then talked about a number of other things that have nothing to do with today's topic. For the first time, the Access to Information Act will be extended to include the Prime Minister's and ministers' offices. This bill gives the Information Commissioner the power to order government information to be released for the first time. We are making substantive amendments that will have the combined effect of reducing delays. There are a number of initiatives in addition to the powers of the Information Commissioner.

Does the member not feel that granting powers to the Information Commissioner is an improvement to our current access to information regime?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 26th, 2017 / 12:30 p.m.
See context

Northumberland—Peterborough South Ontario

Liberal

Kim Rudd LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the government about our efforts to strengthen our access to information system.

This government recognizes the importance of a robust access to information framework. We promised to deliver a modern and responsible access to information regime, because we are committed to upholding and strengthening the democratic principles of openness and transparency.

We recognize that Canadians cannot meaningfully participate in a democracy without having the information they need. Indeed, we believe that information Canadians paid for belongs to Canadians. They have every right to access it.

Bill C-58, a comprehensive set of amendments to the Access to Information Act, is designed to provide the openness and accountability Canadians expect. It would also bring greater transparency, open the doors for greater public participation in governance, and support the Government of Canada's commitment to evidence-based decision-making.

Canada's access to information legislation has not really changed much since 1983, but our world has changed very much since then. The proliferation of personal technology, such as smart phones, has transformed so many aspects of our lives. We recognize that technology in all forms is altering how citizens interact with their government in powerful ways. This change is happening around the world and right here at home. Technology is empowering citizens to act on their expectations that a government be honest, open, and sincere in its efforts to serve the public interest.

Canadians are demanding greater openness in government. They are calling for greater participation in government decision-making, and they are seeking to make their government more transparent, responsive, and accountable. That is why, in April 2016, the President of the Treasury Board issued an interim directive on the administration of the Access to Information Act. This directive requires federal officials to waive all access to information fees, apart from the $5 application fee. It also requires them to provide to requesters, wherever feasible, information in modern and easy-to-use formats, and it enshrines the principle of open by default. This is an important measure.

Being open by default means maximizing the release of government data and information. As such, the interim directive sends a strong message across federal institutions. It says that government information belongs to the people it serves and therefore should be open by default.

Citizens should not have to make the case for why they deserve information from the government. Instead, our government has said that it will make as much information as it can available, subject to necessary limitations, for reasons we all can understand, such as privacy, confidentiality, and national security. This is fundamental not only to the ability to participate in the democratic process but to hold the government to account.

Today, with Bill C-58, we are going further. The legislation proposes to entrench in law, for current and future governments, an obligation to proactively publish a broad range of information on a predictable schedule and without the need for an access to information request. The amendments would create a new part of the act on proactive publication, taking advantage of digital technologies and building on current best practices. This new part of the act would establish consistent requirements for the proactive release of key information across government.

Let me list a few examples: travel and hospitality expenses for ministers and their staff as well as for 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 and deputy ministers, including the titles of these notes and their tracking numbers; and the briefing binders used for question period and parliamentary committee appearances. This would allow our citizens a greater understanding of government and demonstrate effective stewardship of public funds.

We are doing this because we know that Canadians want us to pull back the curtain on how government spends and the factors that influence the decisions that affect their lives. Canadians expect to know how and why decisions are made on their behalf.

That is not all the bill would do. No access to information regime is complete without powerful and meaningful oversight. We promised Canadians that we would empower the Information Commissioner to order government information to be released. Bill C-58 would do just that. This bill would change the commissioner's role from that of an ombudsperson to an authority with the legislated ability to order government institutions to release records.

We also recognize that this reform cannot be a one-off initiative. We have been witness to many changes in society since the access to information program was established back in 1983. We need to find ways to ensure that the system continues to grow and change alongside us. We cannot allow our access to information practices to become stagnant. A vibrant and evolving access to information regime will support a strong, open, and transparent democracy.

One way to ensure the continued strength of the access to information regime would be to undertake a review of the Access to Information Act every five years, another important feature in Bill C-58. Legislative reviews would provide an important opportunity for stakeholders to have their say on access rights and would help us ensure that the regime continued to meet their needs.

Let there be no doubt. Open and transparent government is the way forward. If citizens understand why their government takes a particular course of action, if they have been engaged from the beginning, if they have access to the same information government has, they will have more confidence and trust in the outcomes.

Canadians have waited a long time to have their access to information regime modernized to meet their needs in the digital age. I encourage my hon. colleagues to support Bill C-58, thereby giving Canadians the kind of access to information regime they expect and deserve.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 26th, 2017 / 12:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kim Rudd Liberal Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely right about subjectivity. The member's subjectivity is possibly clouding the overarching positive aspect of this bill, and that is the ability of Canadians to access information to which Canadians are entitled.

I will reiterate comments made earlier today about the fact that this is a big change for Canadians. Starting about 12 years ago, for a period of 10 years, Canadians waited six, seven, and eight years to actually get information from the previous government, and then, in fact, it was denied.

Bill C-58 takes a new approach. It is open by default, with the opportunity for all Canadians to access the information they are rightfully entitled to.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 26th, 2017 / 12:40 p.m.
See context

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources. The former information commissioner, Robert Marleau, had this to say about Bill C-58:

There are many, many countries that are much better, and some that are not quite as advanced technologically as we are. We are not the shining light, even after this legislation, and we were in 1983. In 1983 most countries looked to us for innovation and transparency, and we've lost that halo.

This is from a knowledgeable, non-partisan observer. Although Bill C-58 includes some welcome efforts at transparency, it falls far short of what provincial governments, such as B.C. and Alberta, are doing in this country. I would ask the parliamentary secretary if she does not agree that the government should do better.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 26th, 2017 / 12:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kim Rudd Liberal Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think that is exactly the point. The mandatory review every five years is about making it better. It is about looking at each piece of legislation as we change as a country and as a society, as technology changes, and as opportunities to make things better come about. The mandatory five-year review speaks exactly to that.

This bill has not been reviewed since it was created in 1983. In 2016, the President of the Treasury Board made a commitment and started along this process. I am very happy to stand here and talk about Bill C-58, because I think it is a step in the right direction. Five years from now, we may be back here having a conversation about how our digital world has changed and how Canadians want us to respond to them, and we will be reacting to that.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 26th, 2017 / 12:45 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Joël Godin Conservative Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today for the first time since we all returned home this summer at the conclusion of an intense session.

I appreciate this opportunity to speak 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.

This bill will amend the Access to Information Act of 1984—I mean 1983. I am smiling as I say this. You will understand why in a moment.

The amendments to this act will affect every organization that sends information to federal institutions and every person who tries to obtain information.

Think back to 1983. Does anyone here remember who was in power? Who was the Prime Minister of Canada? No, it was not Mr. Mulroney, it was Mr. Trudeau, Trudeau senior. Trudeau senior was in power, he tabled this act in 1983, and today, his son is going to fix a past mistake. The Liberals passed legislation only to realize that it fell short of Canadians' expectations. That historical tidbit is why I was smiling earlier.

Reforming the Access to Information Act is a good idea. As parliamentarians, it is a good idea for us to open our eyes, to want to improve our systems and our laws. Unfortunately, upon closer inspection, it seems that this bill is once again just smoke and mirrors. That is what we are used to from the Liberal government. The bill has no substance. On the surface it appears to be a wonderful thing, but in reality it is a hollow bill.

This reform does not even fulfill the promise that the Liberals made during the 2015 election campaign. They said that they were going to extend the act so that it applied to the Prime Minister's and minsters' offices.

Here is the proposed wording in Bill C-58:

An Act to extend the present laws of Canada that provide access to information under the control of the Government of Canada and to provide for the proactive publication of certain information.

As parliamentarians, we do a lot of research to be able to provide clear and transparent information. I took the liberty of looking up the meaning of the word “proactive”. According to the dictionary, to be proactive means, “to be enterprising, to take initiative or to act on one's own initiative without waiting to be asked or instructed to do something”. The government is proposing legislation absent any accompanying framework.

I also looked up the word “appearance”. Excuse me, I meant to say “transparency”, but it all relates because what the Liberals are interested in is the appearance of transparency. The dictionary defines “transparency” as, “complete accessibility to information regarding public opinion”. If I am smiling yet again, it is because I was pleasantly surprised to see the example that followed, which was, “demanding transparency regarding political party financing”.

As fate would have it, we are talking about a Liberal bill and the dictionary gives an example that talks about transparency around political financing. I mention this in the House because I hope that the people watching at home will question the transparency of the Liberals' fundraising activities.

Let us recall that the Liberals made a promise about this bill during the election campaign, but they also made a lot of other campaign promises that they have not kept. A lot of people probably do not remember a very popular promise in the Montreal region, that of bringing back Canada Post letter carriers and their routes. The promise was made in 2015 and there has been a technological evolution since. I do not know whether the Liberals have evolved, but we in the Conservative Party have evolved.

Mr. Harper, our prime minister at the time, decided to manage public resources very carefully and to provide the same service to all Canadians. To get themselves elected and to play to the crowds, the Liberals promised that they were going to put the letter carriers back on the job. They are still not there. The Liberals also promised to reduce the tax rate for our businesses. I will come back to that later because, in terms of tax rates for businesses and of respecting SMEs, we are now seeing how this government treats the businesses that create jobs in Canada.

The Liberals also said that they would run a slight deficit of $10 billion and that they would get back to balanced budgets before the next election. They went on to waste a bit of money. I have no problem with investments when there is a plan. The Liberals, however, have no plan and they are making huge expenditures with no control or proper management of the public purse. The parliamentary budget officer, an independent officer of Parliament, cannot see the day when Canada's budget will again be balanced. It is comforting to have the Liberals in power.

The Liberals also said that it would be the last election where the current system would be used to choose the 338 members of Parliament who represent Canadians. The Liberals derided the committee, thanked the minister, and then removed her from her portfolio.

We are now talking about tax reform. Small and medium-sized businesses are the key economic drivers in my riding. We do not have a lot of big public multinationals, and in fact they do not represent the majority of businesses in Canada. They are big businesses, but the lifeblood of our regions and the Canadian economy are our SMEs. The Liberals never mentioned this during their election campaign, and today, they are taking away their incentive to thrive. These businesses have the right to prosper. These business owners, men and women, get up early every day and have to deal with the stress of managing their businesses and ensure that they do thrive. When they are able to thrive, they can provide jobs to our middle class, which we Conservatives stand up for. It is important to support our SMEs instead of stifling them. I received a text message from a business in Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier; I actually talked about it last week.

I will be told that I am biased, so I will quote an article from the wise and respectable newspaper Le Devoir from September 15, 2017, written by Shawn McCarthy, president of the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom:

The Liberals promised that the ATI law would be amended to apply to the Prime Minister's Office and offices of ministers. [Bill] C-58 does nothing of the sort. It maintains the status quo.

When the [Liberal] government released its long-awaited bill to reform the 34-year-old Access to Information Act on a sunny Friday afternoon before Parliament's summer recess, it gave itself a check mark in the promise-kept column.

[Bill] C-58 represents an improvement over the current system. And the Liberals suggest it as a first step, with promises of more sweeping reforms some time later. But why wait?

Anyone taking the time to review C-58 before Parliament resumes September 18 will find the Liberals come up short on election promises made on Access to Information reform in 2015. As the Centre for Law and Democracy noted in a review of C-58, the proposed legislation “is far more conspicuous for what it fails to do.”

Let's look at those promises, starting with one the bill seems to have delivered—enhanced powers for the Information Commissioner. Bill C-58 gives the commissioner the overdue power to order government departments to disclose information.

The government promised to eliminate all ATI fees except the nominal $5 application fee. That promise was delivered before C-58 was tabled.

The Liberals did not need this bill. I will read another section from the article: “The Liberals promised that the Act would apply to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and offices of ministers. C-58 does nothing of the sort. It maintains the status quo.”

I could go on, but I will stop there by saying that, although it seems good on the surface, this bill has no substance.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 26th, 2017 / 1 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in the House to speak to Bill C-58 for the first time.

Let us look back at how we got to where we are today. When the Liberals were campaigning in 2015, I believe it was on the tenth day that the member for Papineau, now the Prime Minister, stood before Canadians and said that a government under him would be the most open and transparent in Canadian history. Man, how far we have fallen from those comments. Canadians probably had some hope at that point, but shortly thereafter it was a case of the government saying, “We were just joking, do not take us seriously on things such as the debt perhaps and other areas.”

Early on we heard things in the opposition and Canadians found out through mechanisms such as access to information and others about things such as pay to play. I will refresh the House's memory that early in the government's mandate, in every mandate letter the Prime Minister directed his ministers to conduct themselves to the full extent of the law and to be able to take the most fine-grained public scrutiny. What we have seen to this point is some ministers operating as if they are above the law, and that includes the Prime Minister as well.

Early last year, the Minister of Justice perhaps forgot whether she was representing her riding at a pay-to-play event where a fee was charged for dinner with a a full house of solicitors and lawyers at a Toronto law firm. The House reminded her of the distinction and asked very cautiously whether she was acting as a member of Parliament for her area or the Minister of Justice at the time. I think we saw a bit of retraction there.

We have a Prime Minister who himself is under multiple investigations by the Ethics Commissioner. One thing that keeps coming up—and I am not going to minimize this—is his vacation with the Aga Khan. I do not judge anybody. We work very hard as members of Parliament and people should be able to take their vacations when they can, but our Prime Minister has probably shown disregard for the rules. The rules do not apply to him in terms of public expenditures and he has refused to this point to answer any questions on the huge cost that has been passed on to Canadians as a result. He has deferred the questions and, some might say, blamed the very public servants whom we trust, the public servants who put on their uniforms every day knowing full well that they are going to encounter danger. When we pick up the phone and dial 911, they come running regardless of any illness or stress they are facing, without exception. Instead of answering the question, our Prime Minister has deferred every question on the cost of his trip to the RCMP, perhaps even blaming them for the exorbitant costs associated with it. That is shameful.

This speaks to where we are today with the Liberals who have continually blamed the government and Parliaments of previous years and have asserted that they are “modernizing” the government and this House. They use that term all the time.

Time and again, Liberal ministers and perhaps the Prime Minister himself have stood with their hands on their hearts and used the words “open and transparent” when talking about about consultations on things such as electoral reform and carbon pricing. They were going from coast to coast to coast to talk to Canadians about, let us get this right, a campaign promise of theirs. They were going to reduce the small business tax. Where did that go? I guess we are probably going to be talking about the liberals' unfair tax plan in a mere 45 minutes. That is another broken promise, and it is not open or transparent at all. It is disappointing.

The Liberals campaigned on real change. The second page of their campaign document read:

Together, we can restore a sense of trust in our democracy. Greater openness and transparency are fundamental to accomplishing this.

Those are great words, but we have not seen action by the Liberals. As a matter of fact, the next paragraph stated:

...our objective is nothing less than making transparency a fundamental principle across the Government of Canada.

Where has that gone? It is gone. Everything they are doing absolutely flies in the face of their campaign promises.

Again, they are talking about modernization of the House, doing things better here and better for Canadians. I am going to bring us back to just before we rose in June, the six or eight weeks when the House leader, a mere 18 months into her tenure as a member of Parliament, tabled a document, a discussion paper. She wanted to have a discussion in the House on how we could make the House better and do things better. I have been a member of Parliament for the same time she has, and while we all have ideas on how we can make things efficient and smooth, I would not be as arrogant to think I can put a paper together, put it out in the media, and suggest that we are going to do things better when this House belongs to Canadians. It does not belong to me or the members who are present. It belongs to those in the gallery and those who elect us to be here and represent Canadians.

What the Liberals have done with Bill C-58 under the guise of being open and transparent is to stop what has brought us here. We have a Prime Minister who is under multiple investigations. We have had patronage appointments, as access to information requests have found out. What they want to do is to stop that. They do not want Canadians to know. They want the power to say what is frivolous and without merit. That is unacceptable.

We are smack in the middle of international Right to Know Week, which runs from September 25 to October 1. There are 10 principles of right to know, which I found on the government website. Number one is that “Access to information is a right of everyone.” Number two is “Access is the rule—secrecy is the exception!” We agree. There are certain things that we do not put into the hands of others. As my hon. colleague mentioned earlier, defence issues are one of them, or things that could tip off those with nefarious ideas.

However, simple everyday common information that the public, and indeed the opposition and those who represent the public, require to do their everyday jobs is fundamental. The things they are talking about in Bill C-58 are inherent principles and rights that the public and opposition already have. This does not need to be done.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 26th, 2017 / 1:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, during their respective campaigns, the Liberal government and the Conservative government before them promised to amend the Access to Information Act, specifically by expanding the act to apply to the Prime Minister's Office and ministers' offices. After the Conservative government failed to take the necessary steps to modernize the act, the Liberal government is making an attempt with Bill C-58, which seeks to amend the Access to Information Act,1983.

This law is essential because it allows Canadians to apply to federal institutions to get access to information on the government and on government institutions. With Bill C-58, the government's goal is to amend access to information, the Privacy Act and other acts that deal with the same subject.

Canada was a pioneer in access to information. We were one of the first countries to pass legislation about information, in 1983. Today, with this bill, the government is seriously compromising access to information.

The bill has many problems. Many recommendations from the Information Commissioner and from the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics have not been considered.

We are asking that all these recommendations be incorporated into the bill, which currently contains so few as to prompt us to wonder whether the government even read their work. It feels like it was all for naught. What is the point in asking expert organizations to make recommendations if those are not taken into account in the government's bill?

Members of the NDP, including the former member for Winnipeg Centre, tried several times in 2006, 2008, 2011, and 2014, to introduce proper legislation modernizing the Access to Information Act. All those initiatives were rejected even though the former government and the current government claimed to want to amend the act.

The NDP tried very hard to propose concrete amendments to modernize the act and allow people to have better access to information. However, the Conservative government and the current Liberal government both refused to listen.

Except for the fact that the Information Commissioner has the power to order the disclosure of information, which is one of the important points that we have long been calling for, and that the bill provides for a legislative review every five years, the NDP believes the bill is inadequate and does not go far enough. That is why the NDP is totally opposed to the bill at second reading.

Despite its election promises, the government does not really want to be transparent and that is unacceptable. I think it goes without saying that Canadians ought to have the right to review the information that the government does not want to publish. Since it governs at their pleasure, it is accountable to them.

The Liberals do not want to extend the act to the Prime Minister's and ministers' offices. Do they have something to hide? The government must set an example and obey the law. It cannot ask Canadians to obey the law if its own members do not. The government is not above the law, nor is it above Canadians.

Why is the government reneging on its promise? I know that this is not the first time that the government has broken one of its promises. The people have every right to wonder how many other election promises the Liberals will break, how much more backpedalling they will do, as they are doing now. The Liberals are hiding behind this bill and that is not right.

I will remind members what the Prime Minister kept saying during the campaign, which is, “A country's information system is at the very heart of the principle of open government.” “Transparent government is good government.”

The Prime Minister himself seems to be saying that the Liberal government is neither open nor good. He also claimed to want to extend the act to the Prime Minister's Office, to other ministers' offices, and to administrative institutions supporting Parliament and the courts. However, once in power, the government had no qualms about breaking this campaign promise, even though it was so important to Canadians, who have been calling for the modernization of the Access to Information Act for a few years now.

Perhaps the government should reacquaint itself with its election promises to realize that it did exactly the opposite in this bill. Canadians are increasingly interested in the government's actions.

In fact, they made 81% more access to information requests in 2015-16 as compared to five years ago, which is their right. Canadians want to know how their money is being spent and how the government acts by having access to some confidential documents. Canadians must be able to have access to information to avoid all sorts of scandals, such as the sponsorship scandal, in which the government lied to the public by refusing to release the invoices from its suppliers.

Canada currently ranks 49th in terms of right to information legislation. The bill would enable it to move up from 49th to 46th place, but this small gain shows full well that this bill does not go far enough. It is just window dressing.

With this bill, the government is making information less available to people. For example, the bill does away with the government's obligation to publish information about government organization mandates. It even gives officials the right to decline access to information requests that they feel, for whatever reason, are made in bad faith.

The NDP cannot support this bill at second reading for two main reasons. First, despite the election promise, it does not expand the act to cover the Prime Minister's and ministers' offices. Second, it does not reflect crucial recommendations by the Information Commissioner and the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics produced a report with 32 recommendations, and the Information Commissioner's report contains 85. The government had plenty to draw on, but it included very few of those recommendations in its bill. The Liberals are so proud of their proactive disclosure idea, but it does not really give people better access to information. The government should also provide criteria for deciding whether a request is overly broad or cannot be processed. Departments will also not be required to publish their org charts, their powers, duties, and functions, or descriptions of all classes of documents they are responsible for.

The bill imposes no specific legal obligation to document cases of failure to comply or appropriate sanctions, which was a key issue for the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. This bill also fails to shorten deadlines for access to information, which are currently much too long at up to 200 days, and to reduce the number of extensions.

For example, in April 2016, The Globe and Mail reported that it took more than a year for the RCMP to provide them with statistics for its series of investigative reports titled Unfounded, which revealed that police dismiss one in five sexual assault claims as baseless. What makes the government think it can take so long to provide citizens with this information? This clearly shows that access to information is vital and that it can bring to light certain things that organizations and citizens need to know about.

Naturally, we want the government to extend the act to cover Prime Minister's Office and the offices of other ministers as well, which is a priority for citizens and one of the main changes they have been calling for. We support the recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics and the Information Commissioner. We need to modernize the Access to Information Act, but we cannot allow the government to take an authoritarian approach and do away with some of the rights currently provided under the act in its present form.

Canadians do not want their rights taken away. They are simply asking for the act to be modernized, because it is now out of date. Canada was seen as a pioneer in the area of access to information. With this bill, the government is trying to take rights away from people rather than to give them more, as it promised during the election campaign. Canadians deserve answers from the government. It must explain to us all why it has decided to limit access to information from the Prime Minister's Office and the offices of the other ministers and, in its bill, to remove some rights that were, in fact, in the act.

The government must explain to us all why it is not keeping one of its main campaign promises. It is the government's duty to provide explanations to the Canadians who are demanding answers.

In conclusion, access to information is the basis of democracy. Sadly, the government is trying to obstruct democracy with this bill, even though it promised to expand the legislation for Canadians. There was never any question of a bill of this kind during their campaign.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 26th, 2017 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak 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, because in my work as an MP I often have to obtain information beyond that provided by the government.

It is very important to me to speak to this bill. I have come to realize that Canadians across the country, including the constituents of Drummond, often seek information to which they do not necessarily have access. It should be known that the government decides to voluntarily disclose some information, but not all. I discovered this when I was elected in 2011. I was looking for a lot of information about shale gas and fracking, because that was a hot topic in the riding of Drummond and across Quebec at the time. I realized that the federal government at the time had conducted research and several studies and put together several review committees, but that not all these reports had been made public.

I ended up having to submit some access to information requests, which is when I realized the limitations of the Access to Information Act. Many passages in the documents I received had been blacked out and made unreadable. Other documents took months and months to reach me. Furthermore, I recently asked a series of questions about the appointment of Ms. Meilleur as official languages commissioner. She eventually took herself out of the running, which I thought was a wise decision. At the time, I asked the government some questions about contact between Ms. Meilleur and officials in the Prime Minister's office and contact between her and officials at Canadian Heritage. Since the answers I received were totally unsatisfactory, I submitted some access to information requests. Right now, I am told, the wait time to receive even a partial answer from Canadian Heritage is 105 days. For the Treasury Board, it is 90 days, and for the Department of Justice, it is 120 days.

I am not going receive my answers before the new commissioner is appointed. It is easy to see how important it is to have access to this information. I would like to congratulate all the members on the ethics committee for the work they did. They conducted a study and issued a number of recommendations. The ethics commissioner made the same recommendations. The time was ripe for this debate, seeing as this law has been on the books for more than 30 years and never been reviewed. It is worth noting that the sole reason we have this bill is to fulfill one of the Liberals' election promises. The Prime Minister promised during the campaign that he would review the Access to Information Act and extend this act to cover the Prime Minister's office and the ministers' offices.

Unfortunately, I do not see that anywhere in Bill C-58. I asked my Liberal colleagues about this, and they told me it had been extended to ministers' offices and the Prime Minister's office, but proactive disclosure does not mean extending the Access to Information Act to the Prime Minister's and ministers' offices. It is not the same thing. Proactive disclosure, as the word "proactive" implies, means that people choose what they want to disclose, but often, what people want is the information the government chooses not to disclose. That is the difference, and that is why the Access to Information Act is so important.

Earlier, I shared some examples to do with shale gas, fracking, and the appointment of an official languages commissioner who apparently had ties to the government. In cases like those, it is important for people to have access to information that the government chooses not to disclose for various reasons.

I have some other concerns about this bill. For example, it adds new loopholes. As I mentioned, for various reasons, information can be blacked out or entire reports can be nothing but blank pages. The pages exist, but all that is provided is blank pages. That is a problem we have already.

Now there will be a new loophole allowing departments to decline to process requests that they deem overly broad, that they feel would seriously interfere with government operations, or that they think are made in bad faith.

I will come back to those last two very important elements. Obviously, if the government deliberately decides, for example, not to disclose large quantities of research and studies conducted by Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada on fracking and shale gas and I request it, a lot of work will need to be done to gather and process all of that information. I am not asking for it because I am acting in bad faith or because I want to interfere with the government's work. I am asking for it because residents of Drummond and Canadians paid for that information. It should already be available. However, I have to go through the Access to Information Act to give people access to that information. The government cannot start saying that this will create too much work. Of course if the government does not disclose information proactively, then it will create a lot of work for itself down the road.

The government could also determine that the request was made in bad faith. No definition, details, or explanation is provided in that regard. That means that anyone can decide that a request was made in bad faith. If I ask a question about the connection between the current government and Ms. Meilleur's appointment as official languages commissioner, my request could be deemed to have been made in bad faith, when in actual fact it is extremely important that Canadians have that information in order to make sure that the Liberals do not make the same mistake again.

This is completely unacceptable, and that is why we will be voting against this bill. For a government that claims to want to be transparent and to improve access to information, this bill is not going to work at all.

I would like to talk about the battle that the NDP has been waging since the mid-2000s to improve the Access to Information Act. My former colleague, MP Pat Martin, tried a number of times to improve the Access to Information Act. Unfortunately, the Conservative government at the time thwarted all of his attempts. It was really disappointing.

We have nothing against the government's much-vaunted proactive disclosure. It is good in principle. However, proactive disclosure is not the same thing as the Access to Information Act. Obviously, if we already had more proactive disclosure, we would not have to submit so many access to information requests. However, the fact remains that the government could still, at any time and for any reason, decide not to disclose certain information. That is why the Access to Information Act is so important. It needs to be revised and improved. This bill will not do the trick, and that is why we need to fix it.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 26th, 2017 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, not only does Bill C-58 not extend the Access to Information Act, but it goes even further by giving departments loopholes so they can refuse to process access to information requests on the grounds that, for example, they were made in bad faith or would create too much work for public servants. The government cannot do things like that.

I have submitted plenty of access to information requests about fracking and shale gas. Of course the departments got annoyed at me for pestering them, but why did they not disclose that information themselves? Because they did not want to.

It could easily happen again. The government will disclose the information that makes it look good, and any information that could be harmful or embarrassing to it will be tucked away where no one can get at it. This is utterly unacceptable. These are not the actions of a transparent government that respects the people. It needs to change its attitude.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 25th, 2017 / 12:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise in the House, and I am particularly pleased to be able to speak to this bill. This is not the first time that I have risen in the House, and I have had even more opportunities to do so since being appointed to the shadow cabinet as Treasury Board critic. However, this is the first time that I have had a chance to talk about a subject that comes straight from the Treasury Board. The hon. President of the Treasury Board introduced this bill just before the House rose for the summer in June, which means we had time to look it over and make observations about it. I am very honoured and proud to take on this essential role of providing positive, constructive, and, above all, vigilant opposition.

As such, I am very pleased to rise and speak to this extremely important bill that amends the Access to Information Act. That act was first introduced some time ago, so we have been living under its provisions since 1983. Fundamentally, our party is in no way opposed to carefully scrutinizing any act, statute, or procedure in order to enhance or improve it. A number of changes have been made over the past 35 years, since the bill was first debated and passed here in the House, particularly when it comes to information technology. Everyone agrees that access to information has changed over time. Simply put, we are not opposed to scrutinizing this act from 1983.

Still, we need to be logical and consistent, since this is about drawing a very fine line between access to information, which is necessary in a democracy, and for which I would be the first to fight as a former journalist, and the ability of the executive branch to do its job, for which it requires certain information. Some of the exchanges and debates that take place within cabinet are crucial and healthy for a democracy, but they need to remain behind the closed doors of cabinet. The same is true in parliamentary life, considering that every Wednesday morning, each parliamentary group has caucus meetings, where we can discuss the issues that matter in a positive, constructive way that lays a foundation for the future, while also sometimes having different points of view. That is democracy at work.

The government says that it tabled this bill to fulfill a political commitment. Really? Let us look back at the promise made by the Liberal Party two years ago during the campaign, which was, “Real Change. A New Plan for a Strong Middle Class.” That was the Liberal Party's program. On page 24, regarding access to information, it states, “We will make government information more accessible.” No one can disagree with that. It is like apple pie. No one is against better access to information.

The Liberals' specific objectives are, “We will ensure that access to information applies to the Prime Minister’s and ministers’ offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.” That is where the problem lies, because the first of these objectives has not been met and access to information still does not apply to the PMO. That is a broken promise by the Liberals.

I will come back to that a bit later on. We will show that the commitment made during the campaign, the very reason why Canadians elected this government, was once again, unfortunately, not upheld by the Liberals. We believe that it fuels public cynicism towards politicians. When a government does not keep its promises, which we strongly condemn, every single politician pays the price.

Let us take a closer look at what Bill C-58 entails exactly.

The real novelty of the bill is that the government is imposing a system of proactive publication, which is not so bad.

Let us look at what the government has tabled in the bill. Access to information lies in ministers' offices and the Prime Minister's office to properly publish the following information: mandate letters, and we have the mandate letters and everybody has seen them, so there is nothing new there; documentation on the training for new ministers; title and reference numbers of briefing notes; development notes for question period; backgrounders for occurrences before parliamentary committees; travel and hospitality expenditures; and contracts of more than $10,000.

This is the main problem. We are talking about proactive tabling of documents. That is great. Nobody can disagree with that, but on the other hand, and we will see it later, this is the end of the mandate for the Prime Minister and ministers.

Government organizations will also have to proactively publish the following information: travel expenses and shared travel expenses; reports tabled in Parliament; briefing packages for deputy heads; information about briefing notes; briefing materials for parliamentary committee appearances; contracts over $10,000; contributions over $25,000; and reclassification of positions.

The big change with this new bill is that the government is now deciding to publish this information proactively, which is not a bad thing, but the problem is that it ends there. That is why we have serious reservations about this bill, which does not really honour the Liberal Party's campaign promise. This bill is actually at odds with that promise.

Broken promises lead to disappointment. When people have expectations, they want those expectations met. People, especially those in the information sector, felt that this was one of the Liberal Party's key promises, so they expected the Liberal Party, once in government, to keep it. Unfortunately, people's faith was wasted on the Liberal Party because it did not keep that promise. That is from them, not me.

Let me read some quotes from important stakeholders about this important issue.

Katie Gibbs, executive director of Evidence for Democracy group, says that by ruling out the possibility to obtain information from ministers' offices and the Prime Minister's office, the government is breaking its campaign promise to establish a government “open by default”. Moreover, she says, that the possibility to refuse access to information requests on an undefined basis jeopardizes the transparency and the openness of the government.

That is the problem. The Liberal Party promised to be more open, but proactively publishing information and then leaving it at that poses a problem.

I do not want to undermine this approach, but the reality is that the documents that are released and that will be proactively released, are general access documents, or documents that almost anyone can access, such as the ministers' mandate letters that were made public by the Prime Minister on the day the ministers were sworn in, which was a good thing. A minister's mandate letter is indeed published on the day he or she is sworn in, if memory serves me correctly. It was a good idea. That has been the practice for the past two years, and it is working out well enough. However, when it comes to preparing ministers for question period, we are talking about factual information, facts, figures, and basic information. When we ask for a technical briefing, or a refresher course on the ins and outs of a bill, then we are generally given more specific information. We have an excellent working relationship with the ministers' offices and departmental officials who are there to serve all Canadians.

Then, once we all have the same background information, we can prepare our arguments for or against the topic in question. This is what is great about democracy. There will always be people for something and people against it. It would be odd if everyone were in favour of the same thing.

As Katie Gibbs, the executive director of Evidence for Democracy, said, this bill falls short, and that is disappointing.

It is the same thing for another important stakeholder.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch group, says:

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.

Mr. Conacher is on the same page. It is all well and good to be proactive, but there is no recourse if access to a document is denied because it is an executive-branch document and cannot be disclosed. That is the problem.

The government can go on and on about how open it is, but the government's actions and this bill do not reflect that reality.

Some people in Quebec have been very disappointed in the Liberal government. These people may have been seduced by the Liberal Party's big promises during the last election campaign, but now reality has caught up with them. Stéphane Giroux, the president of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, said, “We were most interested in getting documents from ministers' offices. False alarm. It was too good to be true.” This is yet another disappointment.

This bill is a complete letdown. I have one more very interesting stakeholder to mention. He is so important that I saved him for last, because he is someone who really knows what he is talking about. His name is Robert Marleau, and he served as information commissioner from 2007 to 2009. He said, and I quote:

For the ministries, there is no one to review what they choose not to disclose, and I think that goes against the principle of the statute. They have taken the commissioner out of the loop. If you ask for these briefing notes, and you have got them and they were redacted, you had someone to appeal to. So there is no appeal. You cannot even go to a court. It is one step forward, two steps back.

This was not some big bad Conservative or New Democrat speaking, or even anyone from the Green Party or the Bloc Québécois. This was Robert Marleau, a man who spent years enforcing the Access to Information Act as information commissioner from 2007 to 2009, pointing out very clearly the problems stemming from this act.

The government claims to want to be open and proactive, which in theory is not a bad thing. However, in reality, it is no longer possible for people to appeal if the information they requested is not provided. Robert Marleau pointed out that problem.

Other observers have been extremely critical. I am not talking about people with a direct interest in the issue, or about pressure groups, or anything like that. Rather, I am talking about observers like Shawn McCarthy of The Globe and Mail, who said the following in an article published on September 18:

The Liberals also vowed to amend the ATI law to make government “open by default.” But C-58 would give government departments the right to ignore information requests that they deem to be “frivolous or vexatious.” That exemption is being imposed without warning or justification, and is a power that should not be held by a government department that could benefit by wide interpretation in its own interest. It should be removed from the bill.

Once again, that was said by a well-intentioned individual who wants to see things change. He believes that things have to change. He thought that the Liberal government would be the one to bring about those changes, but that is just another disappointment for those who are unhappy to add to the list.

Another such person is Stephen Maher, who wrote the following in an article published in in iPolitics:

The proactive disclosure of some ministerial documents may be a step backward, because the decisions about what to release and what to redact will not be reviewable by the information commissioner.

That is similar to the point that was raised by the former commissioner, who said that, from now on, there would be no appeal process and that this was a step backward. I would like to once again quote Mr. Maher. He said:

This bill takes baby steps toward greater openness, but it does not offer what [the Prime Minister] promised—that government documents would be open by default.

In the business community, Fasken Martineau issued a notice, not to say a warning, to its clients concerning Bill C-58, which reads:

What if an application is made that raises grounds of contestation which do not respond to the third party's real concerns or interests? Despite this drafting, we expect that the Court will nonetheless allow the third party to file its own application to raise its concerns and interests—although it would be ideal if Parliament avoids useless battles in Court on the standing of third parties and clarified the provision immediately.

In other words, Fasken Martineau is saying that, as it stands, this bill will result in court challenges.

God knows, we certainly do not need yet another process clogging up our justice system, considering that this government is dragging its heels on appointing the judges that Canadians want and expect.

In Quebec, the justice minister has been waiting for months for this government to appoint 14 federal court judges. Of that number, barely half has been appointed so far. Until the appointment process is complete, dozens, hundreds, even thousands of Canadians awaiting a fair trial will not get one because the government is dragging its heels on this.

We certainly do not need to further clog up our courts by passing this bill. It may have been drafted with good intentions, and we are not against scrutinizing legislation that has been in effect since 1983, but we need to do things properly, which is not the case. Politically speaking, the Liberals should at least keep their election promise.

Is it any wonder that this bill only adds to the government's track record, which is a long list of broken promises? On top of that, just two years ago, this government said that it would not raise anyone's taxes, and yet what does it intend to do with its tax reform for small and medium-sized businesses? It intends to create even more obstacles and impose additional taxes on business, like the 73% tax, which is nearly 50% higher than the tax rate for large corporations.

Meanwhile, this government was elected barely two years ago on a promise that it would run small deficits of $10 billion. Where is the deficit now? It is about 80% higher than what the government promised. The Liberal Party also promised to return to a balanced budget by 2019, which happens to be the next election year. Now this government is abandoning its commitment, since it does not even know when Canada will return to a balanced budget. At no time in living memory has there ever been a government, a finance minister, and a prime minister who could not tell us when the budget would be balanced, except perhaps in times of crisis.

As many members will sadly recall, deficits became necessary in times of war, but it was the current Prime Minister's father who invented deficits in times of prosperity. That said, at least he had some idea as to when he would balance the budget. This government, however, has no idea when it will achieve that, which is a first in Canadian history. It has been one broken promise after another, and the same is true of Bill C-58.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 25th, 2017 / 12:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated my colleague's comments on the tax changes coming forward. We know that this rushed, overreaching action on the part of the government is going to hurt our economy, hurt middle-class Canadians, farmers, small businessmen, and accountants. These are the people who have been communicating with the government and with us on this issue. The response from the government has been to try to say that we have been misinforming them and that we are causing this issue to be overblown.

In the same case, we know that Canadians are concerned. We have comments that you quoted from democracy groups, professional journalists, and even a previous information commissioner. Are these also people the government is going to dismiss as being somehow responsible to us in our arguments as to why Bill C-58 is not a good bill?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 25th, 2017 / 12:35 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Anju Dhillon Liberal Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to offer a few words about Bill C-58 and its proposed amendments to Canada's Access to Information Act. In fact, I would like to begin with some specific comments about the Information Commissioner's expanded role under these legislative amendments.

Among the many changes we have made in our proposed reform of the Access to Information Act, one that we believe is important, and that the Information Commissioner has herself requested, is for strengthened oversight of the right of access.

Currently, the Information Commissioner has no power to order a government institution to release records that have been requested under the Access to Information Act.

For example, if a requester is dissatisfied with the reduction of records in response to a request, they have the option to send a complaint to the Information Commissioner. This complaint is then investigated, and the commissioner can make a recommendation to the government institution to release the records.

If the institution does not accept that recommendation, the commissioner currently has the option to challenge the decision in court, with the agreement of the requester.

Under Bill C-58, the person would continue to have the right to complain to the Information Commissioner if he or she does not agree with how the government institution responded to the request.

This right would be clearly communicated to the requester as required by the act, but when it comes to the conclusion of the commissioner’s investigation of such complaints, the commissioner would now have the power to issue an order to release the record if she deems it was improperly withheld.

The government institution would have to release the record in accordance with an order from the Information Commissioner or, if it disagreed with the commissioner's order, go to court and convince the court, based on evidence it provided, that it has applied the act correctly.

Mr. Speaker, this is a first at the federal level. Never before has the Information Commissioner had the ability to order the government to release records.

If the head of the institution disagrees with the order, believing, for example, that the record should be withheld for security reasons, Bill C-58 proposes to give the head of the institution 30 business days to ask the court to review the matter.

In short, the new reforms to the Access to Information Act would provide the Information Commissioner with order-making power. This would transform the commissioner's role from an ombudsperson to a powerful authority with legislative power to compel government to release records.

These new powers include the authority to make orders about such things as fees, access in the official language requested, format of release, and decisions by government institutions to decline to act on overbroad or bad faith requests.

To enable the Information Commissioner to carry out this new authority, we will also be providing the commissioner with additional resources.

The improvements we are proposing will reinforce the act's original purpose and respond to the recommendations of the Information Commissioner to strengthen her oversight of the right to access.

The changes to the commissioner's role from ombudsperson to an authority with legislated order-making power will increase the commissioner's effectiveness.

This is a sea change in the way access to information works at the federal level, and we are taking the important step to strengthen government transparency and accountability.

We are committed to modernizing the act and making continual progress towards a more open and transparent government.

To that end, the legislative package we have introduced proposes a new part of the act that sets out proactive publication requirements for all areas of government. This will entrench into law the obligation for the government to proactively publish a broad range of information to a predictable schedule. It will apply across departments and agencies, as well as new areas such as the Prime Minister's and ministers' offices, senators and members of Parliament, institutions that support Parliament, and administrative institutions that support the superior courts and over 1,100 judges of the superior courts.

Making more government information publicly available and on a predictable schedule will promote accountability.

Like the Information Commissioner, we are aiming for increased openness and transparency across government.

At the same time, we recognize that proactive publication does not eliminate our responsibility to strengthen the request-based aspect of the system.

For that reason, we are also investing in tools to make processing information requests more efficient. We will support training across government for consistent application of access to information rules and we will provide written explanations for exemptions and exclusions.

We have also heard the commissioner’s concerns regarding overbroad or bad faith requests, those where the intent is clearly to obstruct or bog down the system.

Under very specific circumstances and subject to oversight by the Information Commissioner, government institutions will be able to decline to act on bad faith requests. Doing so will help government better direct its resources to responding to requests that reflect the original intentions of the act, making government more transparent, responsive, and accountable to citizens.

We are making significant reforms to the access to information system, while continuing to establish a relationship of trust between those requesting information and the government that can provide that information. The amendments will also add a new requirement to review the act every five years to make sure it remains current.

The first review will begin no later than one year after the bill receives royal assent.

In addition, we will have a policy requiring departments to regularly review information requests and to use that analysis to make more types of information more easily accessible. This analysis would in turn guide the five-year reviews to ensure ongoing improvement.

After 34 years, the time has come for the ATI laws and program to be revitalized. The reforms we are proposing affect the whole of government, including areas never before touched by the legislation.

They also provide greater powers to the Information Commissioner to oversee the access to information regime and the ability to order the release of records.

I call upon all members to examine, debate, and support the goals of this legislation and to continue to work together to strengthen access to information and make government more open, transparent, and accountable.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 25th, 2017 / 12:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Anju Dhillon Liberal Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle, QC

Mr. Speaker, with these proposed changes, we are stepping up on our commitment to make government more open and transparent. Bill C-58 is the first major overhaul of the Access to Information Act in 34 years. It proposes to enhance the accountability and transparency of federal institutions and promote an open and democratic society. We have already committed to the principle of openness by default, and the changes we are proposing to the Access to Information Act are another step on that bold path.

In brief, here is what we are proposing. We would amend the act to entrench in law the requirement that government organizations proactively publish a broad range of information in a timely manner and without having to receive an access to information request; we would give the Information Commissioner new powers to order the release of government records; we would put in place a range of measures to improve the administration of the request-based system, an outdated system that has not significantly changed since the act came into effect in 1983; and we would make mandatory a review of the act every five years so that it never again becomes outdated.