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

October 5th, 2017 / 11 a.m.
See context

Duff Conacher Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Thank you very much, Chair.

To members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to present to you today on Bill C-50. As mentioned, I am co-founder and coordinator of Democracy Watch and chair of the Money in Politics Coalition, which is made up of 50 organizations with a total membership of 3.5 million Canadians.

The coalition has been advocating changes to the federal and provincial political finance systems now since 1999, and is calling for changes to Bill C-50 to stop cash for access and the influence of big money in federal politics.

The bill, I believe, based on the framework, in that it addresses contributions in some sections and others, can be amended by the committee and sent back to the House, and should be, to make changes to ensure that wealthy individuals cannot use money as a means of unethical influence over politicians or parties, and also to stop the funnelling of donations, which has happened in every jurisdiction in Canada that has banned corporate or union donations but that has maintained much too high a donation limit, such as at the federal level.

The $3,100 a year to a party and its riding associations is much more than an average voter can afford. That amount violates the fundamental democratic principle of one person, one vote. It allows people with money, who can afford to make that maximum donation, to use money as a means of influence.

To think that anyone who is donating the maximum does not get some kind of return on that is naive, based on what we've seen in the past across Canada with various fundraising scandals. Even if it is simply an invitation to a Laurier Club event, that is access that you can only buy, and is therefore undemocratic and fundamentally unethical.

Sports referees can't take gifts from players, so why are politicians continuing to allow themselves, as the referees of what is in the public interest, to essentially be influenced by large gifts of money, property, or services, up to $3,100 annually, in terms of what can be given to a party or a riding association?

The coalition and the more than 11,000 voters who have signed the petition on change.org are calling for changes that will stop big money in federal politics and stop cash for access. These are to lower the donation limit to $100, as in Quebec; strengthen enforcement and penalties for violations; and only bring back per-vote funding or some kind of matching public funding such as Quebec has if the parties can actually prove, and candidates can actually prove, that they need this public financing in order to prosper financially.

These are the major changes that we are calling for.

As well, loans should be limited to the same amount as donations. If donations are limited but loans are unlimited, then federally regulated financial institutions can use loans to essentially buy influence with the parties. Yes, they have to give those loans on the same terms as they loan to anyone else, but giving a loan to a candidate or a party helps the candidate or party.

Clinical psychologists have tested thousands of people across the world, and found in every case that even small gifts have influence on decision-making. One of the best-documented areas is with doctors and prescriptions, even with doctors receiving free samples from drug companies that they don't use themselves but can pass on to their patients. It doesn't save the doctor any money at all, but just giving free samples to doctors has been shown through clinical testing to influence their prescribing decisions, although the doctors deny it across the board.

To think that donations do not have an influence over any politician or party official is to pretend they are not human. Humans across the world have been tested by clinical psychologists in double-blind studies, and it's been found that even small gifts influence everybody.

That's why the solution, the way to stop the influence, is to limit the donation that can be given annually to an amount that an average voter across the country can afford, and that's $100. That's what Quebec has done. It's a world-leading system. The public financing is too high. It doesn't have to be as high as it is. In terms of the donation limit, the fact that a donation above $50 has to be routed through Elections Quebec ensures that funnelling cannot happen and that people are only giving their own money and only giving no more than an average voter can afford.

The too-high donation limit federally also facilitates funnelling, which has been seen at the federal level with SNC-Lavalin. In Quebec, finally Elections Quebec did its job in 2011 and looked back five years and did an audit of donations. It had banned corporate and union donations in the late seventies and there had always been rumours that corporations were funnelling donations through their executives and their family members and through employees and their family members. Elections Quebec finally did an audit in 2011 after the corruption scandal broke there, and they found $12.8 million in donations that had likely been funnelled from businesses through their executives and family members. That was $12.8 million over a five-year period.

Funnelling is happening at the federal level. Elections Canada promised to do an audit four years ago. It hasn't done it yet. If they do, they will find it. It's been found in Toronto and it's been found in every jurisdiction that's banned corporate and union donations but left a donation limit that is too high and that facilitates funnelling, as the federal donation limit does. With the $3,100 limit, you get 10 executives and their spouses to each give $3,100, and boom, you've given $62,000 to a party.

That's big money. That has big influence, and the only way to stop it is to lower the donation limit.

Democracy Watch has filed complaints about the fundraising events held last year and in years past with the Commissioner of Lobbying. We're hoping that the Commissioner of Lobbying at least will stop lobbyists who are registered or should be registered from participating in such events, but Bill C-50, despite making the events transparent, is not going to stop cash for access. MPs will still be allowed to do the events. The staff of cabinet ministers can be at events without it even being disclosed under Bill C-50, so there's not even transparency about a senior government official being at an event, only people who are candidates or party leaders or cabinet ministers. The bill will not stop cash for access. It will not stop the influence of big money.

There is a problem with big money. I will give you just one example of an analysis that Democracy Watch did. It was very difficult to do because of the way Elections Canada discloses the donations, but I did a ton of number-crunching and I determined that in 2015 the federal Liberals received almost 23% of their donations from just over 4% of wealthy donors, who gave $1,100 or more to the party. To do that analysis of what happens at the riding association level is not impossible, but it would take months and months, because Elections Canada doesn't consolidate any of those figures. That's just donations to the party: 23% of the party's money came in from donations from just 4% of wealthy individuals who could afford to give $1,100 or more. That's a cash-for-access system. Those people at the time would have been invited to a Laurier Club event, possibly other events. I'm quite sure if the Access to Information Act were to be extended to ministers' officers, we would find that they get their calls returned more quickly than others, get meetings more quickly than others, get access to staff and senior government officials more quickly than others across the board. We don't have the kind of transparency that would prove that. I hope we will get it through Bill C-58, as the Liberals promised to extend the act to ministers' offices, or through the changes to the Lobbying Act, which has to be reviewed this year.

Within the framework of Bill C-50, I believe it's completely within order under the parliamentary rules for you to make these changes to Bill C-50, because the bill mentions contributions and all the other areas I've talked about.

I have not made a written submission to you today, but there is a news release up today on Democracy Watch's website that will be translated and distributed by the clerk, so you will have all the details.

I welcome any of your questions. Thank you very much.

Bill C-48--Time Allocation MotionOil Tanker Moratorium ActGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2017 / 3:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am disappointed in this, and we as a party are offended.

There was an agreement made two and a half weeks ago when this session started that we would work together with the government and not be obstructionist, but work to help pass bills that we were able to support.

The result so far is that the government has passed Bill S-2, C-21, C-47, and Bill C-58 all without time allocation, and progress was being made on three more bills, Bill C-55, C-57, and C-60.

There was one bill that we said we had a lot of interest in and would like to have enough time for all of our members to be able to speak, and that was Bill C-48. Now the House leader has broken her word. There is no other way to interpret this. If this is the way she is going to start this session after we have worked in such good faith for the last two and half weeks, all the members know that it will be a case of here we go again: a repeat of the failure we saw in the spring session.

Where in the world is the House leader's integrity and ability to keep her word?

Export and Import Permits ActGovernment Orders

September 28th, 2017 / 11:35 a.m.
See context

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to offer what I would perhaps call tepid support for Bill C-47, an act to amend the Export and Import Permits Act and to permit the accession to the Arms Trade Treaty.

Unfortunately, while this is a very serious matter, the bill seems to be more of an empty shell than an effective piece of legislation at this stage. Yet again, the Liberals have been extolling the virtue of transparency while completely ignoring the principle in practice.

Members will recall from earlier this week another bill allegedly relating to transparency, the amendments to Bill C-58 that would reform the Access to Information Act. Members stood and pointed out the difference between the rhetoric of transparency and the reality. Today, I note with sadness that our Information Commissioner has done a thorough analysis of the bill, and the title says it all: “Failing to Strike the Right Balance”. That could be the title of this bill as well.

Quite recently, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs claimed:

The goal is to ensure that all states take responsibility and rigorously assess arms exports. States must also regulate the legal arms trade and use transparent measures to combat illicit trade.

The bill is filled with non-information, significant room for intentionally omitted information, and promises to outline regulations at some later date, following royal assent. That is why we call it an empty shell. Most of the key issues to be addressed will not be addressed in this Parliament and will not be open to parliamentary scrutiny during this debate on second reading. Rather, they will be put in somehow later when regulations are made by faceless bureaucrats behind the scenes. That is why we say the bill fails on the issue of transparency. For example, the key criteria of assessment of arms permits are nowhere to be found in Bill C-47. How can we know if export controls will be strengthened in order to protect future exports to states that abuse human rights? Who knows?

I said at the outset that I am prepared to offer unenthusiastic support so we can get this to committee and make it better. We are asked to consider an appropriate course for the regulation of arms exports in Canada and our country's long overdue accession to the Arms Trade Treaty. Shamefully, the Harper Conservatives refused to join the Arms Trade Treaty, which was open for accession as of December 2014. Canada emerged as the only NATO member and the only G7 member not to have signed the Arms Trade Treaty. I congratulate the government for finally taking these halting steps to join the rest of the civilized world.

We are also forced to examine in this debate who we want to be on the world stage and what kind of values we are really honouring, not just on paper but in our policies and practices. We have a prime minister who loves to talk the talk. During the course of the debates and amendments at committee, we will see whether he and the government are prepared to walk the walk.

It is unthinkable and frankly surprising to many of us that Canadian weapons exports have nearly doubled over the last 10 years. After 10 years of the Conservative government, Canada has shifted away from exporting arms predominantly to NATO countries, to exporting arms to countries with notoriously troubling human rights records. For example, according to the defence industry publication Jane's, Canada is now the second largest arms dealer in the Middle East. Arms sales to China, a country with a notoriously poor human rights record, soared to $48 million in 2015. As well, a recent article published in the magazine L'actualité found that in the past 25 years Canada has sold $5.8 billion in weapons to countries with deeply questionable human rights records. This is not a small problem. Human rights violations cannot be tolerated, let alone facilitated.

With all this in mind, I want to commend the current government for finally agreeing to accede to this international treaty. In endorsing this bill, I want to also salute my colleague, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, who has done some wonderful work on this issue over the years.

As noted, the bill fails to strengthen export controls, and as written, we would have no idea whether future arms deals with countries that abuse human rights would be prohibited. We have a right to know who Canada is doing business with and under what conditions. When it comes to human rights, it is not enough for us to say one thing and implement policies that allow another.

The hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs, speaking to the accession of the Arms Trade Treaty, said, “this legislation will set our standards in law.... I am very pleased that we will in turn raise the bar with a stronger and more rigorous system for our country.”

Forgive me if I am not prepared to take the government's word for it. I agree that we need to set out standards in law, but the bill is proof that the Liberals are still demonstrating a lack of transparency about arms exports and a reluctance to address the disparity between talk and action.

As others have mentioned, there are ongoing allegations of Canadian weapons being used to commit human rights violations in countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Sudan. It was reported in The Globe and Mail earlier this year that the Saudi military appears to be using Canadian-made combat vehicles against Saudi citizens. What are we doing about that? We are not doing very much. Reports indicate that Canadian-made weaponry has been used in the Saudi Arabia-led war in Yemen, one of the world's worst humanitarian situations, which continues to deteriorate, and 6,000 people to date have been killed.

In 2015, the Prime Minister told the media that Canada must “stop arms sales to regimes that flout democracy, such as Saudi Arabia.” That is great rhetoric. Where is the action?

The NDP has called for the Liberals to suspend existing export permits for the light armoured vehicle deal with Saudi Arabia, pending an investigation into its domestic human rights situation, to no avail.

In the bill, the majority of Canada's military exports would remain unregulated. It would set up a legal obligation to report on military exports, which is a good step, but here is the punchline. This obligation would only apply to exports where an export permit was required, so most U.S.-bound exports would be exempt from the bill. Neither the act nor its amendment under Bill C-47 would address the Canada-U.S. Defence Production Sharing Agreement, which exempts Canadian military exports to the United States from the government authorization required for other arms exports. Therefore, we will be asking in committee that exports of military goods to the United States be licensed in some fashion.

It has been said that the United States is our closest friend and ally, but with a regime change occurring south of the border, it seems to me that this reflects an outdated way of thinking. It should be subject to the same rules as other countries. Indeed, the reason for that is that sometimes Canadian arms are sold to the United States and are used to commit human rights atrocities, an example of which was published, with respect to Nigeria, on September 13 of this year. We think that is important.

We believe there have been some positive moves on the issue of diversion, and we salute the government for that, but we believe that Canada must formalize diversion as a criterion in our export control systems.

It is a good start that Bill C-47 requires annual reports to Parliament, but the job is only half done as long as it does not include exports to the United States. How can Parliament hold the government to account if the bulk of our exports are excluded from the export permit system and from the resulting annual reporting?

We would suggest, as we have said for many years, that there be a new standing committee to oversee arms exports. The Liberals voted that down. We asked them to consider the U.K. experience and see if we could get on board for that so we could actually provide parliamentary oversight, notwithstanding the deficiencies in the bill.

For far too long Canadians have had too little information about our arms exports to countries with troubling human rights records. Any measures taken that fall short of ensuring the highest standards of accountability are doing a disservice to Canadians and to the vulnerable people who are affected by our policies.

Human rights are not optional. It is not enough for our Prime Minister to go on the international stage and talk the talk. It is now time to walk the talk and give parliamentarians and Canadians the tools they need to ensure that we are doing our part on arms trade exports around the world.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 27th, 2017 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

The Deputy Chair NDP Carol Hughes

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-58.

Call in the members.

The House resumed from September 26 consideration of the motion that Bill C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, as we gather today to debate Bill C-58, we should be mindful of the fact that this is international Right to Know Week. As we gather here, in another part of town the Information Commissioner is holding a full-day conference on declaring that access to information is a fundamental human right. In that case, I wonder if my colleague would agree that our human rights are violated when Bill C-58 falls so short of being true access to open government and access to information.

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 / 1:15 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 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 / 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 / 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 / 12:40 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 / 12:40 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 / 12:30 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.