Mr. Speaker, I am here today to speak to the government motion on the Senate amendments to Bill C-58.
Before I do that, though, I also want to take this opportunity to congratulate my brother Toron and his wife Jacqui.Today is their wedding anniversary, and I know that they are spending the day with my nieces and nephew, Abby, Malcolm, Josie and Zylia. I just wanted to acknowledge that this is another day, as many of us know in this House, that we do not get to be with family. I wanted to make sure that they know that I am thinking about them today.
Today we are talking about something that is fundamentally important, which is access to information, the tools we have to access information as parliamentarians representing everyday Canadians, and how that information can be accessed by journalists and reporters in this country.
I have been in this place for almost four years. I have worked really closely with my constituents on these issues. I have talked to them about the different tools I have as a parliamentarian and where they need to go to get information. They need to feel more connected to the government and to the people who represent it here in this place. I am very passionate about this issue.
Today we are talking about Senate amendments that would improve what I felt was a bad bill by making sure that the Information Commissioner would have real teeth, real power, to address some of the issues that come up in this place.
One of the things I have found very distressing, and the member who spoke before me also addressed this issue, is how often folks request information and are given a letter from a department authorizing itself to delay. Someone asks a question and now is told that the wait will be another 200 days for that information.
One of the most startling examples was that The Globe and Mail reported in April 2018 that it took one year to receive RCMP statistics for its well-received investigative series “Unfounded”, which revealed that police have been dismissing one in five sexual assault claims as baseless. This is really important information. When we see these kinds of startling facts, we know that there is something happening in this place and in this country that we need to address. These important investigations need to happen so that we know that something in the system is not working that we need to see addressed in multiple ways. If that information is not released, how are we supposed to do our work, and how do Canadians trust us?
I asked a question earlier about cynicism. I see that growing. I see it growing all the time. I talk to people who are frustrated with the government. They feel that when they want information, they have no way of knowing it. The automatic response is that something sneaky is happening and that they cannot trust those people.
I think we need to discuss what happens to democracy when we have everyday Canadians feeling that every politician is sketchy. We have an oath in this country. We sit in these seats and represent thousands of our constituents. We have the honour, as I do, to represent hard-working people who do everything in their power to live a good life, look after each other and look after their community. If they cannot trust the people who represent them, that should concern every single one of us.
If information cannot be uncovered to understand how things work, and, when something seems unfair, why it happened, how do we build that relationship, and how do we improve democracy?
I just want to take a moment to acknowledge the member for Vancouver Granville, who used to be the justice minister. I have a deep respect for her. I have known her for many years. I am very proud to represent the nation she comes from. I am very proud to represent the people of her traditional territory.
When that happened with SNC-Lavalin, it sent shock waves through my riding. It was very personal. I had constituents from my riding calling me and saying that she was in their class, that they know who she is, that she was from their family. They could not believe what was happening. They asked, do Liberals not know who she is, because they know who she is? Constituents were frustrated by the lack of information. They were frustrated by the process that unfolded. It was very troubling to them.
When I think about that and look at that happen, it takes away that sense of trust and connectivity. It brings all of these issues to the forefront when they are not addressed in a good way, and, in my opinion, these issues were not addressed in a good way. A lot of constituents contact me and say that they still do not know what happened, but that what happened was not right.
We look at the systems, and that is important. As legislators in this place, what we look at, debate and discuss is the process, how something is going to happen. Right now, we know that the Information Commissioner still will not have the ability to review whether in some cases like that one cabinet confidence is being claimed and whether it should be claimed.
I think about this a lot. I want to see a better democracy. I was very frustrated when the government campaigned to have electoral reform. It was very meaningful. I did multiple town halls in my riding. It was really interesting. People came forward. They were not sure and they did not know if they wanted to move to a different system, but they wanted to talk to me about it. They wanted to hear information. We tried to bring people in who were non-partisan to talk about different systems and how they would work. We had a lot of intelligent questions.
I will admit, people walked out the door saying that they were not sure; they were not sure if that was the right way to go forward. However, when they were told that it was no longer a discussion, when the Prime Minister stood up and said that Canadians do not want electoral reform, people were upset. They felt that they did not get to be a part of the decision-making process. That is really important.
Sometimes people get frustrated in this House, and they let us know by their heckling. However, we need to look at these systems. We need to make sure that everyday Canadians are part of the decision-making process. When that does not happen, we should have systems in place for them to be able to find out why it did not happen that way.
Again, we are seeing a failed piece of legislation. I am really disappointed. It is another broken promise. One of the things that was talked about in the last election was making sure that the PMO and the ministers were subject to these acts. That was one of the promises of transparency, that Liberals were going to do it differently and that Canadians would see a more open, transparent government.
Unfortunately, what we are seeing, again, is that the PMO is still blocked off. It is something to really think about. When everyday Canadians cannot get access; when journalists cannot get information from these particular departments, these ministries, what are we telling people? We are telling people that their voice does not belong in those places. However, they do belong in those places. In fact, we are here to represent those very voices.
I am really disappointed in this legislation. I think we could have gone so much farther. It is time for daringness. When I listen to constituents in my riding, what they want to see is honesty, openness and an authentic touch. They do not want to hear lines repeated. Some people think that if they just keep saying the same thing over and over that people will believe them.
However, when we look at democracy, the invigoration of democracy, and when we talk about why people do not get out to vote, it is because we are allowing cynicism to grow. We are not making sure that we open these doors and allow things to go forward.
Toby Mendel, the executive director of the Centre for Law and Democracy, said, in response to this bill, “The proposed reforms are just not good enough. At this point, we need root and branch reform, not incremental tinkering.”
I am a person who stands in this House, who looks at a lot of legislation. Most recently, in my role as vice-chair of the indigenous and northern affairs committee, we looked at Bill C-92, which talked about indigenous children in care. One of the things that was really heartbreaking for me is what I see happening again and again, which is this: “We will do a little better. It will not be enough. It is not going to save people's lives in a profound way. It is not going to look at the very foundation of the things that are broken. But we are going to make it a little prettier on the surface, and hopefully that will fix it.”
A little bit better is not good enough. It is not good enough for democracy, and it certainly is not good enough for indigenous children in this country who are struggling in profound ways every single day.
We were told very clearly that the new score for Canada would be 92 out of a possible 150 with this legislation. That means we would get bumped up from 49th to 46th.
I do not like our country to be in the middle. I want our country to be challenged to do better, because I want Canada to be at the top. I want other countries in the world to see the work we are doing in this place and think they have to aim higher because of what Canada is doing. I want them to look at how accountable we are to our constituents, to the Canadian public, to our reporters, and that we are not afraid to have these discussions, even if they are really painful and really hard.
We have to talk about really painful things in the House. If we are not brave enough to do that, if we do not allow people to have the information they need to make decisions for themselves, it is like saying that we are separate. However, we are all one.
I remember one of the elders in my community, Alberta Billy, telling me that a long time ago the cedar trees were so big that they would go into the forest and pick one to build a canoe for the community. They would respect that tree and then they would make a canoe out of it to be used by the community.
We do not have those big trees anymore. We have to find two trees now and find a way for them to come together. Finding two trees that are going to fit seamlessly together is a lot of work. That is the world we live in now. We do not have those big trees.
If we look at that canoe as if we were all in this together, then we know we have a western world that came here as colonizers and we have an indigenous world and we are trying to build a canoe together.
Let us look at the fact that indigenous communities around this whole country had great systems in place. Let us look at how we can do better, be more accountable to the people we serve. That is what a leader is. It is the person who follows behind, who serves from behind. This legislation fails to do that.