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

Second reading (Senate), as of Dec. 7, 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, with the approval of the Information Commissioner, to decline to act on a request for access to a record for various reasons;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It amends the Privacy Act to, among other things,

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere

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

Votes

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

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2017 / 12:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise to speak to Bill C-51 today. I want to begin by, I suppose apologizing to my colleague from Mount Royal, who is the excellent chair of the justice and human rights committee, and who runs it in a fashion that is non-partisan, to his credit. However, from the perspective of an opposition member, it is passing strange that amendments from our side are so rarely taken up by any committee in this place.

On Bill C-58, the bill that the government calls the “access to information bill”, which I call the “denying access to information bill”, I brought forth 20 amendments, and each and every one was rejected. In this case, the chronology is as my friend suggested, and is correctly stated, but each of the amendments from the opposition was defeated. I think each of the amendments from the Liberals was accepted on this particular bill. That is the way it works in committees. I think that Canadians should know that. I find it disappointing.

On the merits of it, and in the collegiality of how the committee proceeds, I am grateful to the member for Mount Royal for the way he runs this committee. It is exemplary, and I salute him for it.

This is a non-partisan issue, and if I got off on the wrong footing by suggesting anything to the contrary, I owe this place an apology. Reform of the criminal law for all Canadians cannot be partisan. We have to get it right. We have to get the balance between the rights of the accused and the rights of victims correct, because the law is constantly evolving, as technology, for example, is constantly evolving. I will have more to say about that in a moment, in respect to sexual assault provisions.

It is to the government's credit that it is taking a number of sections of this very long Criminal Code and trying to update it, in light of what the courts have done and in light of where society is going. That is as it should be.

The NDP wants to say at the outset of this debate that New Democrats are entirely in support of the bill and will be voting for it without hesitation.

Therefore, I want to say a few things for those who might be listening about the nature of the bill. Some have called it an omnibus bill. I think one of the Conservative speakers, in June, when it was in second reading, termed it that. It is not that way. It is a comprehensive reform initiative to do four types of things.

The first is to clarify the laws on sexual assault, because there has been a lot of Supreme Court jurisprudence that requires us to restate the law to make sure we are keeping up with the times. Second, the bill would remove or amend provisions that have been found unconstitutional by the courts. That obviously has to be done. Third, a number of obsolete or duplicative offences would be removed. Fourth, there is another bill that would be amended, the Department of Justice Act, which would create a new statutory duty for the Minister of Justice to table a charter statement for every government bill.

The fourth issue is laudatory, but quite ineffective. The fact that the government tables a few sentences about why a finance initiative is consistent with the charter seems to me to be much ado about nothing. I am not sure it is of any relevance in a court of law. I think the House can assume, without having a statement, that government bills will in fact be consistent with the charter. We hardly need a statement to do that. Indeed, the charter statements that the Minister of Justice has been releasing to date add very little, in my judgment, to the issues before the House. However, I suppose one can never fault too much information, even information that is of dubious utility.

I want to start with the most significant number of amendments to the bill, which is on sexual assault. However, before doing that, I want to put it in the context of an excellent summary of the bill that was provided in the Canadian Bar Association's journal, National, that was done by Omar Ha-Redeye in the fall, just a few weeks ago. It is quite amusing how the author describes the bill. He says:

The federal government is finally doing some housekeeping of the Criminal Code with Bill C-51. It may find some hidden cobwebs--and according to some, there may even be monsters under the bed.

The Criminal Code is a place where old, obsolete, or even unconstitutional laws languish in purgatory. Most governments have been content to simply ignore these outdated provisions, knowing that most would never actually be used. The result is a long, rambling and sometimes unnecessarily confusing statute.

Amen to that.

Sometimes the code is sufficiently complicated to confuse even the judges. This is where I pause to talk about poor Mr. Justice Denny Thomas of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench, who a few years ago convicted a gentleman named Travis Vader of second degree murder. He relied on section 230 of the Criminal Code, which had a provision called “culpable homicide” that was introduced way back in 1892.

Unfortunately, the judge was not made aware of the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada had previously repealed a part of that provision in a 1987 decision. Then it had ruled, in another decision, that the section was contrary to the charter and could not be saved under section 1. The judge had convicted this individual when the provision “allowed for a conviction of murder without the requirement for proof of subjective foresight of the mental elements for moral blameworthiness”. There it was, sitting and gathering dust, in section 230 in the Criminal Code. They had to do the whole trial again, at unknowing cost, both psychological and financial, to the system of justice in the province of Alberta, and brought the Criminal Code, frankly into disrepute as a consequence.

One has to salute the government for its efforts to bring it up to date and sweep away these cobwebs, as the author so correctly said.

There are provisions in here that are simply obsolete for other reasons, such as those relating to the prohibition on duels, which the House will be pleased to know is no longer a problem under the Criminal Code, pretending to practice witchcraft, offences dealing with trading stamps, archaic sections that no longer serve the needs of contemporary Canada. Again, the government is correctly trying to remove these cobwebs from our criminal law.

That takes me to the main event, if I can call it that—and there are a number of others that I will come to—which are the sections dealing with reform of the sexual assault provisions of the code. The minister talked about making it, “more compassionate towards complainants in sexual assault matters.”

Many of the sections in the code address changes that the courts have made, using the charter, to address problems they saw with these provisions. These sections expand the code's rape shield provisions to expressly include communications for a sexual purpose or of a sexual nature. The rape shield provisions that were introduced after the Seaboyer case in 1991 limit the types of questions that defence counsel can pose, and evidence it can introduce concerning a complainant's sexual history.

This information had sadly been used in our legal system to promote a stereotype, that a complainant is more likely to have consented, or is less credible, because of past sexual history. In 2000, the court upheld the rape shield provisions as being constitutional.

The new changes in this bill appear to stem from criticism rising in the famous Jian Ghomeshi case, which attracted a lot of media attention and dealt with societal discussions about sexual assault prosecutions in Canada. As members may recall, that case involved text messages and social media content by the complainants.

Some defence counsel are concerned that this bill will limit the evidence they can use to offer a full and complete defence. Others believe that those concerns are overrated.

Lise Gotell, national chair of the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, LEAF, stated that the amendments simply recognized more contemporary forms of sexual communication. I agree with her. If the evidence is used for the purpose of demonstrating inconsistencies, it can still be included if it is only used to perpetuate sexual stereotypes.

I want to quote Ms. Gotell, directly, “There is no implied consent in Canadian law...and so previous sexual activity should be irrelevant to a belief that someone is consenting to the sexual activity in question.”

That is the key. There is no implied consent in Canadian law with respect to sexual assault. Past sexual history or communications on the Internet or Facebook or the like do not imply any kind of consent to the specific activity at that specific time. The courts have made that clear, and I am pleased that Bill C-51 now makes that clear as well.

More than 20 years ago, in the case R. v. O'Connor, the court ruled that medical and counselling records of a sexual assault case could be disclosed by judicial order. The government limited these productions through amendments, and that was upheld. In 1999, the court stated in R. v. Mills that the judiciary had adequate discretion to preserve a complainant's right to privacy and also still allow for a full and complete defence for the accused.

Although the nature of electronic communications today might be different, the concepts remain the same. Sexual assault complainants, who are almost exclusively women, are still subject to widespread stereotypes and prejudice based on their sexual history. Salacious texts and steamy graphics may be communicated differently today, but they are just as dangerous to the balance of justice.

These provisions that deal with the sexual assault measures of a court make a number of specific changes in addition to the ones I outlined a moment ago. The bill would amend the section to clarify that an unconscious person is incapable of consenting. Most of us would have thought that would be self-evident, but there was court case that clarified that. To the government's credit, it has brought in a clarification to the same effect.

What about incapacity to consent short of full unconsciousness, such as when a complainant is very drunk or maybe only semi-conscious? There are those who have said that somehow by putting this in, we would be creating uncertainty over those sorts of situations: severe intoxication and semi-consciousness. I am not concerned about that, because I believe there are other provisions that would address those in the code. That is one point that was made in debate at committee and elsewhere about this legislation.

Then there is the other clarification brought into the bill, which would clarify that the defence of mistaken belief in consent is not available if the mistake is based on a mistake of law, for example, if the accused believed that the complainant's failure to resist or protest meant that the complainant consented. The court clarified that in a case that was decided in 1999. Let us say that the consent was extorted, for example, someone threatens to show the world nude pictures unless the individual consents to having sex. That is not consent, and that needs to be clear . It is now increasingly clear in this case.

One thing that is fascinating in this legislation, and very positive as well, is the ability of the complainant to have legal representation in rape shield proceedings. She, as it is normally a she, can then retain counsel to be present and debate before the court the admissibility of diaries, text messages, or the like. That sounds great, and it is a positive step, but the practical reality for most Canadians is that they will not be able to take advantage of that, because sadly we do not have the money to do so. There is a dearth of legal aid in most provinces. We have a crisis in legal aid. Therefore, it is nice to have that, but I have to ask a practical question on whether people will be able to avail themselves of that. Will women be able to participate as has been suggested?

Again, to give credit to justice committee, on October 30 of this year, an excellent report on legal aid was produced. I would commend members in this place to read that report, because it talks about legal aid in very stirring terms. It talks about a service that “breathes life into the democratic principle of the rule of law by ensuring that low-income Canadians have access to the courts.”

Once again, all three parties worked collaboratively to produce this excellent report. Of course, it is an acknowledgement that most of this is provincial jurisdiction, but, nevertheless, the leadership and best practices were suggested, and I commend the committee for that.

However, unless the Government of Canada assists provinces with more legal aid funding, this laudable section that allows women for the first time to actually participate in and have a right of natural justice in criminal proceedings involving the disclosure of intimate information in situations where sexual assault is at issue, most of the time it will be irrelevant unless those women have legal aid. Canadians need to understand that reality.

I am here to make sure that this place and the government look favourably at the excellent legal aid report that was produced, so it will not just be another report gathering dust on the shelves of Parliament. I believe that the provisions at issue were dealt with very thoughtfully and are not simply symbolic. I think the report includes meaningful changes and hope that the government will move on them and put its money where its mouth has been.

A number of people are in agreement with the provisions in the report. I speak, for example, of Professor Elizabeth Sheehy of the University of Ottawa, and Emma Cunliffe of the University of British Columbia. They talked about the right of legal representation in rape shield hearings as an important step, but said it would be largely ineffectual unless provincial legal aid programs provide financial support to complainants seeking to retain a lawyer. I agree.

On the streets where these amazing workers in rape relief and women's shelters work day in and day out, tirelessly with victims of sexual assault, they also have concerns. Hilla Kerner spoke for the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter when saying, “Women who work with us were very discouraged after what we saw in the Ghomeshi case." The provisions in the bill will send a message, Kerner continued, that "your past, the things you did before the attack and after the attack, will not deter the criminal justice system from actually dealing with the attack and holding men accountable.”

That is a very good indication that the message will be received by those who were so involved in counselling women after sexual assault. However, the law has changed. It's better now. People can come forward and do not have to be afraid. That has to be the number one objective of these amendments, namely, that women will not be afraid will not not think it is a waste of time to come forward.

The Globe and Mail is doing excellent work in showing how few sexual assaults are actually processed seriously by police departments across the land. They did an update this past weekend of an earlier award-winning series.

We are at the very heart of that issue with this bill, making it easier for women to come forward because they know there will be fairness. They will be taken seriously and the laws will not work against them. I think that is excellent.

Not everyone has applauded Bill C-51 in its entirety, in these glowing terms. Michael Spratt, the vice-president of the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa, refers to this bill as “another half-hearted attempt to reform the justice system by grabbing the lowest of the low-hanging fruit.”

It is true that the government's mandate letter for the Minister of Justice speaks to a comprehensive reform of the Criminal Code. It is so overdue. Nevertheless, I do not fault the government for going after low-hanging fruit, in addressing duelling and trade stamps, for example, or these sorts of provisions, because it is also doing real work in the sexual assault provisions. We have to support it and give credit where credit is due.

One hopes that there will be the comprehensive reform of the Criminal Code that Professor Coughlan of the Dalhousie University, Schulich School of Law, has been seeking. I think and am confident we will get there.

On the issue of sexual assault, I commend the government for what it is doing. On the issue of charter statements, I say ho-hum, nice, but so what? However, on this stuff, this key change to our Criminal Code to give women in this country the confidence that it is worth coming forward, the government needs to be commended. We will support this bill without reservation.

The House resumed from December 5 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 third time and passed.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

December 5th, 2017 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou for bringing forward his private member's bill, Bill C-262. I note his important contribution to the discussion on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I would also like to share my profound respect for my colleague and acknowledge the important work he has done over many years that has significantly impacted indigenous policy in this country.

Before addressing the private member's bill, I would like to make a general observation. Section 35 of our Constitution and Canada's existing laws has in the past, and will in the future, ensure that indigenous rights are protected in Canada. We only need to reflect on a number of historical court decisions to understand how section 35 is shaping these rights. From the 1999 Marshall decision that confirmed the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet treaty right to catch and sell fish, to the 2014 Tsilhqot'in decision that granted aboriginal title to more than 1,700 sq kilometres of territory, a first in Canadian law, it is clear that our understanding of indigenous rights is constantly evolving. Just last week, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered a decision regarding the Peel watershed, which upheld aboriginal land use rights protected in treaties.

It might be suggested that the gap or problem in Canada is not our legal framework, but our frequent failure to live up to the obligations and the honour of the crown.

The bill before us today seeks to implement the 46 articles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as stated in the document, “a standard...to be pursued in a spirit of partnership and mutual respect”. All parties in the House acknowledge the need for reconciliation, a better shared future, and the importance of the declaration. The 46 articles are essential guiding principles for that journey.

I do have some unanswered questions regarding how this international document will transpose into a domestic framework. In my opinion, we need some clear answers before we can move forward on Bill C-262. Let me share some general and specific concerns that need to be addressed.

In the past, the Liberals have argued vehemently that any small changes to the Indian Act and the Labour Code must only be introduced as government legislation, where there is an opportunity for comprehensive reflection and not just a couple of hours of debate. I would suggest that the bill before us today has more far-reaching implications than the right to a secret ballot for union certification. For the Liberals to support an NDP private member's bill to implement UNDRIP and not put it forward as government-initiated legislation is unfathomable. The debate will not be afforded the due diligence that it requires and deserves. Even today, members might have noticed that we did not hear from the minister. We did not have an opportunity under private members' business to even question the minister. In my mind, that is a problem.

To get into more specifics, first and foremost was the statement by the Minister of Justice in 2016, and I quote, “Simplistic approaches such as adopting the United Nations declaration as being Canadian law are unworkable and, respectfully, a political distraction to undertaking the hard work actually required to implement it back home in communities.”

The justice minister, unlike many of us who will be speaking to the bill, has access to all sorts of comprehensive briefings and advice. The minister would not have made that comment lightly, so it is critical for her to explain why she made the comment at that time, and how she now reconciles that with her recent commitment to support the bill. I would note that because it is private member's bill, we are very unlikely to get a chance to ask her that question.

On Thursday of last week, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations was at committee. At that time, we had the opportunity to ask a number of questions, and I want to provide a brief summary of that testimony.

Article 19 suggests that the government ensure free, prior, and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative measures that may affect them. When the minister was asked if that would apply to laws of general application or only laws that exclusively impact indigenous people, she clearly indicated that there would be a broader application. That brings us to a question of what future laws of broader application in this country would require free, prior, and informed consent, and how will that be determined in a country as diverse as Canada. How will that consent be given?

The national organizations acknowledge they are not rights holders, they are not the authorized decision-makers, and their mandate is advocacy. The indigenous community has indicated that it has to do a lot of work in terms of nation rebuilding. Therefore, what government structure or consultation framework would be put in place to actually engage in these consultations? To what degree would this commitment around the laws of general application fetter the government's ability to move forward? I will give some recent examples.

We certainly know that with Bill S-3, the government is committed to engaging in a consultation process. Clearly, that is not a general application law, but the government is going to have consultations with bands across the country. I have no idea how the government members are going to determine when they have concurrence and how long they are going to have to spend in a process where there will be human rights competing in terms of consent, and at the very dichotomy of the many consultations they will have to have. In that case it is first nations, but we also have the Métis and the Inuit.

The marijuana law is another example of broader application that is clearly going to have an impact in indigenous communities. Under our current framework, the government only engaged in a general consultation process. Would that bill be subject to article 19, and if so what would it do to the government's timelines and how are the Liberals going to move forward? The answer to that question is unknown, but it is important.

Today, we have been debating in the House Bill C-58, which is the privacy law. Again, we have a number of indigenous communities whose representatives have said that they have grave concerns. They have referenced the UN declaration in terms of their right to have input, and free, prior, and informed consent, but we have no system or process in terms of how we are going to move that forward. That is important work that needs to be done.

Where a lot of people have focused, the laws of general application are something we need to pay particular attention to, but there is also the issue of free, prior, and informed consent as it relates to the development of the natural resources. The minister has suggested it was not a veto and the position was supported by National Chief Bellegarde. However, he noted on three occasions that free, prior, and informed consent means the right to say yes and the right to say no. A number of lawyers have said the whole discussion is really a bit of semantics and whether it is veto or consent it has the same effect. Again, it leads to a question in law. What is the difference between “free, prior, and informed consent” and “consult and accommodate”, which is what we have in law right now? Certainly there is no question that the declaration proposes that change in our law and we need to simply know what that is going to mean because it is important. From what I have seen, the legal opinions out there are as varied as they possibly could be. As members might imagine, it leaves confusion in the minds of not only the indigenous communities but Canadians in general. We have some work to do in terms of developing a common understanding before we commit to an implementation into our legal framework.

Article 29 talks about the right to territories, lands, and resources. In British Columbia alone, that is 100% of the province. What are going to be the practical implications for perhaps the tourism operators in the Chilcotin or the ranchers who have depended on crown land, as these decisions get made? We have not talked about impacted third parties and how, as we correct the injustices of the past, we should not create a new injustice.

In conclusion, as members can see from my 10 minutes of speaking, there are a lot of important unanswered questions. My first concern is the fact that the government has committed to implementing this as a private member's bill where we are going to be limited in the debate and our opportunity to create a shared understanding. The shared understanding of all these concepts is going to be critical in terms of moving forward into success in the future for all.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 5:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Erin Weir NDP Regina—Lewvan, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to once again speak to Bill C-58, but it is a bit disappointing to have to make some of the same criticisms of it that we on the opposition side have been making throughout. Notwithstanding some of the comments we have heard from the government, the bill actually has not been significantly amended and many of the original problems with it persist.

I would like to address this legislation in terms of three headings: first, the scope of the act; second, exceptions to the act; and third, the difference between proactive disclosure and access to information.

In terms of the scope of the bill, it is important to note that the Liberals were elected on a promise to extend access to information to the Prime Minister's Office and to the offices of other cabinet ministers. Bill C-58 would not do that. It is really part of a litany of broken promises by the government. Here we think of electoral reform. We think of the promise to close the stock option tax loophole. We think of the promise to restore door-to-door mail delivery. The government is building up quite a track record of broken promises and, unfortunately, the commitment to extend access to information to cabinet ministers, including the Prime Minister, is another one of those broken promises.

I had an opportunity at the committee on access to information, privacy and ethics to ask the Privacy Commissioner whether there were any privacy reasons that the government could not extend access to information to those cabinet offices. He confirmed that there were no such privacy reasons and that as far he was concerned, it would have been and would be feasible to extend access to information to the offices of cabinet ministers. Our first major disappointment with the scope of the bill is the fact that it fails to extend access to information to the very cabinet offices the government promised to include.

The second heading I would like to address is exceptions to the act. There are already exceptions related to cabinet confidences and policy advice to ministers. These exceptions have proven to be quite troublesome, because it is easy for the government to define almost anything as policy advice to a minister or as somehow being subject to a cabinet confidence. It is a very broad-sweeping exception that the government can use to not disclose information. Unfortunately, Bill C-58 would not correct this exception.

The really bad thing about Bill C-58 is that it creates new exceptions that would allow the government to not disclose information that citizens are requesting. In particular, it empowers the government to deem that an access to information request is frivolous or in bad faith. It is difficult to put government officials in the position of having to try to define the motivations of people making access to information requests. This is a very poor criterion on which to accept or deny access to information requests.

What is this really all about? The example we heard from a couple of different government members throughout this debate is the case of “an ex-spouse [who] ATIPs his or her former spouse's work hours on a daily basis or their emails”. There is obviously a problem with that type of request, but the way to respond to that is through proper protections of privacy, not by deeming the request itself to be frivolous or in bad faith. It is obviously the case that the government cannot disclose certain information for privacy reasons, and the privacy protections need to be very robust in federal legislation.

However, the idea of protecting privacy is not a justification for giving the government broad, sweeping powers to deem that particular access to information requests are frivolous or in bad faith. We do need to have proper protections for privacy, but those in no way justify the new exceptions introduced in Bill C-58, which try to get into the motivation behind an access to information request, which is a very difficult thing for the government to ascertain, and a very difficult thing for citizens to trust the government to ascertain in an objective and proper way.

The third aspect of the legislation that I would like to address is the difference between proactive disclosure on the one hand and access to information on the other hand, because of course one of the aspects of Bill C-58, which the government touts, is the notion of increased proactive disclosure. We have the idea, for example, that the government will proactively disclose ministerial briefing books. A cynic might suggest that this provision will to result in government officials and ministers' assistants spending time drafting briefing books for public consumption. Knowing they will be proactively disclosed, they will just prepare documents that they are happy to have disclosed and that do not really contain a lot of sensitive or controversial information. We are very concerned about that, but even if we assume that would not happen and that everything would be done entirely in good faith, we still have to face up to the fact that proactive disclosure, as positive as it might be, is no substitute for access to information.

Proactive disclosure is about the government choosing to disclose certain things. On the whole, it is good for the government to proactively disclose more documents, but access to information is fundamentally about citizens being able to request information that the government does not want to disclose and does not think it should have to disclose. There is a very important distinction to be made here between proactive disclosure, which is a good thing and the government is touting, and access to information, which is what the bill is supposed to be about.

To sum it all up, I would like to conclude by reading a quote from the Information Commissioner's report on Bill C-58 entitled “Failing to Strike the Right Balance for Transparency”. She said:

In short, Bill C-58 fails to deliver. The government promised the bill would ensure the Act applies to the Prime Minister's and Ministers' Offices appropriately. It does not.

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

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

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

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

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

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I wish I had sat on that committee. It would perhaps have given me a break from explaining all the issues on Phoenix which the Liberals have inflicted on Canadians. I was not part of the committee, and I was not aware, but very clearly presenting amendments, just like the NDP did, would have had absolutely no effect. The minister made it very clear from the beginning that this was the world's greatest proposed law, which would bring in changes to access to information. The government would brook no advice or changes from anyone else. Why we did not, I am not sure, but it would have made no difference.

However, another colleague talked about the whistle-blower act. My party, together with the NDP and Liberals in the government operations committee, put through a unanimous report to protect whistle-blowers, presenting a lot of great suggestions on how we can make amendments and legislative changes to improve it. However, the same President of the Treasury Board, who shot down all the amendments in the committee on Bill C-58, took the whistle-blower suggestions and put them in the dustbin with all the other great amendments that were suggested by the NDP and other parties on the Access to Information Act.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

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

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Madam Speaker, I have to say that it is good to have the Conservatives onside in opposing Bill C-58, which rolls back access to information and would do nothing to eliminate delays.

However, being the festive season and to be charitable, I will say that the member for Edmonton West was not here in Parliament from 2006 to 2015 when the Conservative government did not take this issue seriously and did nothing to improve it. I know that the member was not here in 2011 when the Harper government got the lowest mark possible from Canadian journalists for free expression on access to information, which was an F.

I am being charitable to the member, because he was not here. I am glad to have the Conservatives onside, in some kind of conversion on the road to opposition from the Conservatives here, but, in this Parliament, if the bill is so bad, why did the Conservatives present zero amendments in committee?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

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

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, a lovely resort town, for sharing his time with me. W.C. Fields was famous for his comment about not wanting to work with children and animals because they showed him up. Following his speech, I feel the same way.

I am pleased to speak on Bill C-58 today, which would amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. I also call it another broken Liberal promise hidden behind talking points peppered with key words like “open by default”, “transparency”, “historic”, and “whole of government”, but that is just the working title. I threw in “whole of government”, because Liberals use that for every other bill, so I figured why not this one as well.

The last time I spoke about this bill, I mentioned how it demonstrates the lofty rhetoric of the 2015 campaign on the Liberals' plan for openness, transparency, and accountability, and it was just that: rhetoric. Rhetoric is defined as, “Language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect” on its audience, but “often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content.” That is pretty much what we have with this bill.

The Liberals defended their poorly thought-out bill by saying they were open to amendments. The Treasury Board president appeared before committee and repeated his intention a few times, and then realized that repeating this again and again does not make it true, much like “open by default”. It is shameful that the Liberals continue to talk about being open to amending their terrible legislation, but when the opportunity presents itself to make decent changes, the Liberals almost always shut them down.

This bill has been roundly ridiculed by experts, and what is the Treasury Board president's defence? He likes to say this is the first reform in over 34 years. This is a laughable excuse. One cannot defend bad actions by saying that at least it is an action, but that is the minister's key talking point. It is a lot like the executives of Coca-Cola sitting around an office table, talking about the recipe for Coke, and saying they have not amended it for 35 years or 100 years, so rather than broadly consulting for modifications to the formula, they launch an entirely new brand. Some of my colleagues in the House do not remember new Coke, but I can speak from experience that it did not work out very well.

The minister goes on about the virtues of his work by saying that, for the first time, Liberals are making government open by default, except that they are limiting it to sanitized briefing books and mandate letters that even the Liberal government has shown no intention of following. When faced with public outcry over their ruthless willingness to abandon their principles and promises in favour of whatever is politically convenient, the Liberals refuse to own up to their shameless actions with openness and transparency, but rather, mislead, re-profile, re-label, or try to change the story.

The minister then repeatedly touts the new powers given to the Information Commissioner. He repeats this point so often because it is probably the only positive point of the bill. The minister seems to have stopped listening after that point, and conveniently forgets that the commissioner herself is one of the harshest critics of the bill. Specifically, she said:

After studying the Bill, I have concluded that the proposed amendments to the Access to Information Act will not advance government transparency. The proposed Bill fails to deliver on the government’s promises. If passed, it would result in a regression of existing rights.

That statement is on her website, plain for everyone to see. Perhaps the minister should read it.

The person charged with carrying out and overseeing access to information considers this bill “regressive”, but like many things, because the commissioner's statement is counter to the Liberal message of the day, she does not need to be listened to, it seems. This is ironic. In defending their unending parade of scandals to members in this place, the Liberals claim to hold independent officers of Parliament in the highest regard. I can think of nothing more disrespectful than claiming to agree with the Information Commissioner, but then ignoring her thoughts on this disastrous legislation.

Let us talk about some of the problems with the current system. Timely access to information is key to a well-functioning democracy. If an access to information request takes months or even years to fulfill, the government has failed in its responsibility to be accessible. This legislation would not prevent requests from taking months or even years to be completed, but, amazingly enough, enables the process to take even longer.

I am an avid user of the Access to Information Act. In the two years since being elected, I have submitted over 60 ATIP requests. Take my word for it when I say that the Liberal government is unbearably slow in responding to ATIP requests. As I mentioned, since elected, I have filed over 60 requests, and only half of them have been completed. Some were filed in March of 2016 and remain outstanding over 20 months later.

I am now coming up to my second anniversary of this outstanding ATIP, and apparently cotton is the gift for second anniversaries. I am out looking for something to celebrate the two years outstanding for that ATIP.

Other requests include October 19, 2016, 18 months outstanding; September 2, 2016, 14 months outstanding; two filed at the very beginning of this year, almost a year old now; and April 6, 2017, 10 months outstanding. We also have over 24 ATIPs outstanding that were filed over half a year ago. For reference, I gave the same numbers the first time I spoke to Bill C-58 back in September. My office has not received a single one of them back yet.

The government promised to be better, set a gold standard, and exceed it by a mile. Exceed it? It has not even left the starting blocks.

What is the government's response to this? It wants to give heads of government institutions the ability to decline requests on the basis they are vexatious or made in bad faith. Who is going to define vexatious? Who is going to ensure the government heads are not declining requests that are vexatious to the government or departments because they would embarrass them and are in fact requests for information the public needs to know, such as our ATIPs on the Phoenix issue, which showed very clearly that the government was told two months before it pulled the trigger on Phoenix to clear the backlog before going ahead, which it ignored. Under these rules about vexatious requests, the department would have been able to cover that off.

Another ATIP we had on Phoenix had the CFOs from every single government operation, Transport, Public Services, Agriculture, Finance, and Revenue, all stating very clearly not to go ahead with it, that the training and testing were not done. The government went ahead. Again, without access to information, we would not have found this.

We asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board if ministers would be able to decline requests using the same clause. She said that she could not confirm that ministers would not have that power. This is ridiculous. Apparently, the government itself is stating that it will decide what is vexatious. I have no doubt it will use these new, poorly defined, and inadequately described powers to declare as much as it can to be vexatious or in bad faith.

“Never fear”, the Liberals would say. If a person disagrees with the Liberal denial, he or she can appeal to the commissioner or go to the courts. However, as we have heard repeatedly in this place, the court system is so bogged down with cases and understaffed by qualified judges, almost exclusively because the government is unwilling or unable to fill these roles. Because of that, we are now letting accused murderers off the hook. Imagine how tied up our courts will be when we add in all the appeals on DWI because of impairment for pot. We know we do not have a valid and proper way to measure impairment.

My point is that the system of denial, appeal, denial, appeal could take a process, which already takes upward of 18 months or more and counting, two years. It could take three years or perhaps four years. The beauty of the legislation for the government is that there is no upper limit on the timelessness. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the public and opposition do not see beauty in this.

The government claims that it is ensuring it is open by default, and we know this is patently false. Open by default would include setting an upper limit, which the government would then release the requested information. This legislation ensures that the government can continue moving the upper limit as long as is politically convenient.

The Liberal government talks about all the published mandate letters. How does publishing mandate letters force the government to keep its promises? We remember the mandate letters referring to debt and deficit. That was in the finance minister's mandate letter, which was blown off. The electoral reform promise was in the democratic institutions minister's mandate letter, which was blown off. The promise to complete an open competition for fighter jets was blown off.

There is one mandate the minister can keep, which is to perhaps mess up the procurement, create a trade fight with Boeing and the U.S., and then further subsidize Bombardier.

What about the promise to modify the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act? That is also in the Treasury Board's mandate letter, and is also a failure.

John Ivison from the National Post sums it up very well. He said, “It’s a farce, and... [the minister] has been around long enough to know the changes he’s just unveiled will not make the slightest difference to helping citizens understand the government for which they pay so richly.”

This is it. Apart from a few minor amendments, the legislation has done nothing to meet the campaign promise of the Liberals.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

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

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

Madam Speaker, my colleague and friend from Regina—Lewvan is quite right. He and I, and my colleague from Edmonton West, sit on the government operations committee. We heard compelling testimony from whistle-blowers who felt they were being let down by their government because the information they would bring forward to expose wrongdoing within the government was falling on deaf ears. In fact, it was even worse. Sometimes they came with stories about being punished for bringing forward these legitimate exposés of government wrongdoing, and in some cases outright corruption.

Will changes in Bill C-58 help or hinder those who expose wrongdoing in the government? Quite clearly, it would hinder the ability of public servants to come forward. That is just one of many examples I can put forward in this place to demonstrate quite clearly how flawed Bill C-58 actually is.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

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

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

Madam Speaker, once again, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader is trying to defend the indefensible. The reality is that contained in Bill C-58 is a provision that states the government determines whether or not it will give answers to an access to information request, and in what form. If the government feels that the request is either vexatious, frivolous, or made in bad faith, it does not have to answer. If it does answer, it can redact as much of the information that it feels is necessary. That is not true access to information, that is censorship. The member opposite knows it, and his government knows it. Shame on them for bringing forth a bill that is so regressive that most Canadians, should they understand the content of this bill, would rebel. I again ask the Liberals to do what is right for once in their lives, and to bring this bill back to the drawing board and redraft it. It needs a complete rework and overhaul.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

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

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

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my good friend and colleague from Edmonton West.

All through today's debate, I kept reflecting on an old proverb that we have all heard many times before, that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The government at one point in time actually had some good intentions about reforming the Access to Information Act. At one time, the Liberals might have been genuine when they said they wanted to improve the Access to Information Act, but somewhere along the line on that road, something went terribly wrong because the bill we have before us now, Bill C-58, is far more regressive and prohibitive to Canadians seeking to access the government's information than any access to information bill before its time.

I should say at the outset that I believe that over the last 34 years, ATIPs have proven to be extremely helpful to Canadians. Clearly they have been helpful to politicians who are trying to find out more information about the government of the day, particularly opposition politicians. These access to information requests have also been extremely helpful to journalists, because we have seen over the last number of years journalists break stories about some unethical action of the government of the day. Has that improved the ability of Canadians to learn more about their government? It certainly has.

Now Bill C-58 tends to want to reverse some of the strides that may have been made over the past several years. One of those strides was made by our government, when we were in power, to reduce the amount of money it cost the average Canadian to file an access to information request. We reduced that to $5, meaning that any Canadian who wanted to get more information about a government department could fill out a form and with only a $5 fee, receive an answer from the government department they were querying. That was a good thing and one of the things that helped Canadians become more comfortable with their own government.

However, ATIPs have been invaluable not just to Canadians, to politicians, and to journalists, but also to society as a whole because they have allowed Canadians to learn more about their government in a fashion that gives them confidence in the government of the day. We know of many ATIPs that have been successful and have been newsworthy. The one that most Canadians recall was the sponsorship scandal. It is ironic that we are debating Bill C-58 today, because the sponsor of the bill was, in the early 2000s, a minister in the Liberal cabinet, I believe as minister of public works, who day after day during question period had to stand and defend his government against opposition attacks as we found out more information from the Gomery commission and its investigation.

I recall vividly, as some of my colleague will too, the minister of the then public works department standing and saying in response to opposition questions, “Let Justice Gomery do his work.” That was his standard talking point. He would not answer any direct questions. He would simply say let Justice Gomery do his work. At the end of the day, Justice Gomery did fine work because he exposed the ethical shortcomings of the Liberal government of the day. He exposed the rampant corruption within that government and, frankly, the stench of that corruption stays with me today because I recall how the government abused the trust of the Canadian people when it came to the sponsorship scandal, particularly how Liberal ministers ignored the very fact that their own party operatives were charging for work that was never done and pocketing the money themselves, to benefit themselves financially.

How did we find out about that corruption? It was through an ATIP, through one reporter, Daniel Leblanc, who studiously examined what he thought was a corrupt system in the Quebec government of the day and started asking questions.

Finally, his request for information was answered. That was the start of the sponsorship scandal.

The point I make today is simply this. If the changes proposed by the government on Bill C-58 are enacted, reporters like Daniel Leblanc and others who expose such clear wrongdoing by the government would be the unable to access that information. That is simply wrong. That should never be allowed to happen. Any government, whether it be a Liberal government, a Conservative government, a New Democratic government, or any government in this country, should not be allowed to deny access to Canadians about information of their government.

We all know that governments are a servant of the people. We serve the public. We are supposed to be serving the public's interest. The public's interest in this case will be denied simply because we have a government that is embarrassed about some of its previous ethical lapses and frankly wants to cover them up. I can only point to the most recent example of what might happen if Bill C-58 is passed in its current form, and that is with the most ethical transgressions by the Minister of Finance.

We know now, thanks to an ATIP from reporters at The Globe and Mail, what the current Minister of Finance was hiding from Canadians and from the Ethics Commissioner. We know now, thanks to an ATIP, that the current Minister of Finance had a villa in France that he did not disclose to the Ethics Commissioner for two years, a villa that we can only assume is worth in the millions of dollars because of its locale in one of the wealthier regions of southern France.

We know now, because of an ATIP, that the same Minister of Finance had a numbered company in Alberta that was not disclosed to the Ethics Commissioner. It contained approximately $20 million in shares in a company called Morneau Shepell, which the Minister of Finance formerly used to run, a family-founded, family-run, very successful company, that had obvious direct ties to the Minister of Finance. We know that now, because reporters, journalists, requested access to information that uncovered those ethical transgressions.

If Bill C-58 is adopted, those opportunities will be lost. That should not be allowed to happen. Governments must be accountable for their actions. Governments must be accountable to the public. One of the ways to ensure that it is accountable is by allowing the public, whether it be opposition politicians, journalists, or advocacy groups, to gain information from their government without fear of retribution and without fear of censorship.

Bill C-58 is so desperately flawed that Canadians who have been examining this legislation and listening to this debate must feel that they have no more confidence in the government. In fact, what Bill C-58 does is to make information unavailable to Canadians should the government determine that it does not want to release what it considers to be sensitive information. That is right. It is not up to the government to release information upon request. The government feels that it is within its purview to deny information if it feels it might embarrass them, if it feels that the information is not in its best political interest. That is not only shameful, it is offensive, and should not be allowed to happen.

I know that my comments are falling on deaf ears when it comes to speaking to members opposite, but I beseech them to reconsider this flawed bill, take it back to the starting board, and if it truly wants to make access to information a reality, redraft and redraw this bill.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 5 p.m.
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Conservative

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

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague from Winnipeg a very simple question. He alluded to it during his remarks of just a few moments ago. It seems that Canadians have been misled in the intentions of the Liberal government with its stated purpose of improving access to information when in fact, what we know now about the details of Bill C-58 demonstrates quite clearly that it is more difficult right now for the average Canadian to access information from the current government. I would like to hear my colleague expound a bit about why he thinks that is and what might be done to try to improve this badly flawed bill.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 4:50 p.m.
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NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am going to speak to Bill C-58. Prior to its tabling, it offered a lot of promise to Canadians, who have been concerned for a long time about the access to information regime in Canada.

Unfortunately, I do not think my remarks will differ from those I made early on in the debate about Bill C-58 before it went to committee, because not a lot has changed substantially about the bill. We are still largely confronted with the same issues as when the bill was originally tabled.

The main point is a sense of lost opportunity. That is clear, not just to members of the NDP caucus, but to a lot stakeholders who have criticized the bill, as well as the stakeholders within the access to information community who testified at the access to information committee during what was a long and thorough study of Canada's access to information laws.

There have not been any real changes to the Access to Information Act since it was first brought introduced in 1983. I am sure that members of the House will appreciate that the way government does business has changed radically since 1983. If we think of the technologies that were available in 1983 versus the technologies available now, and the way those have become part and parcel of the way that government conducts its business, it is clear that reform of the access to information laws is necessary.

With changes being proposed to the laws, there was a great opportunity to address a number of problems. What were some of those problems? One of the important problems in my view is that cabinet ministers can say that whatever information is being requested falls under the purview of cabinet confidence. If it said to be advice to a minister, it cannot be touched. Fine, I think there is a legitimate space for some advice to ministers to be protected, except there is no ability for anyone, including the Information Commissioner, to assess whether that information has been denied properly, under the rubric of advice to ministers, or whether ministers were just making it up or saying that it was advice to ministers when it in fact it was not really advice to ministers.

Canadians must have confidence in the access to information system to know that when they are being told that something is advice to a minister and cannot be shared because it would hurt the public interest, this is true. I do not think we are in a situation in which Canadians have that confidence. I do not think Canadians had that kind of confidence in the last government, that is for sure, and I do not think Canadians have that kind of confidence in the current government.

Let us consider one of the important themes in question period for months now, indeed throughout the fall. It is about whether or not the Canada Revenue Agency made a deliberate decision to change its interpretation of a policy in order to deny the disability tax credit to people with diabetes. It turns out, as we found out this week, that in fact there was a memo circulated within the CRA back in May of this year that said very clearly that CRA staff who were evaluating those applications ought to err on the side of denying those applications, regardless of the advice of a physician or a nurse.

What has the minister said in the House? The minister has denied that a decision was made to this very day, despite the evidence that a decision was indeed made. What confidence can Canadians have in a system that might have allowed that minister to say that the memo was covered by a cabinet confidence? If she had invoked the exclusion, and I do not want to give them ideas, that would assume that the memo came through the access to information process. I am not sure that one did.

The point is that had someone made an access to information request and the minister's office had decided to call the memo an excluded document because it was advice to the minister or something else, no one would have been able to circle back and evaluate whether that was true or not. I think it is pretty clear that a memo to employees is not advice to a minister.

However, the point is that the Information Commissioner would not have been able to circle back, look at that document, and make an assessment as to whether or not that exclusion was rightfully applied. Canadians would still be in the dark about that very clear decision by the CRA to change the way it interprets its own policy.

While it is true for the minister to say that the policy on paper has not changed, it is misleading. Clearly, there was a directive given on how to interpret that same policy that radically changed the balance of acceptance and denial with respect to people with diabetes who are applying for that tax credit. That is the kind of thing that Canadians want to have access to and demonstrates why Canadians would want to know. Canadians want to know as it has a real and material effect for people who are living with diabetes, on their taxes, and what comes back to them from their tax return.

People also want to know because that document contradicts what the minister has been saying. They want to have that evidence and be able to follow through, to see if what the minister says is true and borne out within departmental directives.

One of the important things coming out of the study on access to information was the idea that an independent third party needs to verify a minister's use of that exclusion. Otherwise, it just becomes a huge blanket by which ministers can snuff out all sorts of information that would be politically inconvenient for them but important for Canadians to know and assess the government's performance. That is one of the ways that this legislation has failed.

Another obvious failure is with respect to the black and white commitment by the Liberal Party in the last election to have this apply to the PMO and ministers' offices. We did not make that up. It is not a partisan statement. That was a real commitment. It was part and parcel of the Prime Minister's own private member's legislation in the last Parliament. However, that is not in this legislation or something they chose to do.

Whether we think it is a good idea to have those things apply to the PMO or the ministers' offices, it was a very clear commitment of the Liberal Party that they would do so. The question is why is it not borne out in the legislation? They created a real mandate for openness and transparency and have the backing of Canadians, to the extent that they want the government to be more open and transparent.

They could have done a lot of things to help Canada be a model for openness and transparency. The problem is that is not what Bill C-58 delivers. It does not deliver that because it does not address serious problems that have come out of other jurisdictions.

It was in the news for some time that B.C. had an issue with documentation of government decisions that could be accessed through access to information. Government staff, and particularly political staff, responded by simply not documenting the outcomes of important meetings where decisions were made. That rightly created quite a stir. It was, and continues to be, a strong recommendation of the information commissioner that a legal duty to document needs to be established so that the political staff of ministers cannot get around accountability by not writing down the substance of important decisions made in private meetings. Eventually, it would be accessible under access to information. The government has not done that, and it is disappointing.

I do not want to sound naive or silly. When I first became a member of this House I was a member of the access to information committee and we had the President of the Treasury Board come a number of times. He repeated that one of the things he was looking forward to doing and glad that he had a mandate to do, was to change Canada's access to information laws. That was a real priority for him. He gave timelines, which he ignored.

Bill C-58 came much later than originally promised. When it did finally come, it did not honour what critics and stakeholders said we needed as an ideal access to information regime in Canada or the Liberals' own concrete, black and white election commitments. If that is what it means to be a priority of the Liberal government, Canadians should think twice about being on their priority list. There is a lot of other stuff being done that was promised in the last election. Those things are being done and this is not.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 4:35 p.m.
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NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to be in the House when you are presiding.

I participated in the debate at second reading, hopeful that for once the government would be open to amendments. As I recall, the President of the Treasury Board promised they would be open to amendments. Regrettably, every amendment tabled by my colleague was rejected.

Why is that important? As the representative for the Conservative Party stated, great promises were made by the Liberals when they ran for office, a new world of openness and transparency and sunshine. What are they offering? Like many of the bills they have brought forward, they tell us not to worry, that they have not made those changes they promised, that in five years when we review the bill again, they will think about whether they will bring those forward. It is getting very tiresome.

It is time for the government to deliver on its promises and on requests by Canadians, by experts, and by its own commissioners to open access to information.

I have shared in the House that in my 40-plus years as an environmental advocate, I championed the cause for the rights of citizens to have a voice in environmental decision-making. Critical to that is having the opportunity to participate in the review of standards and the review of projects, policy, and trade deals. For the public to constructively participate, it is very critical they have ready access to information. The government has failed on that.

The Liberals have said that they will have a proactive disclosure, but then it is up to the government to decide what the public will receive. Yes, it would be nice if the government were more open with access to information, but let me give a concrete example of where it has abjectly failed to deliver on this promise.

We are in the middle of negotiations on a “modernized” NAFTA. Very late in the day, the government suddenly remembered it would have strong provisions for environment in any NAFTA deal, yet there is no environmental adviser to the foreign affairs minister who is negotiating the deal. To her credit, she has industry representatives and representatives from labour, but no representative with environmental expertise.

Very late in the day, at the eleventh hour, the environment minister established an advisory committee. We have no idea what role it is playing, whether its ideas are passed on to the negotiation table. We have no idea whatsoever what the government is proposing for environmental provisions in the NAFTA deal, unlike the Americans. We can criticize the Americans as much as want, but they tabled and made publicly available all the provisions they were intending to seek for environment in a negotiated trade deal. So much for openness and transparency.

Nothing in Bill C-58 will improve that, because the government has made its own decision that it will not disclose that information in advance to the public. To make matters worse, the Liberals issued a call for public comments on a revised NAFTA, when we did not even know what a revised NAFTA would say. I do not know what the outcome of the consultations were but I heard from a lot of Canadians who asked how they could comment on a trade deal when they did not even know what it would include. The Liberal Party's idea about open access to information and timeliness is a bit of Russian roulette.

Why is it important for Canadians to have access to information? From my perspective, as the environment and climate change critic and as an advocate for environmental rights for over 40 years, these are the kinds of things the public wants. They want to know in advance, before they are consulted, if they are consulted, what the planned routes are for pipelines. They want to know the locations of chemical plants before they are approved. They want information on the potential or known impacts of toxins on their health. That request was made very strongly by very many people who testified before our parliamentary committee.

The government has been in power now for over two years. What was one of the Liberals' big election promises? They promised they would immediately restore all federal environmental laws. Well, there is nothing stopping them from tabling today or tomorrow a revised Canadian Environmental Protection Act to extend these kinds of rights. We had a review by our committee with all kinds of recommendations to amend the act, but there has still been no action, and we will not hold our breath for a response.

We want to know about the safety of consumer products before they are made available for sale. Again, it is a specific request made by experts to our parliamentary committee. We are still waiting for action to make that information available. It is a vacuous offer to increase and improve access to information when, in fact, the Liberals bring forward a bill that provides very little.

As my colleague did, I will also share from the Information Commissioner's report on Bill C-58 entitled “Failing to Strike the Right Balance for Transparency”, which reads:

In short, Bill C-58 fails to deliver.

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

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

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

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

That is from the report of the Information Commissioner, and it is a scathing review, yet members of the government stand and defend the bill they have brought forward.

The bill could have been strengthened if the government finally delivered on the undertaking in this place by the President of the Treasury Board that he would welcome amendments to strengthen the bill, and yet the government refused every single amendment brought forward by my colleagues. This is not open and constructive government. It is not listening to experts. It is not listening to its own commissioners. It is not listening to the public.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 4:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Madam Speaker, in fact, in the Liberals' campaign document, the second page states, “Together, we can restore a sense of trust in our democracy. Greater openness and transparency are fundamental to accomplishing this.” The next paragraph goes on to say, “Our objective is nothing less than making transparency a fundamental principle across the Government of Canada.” What a farce. As soon as the Liberals were elected, they said, “Just kidding” and it did not happen.

Bill C-58 definitely should go back and be rethought. All the Liberals are doing is shutting down debate and the information Canadians deserve.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

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

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

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

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

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

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