Thank you so much, Madam Chair.
My name is Gregory Thomas. I represent the Canadian Taxpayers Federation as its federal and Ontario director.
We are a non-partisan, not-for-profit political advocacy group. We have about 70,000 supporters across the country. We've been around for 20 years, and our mission is lower taxes, less waste, and more accountable government, at all levels.
I want to state at the outset that we sometimes get caricatured for our positions. We've not been actively antagonistic toward the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and we don't have any ongoing campaign against the CBC. We're not lobbying for any sort of adjustments to the CBC, apart from our overall belief that the budget should be balanced.
We actually submitted a plan to the House finance committee to balance the budget in two years, and the Minister of Finance described our plan as draconian. If Jim Flaherty thinks that budget-cutting proposals are draconian, I guess that probably explains where we stand fiscally. We believe in balancing the budget, but we're not out to get the CBC or anything like that. It's not our thing.
That being said, on the access to information file, we've also had many run-ins with the government. We've had run-ins with the Mulroney government, the Chrétien government, the Martin government, and we continue to have run-ins with Harper government over access to information issues.
Most notably, we were recently threatened with legal action by a former political staffer in the Harper government, as part of a complaint that we waged in conjunction with Newspapers Canada and the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association relating to the obstruction of an access to information request.
We are a consumer of information, a requester of information, and a believer in access to information and freedom of information. We have a very curious gentleman in our office, who spends a good portion of his week sending access to information inquiries. In fact he just emailed me to say there are 41,432 employees at the Canada Revenue Agency. That was today's revelation from an access to information request.
He's made a half a dozen or so requests about the operations of the CBC, and they've essentially been turned down. He's appealed to the Information Commissioner, and the Information Commissioner has ruled in his favour. CBC has refused to respect the wishes of the Information Commissioner.
This has nothing to do with the commercial interests of the CBC or their programming or their journalistic sources, or anything. They're just being ornery and contrary-minded in refusing to honour the spirit of the access to information law.
When the CBC adopts a policy of this nature, we don't believe it provides much encouragement to the rest of the government to honour the access to information laws. We think it sets a very bad example.
I think the other thing that our supporters find profoundly offensive is whole practice within government of government ministries and departments litigating against the Information Commissioner, this whole idea of spending taxpayers' money to go to court, tying up the resources of the Federal Court of Canada and the resources of the Information Commissioner, and spending public funds to have an internal battle between different government agencies.
Ideally, the legislation should be clear enough that everyone in the federal government can follow it, and publicly funded agencies should be able to.... The legislation should provide for a process whereby these issues get decided without resorting to lawyers, litigation, court cases and court costs. It's a big waste of money.