Thank you, Mr. Chair. I am delighted to be here with you today and with your committee.
I am joined by Parliamentary Secretary Joyce Murray as well as my colleague Minister Gould, and as you mentioned, Jennifer Dawson from TBS.
I want to thank members of the committee for your work and your consideration of issues around Canada's access to information system.
As we developed these reforms, we were guided by the principle that government information belongs to the people we serve.
We remain committed to this principle, which the Access to Information Act first enshrined in law in 1983.
Now, 34 years later, our proposed reforms advance the original intent of that act in a way that better reflects today's technologies, policies, and legislation.
This is not a one-off exercise. Rather, we've kicked off a progressive, ongoing renewal of the ATI system, one that will protect Canada's right of access to government information well into the future.
Our efforts began over a year ago. In May 2016, I issued an Interim Directive that enshrined the idea of government being "open by default".
Open by default means having a culture across government in which data and information are increasingly released as a matter of course, unless there are specific reasons not to do so.
It's about allowing Canadians to better understand how government functions and to give them the information they need to contribute to a healthier democracy.
The Canadian government is being recognized by global partners for our efforts in this area. In March we were elected to the steering committee of the Open Government Partnership for the first time, and on September 21 Canada agreed to take on the role of lead government chair of the OGP in 2018-19.
The OGP is a multi-stakeholder organization that brings together 75 governments and hundreds of civil society organizations. I can tell you that as a government we are excited to take on this leadership role for Canada over the coming two years as co-chair.
The CEO of the Open Government Partnership, Sanjay Pradhan, called our country “a beacon of openness” last month in New York. Additionally, earlier this year, Canada was ranked number two in the Open Data Barometer survey, which is a global assessment of how governments are using open data for accountability, innovation, and social impact. The report commented on how political will in Canada has translated into strong policy foundations on openness and transparency.
A year ago we eliminated all fees for access to information requests, apart from the $5 filing fee, and directed the release of information in user-friendly formats whenever possible.
Now, with the amendments proposed in Bill C-58, we're taking the next step.
These amendments would create a new part of the act relating to proactive disclosure, one that puts clearly into practice the idea of open by default.
Of course this does not absolve us of our responsibility to strengthen the request-based system. We know that the access to information system has been the subject of widespread and warranted criticism. That's why we're developing a guide to provide requesters with clear explanations for exemptions and exclusions; investing in tools and technology to make processing information requests more efficient; allowing federal institutions with the same minister to share request processing services for greater efficiency; and increasing uniform government training to get common and consistent interpretation and application of ATI rules.
Mr. Chair, we are also following the guidance of this committee.
We are moving to help government institutions weed out "bad faith" requests that put significant strain on the system.
By tying up government resources, vexatious requests can interfere with an institution's ability to do its work and to respond to other requests.
Let me be clear: we have heard the concerns expressed about how we must safeguard against abuse of this proposed measure. We need to get this right and recognize that, while this new tool is needed to significantly improve the system, everything, from sound policy to training and proper oversight, must be done to prevent its abuse.
Our proposed amendments also give the Information Commissioner new powers, including, for the first time, the power to order the release of government records. This is an important advancement, which was first recommended by a parliamentary committee studying the Access to Information Act in 1987. Our government is acting on it, and Bill C-58 would change the commissioner's role from an ombudsperson to an authority with the order-making power to order the release of government records.
We are also giving the Information Commissioner's office more financial resources to do its job.
And that's just the first phase of our access to information modernization.
Bill C-58 includes a mandatory review of the act every five years. The first review will begin no later than one year after the bill receives royal assent. What's more, we require that departments regularly review the information being requested under the act.
Mr. Chair, after 34 years, Canada's access to information system needs updating. This is going to be an ongoing work in progress.
I'd now like to pass it over to my colleague, the Minister of Democratic Institutions. Merci.