Evidence of meeting #21 for Government Operations and Estimates in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was requests.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Caroline Maynard  Information Commissioner of Canada, Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada
Michael A. Dagg  As an Individual
Allan Cutler  President, Anti-Corruption and Accountability Canada
Sean Holman  Associate Professor of Journalism, Mount Royal University, Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Paul Cardegna

June 19th, 2020 / 12:45 p.m.

Associate Professor of Journalism, Mount Royal University, Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group

Sean Holman

It's certainly not a concern I've heard. I speak mostly with the journalistic community, being a former investigative journalist. That said, I can definitely see the concern. If sensitive information is being requested, information that, for example, falls under the national security exemption or exclusion, then there's a real reason why those records should be kept on a secure network.

However, I think this also points to the fact that there is a real need for the proactive disclosure of more records, more broad categories of records, so that we don't create this kind of congestion, so that we say all these kinds of information should be available to Canadians as a matter of course.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

In my previous life, I used to be a third party, but I often got access to.... I've asked the same questions. How do you treat third parties in access to information? Should they get a signal? Often, and Ms. Maynard referenced this, the timeline is that consultation that happens with third parties who are subject to the ATIP requests. What's your advice on that?

12:50 p.m.

Associate Professor of Journalism, Mount Royal University, Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group

Sean Holman

I think we're too sensitive to the needs of third parties when it comes to access to information requests. In most cases, we're talking about government information that the public has a right to know about to a greater or lesser extent. I think we're often too obsessed with privacy in this country. We talk a lot about the costs and the potential risks of disclosure, but we don't talk a lot about the risks of non-disclosure.

The risk of non-disclosure is that Canadians do not have the information necessary to make good decisions in their public and private lives. That is a huge downside to privacy, to secrecy. We need to be more cognizant of it as a country, and I think government needs to be more cognizant of it as well.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

You would be prone to be more on the side of, for instance, if it's commercial sensitivity, “You're doing business with the government, so too bad, so sad, your information is going to be published”?

12:50 p.m.

Associate Professor of Journalism, Mount Royal University, Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group

Sean Holman

Absolutely. I couldn't have put it better myself.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Okay.

You've also touched on cabinet confidentiality. Are you saying that cabinet discussions should be wide open or that there should be some level of confidentiality when cabinet discussions are happening?

12:50 p.m.

Associate Professor of Journalism, Mount Royal University, Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group

Sean Holman

I think we need to have a real substantive discussion about cabinet confidentiality in this country, which we didn't really have when the Access to Information Act was being debated, at least not in a fulsome way. What we're essentially saying is that Canadians have no right to know what goes on in the principal decision-making body in government. That seems to me to be anathema to democracy. I would be in favour of opening those discussions and of opening the information that comes into cabinet much more than it is now.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

I know there's been some jurisprudence expressed there. I know that for the Supreme Court of Canada, I think in the Babcock v. Canada case, the Supreme Court Justice said that for ministers to be able to express themselves freely, they've recognized that there has to be that level of confidentiality. Would you say that you're going against that or you don't support that necessarily, or let's have that conversation and figure out where we put these limits?

12:50 p.m.

Associate Professor of Journalism, Mount Royal University, Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group

Sean Holman

I would say let's have that conversation, but I would also say that in a lot of cases we're simply talking about embarrassment here. It's funny. The reason for secrecy is actually the same reason as the need for information. Because if people have information, then they have control over you. If they have information, then you might not have as much certainty.

I think that's what government is trying to protect: its own control and its own certainty. There needs to be a much better balance than we have in this country when it comes to the accessibility of information, particularly the accessibility of the information about what's going on at the pinnacle of power in Canada.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

I'll end it there. Thank you for your testimony. I appreciate it.

12:50 p.m.

Associate Professor of Journalism, Mount Royal University, Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group

Sean Holman

Thank you so much.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Tom Lukiwski

Thank you very much.

Colleagues, because of the extended discussion we had on the previous motion, our last intervention is coming up, and it goes to Mr. Aboultaif, please, for five minutes.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ziad Aboultaif Conservative Edmonton Manning, AB

Thank you, Chair.

In the spirit of the transparency discussion around today's session, I was hoping that the government members would have supported the motion of my colleague Mr. McCauley when it comes to getting some reports from the PBO. It's too bad.

Speaking of which, my question is for Mr. Cutler on anti-corruption and accountability in Canada. Would you be able to shed light on corruption in Canada, please, on the status quo, how much we've fallen compared to the past and where we're heading?

12:55 p.m.

President, Anti-Corruption and Accountability Canada

Allan Cutler

There are no actual statistics, but I can give you a personal opinion. We're going downhill, and we're going downhill fast. The anti-corruption perception index done by Transparency International Canada has seen us dropping positions, but nobody who talks about it considers white-collar crime corruption. In Canada, for white-collar crime, you get a slap on your wrist and it's “go back and don't do it anymore, please”. It is really sad.

Brad Birkenfeld, who is the one who tried to expose $1 billion in unpaid offshore taxes in 2008—and we're still trying to get that looked at—literally has stated that Canada is the most corrupt economy he knows of. He goes around the world. This is a person who goes into every country. He is in Italy. Malta is where he lives now. He goes into Asia. The one country he will not go into is Canada. When asked, he said it was because he felt that if he went across the Canadian border they'd find a reason to charge him for something. That gives you an attitude of an outsider who is an international expert in what goes on in the whistle-blowing community and the corruption that goes around.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ziad Aboultaif Conservative Edmonton Manning, AB

I would welcome some comments from Mr. Holman on this, if possible.

12:55 p.m.

Associate Professor of Journalism, Mount Royal University, Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group

Sean Holman

I think Mr. Cutler is absolutely right. We need to have a broader conversation about the issue of corruption in this country. We need to have a broader conversation about the issue of accountability in this country. We need to protect those who are best-positioned to blow the whistle on these kinds of problems.

As I said before, we often talk, and have often talked during the pandemic, about the need to recognize the bravery of first responders. A first responder who provides information about something that is going wrong in society, in our public or private institutions, should be respected.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ziad Aboultaif Conservative Edmonton Manning, AB

As you focus mostly on the public sector, who does pay attention in the private sector to corruption?

12:55 p.m.

Associate Professor of Journalism, Mount Royal University, Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group

Sean Holman

That's actually a really good question.

No one, really. I think that's a crying need in this country—it's a crying need. I think if we had more information about what was going on in the private sector by the public sector that would help too.

One of the things that I would encourage this committee to look at is the absence of information about a whole bunch of issues in Canada, simply because government isn't keeping records or looking into the issue anymore. Canada is a graveyard of information compared with the United States. If we don't have good information about what's going on in this country, whether or not it's concerning corruption or any other issue, we can't make good decisions about it.

Everyone in this room, I think, would agree that there is a need for smart government, regardless of whether or not it's big or large. I think we can be united on that issue and call for greater disclosure and greater monitoring, so that we know what's going on in society.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ziad Aboultaif Conservative Edmonton Manning, AB

That's very good.

Corruption in the private sector does reflect a lot of the overall image of the country and the nation. If the government is also going through similar experiences, then who is going to be accountable for whom, and who is going to be looking after whom?

Therefore, we look to organizations such as yours. Maybe we need tougher legislation to really be able to push that through and make sure we keep an eye on corruption, because it does damage Canada's position on trade as well as on the investment side.

1 p.m.

Associate Professor of Journalism, Mount Royal University, Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group

Sean Holman

Absolutely. Actually, I would encourage this committee to also look at a study that was done in the seventies on the issue of corporate concentration in Canada. There were some very good recommendations in that study about the need for greater disclosure on the part of corporations in this country. A lot of those recommendations were never acted on.

I think, in keeping with your concern, that it would be vital for this committee to take a look into that issue as well.

1 p.m.

Conservative

Ziad Aboultaif Conservative Edmonton Manning, AB

Thank you.

Mr. Chair, I will yield the rest of my time to Ms. Vignola for a motion.

1 p.m.

Bloc

Julie Vignola Bloc Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Thank you very much.

So I will read the motion, which is the following:

That the Committee request that the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer undertake a costing analysis of building the Canadian Surface Combatants and building the FREMM and the Type 31 and that the report containing this analysis be presented to the Chair of the Committee by Thursday, October 22, 2020.

This is the first version you received.

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Tom Lukiwski

Colleagues, I will point out just a couple of things.

Although we have a motion in front of us, we're under a very tight timeline. As all committee members know, we have to finish. We normally end our committees on the hour because our technicians need additional time to set up for the next meeting. I'm somewhat disappointed that we have to deal with this now, because it's cutting into our technicians' time for the next committee.

The motion in front of us is in order. It can be debated and amended. I'm looking to see if anyone wants to speak to it.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Chair, technically it should have been ruled out of order, but it's feel-good Friday so I'll be voting in favour of it.

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Tom Lukiwski

I'm seeing no debate, so I am going to ask Paul to do the roll call, please.

(Motion agreed to: yeas 10; nays 0 [See Minutes of Proceedings])

Since this is, as Mr. Drouin pointed out, feel-good Friday, I feel the love. I feel the love from all of you.

Colleagues, that will conclude our meeting for today. I remind you that we will have two more meetings throughout the summer, if the whips approve the dates. The first one will be on Thursday, July 23, at 2 p.m. eastern time. The following one will be on Thursday, August 27, at 11 a.m. eastern time. You will be getting a notification from our clerk to confirm those meeting times when we have confirmation from our whips.

With that, I wish you all a great summer. I hope you all stay healthy and safe. I also hope you have opportunities to spend time with your loved ones, your families and friends. These last three months have been quite an experience for all of us, and I appreciate what all of you have done to make this committee a working success, in my humble opinion. We'll see you back here in July.

The meeting is adjourned.