Mr. Speaker, I would simply make them aware that they have talked about these crown corporations and crown agencies. I know they are concerned about the veil of secrecy that seems to enshroud them.
The desire of the people of Quebec for open and accountable institutions is just as great as in Alberta, Ontario, the maritimes, or for that matter anywhere else. I would therefore ask members of the Bloc to join us in supporting Motion No. 304. I am sure it is one example where they will not get in trouble for voting with the Reform Party.
Let me just quote briefly from the 1991-92 annual report of the information commissioner to further illustrate my point. The information commissioner wrote:
The access law has attained a maturity of political whim. It is a law which cuts across and goes beyond party politics. It should appeal as much to the conservative as to the liberal or the social democrat. The Access to Information Act is ideologically neutral, without party coloration.
Conservatives who worry about the state growing too powerful should applaud the empowerment, that indispensable trendy word, of the individual by information rights; liberals and socialists in Parliament and elsewhere will welcome the sharing of the government's information better to challenge those in authority and effect changes in society.
In my speech I have tried to express the universal nature of the motion to expand the Access to Information Act. This is not a partisan bill. I firmly believe we can get all party support for the motion. If we get this support we will send a strong, positive message of change to the people of the country. The people of Canada are waiting. It is time for us to act.
Now that the House has heard my speech on unity and the universality of the motion, I want to talk a bit about the Access to Information Act in case people have some concern that we are trying to open up everything and cause the system not to work any longer.
To quote from the act, its purpose is to extend the "laws of Canada to provide a right of access to information in records under the control of a government institution in accordance with the principles that government information should be available to the public".
For those of my colleagues who may worry about the consequences of extending the act to Parliament, I assure them this would not force members to open up their own private files on constituency business or matters relating to their positions in their respective parties.
The motion would allow the opening of the business of the House to public scrutiny. This would include financial matters which are currently handled by our respected Speaker of the House, the expenditures of the Senate, the Sergeant-at-Arms and the Black Rod.
For example, the House will be undergoing a 12-year renovation projected to cost over $250 million. This kind of expenditure is massive so the details surrounding the contracts and spending should be available to the public. Certainly reading some recently published books about government contracts being handed out will make that more of a consideration for the public.
While I am certain the Speaker of the House will do everything in his power to make sure that the renovation goes properly, all Canadians will feel better about the project and those like it if they have access to documents. If citizens know they are getting the straight goods they may just begin to trust us a little more.
For members concerned that extending the scope of the Access to Information Act will be too much of a good thing, I point out a comment of the information commissioner who wrote:
Of course access to rights are not absolute. They are subject to specific and limited exemptions, balancing freedom of information against individual privacy, commercial confidentiality, national security and the frank communications needed for effective policy making".
This limitation would apply to Motion No. 304. Any members of this House who are concerned that they would somehow be opening up Pandora's box by voting for this motion should rest assured. In fact those who are particularly nervous about exposing themselves to an unreasonable amount of crime need only look through the Access to Information Act itself. They will find there are a full 16 pages of exemptions which will guarantee that their legitimate right will not be breached.
Nonetheless Canadians need to know that they do have the right to ask certain questions. These questions are not only legitimate but they are essential to the proper working of our
democracy. Beyond this, if there is clarification which is required as to the exact implications of M-304, I am certain that the parliamentary justice committee which is responsible for this would do an excellent job.
As members can see, there is no reason to be concerned about this motion and every reason to expect that it will be exactly the kind of initiative that the Canadian people have been waiting for from this Parliament.
I would like to conclude by once again referring to the words of the information commissioner in the 1991-92 annual report who made an interesting point that I think all parliamentarians should listen to. He said: "The Access to Information Act lacks visible champions of openness in Parliament. It matters not whether parliamentary access advocates come from either government or opposition benches. Preferably they should come from both sides of the House and, in particular, from the members of the justice and solicitor general committee. The information commissioner is a voice from the outside. Parliament should have some inside voices preaching for and defending the access to rights. A note to members of the next Parliament", and that is us, "anyone looking to be identified with a good issue should consider freedom of information. Any such champions will quickly receive attention".
I am asking all members here to get behind an act like this and a motion like this. This basically, above all, is going to send that message of openness, accountability, and transparency that all of us have been talking about and working toward.
One other thing the hon. member gives me as an example, if I can just add one more piece to this as I think I do have another minute or so.
Talking about access to information, I have just received information from the hon. member for Calgary Centre. Last night he was told about a meeting in Kingston and the Islands which 65 people attended. Five were media, 30 per cent were anglophones and 70 per cent were francophones. They were curious and interested in Reform. They were fed up with the over-government of the PCs and are now fed up with the under-government currently being offered by the Liberals.
As a point of information, the first Reform meeting held by the member for Edmonton Southwest only had 11 people and today he is a member of Parliament.