House of Commons Hansard #125 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rcmp.


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5 p.m.


Peter Milliken Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can understand why members opposite think they were voted into office instead of us. I used to think that too when we sat on the other side. Canadians now wish they had voted us in and they would not have gone through five years of anguish they did from 1988 to 1993. Unfortunately, they did not. They were cajoled into voting for Mr. Mulroney and his gang and we all suffered as a result. The members of the Reform Party all acknowledge that and they know it is true.

In fact, because of the suffering imposed by that government many of the Reformers were elected in western Canada primarily. To my recollection they got one in Ontario and spoiled a perfect record for this party. But we did fine in Ontario and the hon. member knows that.

I thank the hon. member for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke for a very sensible question. The purpose of this particular series of proposals was "Agenda, Jobs and Growth, Improving Social Security in Canada" to elicit the views of Canadians on improving the social security system in Canada. It was intended as a discussion paper. It is being used as a discussion paper. I had a public meeting in my constituency where members of the public were invited to make presentations and submit their views and there was discussion.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development was there as a special guest and he provided great illumination for all present. It was an excellent meeting. That is the purpose of the release of this paper.

I see my time has expired. I apologize.

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5 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: The hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, VIA Rail; the hon. member for The Battlefords-Meadow Lake, Grain Transportation.

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5 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Mr. Speaker, we are having fun here this afternoon.

I rise in the House today to talk about a very important and I think a very serious subject that affects all Canadians. That of course is social program reform.

I was in my constituency this past week. I attended several townhall meetings, coffee shop meetings, meetings with chambers of commerce and other meetings. It proved to be a very difficult week because I was continually preparing my constitu-

ents for very depressing news. I laid out and explained the situation and the difficulties we face in the years to come in regard to dealing with reform of the social programs.

It was tough talking to people about cutting spending to social programs. It was tough talking about the $10 billion of federal government cuts that must take place other than cuts to social program areas.

It was difficult telling Canadians and having those people agree with me that we need to cut somewhere between $12 billion and $16 billion from social program spending otherwise these programs will collapse and we will lose them entirely.

In an attempt to lighten things in the evening and to make a very important point, I would start by relating a story about a neighbour of mine. This farmer was the frustrated type. He was the anxious type. To relieve the anxiety he would go out every Sunday morning on his road. He called it his road because he was the one who pushed to have it built and he was the one who pushed to have it paved. He would go out in his five speed car. He would go up the straightaway, get his car up to about 100 and go into a sharp curve and come out of the curve at 140. That made him feel good. That helped relieve his anxiety.

One Sunday morning he drove out to the end of his driveway. He just started accelerating up the straightaway and he saw around the corner someone on his road. As the car moved closer he saw it swerve. He thought: "My God, a drunk on my road on a Sunday morning". As the car came even closer he saw that it was a lady driver. He thought: "A lady driver on my road on Sunday morning, this is ridiculous".

He started accelerating but as he started to do that, the lady driver slowed her car down and quickly cranked the window open. He was not going to stop but he slowed down. As he went by he opened his window. And as the car passed he heard the lady shout: "Pig". He was really angry and really anxious. He accelerated down the straightaway, went into the corner at 120 and slammed, right into the pig".

I use this story to demonstrate that people with an attitude problem, as this farmer clearly had, often miss the signals that would help them avoid problems that are in the road. Because this farmer missed the signals he hit the pig. Because of his attitude problem he hit the pig.

I suggest that governments over the past 30 years have missed the signals. They have had attitude problems when it comes to cutting spending to preserve the social programs that people in this country value.

I want to talk today about spending, in fact overspending. It is the biggest problem the government faces today. To start this topic off at the meetings over the past week I presented a quote by P.J. O'Rourke which states: "Giving government money and power is like giving teenagers liquor and the keys to the car". That quote really hit home with people. They really could identify with that quote. Giving government money and power is like giving teenagers liquor and the keys to the car.

If we think about what has happened in the area of spending over this past 30 years or so with one government after another-Liberal, Conservative, Liberal, Conservative, Liberal-it has been the same problem, a problem that seems to be similar to giving teenagers liquor and the keys to the car.

My constituents one after another at one meeting after another just simply could not believe how this government operates. By that I mean how it is constantly overspending. They like to relate the overspending of this government to what would happen if they overspent in their personal budgets in running their homes.

The question came up again and again. How can they get away with spending more than they have? In my home if I was spending more than I have my family would eventually be without a home and they would be hungry. This was a common comment made by people in the constituency over this time.

What these people did understand very well is that the deficit, which is the amount that government spends more than it takes in over any one year, last year about $36 billion, cannot continue. These people did understand very clearly that the federal government debt, which is about $534 billion now, increasing at about $110 million per day or about $1,500 a second, cannot be continued.

I just want to put this debt and deficit into perspective by talking about how that relates to my family personally.

My wife, my five children, and myself own about $140,000 of this federal debt. We have to pay off about $140,000 of this federal debt. That is on top of my house mortgage and my farm debt, another $140,000 to pay off. Not only that but my family's share is being added to at a rate of about $10,000 per year. I am very concerned that it is going to be extremely difficult for my family as it is going to be very difficult for other Canadian families to pay their share of this debt.

Where does the federal government get its money? Where does the money come from? First of all about $58 billion a year comes from personal income tax, about $8.3 billion from corporate tax, about $17.5 billion from unemployment insurance contributions, about $15 billion from the GST, $11 billion from excise taxes, and about $11 billion from other spending.

Where does the other $40 billion to $41 billion come from? The sad truth is that the other $40 billion comes from borrowing.

Who does this Canadian government borrow the money from? It used to be that a majority of the money borrowed came from Canadians. Now, and I think this makes our situation even more difficult, almost 45 per cent of new borrowing comes from outside Canada.

Should the time come, and it almost certainly will if our government does not change its attitude so it can avoid this pig, it almost certainly will be cut off very soon. Lenders from outside the country will just stop lending. When that day comes we will face a situation that is every bit as serious as the situation that New Zealand has faced and the situation that Italy has faced, very difficult indeed.

Some say it is easy to get more revenue. All we have to do is increase corporate taxes. We have certainly heard from the NDP and from members of the Liberal Party over the past years: just increase the corporate tax.

I have a cartoon here that I think demonstrates very well the problem with that. It is a picture of people in a coffee shop who are saying "Well, this new tax plan sounds pretty good. We get a cut of 9 per cent and business picks up the burden". In the very next frame of this cartoon is a picture of their local grocery store and of course prices have gone up by 9 per cent. If corporate taxes are increased consumers pick up the full tab. There is no magic to it.

There just is no more room for increasing revenues. This government and past governments have had a spending problem. I think to demonstrate this it is important to look at spending over the past years.

I have a graph that shows spending from 1975 to the present. This graph shows in 1986 constant dollars, so inflation is taken out of the picture. Real spending has increased from $73 billion in 1975 to about $135 billion, again in 1986 dollars, in the most recent figures, an incredible increase in spending and it is not caused by inflation.

Where does the federal government spend its money? The first part of spending, the discretionary part, the part that government can change, is in a variety of government services. It is about $43 billion of services to operate government and various programs other than social program spending.

The social program spending makes up almost half of the total spending. The social program spending of about $80 billion per year along with other government services of about $43 billion per year make up all of the discretionary spending. The rest of the spending is interest payments, almost $40 billion a year in interest payments. To continue to carry the debt there is no discretion on spending in this area.

Interest payments can only decrease if the debt decreases. This large chunk, almost a quarter of total spending made up of interest payments is making it extremely difficult to fund our social programs. If we are going to maintain these programs, clearly we are going to have to stop adding to the debt. We are going to have to spend less on providing social programs in a way that is acceptable to Canadians.

When I am talking about social programs I am talking mainly about old age security, the Canada pension plan, payments that go to compensate or to carry people through unemployment and the child tax benefits. These are called program payments to persons.

The other portion of federal government spending is transfers to provinces. The transfers to provinces go to cover welfare. Established programs financing also covers health, advanced education and equalization payments.

Just before I get into the area I want to talk most about, which is old age security, I would just like to talk a little bit about equalization payments.

Equalization payments are meant to transfer money from the wealthy provinces, the so-called have provinces, to the have not provinces. How many have provinces are there in Canada? What would you guess, six or seven? No, there are three have provinces when it comes to calculating equalization payments. They are British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. Ontario is getting very close to the line. In fact, two years ago part way through the year it appeared it had become a have not province under the calculations. Three provinces are paying and seven receiving. Who receives? All of the other seven receive. But the interesting thing is that Quebec, the fourth wealthiest province receives by far the largest portion of equalization payments.

I would like to spend the rest of my time talking about old age security. Old age security is the universal pension program which is made up of three separate programs. First is the old age pension which makes up about $14 billion per year in federal government spending. The second area is guaranteed income supplement, about $4 billion per year. These figures are for 1992-93. The third area is spousal allowance, which is half a billion dollars a year.

When people saw these figures on the overheads I used during my presentations over the past week, they looked at that half a billion dollars as nothing compared to the rest. When they thought of it as $500 million they realized it was not insignificant. Spousal allowance made up that other half a billion dollars. The total on old age security spending is about $19 billion a year.

Before I get into my presentation on old age security and other pensions, I would like to set the stage. A couple of points that I brought out really shocked people who were at these meetings. Again we are talking about the reality of the present situation in social program spending and what is going to happen as the population ages over the next years.

As a percentage of Canada's population, the increase is from about 7 per cent in 1951 to an increase of almost 23 per cent by 2030. I would like Canadians to think about this. Are there any of you who are on pensions? Or any of you who will be on pensions if we are around a few years down the road? I would like you to think about these funny looking kids with the baggy pants. You know the kind of pants, they hang halfway down. Do you want to depend on these funny looking kids to provide your pension in the future? That is exactly what we are counting on.

On the other hand these funny looking kids are not stupid. Let us look at the other side. These funny looking kids are very intelligent. These are the kids who are going to have to pick up the huge debt we are continually building and laying at their feet. Do you think these funny looking kids in the baggy pants are going to be so stupid as to pay the debt down and as well continue the pension, especially considering the fact that in 1951 there were about 14 working Canadians to pay for every person on a pension. By 2030 there will be only two working Canadians to pay for each person on pension. Do you think these kids with the funny looking pants are going to be willing to pay the full debt we have built and pay for our pensions? I would suggest not. These funny looking kids are smart and unfortunately we have laid an unfair burden at their feet.

That was old age security. I will quickly lay out a few points in regard to the Canada pension plan. First, this plan is now funded by a 5 per cent payroll tax. The Canada pension plan pays about 25 per cent of former salary up to about $8,000 per year. The Canada pension plan currently pays out about $13 billion per year.

The sad thing is that right now the Canada pension plan fund is about $500 billion short. The accrued liability is about $500 billion and this $500 billion does not show up in the government figures when it is talking about debt? This is another debt on top of the federal and provincial governments debts. This is an incredible amount and is going to be very difficult to deal with.

To sustain the Canada pension plan, for which the funding is now about 5 per cent, year to year we would have to pay off the top about 13 per cent of earnings. Every Canadian would pay off the top about 13 per cent of earnings by the year 2040 just to sustain the plan.

As I wind down today I would like to talk a little bit about the need to build incentive into our social program spending and the key role that reintroducing incentives will play in making these plans manageable and sustainable.

I was at a farmer's place over this past week and he talked about how he offered a big part of a field which was cultivated to people who were on welfare in the town. He advertised it around town. He has done a lot of work with people on welfare and is very concerned about them. He offered this land to these people at no cost. How many do you think came out and took advantage of his offer? None.

He planted the garden, took care of it, and when it was harvest time he went to the people on welfare and told them they could go out and take what they wanted from the garden. How much produce do you think they took from the garden? The answer is absolutely zero.

We need incentives. There has to be incentive in a system to make sure that people who are receiving money are only those who need the money.

Look at what has happened with unemployment insurance over the past few years. The unemployment insurance rate has fluctuated but over time it has continued on an upward trend. The interesting thing is that when you look at unemployment insurance and you compare it to the consumer price index you will find that the consumer price index has not gone up nearly as fast as the unemployment insurance payments have.

What is the incentive for people who are looking at pensions? For unemployment insurance, for welfare, we know what kind of incentives we can put in place. It was very encouraging that at these meetings people who are on pension said they knew that maybe it was fair that they should take a cut in pension if they could afford it. Philosophically, I have a problem with that. But these pensioners said they were willing to make that sacrifice. The people who made the point with me the best are those who were veterans. At the ceremony on November 11 and at the 50th anniversary ceremonies over the past year veterans have been the people who have impressed me with their sacrifice and their commitment.

The wife of a veteran at one of our meetings said: "You mean my husband fought to preserve this country and I sacrificed in the war effort to preserve the country and now, rather than the enemy from without destroying our country, the enemy from within will destroy our country?" She was saddened by this and so was I.

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5:25 p.m.


Tony Valeri Liberal Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to make a few comments. I understand the member had meetings in his riding and that he said he had difficulty preparing his constituents for the massive cuts. He also mentioned that governments have developed an attitude problem.

I suggest to the hon. member the present government's attitude is positive and inclusive. In fact the green paper really provides Canadians with an opportunity to participate in the reform of these social programs. The process itself has been to address the inefficiencies of the social security system so that we can protect those who are most vulnerable and provide every opportunity for Canadians to experience the dignity of work.

The hon. member mentioned his farmer's offer. This is a good reason to look again at these social programs so we can look at the incentives and disincentives. I had a workshop this past Sunday where constituents in my riding of Lincoln pointed out some inefficiencies. One of them was that government must remove the disincentives to work.

We need to stop duplicating training programs. We need to look at more effective ways to have different levels of government work together. The member's whole talk was about spending cuts. This whole process of social security reform is to look at aspects of that program that may not be working efficiently.

Canadians have an opportunity to provide solutions and look at these inefficiencies. The member must agree with the process in having Canadians speak to these inefficiencies. It is only one aspect of government we are talking about here today. We certainly have an overall objective of meeting our target of 3 per cent of GDP. I would like to hear some comments. The member is talking about massive cuts. The purpose of this whole reform is to give Canadians an opportunity to speak to the inefficiencies of social security reform.

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5:25 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments and question from the hon. member. I would like to start with a little point of clarification. The hon. member said that I had difficulty preparing constituents for cuts. That is not the case at all. In fact they recognized the need for these cuts because they know that is the only way these social programs can be preserved. That was not the problem.

It was not a problem but it was very difficult for me and painful for them to lay the situation out, having them realize there is no other place to make the cuts other than in social program spending and in other areas of federal government spending. In other areas $10 billion would be about the maximum. It would be very difficult to cut $10 billion from the $43 billion in other spending.

That means there have to be spending cuts of between $12 billion and $16 billion from social program spending. I was asking them as they went along: "Does this make sense to you?" They told me: "Yes, we know this has to happen and your presentation has really made it that much more clear, especially in regard to the aging population and the number of people on pension".

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5:25 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened as the hon. member from the Reform Party outlined his party policy and we heard the government member's argument in reply. Of course, we have a position of our own, a third position. We agree in part with what was just said in reply about the need to proceed cautiously instead of cutting blindly.

The hon. member says that we should think about the future of Canadian youth, so that they can find jobs and eventually contribute to the pension fund. I am in full agreement with him on the objective, but I do not think that blind cuts are the right way to go about it. I think we should be looking at job development, joint action and regional development policies instead. To provide employment, that is what it boils down to in the end.

Cuts are necessary, but I think that we should look to cut in other programs, not in social programs. As a member from the Reform Party indicated, you do not eliminate unemployment by eliminating unemployment insurance. Some solutions may be too drastic. As if the unemployed were responsible for their misfortune.

So, I would like the hon. member to comment on my general remarks. As today's debate draws to an end, I wanted to raise a somewhat conflicting view.

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5:25 p.m.


Leon Benoit Reform Vegreville, AB

Mr. Speaker, when the hon. opposition member talks about blind cuts, I agree with him. This is not the time for blind cuts. That is why as Reformers we have been going across our constituencies and across the country. We are presenting several different options.

I also presented the government's discussion paper. People's comments on it were: "Where are the options?" We have one or two options in most areas at best and they are only to discuss. Reform presented a series of possible options.

Blind cuts, no. We presented a real picture to the people in our constituencies. That is what I did in my constituency. Then we presented options and were saying: "You tell us where you want the cuts to come from". No blind cuts. I could not agree more.

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5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

It being 5.30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Access To InformationPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.


Bob Mills Reform Red Deer, AB


That, in the opinion of this House, the Parliament and crown agencies should be subject to scrutiny under the Access to Information Act.

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise today to talk to my Motion No. 304 which argues that Parliament and crown agencies should be subject to scrutiny under the Access to Information Act.

This topic is one which is of vital interest to Canadians and because of its importance Motion No. 304 was made a votable item. This will give members of Parliament a great opportunity

to go on the public record to show that they care about opening up the political system and that they think our citizens should have the right to use the Access to Information Act in a more modern and inclusive way than is currently possible.

The motion is not a partisan political football which Reform is bringing forward to make life tough for the government. In fact we very much hope the government and official opposition will see the motion as one which is constructive and in the greater interest of all Canadians.

As we all know, under the nine-year Tory regime Canadians desperately wanted a more accountable and transparent government. The wishes of the people were dashed by the Mulroney and Campbell governments whose grossly unaccountable behaviour caused public cynicism to grow to an all time high.

Compounding this frustration billions of tax dollars were funnelled through crown agencies such as the CBC, Canada Post and the Canadian Wheat Board which were even less accountable than the government. At least we could vote the Tories out of office but crown agencies are another matter altogether.

As long as crown agencies are going to be run in the way they are, Canadians deserve to know what they are up to. Obviously sensitive information that is vital to their ability to compete in the marketplace would be exempt under the provisions of the Access to Information Act. More general information about their spending and business practices should be fair game. As crown agencies all Canadians have a stake in how they are run. Therefore they must be subject to public scrutiny.

All this I say by way of introduction. I am saying that Canadians are facing a problem. It is summed up by a quote from the public policy forum of 1993 which stated:

Given the sustained and often angry criticism that has been widely expressed by the public in recent years, it is remarkable how little has been done by way of reform.

Of all the grounds on which successive governments, together with MPs, could be charged with being unresponsive, none is more striking than the lack of response to unmistakable expressions of public dislike of the manner in which Parliament goes about its business.

I believe this statement is an accurate reflection of what Canadians are thinking. I also believe this line of logic can be extended to their perceptions about crown corporations. Therefore I have suggested that Motion No. 304 be adopted by the House to send a clear sign from Gander to Victoria that the Parliament of the Tories is gone and a truly new day has broken.

Gone are the days when back room politics were acceptable. Gone are the days when Canadians would remain quiet as politicians and crown agencies acted unilaterally and without accountability. I hope that Motion No. 304 will give members of Parliament a clear opportunity to break with the old way of doing things and show they care about the wishes of the Canadian public.

As we are well aware, Reformers were elected to open up the political process and seek out greater involvement from the Canadian grassroots. We want to bring about constructive change and ensure that our political institutions and crown agencies operate with honesty and integrity.

I do not think we are alone, however, in calling for these changes. I am certainly aware that the Liberals found the same matters to be very important at least while they were in opposition. I would only hope to believe that their desire for openness, accountability and integrity is still intact.

Let me remind our Liberal friends about the values which they claimed to believe in during the election campaign. To do this I think I will quote from the red book since it is often referred to by my friends in government on the other side. The following are a number of statements which make their position crystal clear. The first statement reads:

Canadians have always prided themselves on the quality of their democratic institutions-If government is to play a positive role in society, as it must, honesty and integrity in our political institutions must be restored.

The second statement reads:

The most important asset of government is the confidence it enjoys of the citizens to whom it is accountable. There is evidence today of considerable dissatisfaction with government and a steady erosion of confidence in the people and institutions of the public sector.

These statements are all from the red book. The last statement reads:

A Liberal government will take a series of initiatives to restore confidence in the institutions of government. We will introduce reforms to Parliament-Open government will be the watchword of the Liberal program.

Clearly the Liberal position must approve of the spirit of this motion. Motion No. 304 is precisely the type of initiative that will restore the confidence of Canadians. I implore members of the Liberal caucus to consult with their House leader and whip to confirm that they should all stand behind the motion 100 per cent.

Over the coming months I look forward to speaking personally with my colleagues on the government side and in the Bloc. I encourage any member to call my office to let me know so that we can work together on this proposal.

Reform members of Parliament such as myself do not need to always find a fight. While we will never agree with members of the government on all accounts, on issues such as this one where there is a natural alliance I think we should co-operate. In fact if we take this co-operative approach it will go further still toward restoring the confidence of Canadians that Parliament is truly undergoing constructive change to make it more accountable, transparent and responsive to the wishes of the electorate.

If I can move on to members of the BQ, while you do not have a red book to quote from I know that openness, integrity and accountability are important to you as well. As I have sat in the House for the past year I have witnessed your complaints about the secretive and unresponsive government on many occasions.

Access To InformationPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I hesitate to interrupt the member, but I would like to remind members of the House to direct their comments through the chair and not in such an informal and familiar way as to use "you" and "your".

Access To InformationPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Bob Mills Reform Red Deer, AB

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.

Access To InformationPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Barry Campbell Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to address this motion. I am pleased the hon. member for Red Deer so vigorously supports the principles exemplified by the Access to Information Act that he wishes to see its coverage expanded. Such enthusiasm is to be commended.

I am happy to say that this government remains firmly committed to the principles of openness contained in the Access to Information Act. Such openness assists in debate on national issues, provides background for the development of public policy and allows more in depth explanation of government processes and decision making.

This is why our government is always prepared to look at ways to improve public access to information held by these Crown agencies, this in order to promote government accountability. Currently, the legislation applies to government institutions listed in the schedule to the act. If a department, an agency or a board is not mentioned in the schedule, the legislation does not apply to it. It is that simple.

At the time the act was passed in 1982 there was careful consideration given to which institutions should be included in the coverage of the act and which should not. There are ways in which the act could be updated to reflect the new information age. It may also be that the sorting of the institutions into the categories of those covered and those not covered could also be reviewed and updated. I do not believe that this is something which should be done in a casual or haphazard manner.

In considering the suggestion that the Access to Information Act be expanded to cover Parliament and crown agencies, as with all proposals for amendment to the Access to Information Act, the government is guided by the need to ensure that all amendments to the act and to its schedule are in the public interest.

While on the face of it providing access to government-held information may be seen as obviously in the public interest it is not necessarily the case. If it were the Access to Information Act would contain no exclusions or exemptions. We would just throw the information doors wide open.

There are competing public interests which must be taken into consideration. In the same way that exceptions serve public interest by protecting personal information on taxpayers, or information received in confidence from our government, it may be in the public interest to protect some information held by Crown agencies or by Parliament.

We must consider these competing interests before making such a sweeping recommendation.

When the motion refers to crown agencies it is unclear whether the term should be taken to refer to crown corporations or if it is intended to include a much broader range of institutions. After all many institutions which would normally fall under the heading of crown agencies are already covered by the act. CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency, is already covered, as are national museums, the Federal Business Development Bank, the Space Agency, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and so on. On the other hand the act does

not currently apply to Canada Post or the National Arts Centre Corporation. We cannot assume that these were frivolous decisions as to who was included and who was excluded.

When considering expanding the coverage of the Access to Information Act to crown corporations the concern for a long time now has been that making all crown corporations subject to the act could for some of them result in harm to their competitive position relative to their private sector counterparts which are of course subject to no comparative requirements for openness. The hon. member for Red Deer alluded to this.

What might be required to mitigate such potential for harm would be additional amendments to the act which would provide crown corporations with an exemption tailor-made to protect information that if disclosed would result in injury to the competitive position of the crown corporation. The private sector corporations have such an exemption to protect commercially sensitive information in the financial information that they are presently required to file and no less protection should be provided to crown corporations.

While expanding the act to cover crown corporations is not a bad idea in itself, it must be examined in its proper context. In fact, the whole framework of the act must be examined from that perspective.

If the motion is intended to cover a broader range of institutions then careful consideration must be given to the implications for each type and for each institution. There is not enough room for that in the motion.

Much the same thing can be said concerning the suggestion that the act be expanded to cover Parliament. While in principle this is a laudable idea there are more than a few practical issues to consider. Just what coverage would the act have? When this issue was considered previously it was generally believed that it would be unwise to cover the personal offices of members of the House of Commons and senators but I think Canadians want to understand why that is.

The problems which could result from a decision to include the offices of MP's in the coverage of the act will have to be taken into consideration before such a measure can be taken. On the other hand, if members' offices are not to be covered by the act, then we will have to define very explicitly the precise scope of the act.

Where would responsibility for the application of the act by Parliament lie? Who would be considered to be the head of the institution for the purposes of the act with the authority to release requested information or deny access on the basis of exemptions contained in the act? If there was a complaint concerning the handling of a request made to Parliament under the act would it be a conflict of interest for the information commissioner as a parliamentary agent to investigate such a complaint? Would Parliament report to itself on its own administration of the act? These are not simple questions.

When considering possible amendments to the Access to Information Act or its schedule of institutions, consideration would also normally be given to the Privacy Act and its schedule of institutions.

Generally speaking, there are more government institutions covered by the Privacy Act than the Access to Information Act since the principle of providing individuals with access to their own personal information is seen as even more widely applicable than the principle of open access to general information.

If we were to extend the application of the Privacy Act to Crown corporations, it seems that there would be less obvious risk of harming the institutions' competitive position.

In the case of Parliament there remains the question of whether the Privacy Act would cover the personnel records contained in the offices of members and senators. It is clear that it would be beneficial for employees of the House and the Senate. Even in relation to the Privacy Act it is clear that expanding the coverage of the act must not be done in a haphazard manner but must be done in full consideration of the public interest in the possible outcome.

To summarize, while the idea of expanding the coverage of the Access to Information Act to Parliament and to crown agencies is surely based on a concept of openness which this government wholeheartedly supports, the practical implications of such an expansion of coverage cannot be disregarded.

For now, the most logical solution would be to keep these suggestions in reserve so that they can be considered as part of another process to amend the act for which the Minister of Justice and the President of the Treasury Board will initiate consultations.

At that point every member will have the opportunity to make suggestions for amendments to either the Access to Information Act or the Privacy Act or both. Possible amendments to these

acts will be open to full debate as pieces of an amendment package instead of as a separate patchwork proposal.

We do not wish to interfere in that process or to prejudge any of its outcome. We want the Canadian people to have input into this process.

All this is to say that while I very much support the principle which I believe lies behind this motion, I cannot support the motion itself at this time.

Access To InformationPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Gaston Leroux Bloc Richmond—Wolfe, QC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Official Opposition, I have the pleasure to speak on this motion from the member for Red Deer:

That, in the opinion of this House, the Parliament and Crown Agencies should be subject to scrutiny under the Access to Information Act.

I must say to the member for Red Deer that in his speech, he of course mentioned that his objectives were similar to those of the Bloc and the Official Opposition. Yes, this is in line with our objectives of openness and clarity in the management of public affairs and it is also in line with the taxpayers' right to know, as it is called in a democracy.

Remember that the Access to Information Act was passed in 1982 and implemented the following year. This law gives a right to access federal government documents. Under it, government institutions must make their documents available. However, there are exceptions to access to information. For various reasons that I want to deal with in this speech today, several Crown corporations like farm product marketing boards, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, government bodies like the House of Commons, the Senate, the Library of Parliament, office holders who report directly to Parliament such as the Chief Returning Officer, the Commissioner of Official Languages and the Auditor General are not subject to the Access to Information Act.

The Bloc Quebecois deeply believes that in a democratic system, public affairs must be conducted as openly as possible. Nevertheless, the everyday reality of running the affairs of state shows us that any system of access to information must balance various divergent interests.

On the one hand, the government must be accountable to the voters for what it does, as is the case in all western democracies, so that these voters can evaluate the government for its achievements, integrity and honesty. On the other hand, we agree that in reality some affairs of state must remain confidential.

This confidentiality was recognized in the exceptions listed in the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act. These laws protect information whose confidentiality is crucial to the security and integrity of territory under state jurisdiction.

These laws also protect private interests related to personal and commercial information. A Crown corporation like the CBC should, in our opinion, be subject to the Access to Information Act, but there should be some exemptions because otherwise competitors could benefit, thus threatening this corporation's commercial balance.

Atomic Energy of Canada is another glaring example. How could this agency be subject to scrutiny under the Access to Information Act, when the Canadian government stubbornly promotes the development of such a dangerous and polluting energy source? For the current government, certainly not. But it should be possible in the name of quality of life and the environment.

As we can see, the problem underlying any system aimed at opening up public administration goes far beyond the motion tabled by the hon. member for Red Deer. It is not enough to say, as stated in the motion, that the Parliament and Crown Agencies should be subject to scrutiny under the Access to Information Act. As we have seen, the issue is twofold: how to improve the right to know while strengthening privacy measures.

On the other hand, arguing that the Canadian Parliament should not be subject to the Access to Information Act, as this institution is a symbol of democracy in the Canadian federal system, would be questionable.

Committed as it is to the principles of democracy and to promoting increased transparency in the present system, the Bloc Quebecois just has to support the report tabled in March 1987 in which the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs recommended that the Access to Information Act apply to all federal institutions, including administrative tribunals, the Senate and the House of Commons. The Bloc lays particular emphasis on the need for much transparency, in the other place in particular, because, as I am on record as saying in this House, the public must be allowed to scrutinize the wild imaginings of a body that is undemocratic because non-elected.

Incidentally, one wonders about the need for an organization like the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons -and this is another important example- to be subject to public scrutiny under the Access to Information Act, since such a provision promotes in no way better democratic process or greater transparency in this institution.

To conclude, the Bloc Quebecois agrees with the essence of Motion 304 and is in favour of the Access to Information Act applying to every government institution funded from the public purse. The main goal, as far as we are concerned, is to promote accessibility and transparency throughout the Canadian federal administration, and given the political climate that has set in within the federation since the 1970s, when the Liberal Party of Canada was in power, we emphasize the need to establish as a mater of urgency this openness, this transparency that the

Liberals themselves praise so much in quoting from their red book all the time.

So, let us act and implement a real access to information legislation, a meaningful legislation that reflects a justice and truth-conscious democracy.

Access To InformationPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Val Meredith Reform Surrey—White Rock—South Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak to this motion put forth by my Reform colleague, the hon. member for Red Deer.

Since its introduction just over 10 years ago, the Access to Information Act has had a tremendous effect in opening up government. Government has been forced to be much more careful in the way it conducts business not only by the Access to Information Act but the Privacy Act as well. These two pieces of legislation have probably made for more open and honest government than any other government proclamation.

Countless scandals have been uncovered through the Access to Information Act. Questionable contracts, leases and patronage appointments have all been uncovered through this legislation. The legislation has given substance to some accusations letting the whole country see what really transpired in some questionable deals.

One might even suggest that the very make up of the House of Commons is due in part to the access legislation. Scandal after scandal in the previous government was uncovered or confirmed by this legislation. The public's contempt for the previous administration's lack of honesty and integrity was the main reason that party was reduced to only two seats in this House. It is a legacy that all members of this House have to live with. Respect for politicians is extremely low. It is up to the members of this Parliament to regain that respect.

The one thing I constantly hear from my constituents is that I must strive to make government more accountable. We have to open up the political process and show Canadians that we really are working on their behalf. We do this by making government as transparent as possible. We must start with our own House.

The mere fact that the operations of Parliament are exempt from the Access to Information Act gives the public the perception that we are trying to hide something. The 35th Parliament has taken some steps to be more open. The fact that the minutes of the meetings of the Board of Internal Economy are now being published is a move in the right direction.

We have to ensure that Parliament is not only conducting its business in an appropriate manner, but that it is seen to be conducting itself in an appropriate manner. By making Parliament itself accountable to the Access to Information Act, the public would no longer have to speculate what we are hiding.

Yes, taxpayers may be outraged about the extent that they are subsidizing the parliamentary dining room. If they are outraged, they would have every right to be. After all, it is their money. If we cannot justify the subsidy to the dining room, or any other perk that we receive, then perhaps we should not be receiving it. If, on the other hand, we believe the taxpayers are getting good value for their money then we should not be embarrassed to receive it. Either way we should not be denying the Canadian taxpayers the opportunity to learn how we are spending their money.

Some may suggest that we as parliamentarians would be sacrificing the confidentiality of our constituents by making our information available under access to information. In fact, the confidentiality of our files would be protected as our files would be exempt. The Privacy Act provides a great deal of protection by ensuring that the access request cannot be used to obtain information about individuals. However the way we conduct our business should and must be made available to the public. It is the only way that we can try and regain some of the respect for our position.

Another complaint I frequently receive from my constituents is about how their money is spent by crown corporations. Crown corporations claim that their competitiveness would be adversely affected if they were required to respond to access requests. Competitiveness is a legitimate concern.

The Canadian Wheat Board should not have to reveal in advance what it projects its buying and selling rates are going to be. This information would be of tremendous benefit to its competitors in foreign lands and would end up putting Canadian farmers at a severe disadvantage. The act calls for a specific exemption for information of a competitive nature and this data would not have to be released in any event.

Let us look at a couple of different examples starting with Canada Post. A number of my constituents were concerned about their subsidizing the courier facility with revenue from their mail delivery. They believe that Canada Post would be able to undercut the rates charged by other courier companies because of this subsidy. Access to information would let Canadians know if this is what Canada Post would be doing. However, it is possible that Canada Post would be able to declare a competitiveness exemption. The question arises, should this be allowed? I think the question could best be answered by the access commissioner, and he should be able to respond to it.

However he needs the mandate and this motion would provide him exactly with that.

In a similar situation, officials at CTV recently questioned the validity of CBC bidding on major events. Does the $1 billion taxpayer subsidy permit CBC to outbid private broadcasters for such events? Should CBC's competitors be allowed to utilize access legislation to look at CBC's books?

Some questions about access to information requests as they pertain to crown corporations are easy to respond to. Canadians should have an unfettered right to determine if any government department, agency or crown corporation is wasting taxpayers' money.

Should Canadians be able to decide if the CBC is spending too much of their money on a top heavy bureaucracy? Yes, no question. Should CBC be able to declare an exemption on the basis of competitiveness? Perhaps, but these types of requests can always be resolved by the independent access commissioner.

If this Parliament is to recapture a measure of respect lost by past wrongdoings it must make every effort to provide accountability and transparency in government. This will only occur if we can convince Canadians that we have nothing to hide. Let us start with making our own house open to the people who pay the bills, the Canadian taxpayers.

I call upon all members of this House to support this motion.

Access To InformationPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Cape Breton—The Sydneys Nova Scotia


Russell MacLellan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I would like to address this motion proposed by the hon. member for Red Deer.

The objective of seeking ways to make government operations more open and accountable to Canadian citizens is a very good one. The hon. member is to be congratulated for bringing this motion before the House. This idea is something that should be pursued vigorously by all members of this House. As the previous speaker said, accountability is something we need more of and something the Canadian public wants more of.

In fact the Liberal Party's policy as stated in "Creating Opportunities" otherwise known as the red book, is to promote more open and accountable government. This is a promise all members of government are taking very seriously and are striving to implement in various ways.

As I have said, I agree with the objectives that motivated the member for Red Deer to propose this motion. However, I have three main concerns.

The first is that I believe the Access to Information Act should be given a complete review. The best way to do this is to let the Minister of Justice proceed with his publicly stated plans to do this. Second, I am concerned that the motion suggests that this House thinks the most important reform that can be made is to make more institutions subject to the present act rather than changing the present act to create greater access to information from institutions already subject to the act. The third area is that the motion is perhaps a little too vague in certain areas.

I want to explain each one of the three areas because I think they are important. This subject matter is of very great importance. It is one all members should hold the government to be accountable for in this Parliament.

Since this act was created in 1982 there have been two information commissioners who have made numerous recommendations for reforms to the act. There was a 1986 parliamentary committee report entitled: "Open and Shut", a 1987 response from the former government called: "Steps Ahead", many court cases and a lot of administrative experience with this act.

In addition, many institutions have adopted access legislation in recent years. The first was in Nova Scotia in 1977. Since then the federal government, as we have stated, the governments of Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and the Yukon have all adopted access legislation. Alberta's access law is waiting to be proclaimed. Outside Canada, Australia and New Zealand have recently adopted access legislation and the United States amended its freedom of information act in 1986.

In addition to various access laws being adopted, the federal government has issued a blueprint for improving government services with new technologies. There is an Information Highway Advisory Council. One of the advisory council's subcommittees is called access and social impacts. Access to information must be considered in light of past experience and the new technologies that are before us today.

Given all of this activity on recent issues, it is important that we ensure full consideration is given to the various recommendations in recent years and experiences under the access laws.

We also need to call on the collective experiences of federal government officials in determining the lessons to be learned from the first decade of experience with the act and from other jurisdictions.

The Minister of Justice stated in a media interview last July that he believes the act is in need of an overhaul. He stated unequivocally that it reflects the state of the art of the mid-1970s rather than the 1990s. To me this is quite a commentary from the Minister of Justice on this act. He says there is a need to catch up with new technologies and a need for more openness.

We should give the minister the time to do his job and to consider the various suggestions for reform carefully before pushing amendments into the House.

The second reason for opposing this motion is that it suggests that the House thinks the most important reform to this act is to add institutions to be covered by the act rather than improving access to government information that is already subject to the act. More than 132 institutions at the present time are subject to this act. The most recent report of the information commissioner as well as the parliamentary committee report in 1986, "Open and Shut" made numerous recommendations for improving the act.

A motion of the House to extend the application of this act to other institutions I think would detract from these other proposals. It could be argued that the main purpose of the Access to Information Act is to hold the government accountable. An amendment to extend the act to agencies that are independent of government is not likely to address the issue of the accountability of government.

I agree that independent crown agencies need scrutiny and that scrutiny is provided in various ways. I am not saying that making more institutions subject to the act is a bad idea. However, I do not necessarily agree that we should be telling the Minister of Justice that the priority of the House is adding to the list of institutions covered by the act rather than improving access to the 90 per cent of government information already subject to the act.

The third point relates to the motion stating that Parliament and crown agencies should be subject to the act. We know that more than 130 crown agencies are already subject to the act as I have stated. Presumably the motion calls for more crown agencies to be subject to it. It is important to be more definitive and to say which ones should be subject to the act.

When we have something of this importance, with the good intentions of parliamentarians and the good intentions of the people of Canada, we have to be definitive. We have to show people that it works. We can best show people how it works by being definitive and straightforward in what we want to achieve.

The motion states that the Access to Information Act should apply to crown agencies. This seems to suggest that the act should not list precisely which agencies are subject to the act but instead should provide a general definition of what is a crown agency. It is difficult to say if this is the intent of the motion but it is an ambiguity which may make it difficult for the minister to know how to respond to the motion if it passes.

I want to cite just one example of where the general requirement that all crown corporations be subject to the access law may be too broad. I use an example in Ontario. Under the Ontario access law Ontario Hydro, the Ontario Liquor Control Board and the Ontario GO Transit Authority are subject to the act, while TV Ontario is not subject to it. This is because broadcasting, freedom of expression, confidential news sources and independence from government may raise different issues than those affecting other types of crown corporations. A one size fits all approach is not necessarily the best way to go.

There are two advantages to using what I would call a list approach rather than a general definition of crown assets approach. First, the list approach ensures we consider each agency on an institution by institution basis, taking into account any special circumstances that might apply to these institutions. There may be good reasons why one government agency should be subject to the act while another one is not.

A second advantage to this list approach is that there is certainty over which crown agencies are subject to the act and which are not. If we simply create a broad general definition of crown agency some agencies are likely to interpret whatever words are used in that definition to say the definition does not include them.

Undoubtedly this will lead to litigation with all the increased time and cost to request the government definition in question. This will use valuable court time in a system that is already overburdened.

In summary I would want to say that it is important to talk about this issue. This is an important issue. I want to thank the hon. member for Red Deer for bringing it before the House. I support the hon. member's desire for increased openness and accountability in government. I want to say to him that I am confident the Minister of Justice will address this important issue during the life of the government. It is important that we as members of Parliament support him in the act of looking into this question and bringing forward a greater accountability.

Access To InformationPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Mike Scott Reform Skeena, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in support of Motion M-304. The motion is put forward by my Reform colleague from Red Deer. I would like to congratulate him on it.

The motion deals with extending the realm of the present Access to Information Act to include Parliament and crown corporations.

I begin by paraphrasing the purpose of the act. The passage will help to outline the true essence and principles behind the creation of the act and how the present motion before the House will only enhance those principles. "The purpose of this act is to extend the present 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". This is an explanation of the act's intent to foster accountability within government and its institutions.

The motion before the House embodies the same principles and expresses them in a form in which Canadian people deserve to have access to, namely Parliament and crown corporations. It serves to ensure that the business of government is and remains open to the public. It represents the public's desire for Parliament to be accountable for its actions. It embodies the need Canadians have to know that their government and its institutions are not hiding from them. If government has nothing to hide, and it should have nothing to hide, why not open up Parliament and crown corporations to public scrutiny?

We in the Reform Party have been listening to the outraged cries of our fellow Canadians and understand their desire to hold Parliament accountable for its actions. This understanding was shown through our efforts to pass Bill C-210, the bill on recall. It was recently voted down by both the Liberal and Bloc parties. We are trying again.

The motion will allow the public access to financial matters handled by the Speakers of the House and the Senate. However the motion will not sacrifice the confidentiality of MPs' files or cabinet documents. It will, though, for such crown agencies as the CBC and Canada Post, open up their files to public scrutiny.

In this day of incredible national debt and financial strain on the taxpayer, such a motion grants true meaning to open government, something we have been hearing a lot about. After all, do Canadians not have a right to know where their money is being spent?

The Liberal government states on page 91 of its red book which we hear so often quoted in the House: "If government is to play a positive role in society, as it must, honesty and integrity in our political institutions must be restored". The motion will help to ensure that both Parliament and crown corporations are accountable to the public and hence will be viewed as capturing the honesty and integrity it once had.

On page 91 the Liberal book goes on to state: "The most important asset of government is the confidence it enjoys of the citizens to whom it is accountable".

The motion stresses the need Canadians have for a more open process of government. They are tired of being told what to do by the government while not having a government that invokes a sense of trust or integrity among the people it governs.

We hear all too often about more open and honest government, about integrity, about credibility. We hear the talk but we do not see the Liberals walking the walk. That is what this motion is all about. We hear speakers on the other side telling us that they support the motion in principle but that it is too broad in scope and that perhaps there is going to be some Pandora's box opened as a result of the motion passing.

I suggest that what we ought to be doing is making the access to information law as broad as possible with limitations set in areas where appropriate rather than the other way around. What we are hearing from members opposite is exactly that. They want to limit. They are so concerned about having information out there in the general public they want to make sure they have as many limitations as possible in place. That is counter to the whole theme of access to information.

An example of closed, elitist and top down government is the land claim negotiations currently going on in my riding of Skeena. These negotiations are the epitome of backroom, closed to the public input, government deals. These negotiations between the federal and provincial governments and native groups in my province are completely performed behind closed doors without any direct public input whatsoever.

Is this not the kind of process the Liberal government condemns in its red book on page 91? It states: "The people are irritated with governments that do not consult them or that disregard their views or that try to conduct key parts of the public business behind closed doors".

I suggest that is what the government is doing and it can change by supporting Motion M-304. I would call settling a major land claim affecting a large piece of land and a great number of people public business. It is definitely irritating my constituents.

Bring back integrity and trust to this Parliament and its agencies. Allow Canadians to feel proud as they once did of their parliamentary institution. Give Parliament back to the people. Allow them the access they deserve and put confidence in government back in the minds and hearts of Canadians.

In conclusion, this motion M-304 will help Canadians to trust Parliament and its agencies once again. It is essential for the political stability of this country that Canadians trust their elected officials and feel a sense of integrity when proudly telling others in the world that they are Canadians.

There is nothing to fear in this motion. It is straightforward common sense. Let Canadians have the right to an open Parliament and the right to hold their politicians accountable.

Access To InformationPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 is deemed to have been moved.

Access To InformationAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.


Warren Allmand Liberal Notre-Dame-De-Grâce, QC

Mr. Speaker, on October 13 VIA Rail announced that it was cutting a further 478 jobs, half of them in Montreal, and that it would be doing this without any cut in service to the public.

On October 18 I asked the Minister of Transport how VIA Rail could cut 478 jobs without reducing service to the public and why VIA was still pursuing a downsizing policy introduced by the Conservative government in 1993.

In answer to my question, the Minister of Transport said that the cuts were necessary because there had to be a cut in the subsidies to VIA Rail. He said it could not continue with the subsidies at the same level. He went on to say again that there would be no cut in service. By that he meant there would be no cut in trains or no cut in VIA Rail routes.

I guess it all comes down to what you mean by service to the public. Some of these cuts involve cuts in the maintenance staff for VIA Rail. Some of them involve cuts in the sales staff for VIA Rail. Let me state some things that have happened to me on VIA Rail trains. If there is no proper maintenance and the train is breaking down halfway through the trip, as it has done on several occasions, and arrival at your destination is delayed by half an hour or an hour and if the heating system breaks down in the winter and you freeze in the coach, that all has to do with service to the public.

It is also service to the public when you try to get a sales representative on the phone and all you get is a run-around with push one, push two and push three. It is very difficult to get the type of service you need to buy a ticket for VIA Rail.

In fact, these are cuts in service that will affect the public. Sooner or later because of the poor service in sales promotion or the purchase of tickets or in maintenance, people will stop using the train. When they stop using the train because of the poor service in these aspects, then VIA Rail will say: "Nobody is using the route to London or to Quebec City or Sherbrooke. Let's close it down". Of course the reason people are not using it starts at the beginning with the cuts that were made in maintenance, sales, public relations, research and so on.

I maintain that these cuts will lead to a cut in service. I see these cuts by VIA Rail as a lack of long range commitment to passenger rail service in this country.

In Canada we have always had subsidies for our transportation system. We have it for buses, trucks and airlines. The airlines are being subsidized indirectly by the airports, the air traffic control. The highways are subsdized by the fact that they are built for the public by the provinces and the buses and trucks are using them to a great extent. All this is happening in this country while in Europe they are building high speed, very efficient trains. The chunnel train service from Paris to London began just the other day. You can go from Paris to London I think in about three to four hours. It is very efficient and very fast. Here we are in Canada ripping up the rails.

It is very difficult to understand why in our country, when we had a great railway system and a great seaway system, we are letting these things go down the drain. When one drives down Highway 401 to Toronto there are so many trucks and buses on the road one takes his or her life in danger. A lot of that freight traffic should be on trains and on shipping. I just do not understand what VIA is doing or what the government is doing.

Furthermore, the minister says he is reducing the subsidies by $100 million a year in accordance with the 1993 budget. The 1993 budget was a Conservative Tory budget. We are a new Liberal government. Why are we continuing to allow VIA Rail to operate on a budget that was introduced by a Tory government that we helped to defeat last September?

Once again I will put my question to the government. Where is the commitment to good passenger service in this country? Why was the money saved by these cuts not redirected into better rail service? What assurance do we have that these cuts will not lead to a further deterioration in service and to more cuts in routes for our trains in this country?

Access To InformationAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Bonavista—Trinity—Conception Newfoundland & Labrador


Fred Mifflin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address the question raised by my colleague, the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, regarding the impact of service resulting from VIA's recently announced job cuts.

As he mentioned, these job cuts are part of VIA's strategy to improve its operating efficiency and bring the costs of its operations in line with its reduced funding levels. In itself, this objective is no different from that of any other crown corporation or company in the private sector.

The challenge that VIA faces is it has to reduce its operating costs by $100 million by the end of 1996-97 while maintaining as much of the existing rail passenger services network as possible. This is no ordinary feat. To meet that challenge VIA management must rethink the way it does business. All work practices that have been the mainstay of past railway operations

have to be re-evaluated and streamlined throughout the organization.

The job cuts announced on October 13 affected people at all levels of the corporation from senior management positions to the workshop level. The minister mentioned that in his answer on the day of the question. This provides an indication that VIA management is serious about taking the necessary steps to assure its long term viability.

The review on the future of VIA services is not yet completed. It is part of the recognition by the government that we must address our national deficit, the size of which makes it a problem for all Canadians and not just an item on the previous government's agenda. For its part, VIA management has demonstrated that it is ready to meet its current challenge.

With the co-operation of its employees, its chances of succeeding are significantly improved as, hopefully, will service to the travelling public.

Access To InformationAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Len Taylor NDP The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am rising tonight as frustrated as I am angry.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, because I am a New Democrat I do not have the opportunities to ask questions of ministers in this Chamber as often as I would like. I consider it an honour and a privilege when I am called upon to raise matters with ministers of the crown on behalf of my constituents and Canadians everywhere who share my views.

However, when a minister refuses to respond with a correct answer when he has it at his fingertips, he is not only wasting my valuable time, he is also wasting the time of the Chair and he is insulting the Canadian people.

On Tuesday, November 15, I asked the Minister of Agriculture to clarify his position with respect to grain transportation financing in Canada. There were conflicting reports from government printed in the media. Because the issue of the Crow benefit is of incredible importance to the farmers and the communities that they support in northwest Saskatchewan as well as across the prairies, I thought it was appropriate to clear the air and let farmers who are now just starting to plan next year's crop know where they stand going into that crop year.

Those conflicting reports were numerous. During the month of October when he was touring Asia, the Minister for International Trade said he wanted Canada to eliminate all farm export subsidies including the Crow benefit and indeed prohibit any new ones.

At the same time, the federal Minister of Transport said he was looking for ways to reduce spending within his department and the Crow benefit appeared to be on the block. Late last week the minister's deputy minister, Mr. Nick Mulder, told the semi-annual meeting of the Canadian Grains Council that it is time to update Canada's railway policy, including the grain subsidies. In fact he said that if Transport Canada had its way a new transportation policy would include a significant change in the Crow benefit method of payment. To quote Mr. Mulder, he said:

The view is that we ought to make a method of payment change sooner rather than later; we have to move in another direction.

During the recent political convention of the Saskatchewan Liberal Party in Saskatoon, the delegates voted on a transportation motion and decided it was time to pay the farmer rather than the railway. Therefore I thought, since the minister of agriculture had been saying that as far as he was concerned the issue was one to be resolved in consultation with farm groups, that it was time the minister came forward with his own thoughts on the matter.

On Tuesday afternoon of this week I asked the minister if he was the defender of the Crow benefit and if it was the federal government's intention to keep grain moving by rail by ensuring that the Crow benefit remained in place. The minister did not surprise me by saying once again:

Over the course of the next couple of months the Minister of Transport and I will be canvassing all the major farm organizations in the country so that we might present recommendations to our current cabinet colleagues early in the new year.

The minister did not answer my question but at least he was consistent in his answer. Mr. Speaker, you can understand my surprise and my anger when I picked up the newspaper on Wednesday morning to read that on Tuesday night, barely five hours after the minister of agriculture had answered my question, he met with prairie ministers of agriculture and told them that the Crow benefit was on its deathbed. The federal government will betray the commitment to thousands of prairie farmers and introduce legislation early in the new year to end payments to the railways in favour of payments made directly to producers.

A great number of farmers in northwest Saskatchewan and I continue to support the Crow benefit. We want the federal government to maintain the current method of payment. It would appear the minister, the cabinet and the Liberals across the way are not prepared to listen or even understand our concerns. We are also appalled that when he had a chance to put his position on the table in the House of Commons where it belonged, the minister of agriculture chose to conceal that information until he was in a private meeting later that day.

An issue of this importance deserves the attention of the House. Our time in question period is too valuable to be ignored, and it appears that is exactly what this minister of agriculture did on Tuesday.

Access To InformationAdjournment Proceedings

November 17th, 1994 / 6:40 p.m.

Bonavista—Trinity—Conception Newfoundland & Labrador


Fred Mifflin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to answer the question on the Crow benefit raised by my hon. colleague, the member for The Battlefords-Meadow Lake.

It is not as simple as he makes it sound. The Minister of Transport and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food together are currently in the process of meeting with shareholders in the grains and oilseeds industry regarding changes to the Western Grain Transportation Act, which I will call WGTA for short.

Under the new GATT regulations the WGTA on shipments through the west coast and Churchill fall within the definition of an export subsidy. These subsidies must be reduced, as he knows, under the terms of the new GATT. This means that we have choices. We can change the WGTA so that it is no longer an expert subsidy, or we can pay the railways but only within the new GATT rules.

The second option would lead to an immediate and severe restriction on the volume of grain shipped through the west coast and Churchill that would be eligible for subsidies. In other words as volume limits for products were reached, shippers would suddenly be saddled with the full WGTA rates on shipments.

Given this context there are now two proposals which have been put forward as alternatives to paying the railways. The first, presented by the producer payment panel last June, recommends payments to producers based on cultivated acres and then gradually phasing into payments based on arable acres. It also recommends some of the WGTA be put into safety nets and research.

However the second proposal put forward by the Government of Alberta and endorsed by the present Saskatchewan government recommended provincial variations in the program within a set a principles. It also recommended against putting WGTA money into safety nets.

After their current discussion with all interested parties about these two options, and perhaps other suggestions may come up, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Minister of Transport will make a comprehensive set of recommendations to cabinet about the overall reform to the Canadian grain handling and transportation system.

These recommendations must be fiscally responsible and consistent with our international trading obligation, as the hon. member knows. They must also reflect the concern of all those in the grains and oilseeds industry. In finalizing the government's position with respect to the WGTA we must ensure that Canadian agriculture and Canadian farmers are positioned to take on the world and to win.

Access To InformationAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Pursuant to Standing Order 38 the motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted.

Accordingly, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24.

(The House adjourned at 6.46 p.m.)