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.