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.