Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege and an honour for me to represent the people of Jonquière, who elected me in the last election and expect greater transparency in their government institutions.
I am pleased, therefore, to inform you that the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of Bill C-216, an Act to amend the Access to Information Act, presented by my colleague for Nanaimo—Alberni.
This bill is aimed at broadening application of the Access to Information Act to include crown corporations as defined by the Financial Administration Act, making them more accessible to the people of Quebec and of Canada, and requiring them to be answerable for their administration.
The Bloc Quebecois cannot do otherwise than to approve this bill, in the name of democratic principles, the taxpayer's right to know, and our desire to see greater transparency in the administration of public affairs.
I will remind my colleagues in this House that the Access to Information Act was passed in 1982 and implemented the following year. This act obliged governmental institutions to give access to their documents.
I will pass over the exceptions to access to information in order to address our primary concern, which is the fact that a number of crown corporations are not subject to this act. On numerous occasions during the 35th Parliament, the Bloc Quebecois has spoken out on having the Access to Information Act apply to all publicly funded government institutions.
For those of you who were in this House during the previous Parliament, I will remind you that the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques tabled a motion, Motion No. 260 to be precise, which read as follows:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should make all Crown corporations subject to the Privacy Act.
I would remind you, to guide us in our reflection on Bill C-216, that all of the arguments around Motion No. 260 focused on broadening the scope of the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act.
Each of us can take the statement of principle adopted by the House as an invitation to move to another stage in amending the Access to Information Act. The Bloc Quebecois is not the only one to argue for broadening of the Access to Information Act. We can go back as far as 1987, when the Standing Committee on Justice and the Solicitor General recommended that crown corporations be more accountable.
The committee recommended that the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act be extended to include crown corporations and wholly owned subsidiaries that appear in the Treasury Board's annual report to Parliament on crown corporations and joint ventures.
In principle, the committee wanted the Access to Information Act to be applied to crown corporations in which the government had controlling interest and which provided the public with goods and services on a commercial or semi-commercial basis.
The committee's recommendations are unequivocal. The commercial nature of certain corporations is no reason to exclude them from the provisions of the bill before us. In fact, the Standing Committee on Justice and the Solicitor General felt that the legitimate secrets of these corporations would be properly protected by the various exceptions provided by the Access to Information Act.
In this regard, sections 18 and 20, which concern issues relating to Canada's economic interests and disclosure of trade secrets, provide for such exceptions. I do not agree with the viewpoint we will no doubt hear expressed on this sort of argument, which I consider without merit.
We will recall that John Grace, the commissioner of information in 1993-94, recommended extending the Access to Information Act to cover all federal institutions, including crown corporations.
What is more, the crown corporations are covered by the Official Languages Act since its enactment in 1969. In addition, subsidiaries established under federal law, which are the exclusive property of crown corporations, come under the Financial Administration Act since its amendment in 1984. So, there are precedents for Bill C-216.
A number of questions have been raised regarding the Canada Post Corporation's operations and its funding. There is a flagrant lack of transparency. Many Canadians and Quebeckers think that the government should be more actively involved in supervising Canada Post in the public interest.
Extending the Access to Information Act to Canada Post would allow us, parliamentarians, to make the corporation accountable for its overall administration, about which we hardly know anything. And this is but one instance where parliamentarians have very little information to work from in answering the numerous inquiries from their constituents.
All in all, 15 years after its coming into effect, it is high time for the government to broaden the scope of the Access to Information Act as provided for in Bill C-216.
Many taxpayers wonder about the enormous salaries paid to crown corporation executives, as social programs are being slashed. No wonder they are sceptical.
Too many Quebeckers and Canadians are disillusioned by federal institutions, public administration and politicians. The time has come to change tack and show our commitment to the democratic values of our society. A relationship of trust must be restored between governments and the public, and I sincerely believe that passing the bill before us would be a positive step in this direction.
I therefore ask my hon. colleagues in the House of Commons to carefully consider the merits of the proposed amendments and support this bill aimed at broadening the Access to Information Act to include crown corporations.