Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise this morning to speak on Bill C-54 as one who had close ties with the communications industry during 15 years. I was involved in broadcast media at the time.
Throughout this period, I had an opportunity to witness changes as they occurred: the arrival of fax machines, satellite dishes, computers and, finally, the Internet. All these changes have always served the public at large, the general public, well. However, a closer look at electronic commerce and this technology that is increasingly becoming a part of our daily lives raises concerns.
As the millennium approaches, in this era of communications, with communications occupying an ever-increasing place in our lives, the federal government has deemed it appropriate to legislate in this very complex area.
I would like to give a little background on Bill C-54, an act to support and promote electronic commerce. The purpose of this legislation is to support and promote electronic commerce. How? The title goes on to say: by protecting personal information that is collected, used or disclosed in certain circumstances, by providing for the use of electronic means to communicate or record information or transactions and by amending certain acts.
Once again, Quebec is at the cutting edge, since it has had legislation protecting personal information in the private sector for four years now. Bill C-54 introduced by the federal government deals only with commerce. It does not extend to any other activity and has some serious deficiencies.
In its 1997-98 annual report, the Quebec access to information commission is unequivocal on the issue of privacy on the information highway.
The commission examined the consequences of introducing Canada-wide standards and legal principles regarding privacy on the information highway.
Under the terms of a proposal submitted to the ministers responsible for setting up this highway, this protection will be based on the voluntary code of practice developed by the Canadian Standards Association, and adopted in 1990.
It is the commission's contention that, if implemented, this proposal would represent a setback for the privacy issue in Quebec. This contention is based on a comprehensive review of the CSA code. There is good reason to be pleased with the Canadian industry adopting such a code. This marks quite a breakthrough, stemming from an interesting analysis of the OECD guidelines on protection of personal information.
However, the CSA code does not meet the objectives of the personal information protection systems established under the two Quebec laws, namely to guarantee all citizens an impartial and fair solution to any problem or dispute that may arise with regard to the protection of this increasingly important aspect of one's privacy.
Therefore, the Commission suggested to the Quebec Minister of Culture and Communications that she remind her counterparts that Quebec has such a statutory system in place. According to the Commission, the Quebec system is the only response to the challenges of the information highway that respects the rights of citizens.
Discussions of e-commerce become a little complicated. First of all, for the benefit of this House I am going to use general, easy to understand terms. We are talking about making purchases or conducting transactions with banks, with suppliers, with manufacturers, or with clients electronically.
These types of transactions have been in existence for quite some time. Telecommunications have been with us for 30 years or so. They have been relatively well structured in terms of standards for 25 years. As for electronic data interchange, it has been governed by international standards for more than 10 years.
In fact, electronic data interchange is used relatively often by many businesses. For the past 10 years or so, large businesses have been using it in their dealings with suppliers. This means that a supplier does not send a written bill to his client, but rather an electronic bill that is received on the computer of the client, who will then authorize payment after verifying that the goods or services have actually been delivered.
But what is happening in this era of communications is an acceleration of this process. Electronic data interchange is no longer restricted to large corporations or governments. It is now accessible to the average person through the Internet, among other means. The Internet is becoming increasingly popular at home.
I want to discuss into greater detail how this government is once again getting involved in issues that are under Quebec's jurisdiction. The bill introduced by the Minister of Industry to protect personal information was of course anxiously awaited. It is, as the federal privacy commissioner pointed out, the most significant step taken to protect personal information since 1983.
However, instead of introducing a real bill to protect privacy in the private sector, in a technological world that challenges this fundamental right, the government, through its Minister of Industry, is proposing this weak legislation, whose fundamental part is found in a schedule to the bill, and in which the commissioner does not have real powers. The wording lends itself to a broad interpretation.
As we know, when this government wants to get involved in areas of provincial jurisdiction, it always goes for a broad interpretation, so that it can justify its actions to the people.
In this context, there is a risk that Bill C-54 may infringe on the privacy rights of Quebeckers. This bill may not meet the expectations of Canadian and Quebec consumers.
Moreover, the Minister of Industry is introducing a bill which, on the face of it, seems to provide less protection than in the federal public sector. Whereas, at the moment, harmonization of legislation on the subject across the country seems to be an important criterion in ensuring constant protection of personal information, it might be reasonable to expect the government to draw on the experiences of Quebec in protecting personal information. It has had a law for four years. Not so.
The Bloc Quebecois regrets that the government has chosen not to give the privacy commission power to issue orders. This lack of power, which currently prevents him from fulfilling his responsibilities in the public sector, should have been remedied in proper form in the bill before us. This shortcoming will affect the bill's credibility.
The Bloc Quebecois fears that these weaknesses in the bill will make the Prime Minister's objective of promoting consumer confidence in order to develop electronic trade unattainable.
This is no surprise. The Bloc Quebecois is sure the government will not give the privacy commissioner the resources he needs to do the additional work given him in the bill. The copyright board, a body making quasi-judicial decisions, had no increase in its resources following the passage of Bill C-32, which doubled its workload. Today, the Minister of Industry is obliging it to examine the cost recovery formula.
This is another method frequently used by our friends opposite. The government hands out responsibilities, but not the resources or the money to fulfil them.
Furthermore, this means, very clearly, that the Bloc Quebecois does not support Bill C-54 as drafted. The minister should go back to the drawing board and look much more carefully at the importance of personal information.