Madam Speaker, it is my turn to speak on this subject and, like the other Bloc MPs, I must say I am in favour of this bill because it is aimed at providing MPs and the general public with greater access to information.
This bill has only one clause, which extends it to all crown corporations, since a number of these are currently excluded, such as the CBC, to which my colleague has referred, the Canadian Wheat Board and Canada Post. It is intended to avoid any ambiguity.
For example, a schedule to the present act calls for the 20 departments currently in existence within the federal government to be listed specifically, along with 109 government organizations or agencies. In order to be really sure that some crown corporations are not left out, there is also the Financial Administration Act, which applies to all crown agencies reporting to the federal government.
It seems to me that this is a good idea. First of all, the present legislation has some things in it which reassure me. The desire is to extend it to all crown corporations, but it must be kept in mind that protection of personal information comes under another act. We know that act prevents the release of any kind of personal information, particularly in the case to which my colleague referred. The purpose is to protect any information concerning private citizens.
As far as businesses are concerned, as soon as there is a question of commercial relations, of competition, there are also provisions to protect companies, even the three crown corporations currently under discussion, which would now be subject to the act. The others are already covered and are protected in the event of business competition. I have trouble understanding the reservations some colleagues may have with this, as it is clear in the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act that they are protected.
Another reason we are in favour of this bill is that a committee was struck to include all parties in the House, the Standing Committee on Justice. It began to study the whole matter in March 1987, at which time it was already recommending extension of the Access to Information Act to all crown corporations. So, this goes back a long way. And all parties were represented.
The CBC in particular argued in its brief to the committee that the corporation felt it was being targeted by the Access to Information Act and claimed to be restricted with respect to a number of programs it planned to broadcast. Arguments similar to those I mentioned earlier were put forward. The disclosure of any form of personal information was prohibited under the law. This meant that the CBC would be protected.
However, while in favour of extending the bill to all crown corporations, I have a number of concerns. As a member of Parliament, I asked several of my colleagues from different parties how long it takes to obtain information under the current access to information legislation. It depends on the subject of course. Those who managed to obtain information under this act in less than three weeks or 20 days were few and far between. Some said it could take as long as three months. That is quite a long time.
Often, while not refusing to provide the information requested, the access to information commission will ask for further details, thus delaying the process even further. I do not think it is in the public interest to allow this to go on any longer. However, the bill put forward by our colleague from the Reform Party does not go that far. It simply seeks to apply the bill to a few more corporations.
Let me give you another example. Given the time it takes the access to information commission to provide information—it can take up to three months, as I said—some government service policies were established. For instance, it is the policy of the former Federal Office of Regional Development for Quebec, or FORD-Q, now known as the Economic Development for Quebec Regions Agency, to wait three months before providing information like the name of companies benefiting from a government program. That is a very long time.
In many cases, the grant or loan is awarded. Even in the present situation this gives very little opportunity, for instance to an opposition MP or even the media, to acquire information, given the turnaround time. Since it takes so long, people are often going to give up trying to find out, and just let it go.
In my capacity as the member for Lévis, in the fall of 1996 I was involved with a subsidy for the building of a vessel for the Department of National Defence. The Lévis shipyard had made a tender but was not selected, it seems, as the top bidder. I tried to analyze their tender. I can tell you that this was back in August 1996 and at that time, because it was related to defence, we managed to get some of the information, but 85% of what I would have been interested in was deleted. They said that these parts revealed defence equipment specifications, or contained data that could be harmful to the competitive nature of a manufacturer.
At the present time, the system we have is far from perfectly accessible. On the contrary, because of the delays, the mechanisms, the exclusions set out in so many legal provisions, it is difficult to obtain all the information requested.
I would like to take advantage of the fact that there has just been a vote to state that it is most unacceptable for anyone in this House to want to vote against Bill C-208. It was finally adopted with the support of the majority, but this was a bill that called for penalties for falsifying or concealing official documents. I am somewhat concerned to see that some people would not want to see information as freely available as the public would like it to be. I am astonished that the NDP, a party I respect greatly for its defence of social causes in general, for its defence of citizens, would object to the public's having easier access to information.