Madam Speaker, I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak to the government operations committee report on the George Radwanski affair.
The member for Mississauga South was, I think, far too kind with respect to my role in the affair. However, it is certainly true that it was a question that I posed at the government operations committee that led to the disclosures and the whole salacious scandal, shall we say, of a servant of this House, an officer of Parliament, engaging in overspending, improper spending, and treating his staff and department in almost an abusive and brutal manner.
What ultimately came out was a story that has been in all the newspapers of a person who had very little regard for the expectation of integrity that he should have had, very little regard for the people he managed or very little regard indeed for the office that he held. And it has been quite a story, certainly.
Despite the fact that it has made headlines and it has been so salacious, it is, in fact, an exceptional circumstance. It does not speak to the entire civil service.
I would like to address part of my remarks to the concern expressed by the member for Elk Island. People must keep in sight the fact that the reason the Office of the Privacy Commissioner developed the problems it did was because it is not under the Access to Information Act.
The original question that started all of this was a question to the Privacy Commissioner about why he thought that his office should not be under the Access to Information Act. It is legislation that applies to most government departments and permits access to routine financial documents and operational documents by the media, other members of Parliament and the general public.
Mr. Radwanski replied in the negative. He said he did not want to be under the Access to Information Act even though other officers of Parliament said that they were willing to be under the Access to Information Act.
The fact that there was no routine disclosure and the fact that a department like the Office of the Privacy Commissioner would not come under routine external audit enabled Mr. Radwanski to engage in practices that would normally never have come to light.
Indeed, the fact that his documents were requested by the committee, which had the power to summon the documents, is the only reason any of this came to light in the first place. The documents were sent to the committee, and I was the one who requested his expense accounts and other details of his operations. When I looked at them for the first time, and when other members of the committee looked at them for the first time, none of us could see anything wrong with them. In fact, when I looked at them, I thought the hospitality expenses were rather high, but I did not see that as a very important issue.
However, because they were tabled before the committee, people in the Privacy Commissioner's office saw those documents and realized that they had been altered, that they were incomplete, that there had been sections whited out, and that in one document a whole paragraph had disappeared.
Now I submit to the House that no ordinary audit would have caught that alteration of documents. Had the Auditor General gone in on a regular external audit and looked at Mr. Radwanski's expense sheets or looked at the letter he sent to the justice department that later was discovered to have been altered, she would not have noticed it.
And this is the power of the Access to Information Act. When routine documents are available, they are not only available to the media, they are not only available to the public, they are also available to other staff in a department of government.
When documents are altered or changed and they can be called up on the Internet, then there is an opportunity for people who know that they are false to raise the alarm. That is precisely what happened in this case.
When the documents were tabled before the committee, there were people who called me, the chairman of the committee and others to point out the missing information.
That set in motion the investigation that my hon. colleague from Mississauga South and other members of the government operations committee conducted so thoroughly and effectively. It has now led to the resignation of the Privacy Commissioner and an ongoing investigation of where the failures occurred that enabled this person to abuse his public office.
I would insist and I would repeat that the primary problem, no matter what other problems existed, was the fact that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner was not under the Access to Information Act.
Returning to the question of the member for Elk Island of how extensive the problem is that we discovered with Mr. Radwanski, I would suggest that it probably does not exist where government agencies and departments fall under the Access to Information Act.
There are many departments that are under the Access to Information Act. Unfortunately there are a number of small tribunals, small agencies and organizations of perhaps 50 or 100 employees that are not under the Access to Information Act, are not subject to internal audit, and are not required to publish annual audited statements.
They are out there and one of the things that has been disclosed by the Radwanski affair is the fact that there is this major gap in our coverage and our oversights of agencies that spend taxpayers' dollars.
Two things should flow, I hope, from the work of the government operations committee on the Privacy Commissioner's file.
First, we need to reform or adjust the Access to Information Act so that every agency of government that spends taxpayers' dollars comes under the Access to Information Act so that everyone can see how that money is spent. Second, we need to compile a list of those agencies that are not under the Access to Information Act and set up a regime where they are regularly audited. I do not see why any agency in government should not be subject to a proper audit. Those are two major lessons we can take from our experience with the Privacy Commissioner.
This whole exercise with respect to discovering the problems in the Privacy Commissioner's office and investigating them is a wonderful example of what members of Parliament can do together. It was not the government that discovered this problem and it was not just the Liberals. The fact that such a thorough job was done to expose the problems that existed with the Privacy Commissioner is a reflection on standing committees, in this case the government operations committee, realizing their power.
I have been in the House for 10 years and 10 years is a long time. But I can remember when I first came in 1993 and, generally speaking, standing committees did very little. Basically, because they were dominated by government members who always wanted to do what their leadership wanted them to do, it was very difficult to see standing committees show any independence or show any real initiative to get to the bottom of things, to look at government spending, and to look at the issues that they were really charged by Canadians to look at.
There has almost been a revolution. The government operations committee did a wonderful job on the estimates as well as on the Radwanski file. The Standing Committee on Public Accounts has done excellent work in looking at expense accounts and at the problems of the sponsorship files where public agencies appear to have misused public funds.
Other committees have shown similar initiatives but these two, in particular, I commend. I think what we are looking at is a new era of Parliament. Once backbench MPs discover the real power there will be no looking back. There will only be looking forward.