Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak today on the motion by the Conservative Party. This motion seeks to extend John Reid's term as the Information Commissioner of Canada by one year. It is an even greater pleasure since there is a story behind the government's decision not to renew this commissioner's contract. This is what I want to talk about.
Obviously, I could quote from the commissioner's annual reports; I could quote statements from the newspapers and so on, but I will leave that to other colleagues who will be speaking. Instead, I want to focus on the Liberal government's decision. We must not forget that the commissioner, John Reid, is a former Liberal minister. So this decision affects the Liberal family. That is the real issue. The Liberal family has had a serious problem since the revelations made at the Gomery commission and since the Bloc Québécois, among others, decided to shed light in the House on what will probably be considered the biggest scandal in the history of Canada and Quebec. This scandal is a direct attack on Quebec.
The problem is that the government is stuck with a promise. Indeed, in the election campaign, the Prime Minister said he would be more transparent. It is all very well to write about transparency and to want to table bills. My colleague from Winnipeg Centre found out the hard way about the Liberals' style of governing. He had a very good private member's bill. He had the opportunity to table it at first reading, to amend the Access to Information Act, to have it apply to all crown corporations so that more quasi-governmental organizations could be brought under the commissioner's sway. However, the Liberal Party decided to introduce a framework for action rather than legislation, as it gave it time. That is the problem. The Liberal Party needs time to try to forget this scandal.
Why are they going after the information commissioner directly? Because this commissioner is getting more and more requests in order to unscramble the impact of this scandal. That is the commissioner's problem.
I am a member of the committee. Since the revelations of the Gomery commission and of the Auditor General, the commissioner has reported an overwhelming number of requests received by his office. Quite rightly, the people are asking questions about things they have seen. They are asking for documents. Journalists are too. So there are a lot of requests, and work is backed up.
The government, the Liberal Party itself, is governing with public money, as we have seen. We will see what the Gomery commission decides. This government does not want us to discover anything else. So it is restricting the means of the information commissioner.
Believe it or not, the information commissioner currently has a backlog of over 2,000 requests. Work is a year and a half behind. All the Liberals can find to do is change the commissioner. Obviously, communications would be simpler if the government said the commissioner was not doing the work, which explained why so many files were late. The officials at the Privy Council told us in committee that perhaps better organization within the office of the information commissioner would result in a saving. In the end, it is quite simple. Too many requests have been made to the office of the information commissioner because of corruption among the Liberals.
They also say they are transparent and have a limited budget. The commissioner was given an 18-month supplemental budget. However, the requests continue to flow in at a rate 25% to 30% higher than previous years. From year to year, since 2002-2003, there has been a 25% increase in requests for access to information. Individuals, some MPs and journalists are making the requests. Many individuals are requesting documents. They want to know about the things they hear coming out of some government departments.
They want to have the documents. There is a greater demand not because of the governance of the Canadian government, but simply because of the Liberal corruption. We were told flat out that there is no end in sight to the requests. Individuals feel their opinions on politicians are under attack. They no longer trust them. They want to have certain documents in their own possession and are requesting certain information. They are right to do so.
The only way for us, the politicians, to all come out of this as winners, is for citizens to regain their trust in government, ask questions and request information. The commissioner should have a bigger budget for this.
But no, the governing Liberal Party has decided there is no advantage in having individuals, journalists or even MPs know more. The Liberals are limiting the work of the commissioner. They are not giving him the necessary budget. They know the needs are increasing, but they claim the commissioner might not be doing his job properly, that he is mismanaging his commission and that he should reorganize it.
So the decision is made not to renew his mandate and to instead appoint someone else, in hopes that the new commissioner will do better. That is insulting to the intelligence of the members of this House. Someone new, who does not know the ropes, is going to come along and fix everything right away. The same thing will happen as with Privacy Commissioner Stoddart. She has been trying for two years to get the privacy commissioner's office back on its feet after the mammoth waste by Mr. Radwanski. She has not yet managed to do so. The restructuring has been going on for two years.
So if we change the commissioner, the processing of requests will slow down even more. This may suit the Liberal Party of Canada, which wants to slow them down at least until the next election is over. Then if they do not like the outcome, and are still in a minority in this House, they will want to slow things down.
That is the purpose of my speech: to try to get the Liberals to see some sense, and tell them to quit messing around with the system, to quit using public funds for their Liberal partisan politicking. The information commissioner must be allowed to act. This commissioner wanted to distance himself from everything Liberal, to establish his independence, and now the Liberals will not accept Commissioner Reid's having become independent and anxious to keep his distance from the Liberal machine and the Liberal political organization. He has got the message that the public want responses to their requests for information, want the documents they are asking for, and want an independent commissioner to respond and make them feel secure.
This will be totally to the advantage of parliamentarians, which is why the Bloc Québécois is going to support the Conservative motion to allow the commissioner to continue his work. They are asking for another year. As far as I am concerned, his mandate should be renewed from year to year, so that he can make public everything the public has suspicions about in connection with Liberal Party corruption. That is the reality. His task, in our opinion, is not only to answer requests from MPs, from Bloc Québécois members or their research staff, but also to provide documents readily to journalists.
We want a new bill. As the member for Winnipeg Centre is requesting, we want a new bill quickly to amend the Access to Information Act to permit all crown corporations and quasi-governmental agencies—the whole machine and everything financed by the federal government—to be subject to access to information. That way, when the public decides that something is perhaps not functioning in the system, it can be readily fixed.
The Liberal Party is not capable of doing that. If the federal government is to be fixed up, everyone will have to be involved. The Liberal members, who are up to their necks in corruption, will not manage it on their own. We must not forget that they lack the capability and the intelligence. We have seen that and will see it in Judge Gomery's report. Still, people have to join together, try to reveal everything possible on this subject and call for information in order to get all the facts. Every attempt and anything that has to do with any kind of corruption has to be made public. At that point, slowly but surely, we will manage to straighten out this federal government.
We remind the House that this has been a major effort by the Bloc. We were the ones who began the cleanup here in the Canadian government. It is time people stopped thinking we only oppose. We have proved it. We are showing the people of Canada how the federal government treats Quebec. This is one more reason for Quebeckers to think that, some day, perhaps, they would do better to govern themselves in their own country, rather than in this land of corruption.
This will not be because we did not try to open the gates and clean out the Augean stable that the federal government has become. That is what we are doing. I think that it can be done with the help of all the citizens. For starters, they should be entitled to quick answers to their questions.
The only body that should remain neutral and allow the citizens to submit their requests and the important questions they are asking about how the government is managed is the office of the information commissioner. It is his job to provide quick answers to the citizens. He should have all the staff he needs to ask any department or quasi-governmental agency to answer the questions asked by citizens, members of Parliament, journalists and all. This must be done quickly so that no government is ever allowed, as the Liberal party of Canada was, to use government money and all the powers and operations of state to promote its own party. We in Quebec will take a very harsh view of this. We already do in view of all the corruption at the very foundations of the Liberal party. This is a very important effort in which citizens can become involved through access to information
All too often, access to information is taken too lightly. The federal government is a huge apparatus and always expanding. Since 2000, it has grown by 37%. It is not an apparatus that tends to shrink; it always tends to expand. One need only look at the bills introduced in the House: departments are split to create two new ones and new departments are created in all the provinces.
The tendency of the federal Liberal government is to expand the machinery of state. And the larger it gets, the less manageable it becomes. Everyone knows that, except the Liberal party of Canada. In spite of everything, it continues to expand the federal machinery so that public servants will be present all over Canada. It probably aspires to be the biggest employer of all; that is one choice. The difficulty is that, meanwhile, the people's real problems, issues such as health, education and poverty, are not being solved.
That is the reality. Money is spent to establish a presence, raise the government's profile, and have public servants give answers to the people. But in the meantime, men and women are in dire poverty and the health system is suffering. The decision handed down by the Supreme Court of Canada last week was harsh reality for the Liberal Party.
They have been cutting transfers to the provinces since 1996, when the current Prime Minister was Minister of Finance. Now the highest court in the land states that the health care system can no longer cope; it is falling apart on all sides; and there will be a two-tier health system. That is directly related to the cuts made by the Liberal Party of Canada. It is that simple. It was the cuts in transfer payments that forced the provinces to react by making cuts in health care.
Now, in the view of the court, the government cannot continue like this because everyone is entitled to care. Health care is part of our rights and freedoms. So if someone has the money to pay for private care, a private parallel system must be allowed to exist. That is a two-tier health system.
I am very curious to see how the Quebec health minister will deal with this. He will try to say that it does not exist, when in reality it does. That is the harsh truth. And all because the federal Liberal government cut the transfers to the provinces in 1996.
It should be remembered that when the system was established back in 1960, the federal government paid 50% of the costs; by 1996, it was only paying 12%. This rate is going back up to 25% under the agreement signed by the provincial premiers. But last week, the Supreme Court said that the damage had been done. The health system is in bad shape. Under Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, citizens have a right to demand care. The Supreme Court decided to say that this was correct—and all because the federal Liberal government decided to cut the transfers to the provinces in 1996.
That makes citizens, men and women, Quebeckers most importantly and all Canadians increasingly critical of the federal government. It is not surprising, therefore, that there are more access to information requests regarding everything having to do with the federal government.
The Gomery commission, in the wake of the sponsorship scandal, is one such example. The gun registry scandal is another, which gobbled up vast sums of money. Some people do not believe it but the initial cost of the gun registry was set at $2 million, although it has cost $2 billion. The problem is that the Liberal Party has not suffered too much as a result since people refuse to believe it could say that the registry would cost $2 million and have it end up costing $2 billion. Liberal or not, Canadians and Quebeckers do not understand this. They all believe that this is not possible. But it is possible, here, in Canada. The Liberals said it would cost $2 million, but it has cost $2 billion. That is the reality.
More and more people are realizing this, asking questions and demanding answers from the Information Commissioner. This figure is so high that some people cannot believe it. Clearly, the Liberal Party has benefited. This took place in 2003, 2004 and 2005 in Canada. It has completely lost control of the program, which will cost a fortune. Supplementary estimates for this registry have been tabled every fall for the past four years, and next fall will be no different.
Why did the government lose control? Because it is too big. The ministers responsible—both past and present—were perhaps unable to run this program. That is the reality. It is a big machine and running it requires competent people. Sometimes, particularly when it comes to the Liberal Party, the best people are not chosen or the least bad are picked. That is how the Liberals govern. The Liberals will have to live with the consequences. We will be waiting for them in the next federal election campaign. We will be there in order to call them to order and defend, once again, the interests of Quebeckers.
For the interests of Quebeckers would be better defended by extending the contract of Information Commissioner John Reid. Even though he is a former Liberal minister, it would be better if he kept his position. Mr. Reid was a straight shooter. He was always able to tell it like it is in committee and in his annual reports. I sincerely believe that he truly wants to answer every question and to take part in drafting a new bill to make all governmental and para-governmental bodies accountable to the information commissioner.
When we take on such a major reform and try to resolve the 18-month backlog of requests caused by understaffing, it is not the time to bring in beginners, but the time to keep experienced people in place. What is more, Mr. Reid wants to eliminate the backlog and stay on top of the 25% increase in requests. As I was saying, he was quite clear in committee that there was no end in sight to the requests that have been made since the sponsorship scandal.
Mr. Reid is aware of the problem caused by the volume of requests. What he needs is more money in order to hire more staff. He also needs new legislation to make all governmental and para-governmental agencies—Via Rail, Canada Post, or whatever—accountable to the information commissioner.
In the sponsorship scandal, these agencies spent taxpayers' money. They do have their own cash flows, which is what makes them para-governmental. However, these agencies were able—with no questions asked and without having to answer to anyone—to get away with spending money, buying advertising, waving the Canadian flag just about everywhere, all in the name of national unity. At the end of the day, their only purpose is to provide services. The purpose of Via Rail is to get passengers to their destination as quickly as possible, while the purpose of Canada Post is to deliver mail as quickly as possible.
For these reasons, the Bloc Québécois will support the request of the Conservative Party to renew Mr. Reid's contract.