Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak today about Canada's access to information laws and their role in our government and democracy. I would also like to reinforce that the right of Canadians to scrutinize their public institutions is not an issue that is to be decided on political grounds. It is the law.
As I have said previously in this House, access to information requests are never handled by ministers or their political staff.
Requests are responded to by professional access to information staff in departments and agencies. Further, it is the Treasury Board Secretariat who looks after improving the management of access to information and privacy acts for the government as a whole.
When we came to power, our priority was to make the public service more transparent, more honest and more accountable.
We did that through the Federal Accountability Act, which brought into force the government's new access to information policy, containing the most extensive amendments to the Access to Information Act since its introduction in 1983. The party opposite opposed efforts to expand access to information when it was in government. In 2005 the Liberals even voted against a Conservative Party motion to extend access to information laws to crown corporations.
Our action plan focused on making governments more accountable. As a result, some 255 public organizations are now subject to the access to information law, including 69 new institutions that are now accountable to Canadians. However, strengthening transparency and accountability goes beyond just expanding the reach of the law.
That is why we also required that institutions help requesters of information without considering their identity, and that is why we prohibited strictly verbal public opinion research reports and required departments to make reports public and accessible through Library and Archives Canada.
Our record speaks for itself. In the last few years, there has been an increase in the number of access to information requests and we have processed a record number as a result. In fiscal 2007-08, more than half of the requests were dealt with within 30 days and nearly 90% within 120 days. This is an achievement we should be proud of. It shows that Canadians today not only have broader access to more information about their government than ever before, but better access as well.
We also created an inventory of best practices to make employees aware of their information management responsibilities. And since April 1, 2008, 51 training sessions for members of the ATIP community have been given and 628 people have attended.
This government takes the public's right of access to information very seriously, as do Canadians, the Treasury Board Secretariat and professional ATIP staff government-wide. To suggest that it is the ministers and their staff who decide what is to be released and what is not, is a complete misunderstanding of how the system works at best. At worst, it is an insult to the integrity of the public servants who uphold the law on behalf of Canadians every day.
If the member opposite is trying to create the impression that decisions about what information to release are driven at the political level, this is absolutely false. The Information Commissioner stated this recently in his testimony before committee.
This government has worked and continues to work in concrete ways to make our access to information system better because we believe in Canadians' right to information. Our democracy and those who uphold it deserve respect and this government will stand up for them.