House of Commons Hansard #26 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was funding.


6:20 p.m.


Ted Menzies Conservative Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, the facts speak for themselves. Budget 2009 ensured that Canada health transfers will grow by $1.4 billion in 2009-10, reaching a record high of $24 billion.

No province's health transfer is being cut. In fact, all provinces and territories' transfers have increased over 2008-09 levels. This support will continue to grow at 6% annually, reaching over $30 billion in 2013-14. In budget 2009 we also made a $500 million investment in Canada Health Infoway to support electronic health records, an investment the Canadian Medical Association praised. It said, “It will lead to better, more efficient care”.

What did the NDP do? Unfortunately, they shamefully voted against this investment.

6:20 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, on January 27th I asked a question regarding the listeriosis outbreak that took the lives of 20 people. I asked the government to examine our food safety system and get to the bottom of the issue so this kind of situation could never happen again.

I provided background to my question by indicating that the Prime Minister, during the election campaign and when the listeriosis outbreak was at its height, had committed to an inquiry and left the impression with the public that there would be an inquiry.

When we found out that there would be a small investigation but not a full inquiry, I asked the question: “Why did the Prime Minister break his word? Why is there not a full judicial inquiry into this serious matter?”

We have insisted on an inquiry and not a simple investigation. The woman appointed to oversee the investigation may be a wonderful woman, but in order to do a job properly the investigator must have the authority and the power to investigate. This lady does not. She has no authority to compel witnesses and no authority to compel evidence. She has no intention of holding public meetings and in fact the meetings are closed. She is not required to hear from anyone. She has no authority to investigate the Prime Minister's Office, which had involvement obviously, and no authority to investigate the offices of the Minister of Agriculture where the responsibility over CFIA rests.

What is worse is the fact that the investigator is to report to the Minister of Agriculture, who, according to the Prime Minister's statement of January 29th, is under no obligation to release any report whatsoever. This is the very minister who was responsible for the CFIA and the very minister who went into hiding when the crisis was at its worst.

Canadians deserve better than this kind of closed door investigation.

Prior to the listeriosis crisis, opposition parties called a special meeting of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food because members were worried about a secret document which claimed to state that the government would be moving from CFIA meat inspectors to the privatization of meat inspectors as a control program. We were accused of fearmongering. Just shortly after that the listeriosis outbreak occurred, causing the death of 20 individuals.

It is unacceptable for the government to act this way. It is unacceptable for the government not to call a full inquiry and get to the bottom of this issue. It is just not acceptable for the Prime Minister and the government to break their word.

6:25 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan


David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to be here tonight to address this issue. It is upsetting that the Liberals, and more specifically, the member for Malpeque, are once again attacking the integrity of Canadians like Sheila Weatherill. Unfortunately this is nothing new for them or for the member. The only thing they offered farmers in the last election was a carbon tax that would have destroyed the agricultural industry, but did nothing to try and secure our food supply.

By contrast, on September 6, 2008, our Prime Minister promptly announced the terms of reference for a full, independent investigation to determine exactly what transpired when listeria was found in ready-to-eat meats made by Maple Leaf Foods. It stipulated in the terms of reference, which I am sure the member opposite knows, that the investigation would examine the events, circumstances and factors that contributed to the outbreak and would review the efficiency and effectiveness of the response by federal agencies in terms of prevention, in terms of the recall of contaminated products in collaboration and communication among partners in the food safety system and the public. It would also provide a full report with recommendations aimed at enhancing prevention of future outbreaks and the removal of contaminated products from stores and warehouses, all to be submitted to the Minister of Agriculture by July 20 of 2009.

Following the outbreak, the CFIA acted quickly to initiate recalls. Both industry and government worked diligently together to determine what had happened and to prevent it from happening again.

On January 20, the Prime Minister appointed Sheila Weatherill, former president and chief executive officer of the Capital Health authority in Edmonton, as the independent investigator into the August 2008 listeria outbreak. The investigation's terms provided the means to scrutinize the efficiency and effectiveness of the government's response to determine what contributed to the outbreak and to help further enhance the Canadian food safety system to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

The government is confident that this course of action will lead to a timely and comprehensive examination. We welcome all honest efforts toward improving food safety.

6:30 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, we see the usual from the government. The member basically said that I attacked Ms. Weatherill. Look at the record. There is no attack on Ms. Weatherill. I said that she was a fine woman, but she had no authority to do the investigation, no powers to do what she had to do. She could not investigate the minister's office. She could not investigate the Prime Minister's office and would give the report to the very minister who was responsible for the CFIA in the first place.

That is not an investigation. That is a cover-up and the parliamentary secretary knows it.

The fact is the agriculture committee has decided it would appoint a subcommittee, which we now have. However, the government is holding that subcommittee up from doing its work.

This is absolutely unacceptable. Twenty people died. The government has a responsibility to be accountable and it is doing anything but being accountable.

6:30 p.m.


David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member certainly has attacked Ms. Weatherill in the past. Perhaps he has finally read some of the information about her to find out exactly who she is and has decided that he better not do that any further.

Perhaps he will accept the words of the Toronto Star, which told him that his attack on her character was unwarranted and unfounded. It says, “The critics are overreaching“. That would be the member opposite. It goes on to say:

Weatherill's past experience can only aid her search for best practices. And it's not clear to us that Canada needs another costly and lengthy forum for lawyers to cross-examine those involved in the outbreak. All indications are that the main players will co-operate.

The Ottawa Citizen said:

The appointment of Sheila Weatherill, a former Edmonton health authority president, to head a federal probe into last summer's deadly listeriosis outbreak is a welcome step to restoring confidence in Canada's food safety system.

Why can the member not take yes as an answer?

6:30 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House on a special day. This is the 60th anniversary of the London Declaration establishing the Commonwealth and its shared values. Its worthy to be on the record of Parliament today.

On February 26, I asked the Minister of Justice for his response to the access to information commissioner's report card, in which he said that our system was creating a major information management crisis throughout the government. Six of the ten departments that he reported on had failing grades. In fact, four were on a red alert. I also pointed out that this was a 25-year-old act that was hopelessly out of date in the digital age. In fact, to give a perspective, it came in at the time of the Commodore 64.

I wanted to know whether the Minister of Justice was in concurrence with the commissioner and whether he would commit to bring in a bill to fix the crisis we had. I was very disappointed that neither the minister nor a representative of the minister rose to answer the question. In fact, the President of the Treasury Board stood and simply said that the government had brought in the Federal Accountability Act and that it had included more government departments, agencies and crown corporations in there, so everything was fine.

It is not fine. When an officer of Parliament, the Information Commissioner of Canada, says that the system is broken and that we have an information management crisis, we have to take note of that. In fact, our Standing Committee on Access to Information Privacy and Ethics is looking at it right now.

One of the important things the commissioner said was that, under the law, an access to information request should be responded to within 30 days. It does not happen. There is a proviso where they can be extended up to 120 days and even more. In fact, he said that the 30 day requirement under the Access to Information Act was becoming the exception rather than the norm, and that is a problem.

Therefore, he came up with 12 recommendations, which he has presented to our committee. He also supports the detailed recommendations to amend the Access to Information Act presented by his predecessor Mr. Reid. We are still waiting for an answer. This is problematic. We have a situation where the Canada Border Services Agency, the Department of National Defence, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Health Canada, Public Works and the RCMP have all received failing grades on responding to the rights of Canadians to know.

It is extremely important that, when people ask legitimate questions and when an officer of Parliament raises issues, the response of the government should come from the responsible minister, and that is the Minister of Justice. It should not come from the President of the Treasury Board, who simply says that the government did a great job and that it got the job done. The facts are contrary to that assertion. Respect for the House demands an answer to the recommendations of the access to information commissioner.

6:35 p.m.

North Vancouver B.C.


Andrew Saxton ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

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.

6:35 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, at least I am glad the member acknowledged that Treasury Board is responsible for the resourcing of the system because the most significant reason the act is not working, according to the Access to Information Commissioner, is the lack of effective leadership from Treasury Board.

My question was a question for the Justice minister for a very simple reason. It is because that is the minister who is responsible for the act and who will be responsible for bringing in new legislation to deal with the information management crisis.

When it comes down to it, Treasury Board has some responsibilities in terms of effective leadership, but I want to know from the government whether it is open to bringing in amendments to the Access to Information Act so that Canadians can get the information they are entitled to receive on a timely basis.

6:40 p.m.


Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, our government believes in transparency and accountability, which is why we introduced the Federal Accountability Act, something the Liberals failed to do. Let us look at the facts. In 2005, the Liberals voted against a motion to extend access to information laws to crown corporations, but since coming to power, we have opened up the Wheat Board, the CBC and dozens of other institutions to the Access to Information Act.

ATIA requests are up 14%, thanks to our changes. We have had almost 30,000 requests in 2007 from less than 25,000 in 2005. These are tremendous steps forward for openness and transparency, steps the Liberals never took. Despite this increase, our public service was still able to respond to a record number of requests last year.

This government is continuing to train and equip our public service so it is better able to keep up with growing demand for information. We fought for the right of Canadians to know how their government operates and we will continue to do so.

6:40 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:41 p.m.)