Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to share the government's position on Bill C-461.
Bill C-461 was introduced in the House on November 5, 2012 by the member for Edmonton—St. Albert. As we now know, this bill has generated a fair bit of discussion. I believe that is healthy in any democratic society.
Bill C-461 has been subject to amendments that have also generated healthy democratic discussion.
It is important to recognize that bills are sent to the committee stage review as part of our democratic process. Committee review allows for input from stakeholders, expert witnesses, and those who may be impacted by any proposed piece of legislation. Let us never forget that legislation can affect the lives of Canadians. It is why we, as parliamentarians, must listen to all sides and strive to achieve a balance.
Our government is supportive of the principles raised by the member for Edmonton—St. Albert. The amendments to Bill C-461 provide a better balance in recognizing the obligation of the federal government as an employer.
Our government supports this bill, as amended. What exactly has been amended? In my view, we should not overlook that Bill C-461 proposes amendments to the Privacy Act. These amendments also coincide with this government's continuing goal of increasing openness and transparency.
Currently, much of public servants' expenses or salaries are protected under the Privacy Act. The Privacy Act is an important piece of legislation that protects the personal information of all individuals, including federal employees. However, the Privacy Act also recognizes the fact that federal employees work in the public domain. Increasing accountability and transparency requires that more personal information be made available to the public when that information is about positions or their functions within a government institution. The Privacy Act provides that this type of personal information should not be protected when an access to information request is made. That type of information should be disclosed.
What Bill C-461 proposes to do is specify that all expenses incurred by federal officers or employees of a government institution in the course of their work and for which they are reimbursed are not protected as personal information under the Privacy Act. If there was any ambiguity before, it would now be clear that this information could and should be disclosed to a requester.
Under Bill C-461, if individuals, in the course of their employment, incurred an expense and were compensated for that expense by the government, that information, the amount of compensation, could be disclosed.
Governments must spend public money wisely and only where necessary. A person cannot expect that the reimbursement of a work-related expense by a government institution will be kept confidential. It is in the public interest that the law be crystal clear on this point. I believe that this is an important aspect of public accountability. This is a small but reasonable addition that will make things clear for everyone.
Another aspect of Bill C-461 relating to transparency and public expenditures is the disclosure of the salaries of certain officers of government institutions. Currently, the Privacy Act authorizes government institutions to disclose the salary range, the classification, and the responsibilities of the position held by all officers and employees. For all public servants, this information is not treated as personal information. Therefore, this information can be disclosed under an access request. We believe that for the majority of public servants, this is sufficient and reasonable.
Where I believe we need to go further is with respect to the highest paid individuals in government institutions. Many provinces disclose, often proactively, the exact salaries of its highest earners. These are called sunshine lists. Publicly traded corporations routinely release the amount of compensation for their top officers. The idea behind this is that stakeholders in the company deserve to know the exact amount the highest compensated individuals are taking home.
When it comes to government, all taxpayers are interested stakeholders, and they deserve to have this information. In these cases, it is not sufficient to know the salary ranges and job classifications of some of the highest earners in government. These people receive bonuses and other discretionary benefits from government institutions. Often what these individuals will receive at the end of the year from an institution is substantially higher than what is publicly announced for their position. That is why we believe that government institutions should be authorized to disclose the exact salary paid to the highest earners. This would include all the bonuses and benefits given to the individual.
We strongly believe, however, that this level of intrusion on an individual's privacy should be reserved for the highest paid individuals only. This is what we have done in Bill C-461.
In conclusion, I want to say that this bill enhances transparency in the operations of government while still maintaining a critical balance that is respectful of personal privacy.
Employees and institutions are entrusted with the financial administration of the public purse and should be able to demonstrate where and how that money is being spent. Individuals should be able to request records and review expenditures by public servants, and this should obviously include the CBC. It will improve the overall confidence and trust in our institutions.
I would urge this House to adopt Bill C-461 as it is presented today. The improvements this bill proposes to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act are sensible and promote transparency, openness, and accountability in key ways across government.