Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise in the House, particularly at supper time.
I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-58. It is quite a coincidence that we are talking about consistency, transparency, and access to information—in short, giving clear answers to clear questions—when we saw exactly the opposite of that today in question period. I will come back to that a bit later.
This bill objectively seeks to make government more transparent and to give Canadians better access to government information. That is the objective, but it is still far from reality. I would not say that I am in a conflict of interest because that is a sensitive topic these days. However, as a former journalist and a current MP, I find myself walking a very fine line between the legitimate access to information requests that Canadians should be able to make to the federal government and the executive's ability to govern in order to carry out the usual business of a government, a country, while maintaining some level of confidentiality when it comes to debates and relevant information.
Let us be clear about one thing: if everything is made public and if there is access to everything that is said, and if everyone's views are known, at some point there will no longer be any real internal debate by cabinet, which is necessary to govern a solid state like Canada. Therefore, there is a very fine line that needs to be drawn and this government clearly did that when it was in opposition. When the Liberals made an election promise, they drew that line; today, the line is there, whereas before it was here. This is a regressive bill.
I listened closely to the President of the Treasury Board, who sponsored this bill. I hold the member in high regard and have great respect for him. He has been here for almost 21 years and, at another time, early on in his political career, he sat on the right side, with the Conservatives. He has the right to change his mind, as some have, but I just wanted to point that out, tongue in cheek. I will be a good sport. He made an objective statement that I will not challenge: this is the first time in 34 years that a government is overhauling access to information. Only that much is true. The overhaul is not going to provide more access to information. On the contrary, it will give more power to the executive, the ministers, the Prime Minister and his cabinet to restrict Canadians' access to information.
I will provide some examples. First, the Information Commissioner was rather scathing in her assessment of the first draft of this regressive bill and worse yet, she said that in her view, the sponsorship scandal, the legacy of the Chrétien and Martin governments—of which the current President of the Treasury Board was a member—would not have been uncovered without the excellent journalistic work of the Daniel Leblancs of this world. It is quite a positive development for transparency, right? It is truly a step forward for openness. It is truly a fundamental element of freedom of the press. No, it is not.
We recognize that a dozen or so amendments were adopted, but we think that those amendments do not go far enough when it comes to the Liberal ambition and even less so when it comes to the practice of journalism. I acknowledge that what I am about to say may be subjective, but part of our work as MPs is to be subjective. It may be subjective, but I have 20 years' experience as a journalist under my belt. We believe that the proposed amendments do not go far enough. As a result of these amendments, in a case like the sponsorship scandal of the Chrétien and Martin Liberal governments, of which the current President of the Treasury Board was a member, it would still be difficult to get access to that information. It would not be impossible, but journalists' work would become even more difficult, and that is why we think this is a regressive bill.
In addition, it will be the government that chooses what can and cannot be disclosed from now on. It will be judge and jury. Of course it is in the government's interest to withhold certain information; that is only natural. I am not saying that is what it should do, but it could be a natural reaction for some government members. That is what I would call a step backwards.
The same is true when it comes to the proactive disclosure of certain documents. With this supposedly proactive approach, there is a risk that bureaucrats, policy advisers, and ministers will know which documents are going to be made public in a month or in six months. We can therefore expect a version A, which will be made public, and a version B that has the real information, which can be found in emails, for example, and might be a little more politically sensitive. The government might be a little less inclined to make that information public.
Of course, nothing is perfect in life, but we believe that the proactive disclosure of certain information falls short of what was said or aspired to in the Liberal Party's electoral platform, which is what people voted on two years ago.
Earlier, my NDP colleague mentioned certain amendments that the government flatly refused to consider. The amendments were substantive and in keeping with Liberal promises, but unfortunately, they were rejected. The same amendments had been suggested by the Information Commissioner, journalists, members of the media, and first nations.
The government says it cares so much about first nations and keeps talking about how they are its priority. However, as we have shown during a number of debates, including the one on the Prime Minister's unfortunate statement about religious belief, the government talks about first nations only when doing so suits its purposes. The same goes for this bill.
Even though the government made a dozen or so amendments, we feel that this bill does not go far enough in terms of ensuring the clarity, openness, and transparency everyone expects of the government. It is also a watered-down version of the Liberal promise. In short, this is yet another in what is becoming a very long line of broken Liberal promises.
This government got itself elected on a promise of a small $10-billion deficit for three years and a subsequent return to a balanced budget. Now we are talking $20-billion deficits, and nobody has any idea when the budget will be balanced. The government said it would aggressively raise taxes on seniors. As a result—