Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to be in the House when you are presiding.
I participated in the debate at second reading, hopeful that for once the government would be open to amendments. As I recall, the President of the Treasury Board promised they would be open to amendments. Regrettably, every amendment tabled by my colleague was rejected.
Why is that important? As the representative for the Conservative Party stated, great promises were made by the Liberals when they ran for office, a new world of openness and transparency and sunshine. What are they offering? Like many of the bills they have brought forward, they tell us not to worry, that they have not made those changes they promised, that in five years when we review the bill again, they will think about whether they will bring those forward. It is getting very tiresome.
It is time for the government to deliver on its promises and on requests by Canadians, by experts, and by its own commissioners to open access to information.
I have shared in the House that in my 40-plus years as an environmental advocate, I championed the cause for the rights of citizens to have a voice in environmental decision-making. Critical to that is having the opportunity to participate in the review of standards and the review of projects, policy, and trade deals. For the public to constructively participate, it is very critical they have ready access to information. The government has failed on that.
The Liberals have said that they will have a proactive disclosure, but then it is up to the government to decide what the public will receive. Yes, it would be nice if the government were more open with access to information, but let me give a concrete example of where it has abjectly failed to deliver on this promise.
We are in the middle of negotiations on a “modernized” NAFTA. Very late in the day, the government suddenly remembered it would have strong provisions for environment in any NAFTA deal, yet there is no environmental adviser to the foreign affairs minister who is negotiating the deal. To her credit, she has industry representatives and representatives from labour, but no representative with environmental expertise.
Very late in the day, at the eleventh hour, the environment minister established an advisory committee. We have no idea what role it is playing, whether its ideas are passed on to the negotiation table. We have no idea whatsoever what the government is proposing for environmental provisions in the NAFTA deal, unlike the Americans. We can criticize the Americans as much as want, but they tabled and made publicly available all the provisions they were intending to seek for environment in a negotiated trade deal. So much for openness and transparency.
Nothing in Bill C-58 will improve that, because the government has made its own decision that it will not disclose that information in advance to the public. To make matters worse, the Liberals issued a call for public comments on a revised NAFTA, when we did not even know what a revised NAFTA would say. I do not know what the outcome of the consultations were but I heard from a lot of Canadians who asked how they could comment on a trade deal when they did not even know what it would include. The Liberal Party's idea about open access to information and timeliness is a bit of Russian roulette.
Why is it important for Canadians to have access to information? From my perspective, as the environment and climate change critic and as an advocate for environmental rights for over 40 years, these are the kinds of things the public wants. They want to know in advance, before they are consulted, if they are consulted, what the planned routes are for pipelines. They want to know the locations of chemical plants before they are approved. They want information on the potential or known impacts of toxins on their health. That request was made very strongly by very many people who testified before our parliamentary committee.
The government has been in power now for over two years. What was one of the Liberals' big election promises? They promised they would immediately restore all federal environmental laws. Well, there is nothing stopping them from tabling today or tomorrow a revised Canadian Environmental Protection Act to extend these kinds of rights. We had a review by our committee with all kinds of recommendations to amend the act, but there has still been no action, and we will not hold our breath for a response.
We want to know about the safety of consumer products before they are made available for sale. Again, it is a specific request made by experts to our parliamentary committee. We are still waiting for action to make that information available. It is a vacuous offer to increase and improve access to information when, in fact, the Liberals bring forward a bill that provides very little.
As my colleague did, I will also share from the Information Commissioner's report on Bill C-58 entitled “Failing to Strike the Right Balance for Transparency”, which reads:
In short, Bill C-58 fails to deliver.
The government promised the bill would ensure the Act applies to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices appropriately. It does not.
The government promised the bill would apply appropriately to administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts. It does not.
The government promised the bill would empower the Information Commissioner to order the release of government information. It does not.
Rather than advancing access to information rights, Bill C-58 would instead result in a regression of existing rights.
That is from the report of the Information Commissioner, and it is a scathing review, yet members of the government stand and defend the bill they have brought forward.
The bill could have been strengthened if the government finally delivered on the undertaking in this place by the President of the Treasury Board that he would welcome amendments to strengthen the bill, and yet the government refused every single amendment brought forward by my colleagues. This is not open and constructive government. It is not listening to experts. It is not listening to its own commissioners. It is not listening to the public.