Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise on Bill C-58, and to go down this path once again on how we got to where we are today. To those in the gallery and those listening at home, it probably seems like we hit pause, rewind, then play, time and again. This debate is back again, and we will hear some of the same arguments we have had time and again.
I want to refresh, for those who are in the House today, as well as those listening, how we got to this point. I believe it was day 10 of the 2015 election campaign where the member for Papineau, now our Prime Minister, made a campaign pledge that, under his leadership, the Government of Canada would become the most open and transparent government in Canadian history. A mere two years later, we have slid backwards. Now we have a bill such as Bill C-58 that not just the media, but former information commissioners are saying is a step backward, a sign of decline in this government's transparency.
It is interesting. There are some things I will discuss along the way, and what do they have in common? What they have in common is that if access to information were not available, Canadians would not have found out about these issues. The access to information process is there.
Again, I will remind the House of why we are here. We seem to always have to remind our friends across the way, the government, that the House does not belong to them or to me. The House belongs to Canadians, those who elected us to be here, to be their voices, from the 338 ridings across Canada. We are here to deliver their voices to Ottawa, not the other way around.
If Canadians have questions about what the government is doing, access to information is a tool that the opposition and the media can use to find out some of the real answers. We get talking points but not a lot of answers during question period, and access to information allows us to dig deep and find some of the answers.
I will give a few examples that we have dealt with over the last two years. About a year ago, around this time, maybe a little later in the month, there was a holiday trip taken by our Prime Minister and his family. Again, I will be on record to say that I never begrudge anyone spending time with their family and going away and enjoying time. We work very hard. However, when the taxpayers pay for it, Canadians should know how much money is being spent. There are costs incurred along the way. The only way that the real costs of the Aga Khan trip were made public was through access to information. If Bill C-58 had been in place, would Canadians have found out what the costs had been, or that our Prime Minister perhaps had some bad advice along the way? He blames others, of course. It is not ever his mistake or problem, it is others who are giving him bad advice. Therefore, access to information has protected us there.
That same year, in 2016, we found out that another cabinet minister had a preferred choice of transportation when she was back in her riding. Again, the taxpayers were on the hook for that. It was a limo, or sedan, or whatever it was called, that we were talking about.
How did we find that out? How did Canadians find that out? It was through access to information.
The other one that came up was the government's plan to introduce a carbon tax. Many people, including experts who are in the field, said that the carbon tax would not be revenue neutral. It would be a cash grab, and even at $50 a tonne, it would not allow Canada to reach its target. How did we find that out? An internal departmental memo highlighted that for us.
If we listen to the talking points the ministers spew during question period, and indeed in their media scrums, everything is fine, and we should trust them, because they know what is best for us. However, when we dig deeper and have that opportunity to really look at some of the departmental information, we really get the truth.
Another one we have been dealing with over the last few weeks is the ethical conundrum the Minister of Finance finds himself in. The information that has come out is from the opposition a bit and from the public and the media that have done some digging, through access to information.
There is another one that came out. Shortly after the 2015 election, the Prime Minister was building his team and was perhaps moving some high-priced friends here to work in Ottawa. Moving here from Toronto, the GTA, would appear to be fairly expensive, because I believe the costs were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for a couple of staff members. After that information came out and was made public, I think most members in the House, and perhaps the people in the gallery, will remember that some of those dollars were paid back, because the Liberals said they erred in their ways, or perhaps, as the finance minister has said in terms of some of his challenges, it was an administrative error.
I am going to use a very recent issue that has come to light. The Minister of National Revenue has denied, a lot, over the last couple of weeks that there have been changes to the diabetic tax credit, despite all the letters and the meetings we have had with constituents. On this side of the House, I believe all of the opposition is on the same page with this one. Diabetics right across Canada are having challenges getting their tax credit. However, despite this revenue minister standing up, banging her fist on the table, and vehemently denying that there has been any change, guess what? Through an access to information request, we have now found out that indeed a memo has gone out. Not only has it gone out within her department, it has gone out to other departments, letting them know that there were indeed some challenges and that this tax credit has changed.
If Bill C-58 was in place today, we would not know about those ideas and issues I just brought up. It would be great for the Prime Minister, his cabinet, and his team, because they would not have such long-looking faces on the backbench. It is not sunny ways across the way anymore. It is cloudy ways right across the front bench. The poor backbench and the parliamentary secretaries are having to come in and answer all the questions for the ministers. I think some of those parliamentary secretaries, not all of them, are really earning their keep, because they are having to answer these questions for these ministers who keep making these ethical mistakes. Only through access to information are Canadians really finding out about them.
For those who are tuning in, Bill C-58 is not really about opening up and being more open and transparent. As a matter of fact, it is a step backward. When the Prime Minister was campaigning, he said that his government would be the most open and transparent government in Canadian history. Let us pump the brakes a little on that, because once he got in, once he had 39% of Canadians' votes, he changed that.
He said he was just kidding. He did not really expect to get in. They could not have Canadians knowing what they are doing or what their ministers are doing and that they are not going to have access to that.
Maybe they have made some amendments to Bill C-58 that are good, but they are failing Canadians on their biggest promise, which was to make the government more open and transparent, including the Prime Minister's Office and the cabinet ministers' offices. As it sits today, if Bill C-58 passed, the minister of a department could decide that a request was vexatious and frivolous. A minister could see that a media outlet or a member of Parliament or an opposition member had signed numerous access to information requests and could decide that perhaps he or she was unfairly targeting that department, so that minister would deny them.
That is unacceptable, because we are not here for ourselves. We are here for the Canadians who elected us. They are the electors in my riding of Cariboo—Prince George. I feel so fortunate to be here, and hopefully we have made them proud as we stand up every day and fight. We fight hard in delivering the voice of the Cariboo to Ottawa, not the other way around. I know that my constituents want us to make sure that we are fighting all the time, that we are holding the government accountable, and that it cannot do the unethical things it has done to this point.
The Liberals want to rush Bill C-58 in. I am sure that as we move forward, this is really a stopgap. I remind members that for the first time in Canadian history, we have a Prime Minister under investigation. We have a finance minister who has two investigations. I think there could be more coming down the wire.
Despite their standing up, hand on heart, saying that the finance minister has followed the letter of the law and what the Ethics Commissioner told him right from day one, we know that it is not true. I have not been up in question period very much on this. That is the job of other members of our team. If they had followed the Ethics Commissioner's rules, would the finance minister have two investigations going? Would he have been fined any money? Would he have been told, “You made a mistake”? He blamed it on an administrative error, saying, “Oops, I forgot my French villa.” I do not know about other people here, but if I had a French villa, I would not have forgotten about it.
That brings me to another point. When members of Parliament are elected, we all are held to a higher account. We all have to go through the same process. For the most part, that is right. In the mandate letters, the Prime Minister tasked his ministers to go above and beyond to withstand even the closest scrutiny. We all have to go through the steps and declare our assets and do what we have to do to satisfy the Ethics Commissioner's rules and guidelines. They are absolutely right about that, but ministers of the crown are actually held to a higher standard, especially those like the finance minister, which is perhaps one of the most powerful positions in Canada. It can influence markets through the policies the finance minister introduces. The Liberals say that he followed the letter of the law and always worked with the Ethics Commissioner. I think there is a bit of funny business going on, because if the minister had done that from day one, the Ethics Commissioner would not say that something does not smell right here and fine him. She only fined him a small amount, but she still fined him.
Essentially, he was found guilty, because he was fined for some form of unethical transgression--