House of Commons Hansard #245 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-58.

Topics

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent has six minutes remaining in the questions and comments period.

The hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader.

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, here we have substantial legislation, where for the first time in the last three decades plus, as the President of the Treasury Board has talked about, we have legislation that is going to significantly change our access to information system.

However, once again, we see the Conservatives resisting change. We do not quite understand why that is. I can recall a whole proactive disclosure movement here on the floor, led by the leader of the Liberal Party at that time. It did not take long for the Conservatives to realize that it was a good thing.

Would my colleague across the way equally recognize that this, too, is a good thing, because it expands proactive disclosure to include ministers? Would the member not agree that proactive disclosure, at least that aspect of the legislation, is a good thing and worthy of supporting?

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, let me just give a history lesson. As the President of the Treasury Board said a few minutes ago, the first prime minister who tabled something about the subject in this bill was the Right Hon. Joe Clark, in 1979. It was a Progressive Conservative government that did that. In 1983, there was another pitch to do that. We recognize that it was made by the Liberals. That is fine.

For all those years, there was no fixing of this issue. It is not bad that we reopen the debate. We welcome that. However, as far as we are concerned, the situation is now worse than it was before. If they want to touch up a bill and be proactive, it must be good, not wrong. It is not us who said that. It is not the Conservative Party of Canada that said that. The commissioner responsible on the Hill said it is worse today than it was before.

If we want real change that is good change, this is not a good change today.

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like my colleague to tell me why it seems so easy for this government to break yet another election promise.

The Liberals promised to improve transparency and modernize the Access to Information Act. The small step in the right direction that they are currently taking is certainly not enough to say that they are improving transparency or modernizing the Access to Information Act.

What does the member think about this additional broken promise?

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot for her very relevant question. I commend her for her political involvement over the past six years or more.

It is important to recognize that the government has good intentions. It wanted to give Canadians greater access to certain information. The problem is that the Liberals promised the moon during the election campaign and they have not accomplished anything close to what they promised. That is the problem.

The Liberals were saying just about anything during the election campaign. On September 2, 2015, they promised to restore home mail delivery in the company of the former mayor of Montreal, Denis Coderre. They did not do that. They promised to run small deficits of less than $10 billion, but they did not do that. The deficit is double what they promised. They promised to balance the budget by 2019, and they have absolutely no idea when they will do that. The list goes on and on. This government has a track record of saying one thing during the election campaign and then doing the opposite. The bill, as my NDP colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot said so well, is yet another example of a broken promise.

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The hon. member for Mégantic—L'Érable can ask a brief question, and the answer will also have to be brief.

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will try to be brief, but it will not be easy, because I wanted to talk about the irony of today's situation.

It is quite ironic to be facing a time allocation motion for a bill that is supposed to improve openness and transparency. It is quite ironic, and this is not the first time it has happened. I must be very brief.

I would like my colleague, a seasoned parliamentarian, to tell me whether he has ever seen the government act this way in any of the many Parliaments he has been through.

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have not had the privilege of being here in the House of Commons for previous Parliaments.

What is certain is that, as my colleague from Mégantic—L'Érable rightly said, whenever the government is in a tight spot and wants to ram a bill through, it cuts parliamentarians' speaking time. As my colleague so aptly put it, it is quite ironic for parliamentarians to be barred from speaking on a bill about transparency. It is unacceptable.

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Winnipeg North will share the time I have to speak today.

As the member of Parliament for Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, in Nova Scotia, my riding surrounds the two big cities of Halifax and Dartmouth. We find a very high percentage of veterans in my riding. Some 23% of vets are in Nova Scotia, the highest population per capita. We also have many seniors. The number of seniors increased in my riding by 33% between 2011 and 2016.

I would like to thank the President of the Treasury Board for his excellent leadership, not only in government but also as the cabinet minister for the province of Nova Scotia.

The bill is extremely important to Canadians. It would increase democracy. It would allow for much more public debate. People would have much more information. The accountability and transparency in the bill would continue to allow Canadians to understand better what is happening, why it is happening, and why decisions are taken. Those are key components of the bill.

This has been a long-awaited process. It has been 34 years since we have seen a major overhaul. Things have changed drastically. It has surprised me to hear in the last couple of days the Conservatives continue to say that it is not enough. In the last 10 years, they did not do anything about this. That is why the Conservatives are really good in opposition. They can complain about how they would do it if they were in power, and then once they are in power, they just do not do it. I guess their best place to be is in opposition.

Our government conducted over 320 different types of consultations to gather as much information as possible so we could bring a bill forward. We have to remember that this is a living document. This is not something that is going to sit for the next 34 years. This is going to allow us to review it next year and then every five years. That is how bills should be done to make sure that we are responding to the needs of Canadians and to changes in society.

Why do we have to make changes? We know that we have to be more accountable and more transparent. We, as a government, ran on that issue, but also, things have changed. We have been putting all kinds of documents on paper and storing them on shelves and in cabinets, and we have not been in a position to quickly respond in an efficient way. That has been a major issue.

The bill would add a very important piece, which is proactive publication. We would expand publication to be proactive so that people would have the information. That would save enormous time, because much of the publication would already be online, which is extremely important.

Not only would we be going to all 240 departments, we would also include the Prime Minister's Office and the ministers' offices. That is a major change in this process we are bringing forward.

To show that we are a government that is very progressive, we have accepted up to 10 amendments, which have been integrated into the bill. I have not seen too many past governments, especially in the last 10 years, accept all kinds of amendments to make a bill better and to make sure it is a living bill so that we can make adjustments as needed.

Let us talk about the mandate letter as well. Before the bill was even spoken about, the mandate letter was already open and transparent. Who made that mandate letter public? It was our Liberal government, just as it was our government, 34 years ago, that brought in the act initially. There is a trend here that we should keep focused on.

We accepted amendments from colleagues on disclosure being 30 days or less. This would help make sure that requests came forward quickly and would reduce demand, because there has been a 13% increase yearly in the demands for information. That is major.

I would also like to talk about the Information Commissioner. We would give more power to the Information Commissioner than existed before. Again, we should keep in mind that this is a living document. We are going to make sure that we do it right as we move forward. We would give the Information Commissioner order-making powers to resolve various complaints so that she could look into the issues and provide feedback as to how to proceed.

We would also give the Information Commissioner the final word, so to speak, in denying requests. The department, by itself, could not deny requests. It would have to have written permission or approval from the commissioner. That would be a major change and shows that this bill is a progressive one that would allow us to continue to improve our open and transparent government.

The Information Commissioner would also be able to conduct a review to see if disclosures were complete, as they should be. In other words, there would be some consistency among departments. No department would be able to withhold information that was critical or important. Those changes are very important.

The mandatory reviews would occur at one year and five years, which is very progressive. It would ensure that we continue to do things right for Canadians.

Let us talk about the government and Liberal values, and let us not limit ourselves to the last two years. Liberal values have been crucial in building this great country. By that I mean that it was a Liberal government that brought in the national health care accord. We brought in the OAS way back when. We also brought in changes to the CPP last year, which the Conservative government could not do in 10 years. Are members surprised? I can tell them why. It is a very simple answer. The reason the Tories did not make changes in 10 years is that they never consulted with the provinces. If there is no consultation, there can definitely not be an accord on important issues.

It is also important to realize the transparency we have created. For appointments, such as senators, commissioners, and all kinds of appointments, any Canadian who feels that he or she qualifies can submit his or her name to be approved for various positions. That, by itself, is very transparent and open. We have opened up political financing and fundraising as well.

Let us talk about science. For 10 years, scientists were not allowed to share any opinions or factual information, but with our government, that has all changed, and Canadians are extremely satisfied with that.

In closing, I will say that this government is a progressive government. This government knows that it can and will do better. We are not afraid to take on all kinds of difficult challenges, because we are here for Canadians. This act is very important, but it is only a stepping stone. It is like a ladder. One does not start at the fifth step; it is one step at a time. We will meet the needs of Canadians, because we will be able to review the bill every five years and make the necessary adjustments for Canadians.

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague, who waxed eloquent about the guidelines, mandate letters, and the increased accountability of the government. I will read from the mandate letter to the finance minister that was issued in November 2015, which states:

As Minister, you must ensure that you are aware of and fully compliant with the Conflict of Interest Act and Treasury Board policies and guidelines. You will be provided with a copy of Open and Accountable Government to assist you as you undertake your responsibilities. I ask that you carefully read it and ensure that your staff does so as well. I draw your attention in particular to the Ethical Guidelines set out in Annex A of that document, which apply to you and your staff.

Does my colleague believe that the mandate letters were worth the paper they were written on, when we see the kind of disregard that almost all the ministers have had for those mandate letters?

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Mr. Speaker, that is an ironic question really, because the mandate letter the member is referring to does exist, and everyone in the House, as well as all other Canadians, knows what is in the mandate letters. However, when their prime minister gave his mandate letters to his ministers, peekaboo, no one knew what was in them, and so the ministers could do what they wanted to.

Second, the member made the point about the Ethics Commissioner. However, the Minister of Finance did exactly what everyone in this House did, all 338 members of Parliament. They were elected, they were consulted, they gave the information required, they received feedback from the Ethics Commissioner, and they followed that feedback. There was nothing different for the Minister of Finance from anyone else in the House.

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am going to change the tone of the debate, if I may. My colleague has obviously carefully memorized his government's talking points. I congratulate him on saying his lines so eloquently.

However, does he think it is okay that the members of his party are the only ones applauding this bill? I am not talking about the opposition. The experts who have reviewed this bill, including the Information Commissioner, have come out very strongly against it. They believe that overall, the bill is a step backwards.

Does my colleague think it is okay that the Liberal Party is alone in praising this bill? Does he see nothing wrong with the fact that the Liberals are the only people in Canada who think this bill is a step forward?

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Mr. Speaker, if the member wants to change the tone, then I should change it as well and say that the NDP has talked and talked, but I do not know how we could answer to everything they request, because they are never satisfied. If we go 75% of the way, they still say 25%. If we go 125% they still say we could have done 25% more. Listen carefully: This is a living document.

It is a living document that will allow for any necessary changes to be made. We are not going to change the world tomorrow, but we will make sure that when we review the legislation in the coming years, we will be able to better address the concerns of Canadians. We will then see the benefits of this change to Canadian society. Therefore, we will continue with our work.

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, just to underscore the hypocrisy of what we are hearing from the other side, I think the member eloquently put it that the irony here is that the opposition has an opportunity to criticize these mandate letters, as they have been doing throughout this debate, because of the fact the government is committed to being open and transparent.

Could the member comment on exactly how important that is, not just for us here today but also for the democratic institution we belong to?

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Darrell Samson Liberal Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, NS

Mr. Speaker, again, these are open and transparent mandate letters that every Canadian is aware of. The Prime Minister's Office has to divulge information and the ministers' offices have to divulge information, as do judges. Everyone is responsible to answer to government, and everyone is responsible to answer to society. This is what the bill would do. However, it is a living document, and we are going to continue to improve it.

We are not sitting back, as the Tories did for the last 10 years, and blindly refusing to do anything on this important file.

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Before resuming debate, I want to point out that earlier, when the President of the Treasury Board was speaking, his earpiece was very close to the microphone and we were getting feedback. We seem to be getting feedback again, but it seems to be of a different kind. Therefore, I will remind hon. members that we do have decorum in the House.

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by reflecting on one of the questions that was posed as to why the Liberals want to push this forward, yet no one else inside the chamber sees its merit. It is like a flashback of sorts, because this is not the first time that has taken place in regard to this very same issue.

In looking at access to information, the minister responsible, the President of the Treasury Board, has pointed out how long ago it was that substantive changes were previously made to the act. We have to go back to the late 1970s. Ultimately the credit goes to Joe Clark, who introduced the legislation. Nonetheless, let us not confuse the Progressive Conservatives of 1979 with the Conservatives/Reformers of today because there is a substantial difference. There might be some members within that caucus, very few, who could relate to the Progressive Conservatives, but it is more of that Reform faction that is still there in a very real way. It was Pierre Elliott Trudeau then, who took idea of Joe Clark and put it into place, but no prime minister since Pierre Elliott Trudeau has taken on the task of looking at modernizing the legislation. Even though Stephen Harper in a campaign said he would reform the act, that never took place.

Let me focus on the flashback I referred to. When our current Prime Minister became leader of the Liberal Party, the members who served a few years back will recall that the leader of the Liberal Party said he believed in proactive disclosure and that the Liberal Party in third-party status wanted it to apply to all members and political parties inside the chamber. My colleagues will remember the reaction at the time. It was an outright no from the Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party. We stood alone as the official opposition, and the government of the day said no to proactive disclosure, to the idea that was being promoted by the leader of the Liberal Party. A few months later, and even before that, the leader said that Liberal members of Parliament were expected to provide proactive disclosure of their expenses, of their members' office budgets, and the Liberal Party on its own moved in that direction.

To the credit of the former Conservative government, its members recognized there was merit to that. In fact, it was not that long afterward, a few months later, that the Conservatives said that they too would participate in proactive disclosure. I give them credit for recognizing that as something Canadians wanted to see. My friends, the New Democrats, on the other hand, fought it tooth and nail. They did not want anything to do with proactive disclosure. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, it was the Liberal Party that brought forward an opposition motion that obligated the NDP members to stand in their place and say it was a bad idea. Before that, it was behind the curtains that they were yelling, “no, no, no, bad idea, we do not want it”, saying no to unanimous leave inside the chamber. The New Democrats were almost embarrassed to support it, and ultimately because of that round of embarrassment, they came onside months later, probably closer to a full year later.

When my colleague on the New Democrat benches across the way talks about the government not having the support of the official opposition or the NDP for the bill, I would point out that we did not have their support back then either. The Conservatives saw the light a little sooner than the New Democrats. The New Democrats saw the light after being shoved into it.

What we are debating today is further proactive disclosure to include not only members of Parliament but also the Prime Minister's Office, ministers' offices, and other independent offices. Why would the NDP, in particular, but the Conservatives also, not recognize the true value of what is proposed in this legislation? I can understand the unholy alliance that has taken place, especially during question period and on certain issues, between the New Democrats and the Conservatives, but I do not quite understand why they persist in saying that this is bad legislation. Access to information has not been modernized for decades. As my colleague from the Atlantic coast pointed out, not only will this legislation be changed today, but within the legislation we also have a review clause. Therefore, by passing this legislation, we would be mandating in law that the legislation be reviewed periodically so that we do not have a 30-year gap between the times that we look at ways to improve access to information.

Another aspect worthy of note is how we are empowering and enabling the commissioner to require and request reports or comments on specific issues that have been brought to his or her attention by members of the House and others. I would argue that is a significant and positive achievement. I would have thought that members would easily support this expansion of the commissioner's ability to require comments.

Many of those who are listening to or following the debate might ask what proactive disclosure is. Often, there are individuals who want to try to draw out more regular information from government. We have seen that with governments of all political stripes. Proactive disclosure is one of the ways we can deal with the many different types of questions being asked of the commissioner or the departments in the first place. As opposed to requests having to come in, the information would automatically be made available. This service will better facilitate the flow of information. It will ensure that there is a higher sense of accountability and transparency in government. Members should not be surprised by this. Not only did the leader of the Liberal Party initiate the debate on transparency and accountability through proactive disclosure, but we even talked about enhancing it more in the last federal election. That is exactly what we have done. For example, we require that mandate letters and revised mandate letters to ministers be incorporated. Some might ask why we would do that. It is because this Prime Minister has made that information public. There is great value in that. For the first time, the public has access to what the Prime Minister is mandating ministers do within their departments and what some of those expectations are. The briefing packages to ministers are also being considered for proactive disclosure.

There is a list of things that are eligible and will be incorporated under proactive disclosure. There is a litany of things that I believe clearly demonstrate that this Prime Minister wants to and is prepared to bring in legislation to ensure we are more transparent, accountable, and that future governments would also have to live within this legislative framework. I believe this is a very strong positive.

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, speaking of proactive disclosure or mandate letters, clearly all of this is empty rhetoric when it comes from the Liberal Party. I read a brief excerpt from the mandate letter to the Minister of Finance, and I point out that it talks about this being an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law. He was going beyond in saying that the actions he takes not only have to be according to the letter of the law but they must bear up under the most intense public scrutiny. Earlier my colleague referred to a living document. He referred to the mandate letters. Well, the mandate letters certainly appear to be dead.

If the minister followed all the guidelines, as has been charged by all my colleagues, why, if that is so, was the minister charged on two separate occasions by the Ethics Commissioner? He was fined. Also, why did he take two years to disclose the ownership of a public villa in France and disclose a private numbered company held in Alberta? That seems incongruent to me.

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, let me deal with the relevant part first. The member quoted from a mandate letter. We know that Stephen Harper never made mandate letters public. We now have a Prime Minister who has made mandate letters public because Canadians have a right to know what those priorities are for the government of the day. Further to that, within this legislation, it would obligate future prime ministers to do likewise, ensuring more transparency and accountability. That is the relevance to the legislation that we are debating today.

In regard to his assertions, it is all part of the whole character assassination of the Minister of Finance. If the opposition wants to continue down that line, that is up to them. We will continue to work hard serving Canada's middle class, those aspiring to be a part of it, and those individuals who are having a difficult time, by bringing in good sound public policy that has helped to generate literally hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 12:05 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I seriously doubt that Canadians or Quebeckers are still listening to this debate, which is only fuelling the cynicism we often find in politics. However, we are currently debating a very important bill that deals with access to information. It is becoming more and more obvious that this government is all talk and no action.

For example, the new Bill C-58 introduces a new loophole that will allow any minister to decline to act on a request if he or she deems that it is too general, that it will seriously interfere with the government's activities, or that it was made in bad faith.

Here we have one of the dozens of statements of principle that are in this bill but have no real application.

My question is very simple: how does the government intend to guarantee that the rules are interpreted in the same way by all ministers?

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not share the same concern that the member does. Ultimately those decisions are appealable to a commissioner who has more authority as a direct result of this very legislation, which, in all likelihood, the member across the way is going to be voting against.

If I were to ask the member a question based on the legislation we have before us, it would be related to why the NDP seem to be at odds in terms of the need for proactive disclosure. I do not understand that. I do not understand how it is that the NDP time and time again wants to resist something that ensures there is more accountability and transparency to Canadians from government policy. It continues to want to put up roadblocks.

The NDP talks about the issue of time allocation. At the end of the day, it would be nice to see legislation pass. At the end of the day, I suspect that the NDP would do whatever it could—and it does not take much—to prevent legislation from passing. Anyone with a little leadership and 12 people can virtually prevent any bill from passing. I am glad we recognize, at least on this side of the House, it is time that we make the changes necessary. This act has not been changed in a significant way for over three decades.

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-58. Actually, that is what I was supposed to talk about, but the government has given me yet another opportunity to talk about its closed-mindedness and lack of transparency by moving another time allocation motion, this one for a bill that has to do with access to information. How ironic.

I am very glad to have the chance to speak after my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, who chose to talk about things that happened in the past. His eloquence and his legendary speaking skills in Parliament are well known to us all. There is a reason he has said more words in the House since the beginning of the session than any other member. He has been more vocal than anyone else during this Parliament as well as during the previous one. I believe that, more often than anyone else, he condemned the Conservative government's time allocation motions, which it did use to get its legislation through. The parliamentary secretary once had some choice words about democracy, the work of parliamentarians, and how outraged he was about time allocation motions.

This government was elected on a promise not to use time allocation motions, in order to allow for full debates. It was elected on a promise of basic openness and transparency. It promised it would be open at all times and would sometimes say no. The parliamentary secretary was the spokesperson of that election campaign.

What have we here today? In two years, this government has broken the previous government's record on using time allocation motions. It has used them on a number of very important files, including marijuana legalization, a subject that Canadians wanted to hear more about. Canadians represented by members on this side of the House wanted them to take the time to express their views on the matter. I am also convinced that many people represented by members across the way would have liked them to speak and fully explain their thoughts on Bill C-45 about marijuana legalization instead of repeating government talking points. Unfortunately, the government has used time allocation yet again, as it has done in so many other cases.

Speaking of flashbacks, the parliamentary secretary should also flash back to the eloquent speeches he gave in the last Parliament. They might inspire him to add to today's debate on time allocation motions. In his presentation, he also talked about the past Conservative government that saw the light on proactive disclosure. The Conservatives in government at the time adhered to that policy. Unfortunately, today's Bill C-58 takes us back to the dark ages. I am not the one saying this, it is the Information Commissioner. I will come back to her in a moment.

If the Liberals saw the light while they were in opposition, the light has unfortunately gotten steadily dimmer since they came to office, and we are heading for total darkness. The parliamentary secretary boasts that Bill C-58 will be open to periodic review. This morning I heard it called a “living document”. However, I wish the government had given life to something better, because right now, its living document seems doomed to a worthless existence.

We can already expect this bill to go nowhere in terms of delivering on the objectives and intentions that the Liberals announced during the last election campaign. It will not meet any of its objectives. Sadly, as far as those objectives go, this document is stillborn. Bill C-58 is not a living document. If it were, the government would have accepted the committee's recommendations. It would have agreed to amend its so-called living document from the outset in order to improve it and eliminate its dark and murky aspects by listening to the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. Unfortunately, all of the committee's recommendations were rejected.

That is not what I would call a living, open, and transparent document that can be improved upon. The government had already made up its mind, and it refused to amend and refine the bill into something that we on this side of the House could support.

The Liberals' approach is nothing new. Every time the Liberals introduce a bill on which we could have all worked together to move certain files forward for the good of Canada and Canadians, they find a way to sneak in some totally unacceptable legislation. They know very well that there will not be unanimity and the opposition will vote against the bill. They put things in that go too far or that do not make sense. Then they say that there are good things in the bill and they wonder why the opposition does not support it. It is because the Liberals overlook all the bad things. That is how the Liberals see things. They speak in general terms and have a massive public relations campaign, but when we start getting into the details, when we look beyond all the pretty words and pretty pictures, we find that there are many flaws. The quality and the resolution of the image are not always very good.

We have become accustomed to seeing a lot of shenanigans from the Liberal government. Since I was elected in 2015, I have seen that there are all sorts of ways of using the legislative process. The Liberals are trying to do things and they are especially trying to get out of the promises they made to Canadians in order to get elected in 2015. The Liberals realized that they could promise just about anything but that it is not so easy for a government to keep such promises.

I think the Liberals are going through a tough time right now because they made all sorts of promises in order to get elected. They promised Canadians just about anything, but now they are unable to keep those promises, so they have to find a way to get out of them. They decided to introduce a bill that does not accomplish what it is supposed to accomplish, thinking that would at least get people talking about the issue.

However, talking does not change anything. If all the government does is talk about an issue, if it does not change the laws, if it is not really held to account, and if it does not keep the promises that it made to Canadians, then Canadians end up with a government that does things that people did not elect it to do. That is what is happening today.

A number of things in Bill C-58 do indeed reflect Liberal promises. The Liberals made the following promise: “We will make government information more accessible.” Clearly, based on my reading of the bill and in light of what members of this cabinet have been doing, this government has no intention of increasing government openness and transparency. Instead, Bill C-58 actually undermines access to information in Canada. There is a great deal of opposition to Bill C-58.

This government claims to be open by default, and yet, the fiercest opposition to Bill C-58 is coming from the most loyal defenders of government transparency and access to information. What is wrong with this picture? We are talking about journalists, civil liberties groups, and yes, even the federal Information Commissioner. Indeed, the individual responsible for enforcing the legislation we are debating here today has criticized much of what is in Bill C-58.

In a report released in September, Ms. Legault said that Bill C-58 fails to deliver the fundamental reform the Access to Information Act needs. She said that the government's proposals actually introduce new barriers to the process Canadians must go through when requesting government documents. One would expect to hear that kind of thing from the opposition Conservative Party because our job is to criticize the government. However, that message is from the Information Commissioner, who is responsible for enforcing Bill C-58.

The report is entitled “Failing to Strike the Right Balance for Transparency”. The title says it all. Here is what the report says:

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.

It is the sad story of a government that promised things it had no intention of doing, or a government that improvises and was clearly not ready to govern. Two years after the election, I think that any political observer can confirm what I am saying. The government was not ready and, now, it is improvising and trying to look like it is keeping its promises, which it is entirely incapable of doing.

Let me get back to the Information Commissioner’s special report. The tables at the end of the report are impressive. They include a comparative summary, as well as information about improvements to Bill C-58, the current situation and other items. In short, we can see whether the various elements of the bill are positive, or whether they constitute a regression.

On the topic of making requests, we have a regression; declining to act on requests, regression; declining to act on requests for institutions, positive. Let us be fair, there are positive elements. The Prime Minister’s Office and mandate letters are neutral; ministers’ offices, regression; government institutions, regression; Parliament, regression; courts, regression.

With respect to fees, the process was to be streamlined and the fees abolished, but the changes still constitute a regression. On the topic of oversight model, we have a regression; seeking representations from the Privacy Commissioner in the course of an investigation: regression. That is a lot of regression, and this is not just my opinion. Mediation will be positive if added. The publication of orders will be positive if added.

The examination of solicitor-client privileged records is a positive. We are not being partisan: the impact of the purpose of the Access to Information Act is unknown. On the transition to a new oversight model, we have a regression; and the impact of the mandatory periodic review is unknown.

I can see why the impact of a mandatory periodic review is unknown. Since we began considering Bill C-58, several good suggestions have been made to improve it. The government did not take any of these suggestions into account. I understand why the commissioner has certain questions concerning the purpose of the mandatory periodic review.

The report ends on a negative note. The changes to Info Source, or the requirement institutions have to annually publish certain classes of information, constitute a regression, and lastly, on the topic of institutions’ annual reports on the administration of the Access to Information Act, we have yet another regression.

We are not the ones saying this. It is in the report of the Information Commissioner of Canada, whose title speaks volumes: “Failing to Strike the Right Balance for Transparency”. This document made recommendations to the government for improving Bill C-58 so that it would meet the openness and transparency needs not of the official opposition, the NDP, the Bloc québécois, the Green Party, independent members of Parliament or Liberal backbenchers, but of Canadians.

Unfortunately, “Failing to Strike the Right Balance for Transparency” is the report card for Bill C-58. That is why the Liberal government had to put forward a time allocation motion today, to silence the hon. members of every opposition party here in the House. It does not want us to spend time repeating that the Information Commissioner said that it was way off the mark.

Mr. Speaker, if you knew everything that people were saying and all the articles that were being written about Bill C-58, you would also have a hard time understanding the government's intention. According to the cofounder of Democracy Watch, the bill constitutes a regression in that it allows government officials to decline requests for information if they believe that the request is frivolous or in bad faith.

Let us put ourselves in the shoes of a member of cabinet who is being asked questions about his villa in France and who decides that the request is frivolous or made in bad faith, since where he spends his vacation is no business of Canadians. This person would refuse to answer the questions. That is what Democracy Watch is denouncing.

Also, well-known defender of Canadian democracy Mr. Conacher says that public servants should not have this power, because they will likely use it as a new loophole to decline giving the public the information to which it is entitled. That is exactly what I have been saying since the beginning.

Bill C-58 also imposes new obligations on people requesting information. The act currently requires government institutions to make every reasonable effort to assist a person making a request, regardless of the information requested. However, under the proposed legislation, people requesting information will have to provide more specific information about the exact type of document they are looking for, the period in question and the exact subject.

In other words, if I want to know more about the elimination of a tax credit for diabetics and I do not give the exact name of the tax credit and the form, the people across the aisle may decline to give me the information. Still, as far as I know, Canadians have the right to know why the government eliminated the tax credits for diabetics. When a major change affects the lives of those who are the most vulnerable, Canadians have the right to know why the change was made and why the minister did not inform the opposition and all Canadians. I think that is logical.

It is as if the government wanted to find more ways of hiding the truth from Canadians. I do not dare say it, but this bill looks like another attempt at a cover-up on the part of the government, and yet, all it is doing is revealing to Canadians just how unprepared it was to govern. That is our assessment of Bill C-58.

It is probably for that reason that the government does not want to have to answer questions about tax reform, the Morneau affair, Netflix taxes, the small deficits they promised, NAFTA, China, home mail delivery, and the Prime Minister's vacation on a private island, which was talked about a lot. It is probably the reason why Bill C-58 is before us today and why we are subject to time allocation.

The promise of openness and transparency is a failed public relations exercise, and I would remind members that, according to the Information Commissioner, the government has failed to meet its goal to be transparent.

Third ReadingAccess to Information ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Ludwig Liberal New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, during the 2015 campaign, I heard from many people about the previous government, the concern about the lack of openness, the lack of transparency and the direction to dismantle and destroy a scientific library in my riding.

We are the government of openness and transparency. I hear that often in my riding, and nationally. People are pleased with the access to information they can receive. Yes, they want greater access, but they also want more efficiency, which Bill C-58 would help to master.

Does the member support proactive disclosure?

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12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, it makes me laugh when they repeat the same talking points over and over again.

The government claims to be open and transparent, and it claims to be open by default. During oral question period, we ask questions about the financial situation of the Minister of Finance, who is the most influential minister and should be the most important minister, the one fully trusted by all Canadians. The government refuses to answer the questions asked by the opposition and by Canadians every time. It makes me laugh when they constantly repeat a broken promise.

When she asked her question, my colleague said that the government came to power by promising an open and transparent approach. I believe she said this in good faith. Unfortunately, after being in power for two years, this government has shown us that it is incapable of keeping its commitment to be open and transparent.

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12:30 p.m.

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech.

I believe that, like me, he has no problem with proactive disclosure. In my opinion, the problem is that the Liberals are confusing proactive disclosure and access to information. They are two different things. The problem with this bill is that there will be no transparency. We will not have access to information from the Prime Minister’s Office or the ministers’ offices, and I am convinced that that is not what the people I represent want. They want true transparency.

Does my colleague agree with me that the Liberals are confusing proactive disclosure and access to information?