Mr. Speaker, I am quite pleased to have the opportunity to put some remarks on the record.
When I first came to Parliament, I was made a member of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, and had the privilege of participating in the study and the preparation of what ended up being a unanimous report by the committee on what was required in order to bring Canada's access to information laws up to speed. That legislation originally was introduced and passed in 1983, the year before I was born. In my entire lifetime that law has not been changed. It seemed to me to be a pretty good idea.
A lot of things have happened in the 30-plus years since I have been on the planet, particularly electronically, things such as the Internet. We have not had a change in the access to information laws in Canada. People are chuckling and they should be. It is ridiculous to think that Canada's access to information laws, through successive Liberal and Conservative governments, were not changed to reflect the advent of the Internet. The Internet has obviously had a dramatic effect on government practices and the way government goes about its business, the way citizens go about their business, and therefore the kinds of requests they make of government and the ways in which they expect that information to be delivered.
When we were undertaking that study, the President of the Treasury Board came to committee a number of times. In all of his appearances, he was quick to get to the issue of access to information, how important it was to reform those laws because they were so dated, and how committed he and his government were to changing those laws, bringing Canada up to speed. Having a state-of-the-art access to information regime was of course a platform commitment of the Liberals, Their mantra of transparency and openness is something we have heard, ad nauseam, in this place. It was the cornerstone of the Prime Minister's private member's bill in the last Parliament, where he made a number of proposals for an access to information regime that would work properly.
Expectations, rightly, were high. This has been a long time coming. The government made it a focus within its election platform document. The Prime Minister chose to highlight that issue with his own private member's bill in the last Parliament. The President of the Treasury Board came to the committee a number of times to say that the government would do this and that it would be great.
When the Liberals finally got around to tabling a document, in light of those expectation, in light of everything the parliamentary committee has heard in the course of its study, and in light of the excellent and comprehensive report the Information Commissioner delivered to Parliament in the last Parliament, it is a major disappointment. There is just no way to get around. I do not even think that is a partisan observation, although there will be members on the other side of the House who disagree.
We looked at what the experts asked for. We looked at what the information commissioner asked for. The committee studied it and unanimously came in with recommendations. For those who need a reminder, six Liberals were on that committee. This is not coming from some kind of partisan outlying realm or something where people cannot think sympathetically with respect to the government. This is a disappointment.
A lot of Canadians work with this kind of legislation every day, not just opposition politicians. They are journalists and advocates on all sorts of issues. We have heard about the environment, health, defence policy, name it. If they are working in a public policy area, the bread and butter of that, in order to do good work, is to get some insight on what the government is doing. I know from being in this place that oftentimes what cabinet ministers have to say in question period and in the House is not the place to get insight as to what government is doing. It might not even be the place to get insight generally, but I do not want to say anything unparliamentary so I will leave it with my first formulation. I have some encouragement from these benches, but I do not think I have it from the other side. Therefore, here we are, left with legislation that is a disappointment.
On top of that, in order to mask the fact that it is a real disappointment on the substantive issues, we have heard a lot about proactive disclosure. That has been the cornerstone of the very few Liberal speeches that were offered today, none of which were made by the members of the committee who issued the unanimous report on how to fix the access to information regime in Canada. No one is arguing against proactive disclosure on the part of the government. The more that the government can offer up information to citizens, particularly that which is asked for on a routine basis, and come up with ways to make information available in a timely and proactive way, that is great. The government did not need legislation to do that. As much as the minister would have liked to bring it up when he was at committee, during the committee study and committee work, and in all that we heard from the witnesses, proactive disclosure was not the focus because we were examining the legislation. The question we were asking was how the law needs to change. The law did not need to change at all in order to have more proactive disclosure from government. There was no law prohibiting proactive disclosure of any information that the government wanted to release. I have to say at the outset that this is a complete red herring.
What we also hear often from government members and cabinet ministers is how much they look forward to the bill clearing the House. It can go to committee, and all the great ideas of the MPs can be shared. However, they fail to mention that those great ideas of the MPs were shared at committee. We had a report with over 30 recommendations on how to do access to information law properly. The stunning thing was that the government picked up on only a few of those recommendations.
The idea that this would then be referred back to committee, as if that were the place where the government would hear what other MPs had to say, is laughable. It is a waste of the time for these MPs, and it feels disingenuous; I will put it that way. That work was already done. The idea of doing that work over and over again means that the work will never stop. The work that needs to be done is the work by the government to change the law and bring in an appropriate access to information regime. We are not much closer to that, even if this law gets passed. That is part of the disappointment.
I want to get into the substance of the bill, and 10 minutes is not very long when we studied the issue for months at committee. One of the committee recommendations that the government did accept has to do with conferring order-making powers to the Information Commissioner. The idea behind that was to bring in an independent oversight regime so that Canadians would have confidence that when the government ruled it was not appropriate to disclose information, someone would be looking over its shoulder to say whether it made sense or not: “That was politically motivated, maybe it was an oversight, but that is information that should be released.”
As long as the government keeps exclusions for cabinet confidences, as it has chosen to do with this proposed bill, which do not allow the Information Commissioner to check up on whether something was properly excluded, which is the case with exemptions, not to get too technical, but one could have mandatory exemptions as opposed to exclusions. That would at least allow the Information Commissioner to review these instances.
However, it did not do that. Even where the government did pursue one of the recommendations of the committee, it did not bring in the other infrastructure we require to realize the goal of that recommendation. That is, to have an instituted independent oversight over government decisions about what to release and what not to release. I would say that it has failed significantly in that regard.
I am pleased to have had the opportunity to address some of the main arguments that we have heard the Liberals making in the chamber today with respect to this bill, and to show why they are deficient in my view, as well as to speak to at least one of the substantive items within the legislation. If we had we more time, I would have been happy to provide further thoughts about the inadequacies of the legislation.