Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the government about our efforts to strengthen our access to information system.
This government recognizes the importance of a robust access to information framework. We promised to deliver a modern and responsible access to information regime, because we are committed to upholding and strengthening the democratic principles of openness and transparency.
We recognize that Canadians cannot meaningfully participate in a democracy without having the information they need. Indeed, we believe that information Canadians paid for belongs to Canadians. They have every right to access it.
Bill C-58, a comprehensive set of amendments to the Access to Information Act, is designed to provide the openness and accountability Canadians expect. It would also bring greater transparency, open the doors for greater public participation in governance, and support the Government of Canada's commitment to evidence-based decision-making.
Canada's access to information legislation has not really changed much since 1983, but our world has changed very much since then. The proliferation of personal technology, such as smart phones, has transformed so many aspects of our lives. We recognize that technology in all forms is altering how citizens interact with their government in powerful ways. This change is happening around the world and right here at home. Technology is empowering citizens to act on their expectations that a government be honest, open, and sincere in its efforts to serve the public interest.
Canadians are demanding greater openness in government. They are calling for greater participation in government decision-making, and they are seeking to make their government more transparent, responsive, and accountable. That is why, in April 2016, the President of the Treasury Board issued an interim directive on the administration of the Access to Information Act. This directive requires federal officials to waive all access to information fees, apart from the $5 application fee. It also requires them to provide to requesters, wherever feasible, information in modern and easy-to-use formats, and it enshrines the principle of open by default. This is an important measure.
Being open by default means maximizing the release of government data and information. As such, the interim directive sends a strong message across federal institutions. It says that government information belongs to the people it serves and therefore should be open by default.
Citizens should not have to make the case for why they deserve information from the government. Instead, our government has said that it will make as much information as it can available, subject to necessary limitations, for reasons we all can understand, such as privacy, confidentiality, and national security. This is fundamental not only to the ability to participate in the democratic process but to hold the government to account.
Today, with Bill C-58, we are going further. The legislation proposes to entrench in law, for current and future governments, an obligation to proactively publish a broad range of information on a predictable schedule and without the need for an access to information request. The amendments would create a new part of the act on proactive publication, taking advantage of digital technologies and building on current best practices. This new part of the act would establish consistent requirements for the proactive release of key information across government.
Let me list a few examples: travel and hospitality expenses for ministers and their staff as well as for senior officials across government; contracts over $10,000, and all contracts for MPs and senators; grants and contributions over $25,000; mandate letters and revised mandate letters; briefing packages for new ministers and deputy ministers; lists of briefing notes for ministers and deputy ministers, including the titles of these notes and their tracking numbers; and the briefing binders used for question period and parliamentary committee appearances. This would allow our citizens a greater understanding of government and demonstrate effective stewardship of public funds.
We are doing this because we know that Canadians want us to pull back the curtain on how government spends and the factors that influence the decisions that affect their lives. Canadians expect to know how and why decisions are made on their behalf.
That is not all the bill would do. No access to information regime is complete without powerful and meaningful oversight. We promised Canadians that we would empower the Information Commissioner to order government information to be released. Bill C-58 would do just that. This bill would change the commissioner's role from that of an ombudsperson to an authority with the legislated ability to order government institutions to release records.
We also recognize that this reform cannot be a one-off initiative. We have been witness to many changes in society since the access to information program was established back in 1983. We need to find ways to ensure that the system continues to grow and change alongside us. We cannot allow our access to information practices to become stagnant. A vibrant and evolving access to information regime will support a strong, open, and transparent democracy.
One way to ensure the continued strength of the access to information regime would be to undertake a review of the Access to Information Act every five years, another important feature in Bill C-58. Legislative reviews would provide an important opportunity for stakeholders to have their say on access rights and would help us ensure that the regime continued to meet their needs.
Let there be no doubt. Open and transparent government is the way forward. If citizens understand why their government takes a particular course of action, if they have been engaged from the beginning, if they have access to the same information government has, they will have more confidence and trust in the outcomes.
Canadians have waited a long time to have their access to information regime modernized to meet their needs in the digital age. I encourage my hon. colleagues to support Bill C-58, thereby giving Canadians the kind of access to information regime they expect and deserve.