Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today for the first time since we all returned home this summer at the conclusion of an intense session.
I appreciate this opportunity to speak to Bill C-58, an act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
This bill will amend the Access to Information Act of 1984—I mean 1983. I am smiling as I say this. You will understand why in a moment.
The amendments to this act will affect every organization that sends information to federal institutions and every person who tries to obtain information.
Think back to 1983. Does anyone here remember who was in power? Who was the Prime Minister of Canada? No, it was not Mr. Mulroney, it was Mr. Trudeau, Trudeau senior. Trudeau senior was in power, he tabled this act in 1983, and today, his son is going to fix a past mistake. The Liberals passed legislation only to realize that it fell short of Canadians' expectations. That historical tidbit is why I was smiling earlier.
Reforming the Access to Information Act is a good idea. As parliamentarians, it is a good idea for us to open our eyes, to want to improve our systems and our laws. Unfortunately, upon closer inspection, it seems that this bill is once again just smoke and mirrors. That is what we are used to from the Liberal government. The bill has no substance. On the surface it appears to be a wonderful thing, but in reality it is a hollow bill.
This reform does not even fulfill the promise that the Liberals made during the 2015 election campaign. They said that they were going to extend the act so that it applied to the Prime Minister's and minsters' offices.
Here is the proposed wording in Bill C-58:
An Act to extend the present laws of Canada that provide access to information under the control of the Government of Canada and to provide for the proactive publication of certain information.
As parliamentarians, we do a lot of research to be able to provide clear and transparent information. I took the liberty of looking up the meaning of the word “proactive”. According to the dictionary, to be proactive means, “to be enterprising, to take initiative or to act on one's own initiative without waiting to be asked or instructed to do something”. The government is proposing legislation absent any accompanying framework.
I also looked up the word “appearance”. Excuse me, I meant to say “transparency”, but it all relates because what the Liberals are interested in is the appearance of transparency. The dictionary defines “transparency” as, “complete accessibility to information regarding public opinion”. If I am smiling yet again, it is because I was pleasantly surprised to see the example that followed, which was, “demanding transparency regarding political party financing”.
As fate would have it, we are talking about a Liberal bill and the dictionary gives an example that talks about transparency around political financing. I mention this in the House because I hope that the people watching at home will question the transparency of the Liberals' fundraising activities.
Let us recall that the Liberals made a promise about this bill during the election campaign, but they also made a lot of other campaign promises that they have not kept. A lot of people probably do not remember a very popular promise in the Montreal region, that of bringing back Canada Post letter carriers and their routes. The promise was made in 2015 and there has been a technological evolution since. I do not know whether the Liberals have evolved, but we in the Conservative Party have evolved.
Mr. Harper, our prime minister at the time, decided to manage public resources very carefully and to provide the same service to all Canadians. To get themselves elected and to play to the crowds, the Liberals promised that they were going to put the letter carriers back on the job. They are still not there. The Liberals also promised to reduce the tax rate for our businesses. I will come back to that later because, in terms of tax rates for businesses and of respecting SMEs, we are now seeing how this government treats the businesses that create jobs in Canada.
The Liberals also said that they would run a slight deficit of $10 billion and that they would get back to balanced budgets before the next election. They went on to waste a bit of money. I have no problem with investments when there is a plan. The Liberals, however, have no plan and they are making huge expenditures with no control or proper management of the public purse. The parliamentary budget officer, an independent officer of Parliament, cannot see the day when Canada's budget will again be balanced. It is comforting to have the Liberals in power.
The Liberals also said that it would be the last election where the current system would be used to choose the 338 members of Parliament who represent Canadians. The Liberals derided the committee, thanked the minister, and then removed her from her portfolio.
We are now talking about tax reform. Small and medium-sized businesses are the key economic drivers in my riding. We do not have a lot of big public multinationals, and in fact they do not represent the majority of businesses in Canada. They are big businesses, but the lifeblood of our regions and the Canadian economy are our SMEs. The Liberals never mentioned this during their election campaign, and today, they are taking away their incentive to thrive. These businesses have the right to prosper. These business owners, men and women, get up early every day and have to deal with the stress of managing their businesses and ensure that they do thrive. When they are able to thrive, they can provide jobs to our middle class, which we Conservatives stand up for. It is important to support our SMEs instead of stifling them. I received a text message from a business in Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier; I actually talked about it last week.
I will be told that I am biased, so I will quote an article from the wise and respectable newspaper Le Devoir from September 15, 2017, written by Shawn McCarthy, president of the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom:
The Liberals promised that the ATI law would be amended to apply to the Prime Minister's Office and offices of ministers. [Bill] C-58 does nothing of the sort. It maintains the status quo.
When the [Liberal] government released its long-awaited bill to reform the 34-year-old Access to Information Act on a sunny Friday afternoon before Parliament's summer recess, it gave itself a check mark in the promise-kept column.
[Bill] C-58 represents an improvement over the current system. And the Liberals suggest it as a first step, with promises of more sweeping reforms some time later. But why wait?
Anyone taking the time to review C-58 before Parliament resumes September 18 will find the Liberals come up short on election promises made on Access to Information reform in 2015. As the Centre for Law and Democracy noted in a review of C-58, the proposed legislation “is far more conspicuous for what it fails to do.”
Let's look at those promises, starting with one the bill seems to have delivered—enhanced powers for the Information Commissioner. Bill C-58 gives the commissioner the overdue power to order government departments to disclose information.
The government promised to eliminate all ATI fees except the nominal $5 application fee. That promise was delivered before C-58 was tabled.
The Liberals did not need this bill. I will read another section from the article: “The Liberals promised that the Act would apply to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and offices of ministers. C-58 does nothing of the sort. It maintains the status quo.”
I could go on, but I will stop there by saying that, although it seems good on the surface, this bill has no substance.