House of Commons Hansard #206 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rohingya.

Topics

Privacy CommissionerRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I have the honour pursuant to Section 38 of the Privacy Act to lay upon the table the annual report of the Privacy Commissioner for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2017.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(h), this report is deemed permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

Public AccountsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 31st report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts entitled “Report 3, Preventing Corruption in Immigration and Border Services, of the Spring 2017 Reports of the Auditor General of Canada”.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Orders 104 and 114, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 38th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding membership of the committees of the House.

Mr. Speaker, if the House gives its consent, I move that the 38th report be concurred in.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

(Motion agreed to)

Situation in MyanmarRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties and, if you seek it, I think you will find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, during the debate tonight pursuant to Standing Order 52, no quorum calls, dilatory motions or requests for unanimous consent shall be received by the Chair.

Situation in MyanmarRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

Does the hon. parliamentary secretary have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Situation in MyanmarRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Situation in MyanmarRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Situation in MyanmarRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Situation in MyanmarRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

(Motion agreed to)

Abandoned VesselsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise again in the House to present petitions signed by citizens of my riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith

The petitioners are calling on the federal government to act on the pressing problem of abandoned vessels. They call on the government to prevent the oil spill risks, the navigation risks, and the impact on local jobs and the economy.

Tonight I head to a convention of the Union of BC Municipalities. At this convention, 1,800 delegates have a recommendation before them to endorse my private member's bill, Bill C-352. We hope this Parliament will take their advice.

Abandoned VesselsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I want to remind hon. members that they are required to present a summary of a petition but not add editorial comment.

The EnvironmentPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to present a petition from residents of Saanich—Gulf Islands, particularly those concerned with the health of the Saanich Inlet.

The petitioners call on the government to act on what has been in abeyance for some time now, the designation of Saanich Inlet as a district in which the discharge of raw sewage is not allowed. That pertains primarily to recreational vessels.

Electoral ReformPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition I wish to present today is from residents throughout Saanich—Gulf Islands as well as a number of residents from the Calgary area.

The petitioners are calling on Parliament to act on electoral reform and to remove the system called first past the post and bring in a system in which the popular vote is reflected in the seat count.

Palliative CarePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from the folks around the Lafleche and Gravelbourg area in my riding. They request the House of Commons to specifically identify hospice palliative care as a defined medical service covered under the Canada Health Act, so provincial and territorial governments can then provide accessible and available hospice palliative care to all residents in their jurisdictions.

Palliative CarePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I too rise to present a petition from residents of Provencher, in the Ste. Anne and Richer area. As the member for Cypress Hills—Grassland just reported, they are also asking the House of Commons to specifically identify hospice palliative care as an identified medical service covered under the Canada Health Act.

Invasive SpeciesPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, my petition is a little different from many. In our area and across Ontario where we drive we see this grass, phragmites. It has been identified as Canada's most invasive plant. That happened in 2005, and there has been minimum provincial and federal government action to curb its spread.

Petitioners are asking us to protect our significant wetlands in our provincial and national parks, and other valued areas, and because it grows so strongly in wetlands, that we expedite and streamline the approval of the water safe herbicide glyphosate to control this plant.

Falun GongPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry. I should have indicated before that I have two petitions to present.

This petition is signed by many individuals. They are requesting that the Canadian government condemn the illegal arrest of Canadian citizen Qian Sun, who is 51 years old and a member of the Falun Gong practitioners, and that it call for her immediate and unconditional release.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand at this time.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

TaxationRequest for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The Chair has notice of a request for an emergency debate from the hon. opposition House leader.

TaxationRequest for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wrote to you this morning to seek leave for the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing an important matter requiring urgent consideration pursuant to Standing Order 52.

The Minister of Finance is proposing changes to small business taxes as outlined in his paper “Tax Planning Using Private Corporations”. He is consulting, but the deadline for this consultation process is coming up on Monday, October 2. I believe this issue very much fits the criteria for a need for an emergency debate. It is an issue that is affecting the entire country, from fishers to farmers to small pizza shop owners to mechanics to doctors. People from every corner of the country are being affected. They are worried about these proposed tax changes. This is the issue that is dominating the House of Commons. It is what we have been talking about every day in question period. All of us are receiving thousands of letters, phone calls, and emails. Also, our constituents are approaching us when we are in our ridings to talk about this issue. Therefore, it clearly is something that is affecting the entire country, and all of us, as members of Parliament, are hearing about it.

Second, there has been no opportunity for us, as members of Parliament, to debate or discuss the issue here in the House of Commons. The deadline for the consultation process is October 2, and there has been no supply day given last week or this week so that members of Parliament could discuss it. The government has not put any motion before the House. There is no budget bill before the House. There has been no opportunity for us to discuss this important issue. Frankly, members of Parliament have been absolutely shut out of the consultation process.

The other thing that is important to note is that the government need only put a ways and means motion on the Order Paper. There does not have to be any debate for it to have an effect. That compounds the negative effect of the government shutting out the House of Commons in debating these tax changes, but it can implement them without proper consultation.

All of us have been hearing a lot from our constituents about this issue. We need more than the 35-second question period opportunities to talk and ask the government questions with respect to this issue. Canadians have questions. It is clear the government will not extend the consultation time period. We need to have an opportunity to have an emergency debate on these tax changes and the effects they will have on Canadians right across the country. I ask that you grant us that opportunity.

Speaker's RulingRequest for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I thank the hon. opposition House leader for raising the request. However, I do not find that it meets the exigencies of the Standing Order.

The House resumed from September 25 consideration of the motion that Bill C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Raj Saini Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on the amendments to the Access to Information Act and the significant reforms our government is proposing in Bill C-58.

Ours is the first government in 34 years to substantially revamp Canada's access to information system, and it is about time. Our existing access to information legislation came into force in 1983.

The word that some have used to describe this legislation is “antiquated”. It is hard to disagree with this view when we consider that in 1983 government information was mainly recorded on paper and stored in filing cabinets.

Moreover, the federal government has grown over the past 34 years, and the sheer volume of government-related information has grown right along with it. The number of requests to access that information has gone up too.

Since 1983, more than 750,000 access to information requests have been processed, and the number of requests the government receives has grown by an average of 13% annually.

The current access to information system is under considerable strain. The information age has resulted in higher expectations for access to government information. Digitization and the Internet have made information readily available and at our fingertips 24/7. Canadians now expect this level of accessibility from their government as well.

Canadians expect an open and transparent government. They expect access to government information so they can engage meaningfully in the demographic process and demand government accountability.

In the access to information, privacy and ethics committee, the one thing we heard over and over again was that the 1983 Access to Information Act regime was not built for our times and is insufficient to meet our needs. That is why we are committed to modernizing the act to make government more open and transparent. This is what we are proposing to do in Bill C-58.

First, the bill would amend the act to create a new part relating to proactive publication. This would entrench in law for this government and future governments the requirement that government organizations proactively publish a broad range of information in a timely manner and without anyone having to make an access to information request. This new part of the act would apply across more than 240 government departments, agencies, and crown corporations. For the first time, the act would also apply to the Prime Minister's Office and ministers' offices, senators and members of Parliament, institutions that support Parliament, administrative institutions that support the courts, and more than 1,100 judges in the superior courts. This would create an obligation to proactively publish information that is known to be of interest to Canadians. The system would be routinely reviewed so that the information that would be proactively disclosed would remain relevant and of interest to Canadians.

This information would be available to all Canadians on the government website, no ATIP request required. Our goal is to continue to expand the type of government information that can be disclosed proactively. This measure is consistent with our view that the government should be open by default.

It reflects the future of access to information in the digital age, and the future is now.

Bill C-58 would put in place a range of measures to ease the strain on the antiquated access to information regime. Specifically, we would invest in tools to make processing information requests more efficient; provide training across government to get a common and consistent interpretation and application of the new rules; allow federal institutions that have the same minister to share the request processing services, for greater efficiency; and develop a new plain-language guide that would provide requesters with clear explanations for exemptions and exclusions.

Government institutions would also have the authority to decline to act on requests that were vague or made in bad faith. We want to make sure that people are using our access to information system properly and that it is not being used to intentionally bog down the government. As an example of the type of requests we are talking about, there are some requesters who ask for millions of pages worth of documents without providing a clear reason for that request. Others submit hundreds or thousands of requests at a single time. Such requests are not in keeping with the purpose of the act, which is to give Canadians access to the information they need to participate in decisions about public policy. At the same time, Bill C-58 would amend the Access to Information Act to provide the Information Commissioner with the oversight of this new authority.

Requesters can file an appeal with the commissioner if an institution or organization refuses to process their requests. The Information Commissioner can then examine the complaint and, if it is justified, she can exercise this new power to order the release of information to resolve the matter.

At the same time, this legislation would affirm the right of Canadians to make broad and deep information requests that were consistent with the spirit of the act. The bill would also give the Information Commissioner's office more financial resources to do the job.

The Information Commissioner's power to order the release of information is an important step that will strengthen access to information in Canada. It is an innovative proposal that would change the commissioner's role from that of an ombudsperson to that of an authority with the power to order the release of government records.

Bill C-58 proposes a mandatory review of the Access to Information Act every five years so that it never again becomes outdated. The first review would begin no later than one year after this bill received royal assent.

We can never become complacent when it comes to transparency. By revitalizing access to information, our government would raise the bar once more on openness in government.

With this bill, we will be modernizing our law and the access to information system, which is outdated.

With this bill, we would modernize our antiquated access to information law and system. We would strengthen the trust between Canadians and their government, and we would reaffirm the principle of openness and transparency as a hallmark of our democratic system. I am proud, as both a parliamentarian and a member of the ethics committee, to support this legislation.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to remind the member that during the 2015 election campaign, we all heard the Liberals say that they would open up the Prime Minister's Office and the ministers' offices to public scrutiny, because many Canadians felt that the Conservative government had gone too far in closing those doors. They also promised to bring in an access to information policy that would give access to materials from those offices.

On what grounds did the Liberals decide to break that promise to include ministers and the Prime Minister in the access to information policy?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Raj Saini Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, on the contrary, this act, which was first formulated in 1983, has not had an update in almost 34 years. This is the first time a government has had the courage to proactively disclose certain issues within the ministers' offices and the Prime Minister’s Office.

As is well known, the issue was studied at committee. This would be the first phase of the act. It would be a new regime being put in place, and we would evaluate, as time went forward, how things worked out. The first time this act would be reviewed would be one year after it received royal assent. After that it would be continually reviewed every five years. We want to make sure that what has happened over the last 34 years does not happen again. This act would be continually reviewed. It would be a living document.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Matt Jeneroux Conservative Edmonton Riverbend, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to follow up on the question from my friend from the New Democratic Party about opening up the Prime Minister’s Office and the ministers' offices.

I sat with the hon. member on the committee, and we heard testimony after testimony that it was the right thing to do. Even in our report we included that it was the right thing to do. I would like to ask him what changed between when we presented our report and now, when the bill has come forward to the House.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Raj Saini Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member is right. We did serve on the same committee. He had a lot of wisdom and a lot of great comments. I actually miss him on the committee. I miss his wit at committee.

A lot of what we would do here is because this would be a new regime. Because this has not be done in the last 34 years, it would take time to make sure that government departments and agencies came to a position where they were proactively disclosing information in an efficient and timely manner.

As I said earlier, this act would receive its first review within one year of receiving royal assent, and every five years there would be a process for further committees to re-evaluate best practices and what is working and what is not working. If the hon. member still serves on the committee, or if he is lucky enough to serve on the committee, I look forward to listening to his comments to improve the act even further.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member why the government chose not to change a single exception to the rule. There obviously has to be a rule, as he pointed out, openness by default, the principle that Canadians expect the government to be open and transparent, to use the member's words.

If that is the case, after so many years, why has the government not changed a single exception to the rule of disclosure? There is nothing to do with the exclusion of cabinet confidences. There is nothing to do with any of the exceptions to the rule. How can he defend that?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Raj Saini Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, it is very easy to defend it. This act has not had an update in almost 34 years. This is the first time a government has had the courage to proactively disclose certain things.

I appreciate the hon. member's comments, but I also want to remind him that this act could be reviewed within one year, and it could be reviewed every five years subsequent to that. This would be a living document. Future committee members would have the opportunity to look at best practices to see what was working and what was not working and to make recommendations accordingly.

We want to try to do two things. We want to proactively disclose information, but we also want to create efficiency in the system. The government would put resources there to help departments and agencies make sure that information was received in a timely manner.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Madam Speaker, as members know, it is always a pleasure for me to take part in debate here in the House.

Considering that we have little, if any, time to debate certain things that are important in our society, I am always happy to talk about them. I think it is important that I have the opportunity to share my ideas as a member of the opposition. Consider for example everything that is going on with the new legislation on taxes, on which we were never consulted and were not able to participate in discussions. I am especially pleased to talk about Bill C-58 today. I would remind the party opposite that it is always useful to listen to the opposition parties and hear what Canadians have to say about things that matter to them.

That said, today we are talking about an act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. The first thing I noticed when I read the bill is that the changes to the Access to Information Act do not make good, yet again, on the Liberals' election promise to extend the act to ministerial offices and the Prime Minister's Office. This is yet another broken election promise. We have lost count of all the Liberals' broken promises. Again, just for kicks, they introduce a bill that does not reflect their initial promise.

Under the new provision in the legislation, the government can refuse any access to information request if the government finds that the request is vexatious. The government is in the process of hand-picking what it wants to protect. The government is giving itself the right to choose what information to release and what not to release, making itself unaccountable to Canadians. Having already been in government, we know that there is a fine line. When a government wants to be ultra-transparent and says so loud and clear in front of the cameras and through selfies, but then introduces a bill enabling it to pick and choose what to talk about, then people become bitter. They are bitter that the Liberals are still trying to convince us that they are keeping their promise. Clearly they are not keeping their promises. They either backtrack or leave out key words from their election promises. People are not buying it.

When we look at the bill, we realize that the Liberals are giving themselves the power to refuse access to information requests if they are embarrassing to the government. When we talked about the Prime Minister's trip to visit the Aga Khan they may not have wanted us to do so, but that came out because someone somewhere talked. Perhaps the Liberal Party did not let it out by not releasing this information, but journalists dug it up.

However, for my part, I believe that it is a good thing that the mandate letters are made available. I admit that I like the idea. It shows people that we are able to say where we are headed and which minister does what. It makes it easier to understand the minister's or the department's role. What I personally find more problematic is when we ask for all the mandate letters, the briefing packages for new ministers, the titles and references, which is all good, the briefing notes and everything else. At some point we will no longer be able to ask for anything because the door will be shut.

We in the opposition keep asking questions in the House, but we are not getting any answers.

Imagine how far things will go if this bill is passed. We are in the House, we were democratically elected, and we ask relevant questions on behalf of our constituents. However, the members opposite are giving us only meaningless or hastily conceived answers.

When a government emphatically states that it wants to be transparent and introduces a bill like this, it needs to put words into action. Right now, we are hearing a lot of fine words, and the government has taken some action, but it goes against the Liberals' election promise. As I said a number of times, this is just another one of their broken promises.

We have been talking about Bill C-58 for several days now, and what saddens me is that it is always the same government members who rise to speak to bills. I am not the only one who is saying so. Quebeckers even have their own nickname for these members. When the government rises to defend its bills, it would be nice if more members participated in the debate, not just the same ones all the time.

On this side of the House, we have always been relentless in our efforts to make the government more accountable to Canadians. The key word here is “Canadians”. Many of the questions that our constituents are asking remain unanswered. Earlier, we requested a debate on the new tax system, but that request was refused. However, a discussion like that in the House would give us the opportunity to speak on behalf of our constituents.

I hope that the government will be a bit more transparent in that regard and that the Liberals will give us the chance to talk about the tax reform in the House. It is just as important as Bill C-58. People are writing to us about it every day, and I am sure it is the same for the Liberals. We are not the only ones getting those letters. That is impossible since they are addressed to everyone. We see all the names that are on them.

For all of these reasons, I oppose Bill C-58. It is one more broken promise in a string of Liberal promises, and it proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that despite what the Liberals say about wanting to be transparent, there will actually be less and less transparency, because the government gets to pick which subjects it wants to address and refuse those it finds embarrassing. This is an important point for me. Some information is not easy to disclose, particularly if it is security-related, but other information that is just as important deserves to be publicly released, even at the risk of embarrassing the government.

The government says it wants to be transparent, but it is arranging things so that it gets to make all the decisions, saying that it is the best, and just too bad for everyone else, because they will not get the answers they are looking for. That is a real shame.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Vancouver Quadra B.C.

Liberal

Joyce Murray LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to be back here debating this bill, and I thank the Conservative member.

However, I disagree with some of the things she was saying. I am extremely proud that our government is truly raising the bar on openness and transparency by revitalizing access to information.

By contrast, according to the Information and Privacy Commissioner, the Conservatives blocked all access to information requests to ministers' offices. Without authorization, they blocked and delayed responses prepared by public officials. After a decade of being negligent and obstructive, the party opposite is now painting itself as a champion of access to information.

Why did the Conservatives ignore this issue for 10 years?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Madam Speaker, with all due respect to my colleague, I completely disagree with her.

We are talking of 10 years, when all of your other colleagues have said that nothing has been done for 34 years. Therefore, all parties were responsible for failing to act, since the Liberals were also in power during that time.

What we are seeing here today is that your talk of transparency is little more than smoke and mirrors, while you choose to—

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I want to remind the member that she is to address her comments to the Chair and not to members or parliamentary secretaries.

The hon. member for Longueuil—Saint-Hubert.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her speech.

I appreciate the honesty of her speech on transparency, which is something that voters care about and expect. I applaud her for listening to the people who talked to her about it.

However, we must remember that in 2006, the party that she represents had also promised to improve transparency. God knows we talked about it for five years. You were not there. Of course, it is easy to say that you were not there, but what I am trying to ask you is if you—

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I want to remind the member that he is to address the Chair and not the member directly.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Madam Speaker, if the member were in government, would she be more transparent than the Conservative government we had for 10 years?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. As an aside, I was there from 2006 to 2011, so I have been in government, and I know what transparency is all about.

We did not make promises that we could not keep. That was always one of our strengths. We said what we would do and did what we said, unlike the Liberal Party, which says a lot of things, but does none of the things it says. I was always very honoured to work for the Conservative Party and for Mr. Harper, who was its leader. Like him or not, when he promised something, he did it, whether people liked it or not.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-58 and the proposed amendments to Canada's Access to Information Act.

To begin, it is important to note that we have thoroughly consulted many individuals to get where we are today, including Canadians at large, parliamentarians, the Information Commissioner, and the Privacy Commissioner as well.

Our government is guided by the principle that government information belongs to the people. The Access to Information Act, which received royal assent in 1983, enshrined in law the fact that citizens, both as individuals and as corporations in Canada, have the right to see government information.

This is especially important, as it enables Canadians to participate meaningfully in the democratic process.

Providing access to government information makes the government more responsible, because it gives Canadians the information they need to ask informed questions. The legislative updates we are proposing reinforce this original objective and take into account Canadians' expectations with respect to technology, openness, and the availability of information in today's digital age.

The rise of the Internet since 1983 puts information at the fingertips of most Canadians. People who care about how our government provides services to Canadians are keenly seeking that information. Canadians' information expectations of their government have necessarily changed: faster, easier, better, and more open is what citizens are demanding of us.

Since the act came into effect in 1983, more than 750,000 access to information requests have been processed, and the number of requests received has grown by 13% annually. For instance, more than 65,000 requests were received in 2015-16.

Self-identification by requesters suggests that 41% of these requests came from business and 35% from the public. Members may be surprised to hear that only nine per cent of the self-identified requests for that year came from the media. Five per cent came from organizations and four per cent came from academia. The source of the remaining six per cent is unknown.

We recognize that although the access to information system is not perfect, overall, it has had a positive impact on government transparency and accountability. Nevertheless, we have an obligation to protect certain information.

This includes personal information, information about international affairs and defence, and cabinet confidences. Our democratic traditions provide for and protect a safe place for ministers to candidly debate and discuss policy choices, and will continue to do so. Unsurprisingly, the cost of administering the act has gone up, with federal institutions spending more than $64 million to cover direct costs in 2015-16 alone.

Those costs have gone up by an average of about 8% per year. Those figures do not include costs associated with the research and document review done by employees who handle the material in question. The process can take a long time. It all adds up, but living in an open and democratic society makes it worthwhile. In general, the system has served Canadians well.

However, we are committed to modernizing the act to make even more progress toward open and transparent government. In May 2016, we issued an interim directive that entrenched the principle of open by default.

That is our guiding principle for making government information available to Canadians because we want to make sure they can consult their government about policies, programs, and services.

The interim directive also eliminated all fees except the $5 filing fee and instructed officials to release information in more user-friendly formats whenever possible.

The Government of Canada would continue to collect only the small five-dollar filing fee for each access to information request and would not charge processing fees.

The amendments we are proposing in Bill C-58 will enhance Canadians' access to government information.

For example, this measure will legally require the government to proactively publish a broad range of information on a predictable schedule without the need for ATIP requests.

It would apply to more than 240 government departments, agencies, and crown corporations, departments and agencies that we all know well, as well as the Prime Minister's Office and ministers' offices; senators and members of Parliament; institutions that support Parliament; administrative institutions that support the courts, and over 1,100 judges of the Superior Courts. We would also be putting into law the proactive publication of travel and hospitality expenses of ministers and their staff, as well as of 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 the minister or deputy minister, including the titles of these notes and their tracking numbers; and the briefing binders used for question period and parliamentary committee appearances.

Once more government information is available to the public on a predictable schedule, people will have a better understanding of how government works, they will feel prepared and empowered to participate more, and they will have greater confidence in the government.

That is why, as well as making great strides in proactive publication, we would also develop a new, plain-language guide that would provide requesters with clear explanations of exemptions and exclusions, invest in tools to make processing information requests more efficient, allow federal institutions that have the same minister to share their request-processing services for greater efficiency, and support new legislation with training across government to get common and consistent interpretation and application of the new rules. Government institutions would also be able to decline to act on overbroad, vexatious, or bad-faith requests whose intent is clearly to obstruct the system.

Along with these changes, we will continue to affirm Canadians' right to submit broad and comprehensive information requests that meet the important objective of the act, which is to increase the government's accountability in order to promote an open and democratic society and to allow public debate on the conduct of its institutions.

In addition, we are taking this a step further. The proposed amendments would change the Information Commissioner's role from that of an ombudsperson to that of an authority with the power to order the release of government records.

These are innovative improvements to our access to information regime that will build trust between citizens and their government.

The amendments also require a review of the act every five years to ensure that it never again becomes outdated.

The first review would begin no later than one year after the bill receives royal assent. In addition, government institutions would be required, through policy, to regularly review the information being requested under the act.

This measure will help expand the type of information that could become more easily available and will also inform the five-year reviews.

After 34 years, the Access to Information Act is undergoing significant revitalization. These reforms affect the whole of government, including areas never before touched by the legislation.

I am confident that by working together to strengthen access to information, we will make government more open, transparent, and accountable.

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10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his very interesting speech and for the quality of his French. We must take note every time members rise in the House and use both official languages. We want to do so in a positive manner even though it is the day after Franco-Ontarian Day.

We must celebrate the francophonie and bilingualism 365 days a year.

The member is an experienced and senior MP. He knows very well that the bill that was introduced does not meet the expectations of the people who believed the Liberal Party two years ago. He knows very well that groups that spring up every day, those who are most vigilant about transparency and the submission of documents that shed light on the federal administration, are disappointed with the current government. We cannot help but remind members that Mr. Marleau, the former information commissioner, said that this is one step forward and two steps back and that even the Information Commissioner will have less power.

Finally, my question for the member is very clear.

Is he comfortable with the fact that he was elected in 2015 on the promise that, “We will ensure that access to information applies to the Prime Minister's and ministers' offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.”

Is he aware that this promise from page 26 of his election platform is not being honoured in the bill he is defending today?

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10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his leadership on the francophonie outside Quebec. As a proud Franco-Albertan, I am always happy to use French here in the House.

Contrary to what the hon. member claims, for the first time in 34 years we are going to continue making the Government of Canada more transparent.

For example, the act will now apply to the Prime Minister's Office and ministers' offices, including minister mandate letters, briefing books for new ministers, titles and tracking numbers for ministers' briefing notes, travel expenses, contracts over $10,000, and annual reports for all expenses.

For the first time in 34 years, this is a good start. We will continue to make the government more transparent.

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10:50 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have a chance to address my hon. colleague. We used to sit on the Standing Committee on Official Languages together, so we got to discuss this file many times. I would like to respond to what he just said, because he is mistaken.

The offices of the Prime Minister and his ministers are going to be subject to proactive disclosure. It is not the case that the Access to Information Act is being extended to cover those institutions, even though that was a Liberal election promise in 2015. Those were actually the words of his Prime Minister himself.

I would like the member to come clean and admit that he has not fulfilled his election promise. Sadly, this is yet another broken promise, and what he just said was not accurate. We are talking about proactive disclosure, not the Access to Information Act. It is not the same thing.

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10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to acknowledge the tremendous amount of work my hon. colleague puts into the official languages file and other files that are important to his riding.

With regard to the Access to Information Act, not only have we listened to Canadians and the experts, but we are taking action by making profound, substantial reforms to the act for the first time in 34 years. We will continue to establish a safe, healthy space for cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister's Office, where policy can be debated in complete confidence, because that is one of the cornerstones of our democracy.

The exclusions and exemptions we are proposing will help protect sensitive information, such as records related to national security, cabinet confidences, and the privacy of Canadians. That is a pillar of our democracy. This is the first major improvement to the act in 34 years. We are proud of what we are doing.

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10:50 a.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate on the so-called modernization of the Access to Information Act. It is high time that this act was modernized.

I had the opportunity to serve as the chair of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics for two years, from 2012 to 2014. During that time, I learned first-hand of the major changes that need to be made to the Access to Information Act, changes that have been needed for a long time now. I had high expectations of the Liberal government's proposal to modernize this act, something that they promised to do during the election campaign.

That promise was something very different from what I was used to seeing from the Conservative government. In fact, I cannot help but be surprised every time I hear the Conservatives talk about this issue. During the three years that I worked on the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, I saw how the Conservatives continually tried to block anything that affected the scope of the Access to Information Act and any attempt to review and improve it in order to bring it up to date with 21st century technologies.

Every time a witness appeared before the committee on these issues, the Conservatives, who held a majority on the committee at that time, constantly blocked any possible progress on this file, particularly when it came to broadening the scope of the law to include the Prime Minister's and ministers' offices. There was no possibility of doing that under the Conservatives. It was non-negotiable. The answer was a resounding no. Today, they are complaining and saying that the government is not going far enough on this issue. I have been rather surprised to hear the points that have been raised over the past few days during the debate on this issue.

I also want to emphasize how important I think it is that Canadian citizens have the right to access information. They must have the right to obtain as much information as possible regarding all levels of government and the decisions they make, the motives behind those decisions, as well as public policy. It goes without saying that anyone who pays taxes, and some people pay a lot, should be able to access any and all information used by our government, since it is government officials, ministers, and people in positions of authority who use public money to keep the country running.

In publicly-traded companies, shareholders demand information and financial statements that are as complete as possible in order to have the facts they need to make decisions. They have access to information because they are shareholders in those companies. The same is true of non-profit organizations that manage donor money. Obviously, those organizations must be open and transparent when they make decisions and spend donor money.

For the same reason, our governments need to be open and transparent, and provide as much information as possible to our constituents, who pay for the services provided. Therefore, it is essential that our citizens have access to this information. This allows the government to be accountable for its actions, especially when it comes to its expenses, but mainly with regard to its decisions on public policy and the reasons motivating it to choose one course of action over another. To me, this is fundamental, which is why I am very interested in this issue.

Everyone directly or indirectly connected to this had high expectations for the modernization of the Access to Information Act, given the promises of the Liberals during the election campaign. It is almost as if an elephant had given birth to a mouse, if I may use that expression. The expectations were very high, and it is pretty clear now that we are being offered next to nothing and, in some cases, it is just a smokescreen. We are led to believe that this is an improvement but, in fact, it is the status quo that prevails in many cases.

The most disappointing things have been mentioned several times. I will not dwell on them for very long. Obviously, we expected the scope of the Access to Information Act to extend to the offices of the ministers and the Prime Minister, that goes without saying. The ministers make decisions on a daily basis, and Canadians deserve to know what they are based on and what facts justify them.

There is nothing new there. There is proactive disclosure, something that can be done now. The Access to Information Act does not need to be modernized to enable proactive disclosure. It is simply a matter of releasing information.

Obviously, we welcome that and cannot complain about it. People will publish certain hospitality and travel expenses, and some notes that are drafted by government officials for ministers, but we do not essentially have the information to understand and analyze the decisions of our governments, which is highly problematic. We are not asking for access to all the cabinet discussions and to all the positions of the people around the table who arrive at a decision. Simply put, what is being requested is access to the facts, data, and figures that are used in making public policy decisions. This is therefore a great disappointment.

Also, there was no effort to limit what the Prime Minister's and ministers' offices can use as an excuse for denying access to information. Currently, if someone makes a request, the offices can simply say that it is out of the question, that no one has the right to that information, and that it is a confidential document without providing further explanation. The person has no recourse when their request is refused. We have a prime opportunity here to set limits on this exemption so that the Information Commissioner can obtain information and determine for herself whether the documents are truly confidential or whether they are documents that might be subject to the Access to Information Act. If we dropped the ball on this fundamental issue regarding the scope of the legislation, then that is really too bad, because the offices will just continue to refuse access to information requests. There is no oversight by anyone afterward to verify the right to an exemption from the request for access to the information.

I also want to mention our disappointment with what I see as a highly problematic loophole they are creating in the Access to Information Act. They are creating a loophole for departments, not just ministers' offices, but the public service. Departments will have the right not to release information if they deem a request too broad, made in bad faith, or vexatious. Nowhere are these terms defined, and I see that as a big problem.

The government says it wants to broaden the scope of the Access to Information Act to make government more open and transparent, but it is also inventing new reasons to refuse requests. This will result in long drawn-out procedures, not necessarily in the courts, but beginning with complaints to the Information Commissioner. This will not resolve the Information Commissioner's backlog. She herself has repeatedly told the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics that she is overloaded and does not have the budget to address the many complaints she receives. The government is not doing enough to address that.

The complaints are piling up on the commissioner's desk, especially those about absolutely absurd delays for certain types of information requests, which can take years to be processed. These requests are on the commissioner's desk because a complaint has been made that no good reason was given for the refusal or because the processing times are too long.

Thus, the commissioner is swamped and will have even more complaints with the new excuses being created. The commissioner will have to examine the refusal of departments to answer a question because they claim that a request is too broad. The commissioner will have to determine whether there was cause to reject the request.

In my mind, we are going backwards. Experts are saying that we are going backwards; we may be taking one step forward, but then we are taking two steps back. Thus, we are no further ahead than before the act was modernized. That is one of the major problems that I wanted to mention, in addition to the issue of the Prime Minister's and ministers' offices.

I will close on a positive note as we should give credit where credit is due. We accept the recommendation to give the commissioner the power to order.

This process can be long, time-consuming, and costly for the government and taxpayers, but once it is complete, the commissioner will at least have the right to order that certain documents be published. Unfortunately, we are not talking about cabinet documents—I mentioned my disappointment about that earlier—but at least the commissioner will have the power to issue orders, which is something that has been requested for many years. It was also one of the 32 committee recommendations and one of the 85 recommendations of the commissioner.

Members of the NDP have been fighting for this for many years, well before I held a seat on the committee. The Conservatives always refused to give the commissioner that power, so at least that is a win. The commissioner will have access to documents and be able to order that they be published if she thinks that the refusal was unfounded.

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11 a.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Madam Speaker, this bill will clearly ensure that over 240 government departments, the Prime Minister's Office, and parliamentary institutions will have to proactively disclose information.

I would like to ask the hon. member why he does not think this will be an improvement for Canadians who want more access to that information.

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11 a.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, I did not say that proactive disclosure was not an improvement. I said that we did not need the Access to Information Act to apply it.

In 2017, proactive disclosure can be done on the Internet. It is the simplest way, and it is already being done in some cases. Some departments disclose the summary of access to information requests that they have processed, so it can already be done. Parliamentarians' expenses are also subject to proactive disclosure. My colleagues know as well as I do that some information can be found on an online portal and that all Canadians can access it.

In conclusion, I did not say that this was not an improvement. I said that it was not what the Liberals promised in the election campaign. The Liberals promised to extend the scope of the Access to Information Act to the Prime Minister's Office, and yet, that is absolutely not what has been presented to us. As I said earlier, the proactive disclosure my colleague is talking about is a smokescreen.

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11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Pat Kelly Conservative Calgary Rocky Ridge, AB

Madam Speaker, I would ask the member to comment on a broader theme. Over and over again, members of the government side have tried to take extraordinary credit for the steps they have taken. In this case, they failed to listen to the experts who testified at the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. They failed to fulfill their own campaign promise. They failed to carry out the instructions that the President of the Treasury Board received in his mandate letter.

We heard the President of the Treasury Board's speech on the bill, and he took extraordinary credit for the measures the Liberals had taken, claiming that this would make Canada a world leader in access to information. The experts have broadly panned the bill as a half measure and a broken promise.

Would the member comment on the difference between the Liberals saying that they are going to be open and transparent and actually fulfilling those promises?

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11:05 a.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. If I remember correctly, he was on the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

I used a metaphor earlier involving an elephant giving birth to a mouse. The elephant was pregnant: the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics had made 32 recommendations, the Information Commissioner had repeated her 85 recommendations many times, and then there was the mandate letter of the President of the Treasury Board. All of that seemed to indicate that we were going to have a perfectly healthy baby elephant. Unfortunately, what emerged was a sickly little mouse. Everyone was disappointed, obviously.

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11:05 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, is an honour to rise today to speak to Bill C-58, the long-awaited amendments to the Access to Information and the Privacy Act.

As we have heard from many Liberal members, this is the first time the act has been substantially amended since its initial debut. As has been said by many of us in the environmental law community, Canada does not so much have freedom of information legislation as it has freedom from information legislation.

We had hoped for far more openness, given the promise that was in the Liberal platform. I will just repeat it as a way of context-setting for my presentation:

We will ensure that Access to Information applies to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.

To give Liberals their due, let me cover some of the things that I think represent improvements in openness under the new government, and then focus more substantively on the failures and gaps in this legislation.

We do have, on the Treasury Board website, the heralding of access to information that is open by default. I think that is a stretch, but it certainly is a positive step. I want to emphasize that.

This Prime Minister is the first that I know of in our history to have made the mandate letters to ministers public letters. That has already had an impact on other governments. When Premier John Horgan became premier in my home province of British Columbia recently and formed his cabinet, the mandate letters became public. I think that is the first time that has happened at a provincial level, but once it happens federally and once the Prime Minister does it, it was “Where are the mandate letters?”

I am pleased to see in this legislation that mandate letters of a Prime Minister to members of his or her cabinet will, going forward, be legislated requirements for openness. That is a very good thing. It is a good thing to know that briefing packages of ministers will be proactively revealed, that question period binders will be made public, as well as hospitality expenses, contracts over $10,000, and so on. Those will be proactively disclosed, including expenses from ministers' offices and senators.

There will be a lot more transparency around things that I am going to describe as routine, expenses that are predictable, contracts that are large, and briefing documents that are predictable. It is also important to note that this will apply to other agencies and institutions within the Government of Canada.

Unfortunately, this is not what was promised. What was promised was that access to information legislation would apply to a Prime Minister's Office and to a ministerial office so that, for instance, when an issue arose, a member of the public or the media could ask how that happened and do an access request. That will not be permitted under this legislation. We will not see the opportunity that we thought was going to transpire in this legislation.

Certainly lots of knowledgeable members of what might be called the architecture of privacy and information in this country made recommendations. For instance, Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault recommended that it be up to access to information officials and officers to determine whether emails and memos in and out of the PMO or a minister's office were political or parliamentary in nature, in which case it would be recommended they remain confidential, or would pertain to running a department, in which case they would be accessible through access to information. That recommendation has not made it into this legislation. Perhaps the Liberals are open to seeing amendments to Bill C-58 that would allow the legislation to meet the earlier promise.

I am going to quote from an article by Stephen Maher at iPolitics. He is certainly one of Canada's leading investigative journalists. He certainly has a lot of experience with access to information. He used it very effectively to investigate the robocall scandal, among other things. What he wrote was:

The proactive disclosure of some ministerial documents may be a step backward, because the decisions about what to release and what to redact will not be reviewable by the information commissioner.

In a sense, what looks like a step forward is actually a step backward. Was it an unintentional step backward? We will have to find out at committee how open the Liberals are to amendments on this bill.

One of the things I found very concerning is found at proposed section 6.1, which is that the head of a government institution can, on his or her own initiative, decide to ignore an access to information request for a number of reasons.

Many of those reasons are reasonable. If the request does not meet the requirements set out in the act, for instance, or if the person has already been given access to the record and may access the record by other means, or if the request is for a large number of records and necessitates such a large search that it would unreasonably interfere with the operations of government, it would be reasonable to refuse the request.

However, this one is outrageous: proposed subsection 6.1(1)(d) states that the head of a government institution may on his or her own initiative, and not reviewably, refuse to accept an access to information request if “the request is vexatious”. That is a subjective term. If an institution decides that someone's interest in, for instance, toxic chemicals in their watershed is something the department does not want to share with the public, the institution just has to say it is a vexatious request.

“Vexatious” is far too subjective and far too restrictive a term to be allowed in government legislation. It certainly is a shock to find it in legislation that is supposed to take us to the promise of open and accessible government.

In other areas, those who are knowledgeable are saying that this legislation is not as good as what other provincial governments have already accepted in terms of openness. The information commissioners in the Government of British Columbia and the Government of Alberta have more robust powers than the federal Information Commissioner will have even after this legislation is passed. That is a surprise, because from the Liberal promises during the election campaign, I would have thought that this new access to information legislation would set a new high-water mark to which other jurisdictions could aspire. Unfortunately, the government has fallen short of existing powers that provincial governments already have for their information commissioners.

I am again going to quote someone who is an expert in this area. Vincent Gogolek, who is the executive director of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, said, “That’s what we have here in British Columbia, and responsible government hasn’t collapsed here.” The Government of British Columbia has been living with a far more robust freedom of information regime, which has not been extended into our federal law with respect to the access to information that we certainly expected to come forward from the government.

How much of this is reviewable by information commissioners? That is an important point. There have been discussions, admittedly, in committee, and recommendations were made that there needs to be some screen to deal with requests that might be seen as vexatious. However, the screen was not supposed to be a subjective unilateral decision by the head of the agency in whose control the information resides. The decision as to whether the information is releasable or not needs to reside with the Information Commissioner or members of that agency. It is up to those officials to decide whether it is vexatious or not.

That failure in this legislation is substantial. I sincerely hope that when the bill gets to committee, the Liberals will be open to amendments. If this legislation stays as it is, there is no question that it will be considered a broken promise, because as much as there have been steps toward greater openness compared to the previous administration, this legislation falls far short of the Liberals' election promises and compares unfavourably to regimes already found in other provinces.

The model here is a weak model that can be found in other provinces. We find it in Newfoundland and Labrador. We do not find it in British Columbia and Alberta. Exemptions throughout the bill are far too broad. Access to cabinet documents is certainly not something we will see. There are questions as to who would redact information and whether the redactions are acceptable. These will also fall to the agency itself and not, as I understand it, be reviewable by the Information Commissioner.

There have been a lot of concerns on the opposition benches. I wanted to give balance in my presentation today because it occurred to me that in the debate on Bill C-58, the Canadian public watching this debate might be baffled by the assertions being made by Liberal members that this legislation does apply to ministers' offices and to the PMO, while those on the opposition benches think it would not.

Proactive disclosure of some things, like briefing documents, spending, contracts, and so on, is a good thing, but here is the rub: giving that control solely to the agency itself and not allowing it to be reviewable may actually be a step backward, in that it would increase the discretion of those who control information to deny information.

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11:15 a.m.

Vancouver Quadra B.C.

Liberal

Joyce Murray LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands for taking the time to point out that there are a number of very important steps forward in terms of this legislation we are debating, Bill C-58. She is aware that this bill will go to a committee, where concerns she is expressing around powers of the Information Commissioner or issues around who defines vexatious applications will absolutely be discussed and ideas brought forward. Our government does have a record of entertaining and accepting amendments at committees.

I appreciate the balanced nature of her comments, but I take issue with her comments around proactive disclosure, for the reason that currently there is no requirement to proactively disclose briefing documents and the kinds of things we will be regulating here. As a result, if there was anything awkward, it could be pulled off the disclosure list. In fact, we know that the previous government exercised political interference, even with accepted applications that the department had fulfilled. It balked them.

To me, proactive disclosure means that people have to disclose those things. They can be counted on to do it, whether they are awkward or inconvenient or not. It is a big step forward.

Yes, things—

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11:20 a.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I am sorry, but there are only five minutes for questions and comments. We have to allow for other questions.

The hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

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11:20 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, it is encouraging to hear the parliamentary secretary say, as someone who is within the Liberal government with responsibility in this area, that there will be an openness to amendments. I certainly hope so, and I plead with the members on the other side to consider that this legislation is extremely significant.

My only comment to her direct point is that it is not mutually exclusive to have proactive disclosure of documents and to have access to information requests reviewable by an information commissioner. I am not against the proactive disclosure of this information. What is concerning is that it is the only way in which access to information will now apply to those offices. We were promised more.

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11:20 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on her speech, which she delivered with her usual sincerity. It is right to treat these issues with the dignity they deserve.

However, I heard my colleague suggest that in committee, we should try to seek more control over what will or will not disclosed, so as not to leave it to the discretion of the departments and agencies.

I heard the question from the government member, but I would ask the following question. Even if we can agree that there will be some openness to amendments, what happened with the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage as it was preparing its last report, which was tabled in June, shows that the government is fully capable of rejecting useful amendments and reports out of hand and choosing to stick to the PMO's agenda.

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11:20 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Longueuil—Saint-Hubert for his comments on my speech.

It is true that this government has a tendency to go around consulting everybody and then make a decision that runs counter to public opinion, as we saw with the Special Committee on Electoral Reform. That is also what this government did with the environmental assessment process. It held massive consultations, but now it is making bad decisions that contradict the results of those consultations.

I hope that this time, in committee, we will have a chance to make constructive amendments that will improve this legislation.

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11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise today to speak to this bill, a comprehensive set of amendments to the Access to Information Act.

It is always with great pleasure that I rise in the House on behalf of the constituents of Saint-Boniface—Saint-Vital to discuss important amendments to the Access to Information Act.

Bill C-58 would enact a number of the reforms called for on numerous occasions since the act first came into place some 34 years ago. I think we can all agree that the current act is out of touch with the expectations of our citizens in today's digital age. This is hardly surprising when we consider that the act has not been updated significantly since it received royal assent in 1983. That was a time when most government records were on paper. Today, the vast majority of government records are digital, and Canadians increasingly expect to be able to find information online instead of having to request it.

To appreciate the groundbreaking nature of Bill C-58's reforms, it is worth looking at recommendations that have been made over the years to improve the act. In 1987, 30 years ago, the first review of the act by a parliamentary committee identified inconsistencies in its administration across government and recommended clearer Treasury Board policy direction. The committee also made two noteworthy recommendations: first, that the act be extended to ministers' offices, administrative institutions supporting Parliament and the courts, and crown corporations; and second, that the Information Commissioner be granted order-making powers for the disclosure of records. In the end, the government adopted some administrative proposals, but neither of these two key recommendations. The bill before us today would finally put these two reforms into law, some three decades after they were first proposed.

In 1990, the Information Commissioner, academics, and parliamentarians requested additional improvements. Let me highlight two of interest. First, there was a recommendation to extend the act to all government bodies, and second was a recommendation to grant the Information Commissioner order-making powers for the disclosure of records. Neither of these recommendations was implemented. Instead, over the next decade the government made several targeted amendments to the act. For example, in 1992, it enabled requesters with sensory disabilities to obtain records in alternative formats. In 1999, the act was amended to make it a criminal offence to intentionally deny a right of access under the act by destroying, altering, hiding, or falsifying a record, or directing someone else to do so.

In 2001, it added more national security protections. Around that same time, the access to information review task force commissioned numerous research papers and consulted Canadians, civil society groups, and experts across Canada. The task force's 2002 report, “Access to information: making it work for Canadians”, made 140 recommendations for improving access to information at the federal level. These included extending the act to the House of Commons, Parliament, and the Senate; establishing broader access to government records, including those in ministers' offices and those produced for government by contractors; permitting institutions to not process frivolous and vexatious requests; granting the Information Commissioner order-making powers; providing more training and resources to federal institutions; and strengthening performance reporting. While these proposals were not acted upon at that time, I am pleased to report that the bill before us today addresses many of these important recommendations. I will highlight a few in just a moment.

Returning to the history of reform of the act, in 2006 the Federal Accountability Act expanded coverage of the Access to Information Act to officers of Parliament, crown corporations, and institutions created under federal statutes. This increased the number of institutions to which the act applied to about 240. The 2006 amendments also established a duty to assist, meaning an obligation on institutions to make every reasonable effort to assist requesters and to provide a timely and complete response to a request.

Finally, in 2009, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics undertook a review of the act. The committee consulted with civil society, media, and legal organizations, as well as provincial information and privacy commissioners. Its report made a number of suggestions, including granting the Information Commissioner the power to order institutions to search, retrieve, and reproduce records; granting the Information Commissioner a public education mandate; requiring a review of the act every five years; and extending the act to cover the general administration of Parliament and the courts. Once again, regrettably, these recommendations were not implemented at that time.

The bill before us today takes on the challenge of addressing issues that governments have been avoiding for over 30 years, and while there is legitimate debate about ensuring that we get these changes right, our government has the conviction to welcome debate and to listen.

Our bill would break new ground by giving the Information Commissioner the power to order government information to be released. That is very significant. For the first, the act would also include ministers' offices, the Prime Minister's Office, officers of Parliament, and institutions that support the courts, all through a legislated system of proactive publication.

At the same time as we are breaking new ground by providing the Information Commissioner the power to order that government information be released, and legislating a system of proactive publication across government, we are also developing a new plain-language guide that would provide requesters with clear explanations of exemptions and exclusions. We are investing in tools to make processing information requests more efficient, allowing federal institutions that have the same minister to share their request processing services for greater efficiency, and supporting the new legislation with training across government to get common and consistent application of the changes we are introducing.

Another important change would give government institutions the ability to decline to act on overly broad or bad-faith requests that simply gum up the system. This would be subject to the oversight of the Information Commissioner. If a department decides to decline to act on a request, the requester would have the right to make a complaint to the Information Commissioner, and the commissioner could use the new order-making power to resolve the issue. Finally, Bill C-58 would entrench a requirement that the Access to Information Act be reviewed every five years.

This is the first government to bring forward legislation to enact the important improvements that have been proposed at one time or another over the last 30 years. That is because we believe that access to information is an important pillar of a democratic system of government. It allows citizens to request records about the decisions, operations, administration, and performance of government, subject, of course, to legitimate and very rare exceptions. In short, it allows Canadians to know and understand what their government is doing, and when people have timely access to relevant information, they are better able to participate in the democratic process.

I am proud to be part of a government that has the courage to act on these principles, and I encourage my hon. colleagues to join me in supporting this bill, a bill that would dramatically improve the Access to Information Act and thus strengthen our democracy.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Madam Speaker, it is my turn to direct a question to my Liberal colleague sitting on this side of the House.

My question primarily has to do with the Liberal Party's new excuse about access to information. One of the last points in my colleague's speech deals with it. He mentioned a new excuse that the government can use to decline requests for information if the requests are overly broad or made in bad faith. I wonder whether my colleague could provide the House with some clarification on the issue in light of an upcoming vote on this bill at second reading.

Could my colleague clarify what the government means by “bad faith” and “overly broad”? Does he have a definition that could add to the debate? That is one of the issues with the bill right now.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Madam Speaker, clearly, access to information requests to the federal, municipal or provincial government are sometimes simply not serious. Each level of government has a right to decline them. However, the requester always has the right to appeal to the Information Commissioner. That is usual practice in access to information laws at all levels of government. It is important that requesters have a right to appeal if their requests are denied.

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11:30 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

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

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the many fine words by my colleague across the way.

The proposed legislation we are talking about is important because we would ultimately see more accountability and transparency as a result. As members noted, it has been more than three decades since changes were made to the existing legislation.

Could my colleague provide some additional thoughts on why it is so important and long overdue that we modernize this legislation?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Madam Speaker, the hon. member is bang on. This act has not been significantly amended for more than 30 years. Thirty years ago governments were keeping records on paper. Thirty years ago was before the computer age. It is quite clear that although other governments have promised to make changes, none have delivered.

Among the proposed improvements to the act today, proactive disclosure would be implemented in more than 240 government departments, the Prime Minister's Office, cabinet ministers, institutions of Parliament, and the courts. It is clear in my mind that this is a significant enhancement and improvement in Canadians' access to information from the federal government.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Madam Speaker, the member talked about the need to modernize the existing legislation. I wonder if he would agree with me that if the exceptions to the rule of disclosure swallow the rule of disclosure, then we ought to change those exceptions.

After 34 years of cabinet confidences being excluded entirely from the act, with many of the exceptions being very broad and never altered, would it not be timely to actually do something about those exceptions to the rule? However, instead, the current government simply added a new loophole to allow departments to refuse to process a request if they deem it to be overly broad. In other words, rather than subtracting exceptions, the Liberals added exceptions. Does that sound like a sensible reform to modernize this act?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Madam Speaker, I have worked in municipal government for 15 years, and the reality is that some of the access to information requests we received were not reasonable. If we were to act on every single one of them, it would simply not be in the best interest of government and not be good use of time by the administrators who are doing this. That said, it is important to note that there is an appeal process to the Information Commissioner on any request that gets denied. There is an avenue of appeal. If the commissioner decides that the denial is not reasonable, then the applicant would get the information requested.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in turn to talk about this important bill that was supposed to be the centrepiece of the Liberals' election platform in 2015. Since the start of the debate, all kinds of things have been said about Bill C-58 that do not necessarily reflect reality. I feel that it would be in the interests of my Liberal colleagues to properly inform themselves about the content of the bill before them.

For example, we have just heard about the appeal process for requests for access to documents from ministers' offices and the Prime Minister's Office. Unfortunately, with regards to certain kinds of information, people will no longer be able to appeal to the Information Commissioner. There is a little problem there, I feel.

It has also been mentioned, on a number of occasions, that the bill would give Canadians better access to information from ministers' offices. However, the ministers retain an enormous amount of power in determining what can and cannot be disclosed. It is already a little vexatious to say that ministers' offices do not want to waste their time replying to all kinds of information requests from Canadians. It is absolutely unbelievable to hear such things in this place. We are being told that Canadians ask too many questions and so decisions have to be made as to which requests are going to be processed and which are not. That is more or less what I am hearing from my colleague, and I must say I am a little surprised.

We have to take the time to study Bill C-58 properly. At the outset, it was supposed to be key among the Liberal Party's election commitments. Let me remind them of that commitment; it appeared in the chapter entitled, “Open and Transparent Government”:

We will ensure that Access to Information applies to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.

It is the promise that got the Liberals elected. It is not the first time that the Liberals have done this. It is not the first time that we have been told that something is going to happen during this government's term and that promises have not been kept. This is one example.

We all remember the promise to run small $10-billion deficits, supposedly in order to invest in Canadian infrastructure and stimulate the economy. We were told that we had to take advantage of low interest rates in order to invest. Two years later, the result is that $25 billion, not $10 billion, has been invested in infrastructure. Moreover, we are still waiting for a number of infrastructure announcements because it would seem that the money ended up having gone to various government programs, instead. In other words, they have been feeding the beast rather than investing in regional infrastructure, which would have stimulated the economy.

The Liberals are just riding this wave of economic recovery that has been sweeping over North America and that started under the previous government. That government knew how to manage the public purse in a reasonable manner, and the Liberals look good today as a result. However, it will not be the case in two years, ten years, or any number of years, when our children and grandchildren will have to pay off this huge deficit that the Liberals are going to leave us with. That is another unkept promise.

In addition, the promise to cut corporate taxes had been clearly set out in the Liberal platform, but we no longer hear about it. Then, there is the promise of electoral reform, one that the Prime Minister personally committed to fulfilling. I remember attending the throne speech for the first time as an MP, over in the Senate, and hearing words written by the Prime Minister's Office saying that the election that had just taken place would be the last to use the voting system that we have always known.

When the Liberals realized that fulfilling that promise would mean shooting themselves in the foot, and that it would hurt them more than the opposition parties, they backed off. This means that the Liberals were elected under false pretences. Promises made to Canadians must be kept. That is what Canadians voted for.

Unfortunately, we have yet another example today with Bill C-58. The Liberals were elected on false promises of transparency and openness. We actually see that Bill C-58 will instead better protect information from ministers' offices and the Prime Minister's Office.

Let us look at a concrete example of the type of information that the government may want to protect. We now have before us, in the House, a tax reform proposal that will affect each and every Canadian, small and medium-sized business, and farmer in Canada. They will all face tax increases, because the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister, who chose to protect themselves from those changes, have not, or may not have, studied the effects of the changes on farmers and small businesses. Perhaps they did not want to.

I have no way of knowing if they considered the impact. My sense is that they did not because, logically, nobody would do things like that without taking a close look at the impact. My point is that we will never know because Bill C-58 will not make the briefing notes from ministers' offices and the PMO available to us. We will not have access to them, so we will never know what the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food said to the Minister of Finance when the latter made up his mind to propose a tax reform last June.

Was the Minister of Finance made aware of the impact of his tax reform on agriculture? Did the Minister of Finance ask his Agriculture and Agri-Food colleague how his proposed changes would affect farm families across Canada?

Unfortunately, I do not know the answer to that because I do not have access to the Minister of Finance's briefing book. If I wanted, I could try getting access to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food's briefing book. I could ask him if he was consulted and if he commented on capital gains taxation for farmers' family members or if he offered up any proposals about taxation of dividends paid to family members and passive income.

Did the Minister of Agriculture himself consult? Will his briefing book reflect that, following the process, he attempted to influence the Minister of Finance's decision by pointing out to him the repercussions that these changes would have? What did the Minister of Finance take away from the consultations that the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food may have had?

We are speaking in “maybes” and “ifs”. We are living in anticipation. For the past two weeks, all of my colleagues and I have been getting letters every day from our constituents, farmers, agricultural associations, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, and the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec. They are calling on us to ask the government why it would target them in such a way, and that is what we are doing. We have been asking the question every day for a week. We asked the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food a question in writing so that he may provide us with more information. He could decide not to give us that information under Bill C-58. That is the problem with Bill C-58.

Do the Minister of Agriculture and the Prime Minister have any reason not to provide that information? The information belongs to them, but they got elected on a promise to provide information. That is the problem. The Liberals asked Canadians to trust them and promised to give Canadians information. At the first opportunity to show Canadians that the government is open and transparent, it is being closed and opaque.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Madam Speaker, it is fascinating to see how my colleague from Mégantic—L'Érable, who often likes to remind us that he was not part of the previous government, manages to talk about access to information while talking about all manner of things. He did still manage to give some concrete examples of how the people we represent, including my constituents in Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot and Canadians everywhere, are directly affected by this lack of access to information, and the fact that the Liberals have clearly broken a promise.

Essentially, I am asking my colleague whether it is important to make sure our constituents understand that the openness and transparency the Liberal government is trumpeting means nothing in the absence of concrete measures, when it confuses proactive disclosure and access to information, and when it does not give sufficient resources to the information and privacy commissioner. When I talk about insufficient resources, I do not know if my colleague understands what I am talking about.

The people we represent need this information to confirm that the fair and transparent government that the Liberals keep bragging about is not just empty rhetoric.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Madam Speaker, I can tell the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot that I hear a lot of things about tax reform from constituents in her riding.

She is from an agricultural riding, and she knows very well all the impacts this reform will have on the farmers in her riding. Sadly, as it stands, Bill C-58 will not get us all the answers from the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food that would allow my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot to respond to her constituents.

That is the problem right there. They make promises, they crow, they use big words like “proactive disclosure”. That may have a nice ring to it, but “proactive” means that they can decide what information to give. When we want information, it is called vexatious. It is true that it may be vexing for a government to have to respond to opposition requests for information, but these requests for information come to us from Canadians.

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11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to recognize the wonderful speech of my colleague from Mégantic—L'Érable. He touched on a lot of very good points.

I want to reflect on the presentation of the member for Saint Boniface—Saint Vital. He said that the government did not want to respond to access to information requests because it was not in the government's best interests—not Canadians' best interests, but the government's best interests. That is the problem with the Liberal government. The Liberals think they are above accountability. They keep ramming things through the House. They do not want to be accountable. They do not want to be responsible for their actions. Now they are trying to push this very repressive tax attack on small businesses and farmers.

Could my colleague comment on that a little more?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member for Provencher explained it so well in his comment.

Indeed, it is unbelievable to say one thing and to do the complete opposite, and yet, that is exactly what my colleagues on the other side of the House have been doing since the start of the debate. They probably did not have access to the right briefing book because I think even the backbenchers on the government side do not have access to the briefing book that gives real examples of the effects of the changes proposed in Bill C-58.

Perhaps it is vexatious for cabinet members not to give information to members of the Liberal caucus.

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11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Madam Speaker, I will begin by reminding colleagues in the House and all of those watching at home that the hallmark of the Liberal government is broken promises.

To the litany of broken Liberal promises on tax cuts and government spending, electoral reform, revenue-neutral carbon pricing, indigenous matters, restoration of home mail delivery, United Nations peacekeeping, and on open and transparent government, to all of those broken promises we now add the broken Liberal promise on reform to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.

Bill C-58 is a hefty document. It is 53 pages of amendments to the existing act, definition sections and subsections, terminological changes, and designated duties and exceptions. The President of the Treasury Board tabled a truly weighty bundle of bureaucratese, but it is as light as a feather in terms of undelivered promised content.

To be fair—we in the official opposition do not abuse the meaning of this word, as the Liberals so blatantly do when they recite their speaking points about tax fairness—Bill C-58 does give the Information Commissioner the power to order government departments to release information, but it prevents the commissioner from looking at documents if the government claims they contain cabinet confidences. That represents, in the view of all the experts, the deepest black hole in the ATI system.

When the ethics committee completed its study of this issue last year, chaired by the Conservative member for Red Deer—Lacombe, it made a number of unanimous recommendations in line with recommendations suggested by the Information Commissioner. The ethics committee—Liberal, Conservative, and NDP members—unanimously recommended that legitimate cabinet confidence should be protected. However, at the same time the committee said that much content that is too often shielded on cabinet confidence justifications should be accessible.

Recommendation 23 says:

That the mandatory exemption for Cabinet confidences would not apply to: purely factual or background information; information in a record of decision made by Cabinet or any of its committees on an appeal under an act; where consent is obtained to disclose the information; and information in a record that has been in existence for an appropriate period of time as determined by the government and that this period of time be less than the current 20 years.

All of that advice is ignored in this Liberal bill.

Bill C-58 also falls short on another important recommendation made by the ethics committee, and that involves the matter of a general public interest override. The committee's recommendation stated:

That in the first phase of the reform of the Access to Information Act, the Act be amended to include a general public interest override, applicable to all non-mandatory exemptions, with a requirement to consider the following, non-exhaustive list of factors: Open Government objectives; environmental, health or public safety implications; whether the information reveals human rights abuses or would safeguard the right to life, liberty or security of the person.

That recommendation is also ignored by the Liberals and is not included in Bill C-58.

The Liberals are making much of proactive disclosure provisions in the Access to Information Act provisions. These provisions will require the Senate, the House of Commons, parliamentary entities, ministers' offices, including the PMO, government institutions, and institutions that support superior courts to proactively disclose specific categories of information, such as mandate letters, travel expenses, contracts, documentation on the training of new ministers—and there has perhaps been a deficit in that area with the government—development notes for question period, and boilerplate backgrounders for appearances before parliamentary committees.

That is actually misleading, the so-called opening of ministerial offices to the Access to Information Act.

We remember that the Liberal campaign promise was to ensure that access to information applies to the Prime Minister's Office and the ministers' offices as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and its courts. The proactive disclosure provisions in Bill C-58 do not come anywhere close to fulfilling that promise.

The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association has dismissed the so-called proactive provisions as a bizarre sleight of hand, which seems intended to give the false impression of an election promise kept. Compounding the broken promise are the conditions to refuse requests when it comes to requests for information that the Liberals themselves may rule are frivolous or vexatious. Many jurisdictions have provisions to prevent frivolous or vexatious abuses of access to information laws, but that power resides with the Information Commission, not with a minister or department that is the subject of that request.

Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch offered a measured, if critical, assessment of Bill C-58 in saying that the bill proposes good amendments, by requiring a more proactive publication of some information, by giving the Information Commissioner the power to order the publication of some information, but it “does nothing” to fill the huge gaps in the act, as promised by the Liberals.

Stéphane Giroux, president of la Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, offered the federation's assessment of Bill C-58 with droll irony. He said that the most interesting fact for them was to have access to ministers' office documents. However, he concludes it was a false alarm, too good to be true.

A former information commissioner, Robert Marleau, lamented the fact that under Bill C-58, there is no one in government departments to review what they choose not to publish. He said this is contrary to the principle of the act. It puts the commissioner completely out of the loop. If people requested briefing notes previously and parts had been blacked out, they had someone to appeal to. This would be no longer the case, and they cannot even ask in court. Monsieur Marleau concluded, “It is one step forward, two steps back”.

Members will be forgiven if they have lost track of the number of Liberal promises broken, not across the entire Liberal policy spectrum but here in Bill C-58 alone. They may have noticed recently that the Liberals are somewhat sensitive to discussion of the emptiness of their virtue signalling in policy pronouncements. I am sure that this is a phrase that was coined only in the past few years, but it could well have been custom designed for the current Liberal government. Virtue signalling has become a shorthand characterization for the spouting of superficial, platitudinous, supposedly high-minded, morally correct commitments with little intention of fulfilling or living up to these commitments. I am sure members will agree that characterization applies almost top to bottom with the Liberals' 2015 campaign promises. Much was promised, as I detailed in my opening remarks, with regard to tax cuts and government spending, electoral reform, revenue-neutral carbon pricing, indigenous matters, restoration of home mail delivery, United Nations peacekeeping, and open and transparent government; but precious little has been delivered. There have been so many promises blithely broken.

Bill C-58 is a perfect example of virtue signalling in the promises of great reform, transparency, and openness in Canadians' access to information. The reality is, as has been said so often in this debate on Bill C-58, one step forward and several steps back.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Vancouver Quadra B.C.

Liberal

Joyce Murray LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the remarks of my colleague, who was a member of the previous government. That government actually gave political instructions to ministerial staff to block or delay responses to freedom of information requests that had already been accepted and fulfilled by the access to information secretariat staff. The moral high ground he seems to be taking in his speech is a little curious, given that.

I understand that he also has some measured comments about our bill. I would like to address the comments about frivolous and vexatious applications. First, it is important that our system works for everyone. Second, requests are increasing by 13% a year. Third, there are some requests that gum up the system and are not really intended to secure information.

As the member fairly pointed out, we know that the commissioner, the committee, eight provinces, and many countries have provisions for frivolous and vexatious requests. He criticized the fact that these decisions to accept or not could be made by the government. In reality, people who have their request denied on this basis will still be able to complain to the Information Commissioner, who has order-making powers.

Does the member think it is better to not do this and have an inefficient system, or is it better to actually remove some of these requests that gum up the system?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, two years of Liberal government should put in the past the schoolyard practices of pointing elsewhere when criticism is presented to the litany of broken promises that it is accumulating.

With regard to frivolous and vexatious questions, I agree that there is often occasion for a good number of such frivolous and vexatious requests for information. I found that in my time in government as a minister. It does represent a continuing problem. The various information authorities across the country have pointed out that in fact Bill C-58 does not have that defined right of appeal to the Information Commissioner. The appeal is not formally implanted in this legislation, and it appears that the word of the minister or the individual department will be considered as final. I am sure this will be brought up in review at the one-year point, although I hope that in committee an amendment will be made to provide for a formalized authority for appeals directly.

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12:05 p.m.

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague referred to the bill as another example of broken Liberal promises.

Does he agree that it is also a bill that could be termed as a bill of missed opportunities? For example, in the frivolous and vexatious requests debate that just occurred, in the province of British Columbia, there is a very miniscule 1% type of number for those requests that are deemed frivolous and vexatious. Unlike in this bill, they go straight to the commissioner for a determination. Imagine letting the government decide whether it likes a particular request.

Would it not be better to have the commissioner make that decision and apply mediation to get rid of those totally illegitimate requests that so infrequently occur but still do from time to time? Would that not be an example of an opportunity missed in this bill?

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12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. friend speaks to the matters of information in Bill C-58, the considerations included and not included, with the authority of his personal history. Yes, that is exactly the suggestion that has been made, not only by my hon. friend but by experts across the country that, in fact, the appeal process should be directly to the Information Commissioner who, with the authority of the position, would make a decision one way or the other.

It is true that the statistics do not show great continuing volume of frivolous and vexatious questions. However, I can say that there are times, as in our previous government, when certain interest groups will deluge certain ministries with what can only be considered frivolous and vexatious requests.

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12:05 p.m.

Vaudreuil—Soulanges Québec

Liberal

Peter Schiefke LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister (Youth)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the government to speak to our efforts to strengthen our access to information regime.

Our government recognizes the importance of a solid framework for access to information. We promised to provide a modern access to information regime because we are determined to preserve and strengthen the democratic principles of openness and transparency. We recognize that Canadians cannot meaningfully participate in democracy without having the information they need. In fact, we believe that the information that Canadians have paid for belongs to them. They absolutely have the right to have access to it.

Bill C-58, a detailed set of amendments to the Access to Information Act, was designed to give Canadians the openness and accountability they expect. Furthermore, it will enhance transparency, foster 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 changed a great deal since 1983, but our world has changed a great deal since then. The proliferation of personal technology like smart phones has transformed many aspects of our lives. We recognize that technology in all its forms is changing how citizens interact with their government in powerful ways. This change is happening around the world and and certainly here in Canada.

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 from their government. They are calling for greater participation in the government's decision-making process. They are seeking to make their government more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive to its citizens. That is why, in 2016, the President of the Treasury Board issued the interim directive on the administration of the Access to Information Act. Under this directive, federal employees are required to waive all access to information fees, apart from the $5 application fee.

Wherever possible, they are also required to provide the information to requesters in formats that are modern and easy to use. This directive enshrines the principle of openness by default. Make no mistake, this is a crucial measure. Being open by default means optimizing the release of government data and information. The interim directive sends a clear message to all federal institutions. Citizens should not have to explain why they need information in the government's possession. On the contrary, our government said that it intends to publish as much information as possible, subject to certain necessary restrictions that we can all understand, such as protection of personal information, confidentiality, and national security.

Here are some examples of information that will be proactively disclosed: travel and hospitality expenses for ministers and their staff, as well as 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 the minister or deputy minister, including the titles of these notes and their tracking numbers; and, of course, the briefing binders used for question period.

This is fundamental not only to the ability to participate in the democratic process, but also 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 to a predictable schedule and without the need for an access to information request.

One way to ensure the continued strength of the access to information regime is to undertake a review of the Access to Information Act every five years, another important feature in Bill C-58. Legislative reviews provide an important opportunity for stakeholders to have their say on access rights, and help us ensure that the regime continues to meet their needs.

In conclusion, open and transparent government is the way forward. 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.

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12:10 p.m.

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, our colleague from Vaudreuil—Soulanges shared some fine principles with us.

However, I would like him to explain how these fine principles will be put into action, because I am having difficulty understanding that. Most of the 32 recommendations made by the ethics committee following its study on access to information were disregarded, as were the 85 recommendations made by the Information Commissioner, who does not have enough resources to do her job. There is no way these words can be put into action when the government is confusing proactive disclosure with true access to information.

The government has told us what information will be shared, but the problem lies with the information that will not be shared. We do not know what will constitute a frivolous request. Why would a citizen be accused of being frivolous? How can a citizen be accused of requesting something too general? How will the government determine if a citizen's request is inadmissible?

It is not clear at all. I would like the member to provide some clarification on this.

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12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Schiefke Liberal Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her question.

This is not just talk. In the speech I just gave, I mentioned some practical measures that will be taken to ensure that our government becomes increasingly transparent and accessible. We have been waiting for real changes like the ones set out in Bill C-58 since 1983, and I am proud to be part of a government that keeps its promises, a government that is more transparent and more accessible to people across the country.

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September 26th, 2017 / 12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to access to information, Canadians want to understand what the government is doing. When they have a question, they want a real answer. We have heard a lot of testimony over these last few days about requests taking months under the current system. When I have made requests, the answers I have received have been absolutely bland and have contained no information at all.

The Prime Minister promised that he would fix this and that it would include the PMO. Clearly, that promise has been broken. Could the member speak to how the government can get to a place where the answers to the questions contain real data and real answers?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Schiefke Liberal Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a sincere question, and I very much appreciate all of the member's questions.

She is 100% right that the system is broken. The system is not working the way it should. I am confident in the steps we are taking right now to make the system work better, not only for members of the House but for all Canadians. Concrete measures are included in Bill C-58 that would ensure Canadians have greater access to their government and that future governments, not just the current government, are more transparent.

What is also great is that in five years, which is a component of the bill, we will see how things are going, if the changes we have put in place are having a positive impact, and if there are other ways we could perhaps make the system even better. It will be revised in five years. Hopefully we will all be here at that time to look at what has been done and see how we can make it even better. One of the positive aspects of Bill C-58 is that it would give us the capacity to do that in five years.

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12:15 p.m.

Vancouver Quadra B.C.

Liberal

Joyce Murray LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, members of the opposition appear to want everything that every expert and academic has suggested for our access to information regime to be in this one bill, which, for the first time in 34 years, addresses the shortcomings. Does the member view the other approach, which is a step-by-step approach our government is taking, as a better way forward?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Schiefke Liberal Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, we have taken the appropriate steps. The methodology we have used to come to a conclusion on the proposal in Bill C-58 is the best way to move forward on this. We did it in a transparent way. We were able to talk to Canadians about this. I had discussions in my own riding about the best path forward.

This is something all Canadians can get behind. It is easy to understand. I think Canadians understand that this would allow them to have more efficient, transparent, and easily accessible contact with their government so they can better understand the actions we take as their government.

I look at this bill as one that will positively impact not just the current government but future generations of governments to come. As well, it will positively impact Canadians. They will now have a better, more transparent, and more accessible government.

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12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in today's debate on Bill C-58.

The bill amends the 1983 Access to Information Act. Amendments to the act will affect organizations that share information with federal government institutions and people who want to access that information. It comes as no surprise that this Access to Information Act reform does not fulfill the Liberals' election promise to apply the act to ministers' offices and the PMO. That is the time-honoured Liberal way of doing things.

What is new here is that the government is implementing a proactive information disclosure regime. Under the new Access to Information Act, ministers' offices and the PMO will have to proactively publish several types of information.

Ethics and transparency matter to me, so I strongly condemn the fact that the Prime Minister is breaking yet another election promise. In fact, I find it offensive.

The Liberal government calls itself open and transparent, but it has once again missed an opportunity to prove it. It has failed to deliver the amendments it promised with respect to access to information from ministers' offices and the PMO.

Under our very eyes, the Liberals are being dishonest with Canadians and are once more seeking to make their decisions behind closed doors in order to make their friends rich and to hold on to power. This also reminds me of the marijuana legislation scandal last November when it was seriously suspected that the marijuana task force report was leaked before it was tabled. As if by chance, this benefited a company operated by the person responsible for the Liberal Party's finances. Oh, yes, that person is the co-founder of a company that produces marijuana and that saw its shares double in a week, even though the final report had not yet been released. We saw that the Minister of Justice was not too co-operative and did not want to face those facts.

Despite all their fine promises during the election campaign, the Liberals have failed to increase the government's openness and transparency. It is no exaggeration for me to add that, since the Liberals took office, even the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner has had a hard time overseeing and enforcing the guidelines in the document entitled ”Open and Accountable Government”, which, let us recall, comes from the Prime Minister himself.

This government is known for not walking the talk because it unscrupulously chooses what information to publish and when not to be accountable to Canadians. Once again, it is scandalous to see that only its cronies get preferential treatment.

How can the actions of such a government be described? It is easy, in fact. It is called the art of giving itself the power to refuse to respond to access to information requests when the government considers them embarrassing or shameful.

There is something to be ashamed of when one thinks of the scandal of the Prime Minister and his family vacationing down south at the Aga Khan's home at the expense of taxpayers. We received the information in dribs and drabs and waited more than eight months before finding out how much that luxury of the Prime Minister really cost us.

It is absolutely appalling that the changes proposed by the Liberals will ensure that even less information will be available to Canadians, and that they are obviously doing nothing to address the already unacceptable delays.

Monitoring this government is becoming virtually a full-time job because ethics is a value that it undeniably lacks.

I think the Liberals like to test limits. Not only did they give themselves the power to sidestep their duty to be transparent for Canadians, we know that they like to walk a fine line between conflict of interest and the appearance of conflict of interest, which is unacceptable for our Canadian democracy.

Last December, I had to raise this issue in an adjournment debate seeking to ensure that no preferential access or appearance of preferential access would be granted to individuals or organizations that have contributed to the Liberal Party at the many events where a parade of cabinet ministers have all the time in the world for their special friends who pay for preferential access.

I would like to remind members of the injustice, unethical behaviour, and lack of transparency.

It all began with the relocation costs of two employees and friends who work in the Prime Minister's Office. Their move cost Canadian taxpayers $200,000. Then we happened to get wind of a number of cocktail parties that cost $1,500 to get into, but guests could eat canapés, drink some good wine, and while they were at it, as I just mentioned, have privileged access to ministers and friends of the party in order to talk secretly about matters and issues that have to do with the portfolios of those ministers.

We also learned about the donation from a wealthy Chinese businessman, which made Canada a place where not only are ministers for sale or rent, but so is the Prime Minister. In exchange for a huge donation, he just might be able to get a foothold in our Canadian economy in any way he chooses.

Then there is the scandal involving the Minister of Justice, who turned blue in the face denying leaks from the task force on marijuana. Not only is the Liberal government and its Prime Minister irresponsible, but they are undermining our democracy in every sense of the word.

Once more, the Prime Minister thinks he is above the law and the obligation to be transparent. In our view, the Liberals are being dishonest with Canadians and are again trying to make decisions behind closed doors to make their friends rich and hold on to power.

We see that they have always favoured those who have the means to pay for the luxury of special treatment in true Liberal style.

Since the Liberals are unlikely to vote to put an end to this ethics and transparency scandal and to have the Prime Minister and the ministers take their duties seriously and with transparency, I would like to know what the government plans to do to put an end to this old Liberal practice.

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12:25 p.m.

Vancouver Quadra B.C.

Liberal

Joyce Murray LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I must say, that was a rather surprising speech. The Conservative MP started by criticizing Bill C-58 in its entirety. He then talked about a number of other things that have nothing to do with today's topic. For the first time, the Access to Information Act will be extended to include the Prime Minister's and ministers' offices. This bill gives the Information Commissioner the power to order government information to be released for the first time. We are making substantive amendments that will have the combined effect of reducing delays. There are a number of initiatives in addition to the powers of the Information Commissioner.

Does the member not feel that granting powers to the Information Commissioner is an improvement to our current access to information regime?

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12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

The first thing that the government could do in order to provide all Canadians with better access to information would be to simply answer questions in question period. It could also give us actual figures when we ask, and actual details of what it is doing.

We are forced to make access to information requests to find out what this government has really been doing, even after asking questions. In some cases, we had to wait eight months for a reply to questions we asked in the House about amounts that even the Prime Minister and other ministers did not want to provide.

Why not simply provide the information directly to the House in question period?

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12:30 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague. I heard the parliamentary secretary say, in so many words, that there is nothing to get worked up about. That is like someone wanting to sell us their house but refusing to allow an inspection and telling us there is nothing to get worked up about since we were given a tour of the bedroom. We want to see the entire house and get an inspection.

That said, I cannot help but roll my eyes when I hear the hon. member saying how dreadful this is and demanding access to all of the information.

Will my colleague at least recognize that the reason Canadians want more information on what is happening in the government stems from the fact that for 10 years they got almost nothing from the Conservatives when they were in government?

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12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I disagree with my colleague opposite, who has been sitting with me in the House for a few years now.

We answered questions from opposition members in the House and also talked to them outside of the House and provided them with the information they asked us for.

Here we have a culture where the government shows no sign of being transparent, and that culture undermines Canadians' trust in the government. We will certainly solve that problem in 2019.

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12:30 p.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 proposed legislation that would make the first significant improvements in well over three decades. Stephen Harper, throughout his duration as prime minister, chose to ignore such legislation. Today, we have substantial changes.

Will the member across the way at least acknowledge that this is a significant step that no one can deny? Would he support the legislation's going to committee?

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12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would have preferred it if my colleague had talked about frivolous requests.

Who is going to determine whether a request for access to information from a Canadian citizen deserves to be processed or not? It is such a broad term that I think no Canadian will get the answer he or she deserves.

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12:30 p.m.

Northumberland—Peterborough South Ontario

Liberal

Kim Rudd LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

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.

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12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, one thing the member said is that citizens would not need to make a case. Actually, they would have to make even more of a case now because of the subjectivity of this legislation. That is concerning to me. In a free and open democracy, if a citizen is to make a case and actually have results, they should get those, not just from the subjectivity of a minister or a bureaucrat randomly making a choice.

In addition, the member also stated that there needs to be powerful and meaningful oversight. Robert Marleau, the former information commissioner, said he has real concerns. As he has stated, “They've taken the commissioner out of the loop.” If someone requests briefing materials, and parts of them are blacked out, there was someone to appeal to in the past. Now this is no longer the case.

The two issues the member has brought forward to the House are actually not borne out in the legislation. Would the member like to correct the record, because obviously, this is subjective and is not meeting the needs of Canadians?

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12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kim Rudd Liberal Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely right about subjectivity. The member's subjectivity is possibly clouding the overarching positive aspect of this bill, and that is the ability of Canadians to access information to which Canadians are entitled.

I will reiterate comments made earlier today about the fact that this is a big change for Canadians. Starting about 12 years ago, for a period of 10 years, Canadians waited six, seven, and eight years to actually get information from the previous government, and then, in fact, it was denied.

Bill C-58 takes a new approach. It is open by default, with the opportunity for all Canadians to access the information they are rightfully entitled to.

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12:40 p.m.

NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary mentioned open by default several times. We know that the Liberals campaigned in the last election on a promise to make things open by default, to open up the Prime Minister's Office and ministers' offices to access to information requests, yet they have now backed down on that promise. The Liberals have broken that promise.

Could the parliamentary secretary comment on why the Liberals decided to break that promise?

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12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kim Rudd Liberal Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON

Mr. Speaker, this piece of legislation does in fact talk about the openness of the Prime Minister's Office and ministers' offices and access to briefing materials, information that in the past was not readily accessible by Canadians.

We are indeed fulfilling our promise to make sure that those in the Prime Minister's Office, ministers' offices, deputy ministers' offices, and the like would now have a reporting mechanism that allowed Canadians to see the very information the member is talking about.

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12:40 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources. The former information commissioner, Robert Marleau, had this to say about Bill C-58:

There are many, many countries that are much better, and some that are not quite as advanced technologically as we are. We are not the shining light, even after this legislation, and we were in 1983. In 1983 most countries looked to us for innovation and transparency, and we've lost that halo.

This is from a knowledgeable, non-partisan observer. Although Bill C-58 includes some welcome efforts at transparency, it falls far short of what provincial governments, such as B.C. and Alberta, are doing in this country. I would ask the parliamentary secretary if she does not agree that the government should do better.

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12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kim Rudd Liberal Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think that is exactly the point. The mandatory review every five years is about making it better. It is about looking at each piece of legislation as we change as a country and as a society, as technology changes, and as opportunities to make things better come about. The mandatory five-year review speaks exactly to that.

This bill has not been reviewed since it was created in 1983. In 2016, the President of the Treasury Board made a commitment and started along this process. I am very happy to stand here and talk about Bill C-58, because I think it is a step in the right direction. Five years from now, we may be back here having a conversation about how our digital world has changed and how Canadians want us to respond to them, and we will be reacting to that.

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Joël Godin Conservative Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

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.

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12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the hon. member and others in the House that the legislation has not been touched in 30 years. That was part of the reason we campaigned on openness and transparency and why this government is moving forward with the changes suggested in the legislation.

One of the initiatives in the bill includes taking away the fee, so there will only be a $5 filing fee and everyone can have access to information. We do not want it to be cost prohibitive. Initiatives also include proactive disclosure for the PM's Office and ministers' offices, proactive disclosure for institutions that support Parliament, service improvements that will expedite the length of time for these requests, and reviews every five years. Does the member support these initiatives?

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12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Joël Godin Conservative Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

If she had listened to my introduction, she would have heard me congratulate the government on having had the idea to bring in more effective measures to increase transparency and improve access to information.

In her intervention, my colleague mentioned the $5 fee, but the Liberals did not need a bill to bring that in. That was already done. What I am saying is that this is a hollow bill that has no teeth. We are wasting our time. We should have a clearly defined bill that allows us to proceed quickly.

Someone across the way mentioned a step-by-step approach earlier. I prefer to proceed quickly in the interest of all Canadians.

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12:55 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech and for the excellent corn on the cob from Neuville.

I would like to talk about the fact that this is just another broken Liberal government promise. It promised to extend access to information to the Prime Minister's Office and to ministers' offices. Unfortunately, it is not doing that. Instead, it is actually creating a new loophole. This is making things worse, because requests for information will be rejected from now on if they are deemed too general, if they seriously hinder government operations, or if they are filed in bad faith.

Does my colleague agree that this makes no sense? This kind of vocabulary gives too much latitude and will result in too many access to information requests being arbitrarily rejected.

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1 p.m.

Conservative

Joël Godin Conservative Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague. I am delighted that he had a chance to taste Neuville's delicious sweet corn. This is not a competition, of course, because I know there are corn farmers in every riding. I am just happy to have the opportunity to let all the members of this House know that Neuville sweet corn has received a protected geographical indication, or PGI.

To answer my colleague's question, yes, this bill is hollow. What I find disappointing about this government is that it is wasting our time. It is introducing laws and saying it will roll them out gradually, but it is incapable of defining them clearly. From reading this bill, it is obvious that consumers and the various organizations that usually need to submit access to information requests will receive less information. That is troubling. Information needs to be shared.

I can understand that some information needs to remain confidential in certain situations, such as information about our military strategy. During the NAFTA negotiations, there may be some information we have to withhold as good negotiators. Not that I think the Liberals are good negotiators, but that is another story.

In short, this Liberal bill is deeply troubling.

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1 p.m.

Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in the House to speak to Bill C-58 for the first time.

Let us look back at how we got to where we are today. When the Liberals were campaigning in 2015, I believe it was on the tenth day that the member for Papineau, now the Prime Minister, stood before Canadians and said that a government under him would be the most open and transparent in Canadian history. Man, how far we have fallen from those comments. Canadians probably had some hope at that point, but shortly thereafter it was a case of the government saying, “We were just joking, do not take us seriously on things such as the debt perhaps and other areas.”

Early on we heard things in the opposition and Canadians found out through mechanisms such as access to information and others about things such as pay to play. I will refresh the House's memory that early in the government's mandate, in every mandate letter the Prime Minister directed his ministers to conduct themselves to the full extent of the law and to be able to take the most fine-grained public scrutiny. What we have seen to this point is some ministers operating as if they are above the law, and that includes the Prime Minister as well.

Early last year, the Minister of Justice perhaps forgot whether she was representing her riding at a pay-to-play event where a fee was charged for dinner with a a full house of solicitors and lawyers at a Toronto law firm. The House reminded her of the distinction and asked very cautiously whether she was acting as a member of Parliament for her area or the Minister of Justice at the time. I think we saw a bit of retraction there.

We have a Prime Minister who himself is under multiple investigations by the Ethics Commissioner. One thing that keeps coming up—and I am not going to minimize this—is his vacation with the Aga Khan. I do not judge anybody. We work very hard as members of Parliament and people should be able to take their vacations when they can, but our Prime Minister has probably shown disregard for the rules. The rules do not apply to him in terms of public expenditures and he has refused to this point to answer any questions on the huge cost that has been passed on to Canadians as a result. He has deferred the questions and, some might say, blamed the very public servants whom we trust, the public servants who put on their uniforms every day knowing full well that they are going to encounter danger. When we pick up the phone and dial 911, they come running regardless of any illness or stress they are facing, without exception. Instead of answering the question, our Prime Minister has deferred every question on the cost of his trip to the RCMP, perhaps even blaming them for the exorbitant costs associated with it. That is shameful.

This speaks to where we are today with the Liberals who have continually blamed the government and Parliaments of previous years and have asserted that they are “modernizing” the government and this House. They use that term all the time.

Time and again, Liberal ministers and perhaps the Prime Minister himself have stood with their hands on their hearts and used the words “open and transparent” when talking about about consultations on things such as electoral reform and carbon pricing. They were going from coast to coast to coast to talk to Canadians about, let us get this right, a campaign promise of theirs. They were going to reduce the small business tax. Where did that go? I guess we are probably going to be talking about the liberals' unfair tax plan in a mere 45 minutes. That is another broken promise, and it is not open or transparent at all. It is disappointing.

The Liberals campaigned on real change. The second page of their campaign document read:

Together, we can restore a sense of trust in our democracy. Greater openness and transparency are fundamental to accomplishing this.

Those are great words, but we have not seen action by the Liberals. As a matter of fact, the next paragraph stated:

...our objective is nothing less than making transparency a fundamental principle across the Government of Canada.

Where has that gone? It is gone. Everything they are doing absolutely flies in the face of their campaign promises.

Again, they are talking about modernization of the House, doing things better here and better for Canadians. I am going to bring us back to just before we rose in June, the six or eight weeks when the House leader, a mere 18 months into her tenure as a member of Parliament, tabled a document, a discussion paper. She wanted to have a discussion in the House on how we could make the House better and do things better. I have been a member of Parliament for the same time she has, and while we all have ideas on how we can make things efficient and smooth, I would not be as arrogant to think I can put a paper together, put it out in the media, and suggest that we are going to do things better when this House belongs to Canadians. It does not belong to me or the members who are present. It belongs to those in the gallery and those who elect us to be here and represent Canadians.

What the Liberals have done with Bill C-58 under the guise of being open and transparent is to stop what has brought us here. We have a Prime Minister who is under multiple investigations. We have had patronage appointments, as access to information requests have found out. What they want to do is to stop that. They do not want Canadians to know. They want the power to say what is frivolous and without merit. That is unacceptable.

We are smack in the middle of international Right to Know Week, which runs from September 25 to October 1. There are 10 principles of right to know, which I found on the government website. Number one is that “Access to information is a right of everyone.” Number two is “Access is the rule—secrecy is the exception!” We agree. There are certain things that we do not put into the hands of others. As my hon. colleague mentioned earlier, defence issues are one of them, or things that could tip off those with nefarious ideas.

However, simple everyday common information that the public, and indeed the opposition and those who represent the public, require to do their everyday jobs is fundamental. The things they are talking about in Bill C-58 are inherent principles and rights that the public and opposition already have. This does not need to be done.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, a couple of the member's colleagues and he questioned the commissioner's ability to declare requests vexatious or made in bad faith. The suggestion by a couple of his colleagues was that a better way to deal with this would be to go back to charging people who want to make access to information requests.

Does the member agree that the way to deal with vexatious and bad-faith submissions is to charge people for the requests, because that would serve as a deterrent, as his fellow colleagues have suggested?

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1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, again, this is just a deflection tactic by the government. The reality is that we are here to talk about its open and transparent ways. The Liberals have proven time and again over the last 24-plus months that they have not been open and transparent.

I was reading the bill, and proposed section 6 deals specifically with the government's ability to say no to requests that might be vexatious or seen to be frivolous. The fact is that the government would be able to make that decision when it should instead be made by an independent source regardless of the mechanism. It should be decided by an independent source if we are truly going to be open and transparent.

If the Liberals truly want to live up to being open and transparent, they would change the bill and go through with the good points in it and scrap the ones that are controversial.

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1:10 p.m.

NDP

Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Mr. Speaker, does the member agree with the NDP and our concerns that the Liberals are breaking their promise to make the Prime Minister's Office and ministers' offices open to these access to information requests? This is not open and transparent government. This is closing the doors.

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1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have not seen the amendment that my hon. B.C. colleague has mentioned and so I cannot speak directly to that, but I reiterate my comments. We are here today as a result of access to information requests. We are here because we have a Prime Minister, a cabinet, and a government that have been under investigation for questionable actions and decisions. I think I will leave it at that.

We need to make sure that Canadians have the mechanism to be able to ask for the information they require so that we can be held to the highest account, and indeed live up to the mandate letters that the Prime Minister gave his ministers by his own penmanship, saying that they should be able to withstand the highest public scrutiny. However, to this point, the reason we are here today is that time and again they have proven that they cannot.

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1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are all politicians. Most of us were elected two years ago, and some were elected during by-elections. However, when we live by politics, it is very important to keep our promises.

What kind of signal is the government sending to people when the Liberals say something during the election campaign but do the reverse when they are in office?

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1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, the selective memory of our current government is interesting. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself, when he was a member of Parliament in the last Parliament, tabled Bill C-613, which absolutely flies in the face of what his current government is tabling. It is like the debt. It is like the carbon tax. It is like the small business tax that the Liberals promised to lower.

Once they got into power, they kicked up their heels and brought all their friends in and paid them via high-priced patronage appointments. They kind of forgot what their promises to Canadians were. However, I will tell the member that we on this side and Canadians will not forget.

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1:15 p.m.

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, during their respective campaigns, the Liberal government and the Conservative government before them promised to amend the Access to Information Act, specifically by expanding the act to apply to the Prime Minister's Office and ministers' offices. After the Conservative government failed to take the necessary steps to modernize the act, the Liberal government is making an attempt with Bill C-58, which seeks to amend the Access to Information Act,1983.

This law is essential because it allows Canadians to apply to federal institutions to get access to information on the government and on government institutions. With Bill C-58, the government's goal is to amend access to information, the Privacy Act and other acts that deal with the same subject.

Canada was a pioneer in access to information. We were one of the first countries to pass legislation about information, in 1983. Today, with this bill, the government is seriously compromising access to information.

The bill has many problems. Many recommendations from the Information Commissioner and from the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics have not been considered.

We are asking that all these recommendations be incorporated into the bill, which currently contains so few as to prompt us to wonder whether the government even read their work. It feels like it was all for naught. What is the point in asking expert organizations to make recommendations if those are not taken into account in the government's bill?

Members of the NDP, including the former member for Winnipeg Centre, tried several times in 2006, 2008, 2011, and 2014, to introduce proper legislation modernizing the Access to Information Act. All those initiatives were rejected even though the former government and the current government claimed to want to amend the act.

The NDP tried very hard to propose concrete amendments to modernize the act and allow people to have better access to information. However, the Conservative government and the current Liberal government both refused to listen.

Except for the fact that the Information Commissioner has the power to order the disclosure of information, which is one of the important points that we have long been calling for, and that the bill provides for a legislative review every five years, the NDP believes the bill is inadequate and does not go far enough. That is why the NDP is totally opposed to the bill at second reading.

Despite its election promises, the government does not really want to be transparent and that is unacceptable. I think it goes without saying that Canadians ought to have the right to review the information that the government does not want to publish. Since it governs at their pleasure, it is accountable to them.

The Liberals do not want to extend the act to the Prime Minister's and ministers' offices. Do they have something to hide? The government must set an example and obey the law. It cannot ask Canadians to obey the law if its own members do not. The government is not above the law, nor is it above Canadians.

Why is the government reneging on its promise? I know that this is not the first time that the government has broken one of its promises. The people have every right to wonder how many other election promises the Liberals will break, how much more backpedalling they will do, as they are doing now. The Liberals are hiding behind this bill and that is not right.

I will remind members what the Prime Minister kept saying during the campaign, which is, “A country's information system is at the very heart of the principle of open government.” “Transparent government is good government.”

The Prime Minister himself seems to be saying that the Liberal government is neither open nor good. He also claimed to want to extend the act to the Prime Minister's Office, to other ministers' offices, and to administrative institutions supporting Parliament and the courts. However, once in power, the government had no qualms about breaking this campaign promise, even though it was so important to Canadians, who have been calling for the modernization of the Access to Information Act for a few years now.

Perhaps the government should reacquaint itself with its election promises to realize that it did exactly the opposite in this bill. Canadians are increasingly interested in the government's actions.

In fact, they made 81% more access to information requests in 2015-16 as compared to five years ago, which is their right. Canadians want to know how their money is being spent and how the government acts by having access to some confidential documents. Canadians must be able to have access to information to avoid all sorts of scandals, such as the sponsorship scandal, in which the government lied to the public by refusing to release the invoices from its suppliers.

Canada currently ranks 49th in terms of right to information legislation. The bill would enable it to move up from 49th to 46th place, but this small gain shows full well that this bill does not go far enough. It is just window dressing.

With this bill, the government is making information less available to people. For example, the bill does away with the government's obligation to publish information about government organization mandates. It even gives officials the right to decline access to information requests that they feel, for whatever reason, are made in bad faith.

The NDP cannot support this bill at second reading for two main reasons. First, despite the election promise, it does not expand the act to cover the Prime Minister's and ministers' offices. Second, it does not reflect crucial recommendations by the Information Commissioner and the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics produced a report with 32 recommendations, and the Information Commissioner's report contains 85. The government had plenty to draw on, but it included very few of those recommendations in its bill. The Liberals are so proud of their proactive disclosure idea, but it does not really give people better access to information. The government should also provide criteria for deciding whether a request is overly broad or cannot be processed. Departments will also not be required to publish their org charts, their powers, duties, and functions, or descriptions of all classes of documents they are responsible for.

The bill imposes no specific legal obligation to document cases of failure to comply or appropriate sanctions, which was a key issue for the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. This bill also fails to shorten deadlines for access to information, which are currently much too long at up to 200 days, and to reduce the number of extensions.

For example, in April 2016, The Globe and Mail reported that it took more than a year for the RCMP to provide them with statistics for its series of investigative reports titled Unfounded, which revealed that police dismiss one in five sexual assault claims as baseless. What makes the government think it can take so long to provide citizens with this information? This clearly shows that access to information is vital and that it can bring to light certain things that organizations and citizens need to know about.

Naturally, we want the government to extend the act to cover Prime Minister's Office and the offices of other ministers as well, which is a priority for citizens and one of the main changes they have been calling for. We support the recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics and the Information Commissioner. We need to modernize the Access to Information Act, but we cannot allow the government to take an authoritarian approach and do away with some of the rights currently provided under the act in its present form.

Canadians do not want their rights taken away. They are simply asking for the act to be modernized, because it is now out of date. Canada was seen as a pioneer in the area of access to information. With this bill, the government is trying to take rights away from people rather than to give them more, as it promised during the election campaign. Canadians deserve answers from the government. It must explain to us all why it has decided to limit access to information from the Prime Minister's Office and the offices of the other ministers and, in its bill, to remove some rights that were, in fact, in the act.

The government must explain to us all why it is not keeping one of its main campaign promises. It is the government's duty to provide explanations to the Canadians who are demanding answers.

In conclusion, access to information is the basis of democracy. Sadly, the government is trying to obstruct democracy with this bill, even though it promised to expand the legislation for Canadians. There was never any question of a bill of this kind during their campaign.

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1:25 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, the legislation before us would make significant changes to the way information would be accessed. There is a wonderful component about proactive disclosure, something we believe Canadians want and deserve. We should support that. There is an interesting aspect that empowers the commissioner to order information to be released. This is one of the strongest aspects in the legislation. In so many ways, our system will be healthier as a direct result. There would be more accountability and transparency. The bill is all about that.

Would the member not acknowledge and support the principles of what our government has been able to achieve within the legislation, and perhaps share some of the ideas she talks about, possibly at the standing committee? We know we are not going to wait another 30 years before we have to modernize the act. The legislation calls for reviewing and updating the act on a more regular basis. Would she not agree that this is good for Canadians?

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1:25 p.m.

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly the issue. I want to support more than just principles. I want to support concrete actions.

We can have proactive disclosure now. We do not need a bill for it; it is already possible. It is important not to confuse proactive disclosure with access to information. Canadians must understand that it is not the same thing and that access to information is not provided through proactive disclosure. They are two separate things.

I think it is unfortunate that this bill is now mixing up the two when there is a clear difference. A tangible action would be to follow the 32 recommendations of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, and the 85 recommendations of the Office of the Information Commissioner. Those are tangible actions that I am ready to support.

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1:30 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, my sincere thanks to my colleague, the member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, for her speech. I completely agree with her that this bill is weaker than what the Liberal Party had promised in the past election campaign.

Does my colleague think it is possible to propose changes to this bill in the committee in question? If the government were to support the amendments to strengthen this bill, would the NDP support them?

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1:30 p.m.

NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, not only is it possible to improve this bill, it is vital that we do so.

Yesterday at an event, I noticed how popular my colleague is with young women.

I am the mother of teenagers and young adults. I have noticed among some of my constituents that younger people want and have access to information. I am always amazed to see how much more my children know than I did when I was their age. They want to know. They seek information. They will quickly realize that they have hit a wall when it comes to accessing information.

To meet current needs, it is vital that we have real legislation that provides access to information. Today, people want to know and it is their right; they need information. We have to give them the means to access it.

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1:30 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased 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, because in my work as an MP I often have to obtain information beyond that provided by the government.

It is very important to me to speak to this bill. I have come to realize that Canadians across the country, including the constituents of Drummond, often seek information to which they do not necessarily have access. It should be known that the government decides to voluntarily disclose some information, but not all. I discovered this when I was elected in 2011. I was looking for a lot of information about shale gas and fracking, because that was a hot topic in the riding of Drummond and across Quebec at the time. I realized that the federal government at the time had conducted research and several studies and put together several review committees, but that not all these reports had been made public.

I ended up having to submit some access to information requests, which is when I realized the limitations of the Access to Information Act. Many passages in the documents I received had been blacked out and made unreadable. Other documents took months and months to reach me. Furthermore, I recently asked a series of questions about the appointment of Ms. Meilleur as official languages commissioner. She eventually took herself out of the running, which I thought was a wise decision. At the time, I asked the government some questions about contact between Ms. Meilleur and officials in the Prime Minister's office and contact between her and officials at Canadian Heritage. Since the answers I received were totally unsatisfactory, I submitted some access to information requests. Right now, I am told, the wait time to receive even a partial answer from Canadian Heritage is 105 days. For the Treasury Board, it is 90 days, and for the Department of Justice, it is 120 days.

I am not going receive my answers before the new commissioner is appointed. It is easy to see how important it is to have access to this information. I would like to congratulate all the members on the ethics committee for the work they did. They conducted a study and issued a number of recommendations. The ethics commissioner made the same recommendations. The time was ripe for this debate, seeing as this law has been on the books for more than 30 years and never been reviewed. It is worth noting that the sole reason we have this bill is to fulfill one of the Liberals' election promises. The Prime Minister promised during the campaign that he would review the Access to Information Act and extend this act to cover the Prime Minister's office and the ministers' offices.

Unfortunately, I do not see that anywhere in Bill C-58. I asked my Liberal colleagues about this, and they told me it had been extended to ministers' offices and the Prime Minister's office, but proactive disclosure does not mean extending the Access to Information Act to the Prime Minister's and ministers' offices. It is not the same thing. Proactive disclosure, as the word "proactive" implies, means that people choose what they want to disclose, but often, what people want is the information the government chooses not to disclose. That is the difference, and that is why the Access to Information Act is so important.

Earlier, I shared some examples to do with shale gas, fracking, and the appointment of an official languages commissioner who apparently had ties to the government. In cases like those, it is important for people to have access to information that the government chooses not to disclose for various reasons.

I have some other concerns about this bill. For example, it adds new loopholes. As I mentioned, for various reasons, information can be blacked out or entire reports can be nothing but blank pages. The pages exist, but all that is provided is blank pages. That is a problem we have already.

Now there will be a new loophole allowing departments to decline to process requests that they deem overly broad, that they feel would seriously interfere with government operations, or that they think are made in bad faith.

I will come back to those last two very important elements. Obviously, if the government deliberately decides, for example, not to disclose large quantities of research and studies conducted by Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada on fracking and shale gas and I request it, a lot of work will need to be done to gather and process all of that information. I am not asking for it because I am acting in bad faith or because I want to interfere with the government's work. I am asking for it because residents of Drummond and Canadians paid for that information. It should already be available. However, I have to go through the Access to Information Act to give people access to that information. The government cannot start saying that this will create too much work. Of course if the government does not disclose information proactively, then it will create a lot of work for itself down the road.

The government could also determine that the request was made in bad faith. No definition, details, or explanation is provided in that regard. That means that anyone can decide that a request was made in bad faith. If I ask a question about the connection between the current government and Ms. Meilleur's appointment as official languages commissioner, my request could be deemed to have been made in bad faith, when in actual fact it is extremely important that Canadians have that information in order to make sure that the Liberals do not make the same mistake again.

This is completely unacceptable, and that is why we will be voting against this bill. For a government that claims to want to be transparent and to improve access to information, this bill is not going to work at all.

I would like to talk about the battle that the NDP has been waging since the mid-2000s to improve the Access to Information Act. My former colleague, MP Pat Martin, tried a number of times to improve the Access to Information Act. Unfortunately, the Conservative government at the time thwarted all of his attempts. It was really disappointing.

We have nothing against the government's much-vaunted proactive disclosure. It is good in principle. However, proactive disclosure is not the same thing as the Access to Information Act. Obviously, if we already had more proactive disclosure, we would not have to submit so many access to information requests. However, the fact remains that the government could still, at any time and for any reason, decide not to disclose certain information. That is why the Access to Information Act is so important. It needs to be revised and improved. This bill will not do the trick, and that is why we need to fix it.

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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Mr. Speaker, I firmly believe that this bill will improve access to information for all Canadians. According to the specifics of the bill, proactive disclosure will apply to 240 government departments and agencies, including the Prime Minister's office, MPs' offices, and the institution of Parliament.

Why is the NDP siding with the Conservatives in refusing to give Canadians better access to information?

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1:40 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, who does such excellent work on the Standing Committee on Official Languages, on which I also sit.

As the member well knows, proactive disclosure is not the same thing as direct access to information. He knows full well that Canadian Heritage refused to proactively disclose the connection between the department and the individual it had decided to appoint as official languages commissioner. He knows full well that the Prime Minister's Office refused to proactively disclose its connection to Ms. Meilleur when it decided to appoint her official languages commissioner.

That is why we need access to information legislation that is robust and that applies to the Prime Minister's Officer and all ministers' offices, but this bill does not provide for that.

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1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague from Saint Boniface—Saint Vital for his assurances that this document will indeed provide Canadians with more access to information, but I want to ask my hon. colleague from Drummond if he feels some uneasiness.

Time and again, for the last 24 months, we have heard promises of openness and transparency from the government, but it has again failed us. It has failed Canadians. It has not lived up to those promises time and again. This is merely another opportunity for the government to pick and choose what it tells Canadians, to go about things its own way, to make the laws for itself, and to shut out Canadians and those who have been elected to represent them from the information that is critical to Canadians.

I wonder if he feels exactly the same way as those on this side of the House.

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1:45 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question and his comment.

He is quite right. This is another broken promise from this Liberal government. It made a clear, specific promise that it would extend the Access to Information Act to the Prime Minister's Office and ministers' offices.

Why did the government go back on its word? Why did it not keep its promise? I do not understand. We find it completely unacceptable to renege on such a clear and specific promise. This promise was even explicit in the mandate letter.

It is unacceptable to backtrack without a valid reason, and yet that is what the Liberals are doing. They are trying to play a shell game by saying that there will be proactive disclosure, but that is not the same thing. One must not confuse carrots and potatoes; they are two different things. They want us to believe their malarkey.

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1:45 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, as we gather today to debate Bill C-58, we should be mindful of the fact that this is international Right to Know Week. As we gather here, in another part of town the Information Commissioner is holding a full-day conference on declaring that access to information is a fundamental human right. In that case, I wonder if my colleague would agree that our human rights are violated when Bill C-58 falls so short of being true access to open government and access to information.

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1:45 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, not only does Bill C-58 not extend the Access to Information Act, but it goes even further by giving departments loopholes so they can refuse to process access to information requests on the grounds that, for example, they were made in bad faith or would create too much work for public servants. The government cannot do things like that.

I have submitted plenty of access to information requests about fracking and shale gas. Of course the departments got annoyed at me for pestering them, but why did they not disclose that information themselves? Because they did not want to.

It could easily happen again. The government will disclose the information that makes it look good, and any information that could be harmful or embarrassing to it will be tucked away where no one can get at it. This is utterly unacceptable. These are not the actions of a transparent government that respects the people. It needs to change its attitude.

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1:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Is the House ready for the question?

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1:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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1:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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1:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

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1:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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1:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

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1:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

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1:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

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1:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

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1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would ask that the vote be deferred to the expiry of the time provided for government orders on Wednesday, September 27.

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1:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Accordingly, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, September 27, 2017, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

The House resumed from September 18 consideration of the motion that Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Customs Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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1:50 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, once again, we have a wonderful piece of legislation before the House of Commons. It is truly amazing in terms of the wonderful, positive measures that this government has been able to achieve in less than two years. I see my colleagues across the way enjoy that fact, and we continue to encourage opposition members to support good government initiatives, and this is yet one more example.

It was not that long ago that we were talking about pre-clearance issues and the benefits to Canada and the U.S., but in particular for Canada, on the whole issue. We learned quite a bit from that legislation in terms of how that enabled Canadians to get into the U.S. in a quicker fashion by being pre-cleared here in Canada so that, when they arrive in the U.S., they could walk off the plane into the communities to which they have flown, and the economic impact of having that.

I would reference the additional airports that were being incorporated under pre-clearance and how those communities in different regions of our country were economically going to benefit by that, not to mention Quebec and B.C. and the benefits in terms of the railway pre-clearance concept.

The legislation we are debating today is yet one more step, and this is a very aggressive, progressive government wanting to take advantage of what is really important to Canada's middle class and those who are aspiring to be a part of it, and that is growing the economy. I would suggest that is what the bill is about. It deals with the exportation of products. Though we hear concerns at times from members across the way regarding exportation of some products, this legislation deals with that.

I would like to go into some of the specifics, but before I do that, I want to highlight what I believe are some of the initiatives that this government has taken on the important issue of trade. Even today we are in negotiations in regard to trade with the United States. We have a minister who is diligently, in a very robust way, ensuring that Canadians' best interests are at the table. We have industries, such as agriculture to aerospace and all the industries in between, that are being well represented by that current negotiating team. It goes without saying that Canada has some of the best, if not the best, trade negotiators in the world.

We have seen that in terms of some of the agreements we have been able to accomplish in the last couple of years. Yes, in some ways the previous government was able to initiate some trade agreements and we were able to continue the discussions. In some cases we actually saved the discussions, so that ultimately we would have a final trade agreement. I see that as a very strong positive, because it adds value to Canadians in terms of jobs and opportunities.

Canada's middle class is best served when we have a government that is in tune with the needs of our middle class. Today, through this legislation, we are seeing a number of initiatives, and I would like to share through the bill's summary what Bill C-21 would do:

This enactment amends the Customs Act to authorize the Canada Border Services Agency to collect, from prescribed persons and prescribed sources, personal information on all persons who are leaving or have left Canada. It also amends the Act to authorize an officer, as defined in that Act, to require that goods that are to be exported from Canada are to be reported despite any exemption under that Act. In addition, it amends the Act to provide officers with the power to examine any goods that are to be exported. Finally, it amends the Act to authorize the disclosure of information collected under the Customs Act to an official of the Department of Employment and Social Development for the purposes of administering or enforcing the Old Age Security Act.

There are significant benefits from this legislation. I will list but a few of them. We would improve the ability of law enforcement to respond, for example, to things like an Amber Alert and to the outbound movement of known high-risk travellers, child sex offenders, human traffickers, and fugitives from justice, all of which I believe are important for us to recognize. It would help to prevent radicalized individuals from travelling overseas to participate in terrorist activities, and it would help to prevent the illegal export of controlled, regulated, and prohibited goods from Canada. It would also allow for the verifying of travel dates to determine applicable duty and tax exemptions, rather than relying strictly on self-declaration.

In addition, it would continue to identify individuals who do not leave Canada at the end of their authorized period of stay. That has always been a very strong personal issue for me because I would travel, especially while I was an MLA and even in my first couple of years as a member of Parliament. People go to places like the Punjab or India or the Philippines and one of the issues when they talk to immigration officials, in trying to serve the constituents whom we represent, is that the officials will say that there is a certain process that needs to be followed for visas to be issued.

One of the issues that consistently has come up over the years is whether a person will in fact return to their own country if that person is issued a temporary visa.

Far too often, we get family members who want to be able to come to Canada to participate in special celebrations like weddings, graduations, and, sadly, funerals of family members, and they are rejected. I would suggest that the primary reason they would be rejected is that the officials have a question mark as to whether those people would return to their homeland. Time and again and still to this very day, I consistently argue that we need, as much as possible, to give the benefit of the doubt to those family members so they are able to be with their families in Canada during those celebrations and otherwise. The officials often could not quantify it; they could not say that we have x number of people not leaving the country. This piece of legislation would help deal with that.

I see my time is quickly running out, so I will continue after question period.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The hon. parliamentary secretary will have 12 minutes remaining in his time for speaking when the House resumes debate on this question following question period.

The hon. member for Repentigny.

Cable Public Affairs ChannelStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Pauzé Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, there is a place in Ottawa where the Bloc Québécois is recognized for what it is, which is a political party that is there for Quebec. There is a place in Ottawa where the Liberals answer the questions asked of them. There is a place in Ottawa where MPs debate issues that affect Canadians and where the government has to set aside its canned responses and come out of hiding. That place is CPAC.

That is where we speak frankly, where we debate, where we all have our place. For the past 25 years, CPAC has been a key forum that makes us go beyond party lines and refine our arguments. Half an hour of debate every day among MPs forces us to fine-tune our arguments and excel. It makes us better politicians.

For 25 years, the Cable Public Affairs Channel has played its educational and democratic role with talent and enthusiasm.

Hats off to all its creators. Long live CPAC.

Summer in Mississauga—StreetsvilleStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Gagan Sikand Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, it was a busy and productive summer back in Mississauga—Streetsville. Some of the highlights included: celebrating Canada 150 in Streetsville Square; throwing the first pitch at a Mississauga Tigers baseball game; and spending afternoons with the local youth at The Dam in Meadowvale. I also conducted a round table with numerous pharmaceutical companies, hosted by Roche.

Another enjoyable part of the summer was visiting numerous employers through the Canada summer job program, which had hired over 300 students, teaching them the valuable life experiences that would help them in the future. Most important, I had the pleasure of meeting with countless constituents, whether in my office, coffee shops, at local fairs, or at events.

I am happy to be back in the House to continue to voice their concerns and advocate on their behalf.

TaxationStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Mr. Speaker, small business owners are the backbone of the Canadian economy. They create jobs and countless opportunities in communities all across the country. Nowhere is that more true than in Banff—Airdrie, the riding I have the privilege of representing.

The Prime Minister keeps trying to claim that these small business owners are somehow wealthy tax cheats. He could not be further from the truth. We are not talking about the Prime Minister's millionaire friends; we are talking about hard-working middle-class Canadians. It is the coffee shop down the street, the person who cuts our hair, and the mechanic who fixes our cars. These are the people the Liberal government is trying to tax right out of business.

There is nothing fair about a massive tax grab on the job creators in our communities. These are the people who support our local sports teams and sponsor our local charities. Every time the Prime Minister stands and calls them wealthy tax cheats, he is insulting millions of Canadians who contribute so much to our country.

This is a crippling tax increase on the very people the Liberals claim they are trying to help, middle-class Canadians.

U-18 Baseball World CupStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Don Rusnak Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, this past month, Thunder Bay was honoured to host the 2017 under 18 Baseball World Cup. Over 10 days, our city saw 50 baseball games played by teams from Canada, United States, Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, Japan, Korea, Chinese Taipei, Italy, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Australia.

Along with having the opportunity to watch the best young baseball players in the world in action, Thunder Bay also saw some incredible displays of sportsmanship and hospitality off the field. Moments before team Cuba headed to Port Arthur Stadium for its game against Team Canada, players were gifted some baseball cleats by employees of Canadian National Railway, the CN Police Service, and the Canadian Pacific Police Association. Moments like these make our whole city extremely proud.

I want to take this chance to thank organizers, volunteers, and athletes for their amazing work. They put on an extraordinary event.

It was an honour to host these incredible young athletes, and an incredible opportunity to showcase Thunder Bay and our region to the world.

Quebec CultureStatements By Members

2 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have had the opportunity to develop my first passion, the music industry, for 25 years. I have always believed that society's great projects are born of culture. It was because our cultural industry had never been in so much trouble, weakened by the digital revolutions and abandoned by our governments, that I decided to put my money where my mouth was and go into politics.

This week, I am resolutely awaiting the Minister of Heritage's speech about the future of our cultural industries. Like everyone else, I have a lot of expectations, and I am worried.

I am worried that, in the new policy, I may not find the measures that are key to ensuring the continuity, the equity and the support so sorely needed by our industries and by our image as a people on screens both at home and abroad.

I am worried that the reform may not be as solid, not as structuring, for Quebec culture as were Pierre Juneau's quotas or Camille Laurin's Bill 101.

I am worried, unfortunately, that the federal government may once again impose a one-size-fits-all Canadian solution on Quebec, where we have our very own cultural ecosystem, a success that is the envy of the whole world.

I will be listening to the minister's speech on Thursday. Although I still allow myself a little hope, I must confess that I am really worried for Quebec culture.

DiabetesStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Sonia Sidhu Liberal Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, after a very busy and productive summer in my riding of Brampton South, I am happy to rise today.

This summer I joined my Brampton colleagues for a community celebration in July. I enjoyed seeing the diversity of my community through Carabram, and we marked Canada's 150th anniversary together.

As chair of the all-party diabetes caucus, I visited Canadians across the country to discuss our healthy eating strategy and looked at ways to reduce the impact of diabetes, which affects 11 million Canadians.

I am happy to be back in Ottawa to get back to work on the priorities I heard during those consultations. I want to thank the hard-working health care advocates across the country who met with me and who are our allies. We are moving forward to defeat diabetes.

TaxationStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Stephanie Kusie Conservative Calgary Midnapore, AB

Mr. Speaker, over the past month, I have hosted two town halls with business people from my riding of Calgary Midnapore. Because they were so concerned about the impacts of this attack on small business, they took time away from their family and companies to share with me the shock they felt that they were being punished for creating new businesses, employing Canadians, and contributing to the economy.

Mr. Dunlaw has farmed all his life. These changes will mean it is cheaper for him to sell his family farm than to pass it down to his kids. This is just sad.

Dr. Julie Schell is a local veterinarian. Under this unfair tax policy, she would have to lay off employees, cancel new hires, and forget any plans to upgrade her equipment.

These people are not the 1%; they are hard-working middle-class families trying to make a living, which is becoming increasingly difficult under the Liberal government.

I urge the Prime Minister to stop treating small business owners, the backbone of our country's economy, with such disrespect.

AutismStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, autism affects one in 68 children. It restricts brain growth and social development. In my province of British Columbia, it impacts an estimated 56,000 people.

The good news is that in B.C. there is a place for families to go so they do not feel alone in their struggle. I am excited to tell the House about the work of the Pacific Autism Family Network and its newest autism hub in Richmond.

This provincial centre of excellence unites research, treatment and support for those affected by autism. Through spoke centres, it connects families, organizations and researchers in communities across the province.

I commend the founder, Wendy Lisogar-Cocchia, for her vision and commitment to this cause, and the members of the Pacific Autism Family Network team for their dedication in improving the lives of families with autism.

Terry Fox DayStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be back on Parliament Hill after a busy summer in Vimy, the riding I represent. I am sure that we have all worked hard in our ridings, especially my colleagues out west who are affected by the forest fires.

Last week in Vimy, I had the honour of joining many Canadians for Terry Fox Day, when every year we raise money in support of cancer research. The loss of our friend and colleague Arnold Chan reminds us that everyone is affected by this disease in one way or another. I would like to thank all those who participated in this day's activities across Canada and around the world, and who give hope to all those affected.

I thank all the runners, the volunteers, those who donate, and the Terry Fox Foundation for continuing to work to achieve Terry's vision: a world without cancer.

TaxationStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, last week I stopped at the local gas station to fill up. Chad is one of the local owners and provides with me with updates on the community. However, last week was a bit different. He shared with me his thoughts on the proposed Liberal tax changes that would impact his family.

Chad is the youngest son of Sam and Camilla. Sam and Camilla have owned the local store and station for over 30 years. The store and station is their retirement. Sam is now ill. Sam and Camilla have assisted their children in post-secondary education through their hard work. Instead of letting them live their retirement in dignity after working 60 to 70 hours a week for decades, the government is throwing a wrench in their retirement. All of the financial risks they carried personally during their years of supporting their family through highs and lows no longer matter.

I urge the government to start thinking about the small business owners in Elgin—Middlesex—London. They are not the 1%; they are farmers, renovators, homebuilders, restaurateurs, and retailers. I ask the Liberals to start listening, please.

Lassonde IndustriesStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Pierre Breton Liberal Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have good news. I would like to recognize the 100th anniversary of an extraordinary contributor, Lassonde Industries, in Rougemont, in my riding of Shefford.

The company, which was founded in 1918 by Aristide Lassonde, is proud to begin its 100th anniversary celebrations. It is a jewel in our industrial landscape, one that the entire population and all workers are very proud of.

Through acquisitions and agreements with major brands, like Sunkist and Sun-Maid, the company is now recognized for its products, including Oasis and Rougemont. It has grown into one of the largest fruit juice manufacturers in North America, with 2,100 employees and sales of over $1 billion a year.

Lassonde Industries makes an important link between agriculture, processing, and innovation. This company is a model of growth and success. I extend my best wishes for their celebrations.

Au Diable VertStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Paradis Liberal Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to extend my warmest congratulations to Jeremy Fontana, Julie Zeitlinger, and the whole team at Au Diable Vert in Glen Sutton for winning the prestigious title of Canada's Leading Wilderness Resort 2017 at this year's World Travel Awards.

Au Diable Vert offers everything from treehouse cabins and hiking trails winding through green mountains to treetop cycles and canoeing down the Missisquoi River. In short, it is a magical spot where this innovative team has created novel outdoor activities that everyone can enjoy.

Congratulations to Jeremy and Julie for their vision and dedication. It is thanks to entrepreneurs like them that our region has such a wealth of recreation and tourism opportunities to offer. It also happens to be the grape harvesting season. Brome—Missisquoi welcomes you!

Human RightsStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, when speaking at the United Nations General Assembly last week, the Prime Minister had an opportunity to lay out a plan for Canada's leadership on the global stage.

He could have asked the UN to appoint a humanitarian coordinator for the Venezuelan situation to address the inability of NGOs to deliver aid there. He could have challenged the world to support the Yazidis and announced when he would fulfill his promise to bring 1,200 Yazidis to Canada. He could have called upon the world to encourage Myanmar to give citizenship to the Rohingya people and allow aid organizations and journalists into Rakhine state. He could have supported the Secretary-General and his calls for reforming the UN and calls for a reallocation of the UN's budget to its human rights protection activities, which presently only receive 2% of the total budget. He could have called for the UNHCR to reform its operations to better protect genocide survivors, internally displaced persons, and persons facing immediate persecution. He could have done these things and more, but he did not.

On the global stage, Canadians need someone who believes in doing more than speaking pretty, hollow words. Canada and the world deserve better.

Women in the House ProgramStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Liberal

Terry Duguid Liberal Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and recognize the 100 amazing young women leaders on Parliament Hill today, who are shadowing MPs as part of the University of Toronto's women in the House program.

This program was co-founded in 2013 by Tina Park and our very own Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations. Its aim is to promote greater representation of women in Canadian politics.

Equality in decision-making is essential to the empowerment of women. When women participate fully in the public life of our country, we all benefit from the diversity of perspectives, talent, and experience they contribute.

To this end, since 2016, $13.5 million in Status of Women Canada funding has been approved to strengthen the participation of women in democratic life.

Finally, I would like to give a special welcome to Lydia and Heather, who are shadowing me today. I welcome them to Parliament.

Robert CarrickStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

NDP

Tracey Ramsey NDP Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, today I rise to honour Constable Robert Carrick, a police officer from the town of LaSalle in my riding.

Constable Carrick lost his life while responding to a domestic violence call on August 23, 1969. He was 22 years old and had been an officer in the Sandwich West Police Force for only three years. He was the first to arrive at the violent scene where, despite the dangerous situation, he was able to safely get the wife, child, and babysitter out of harm's way before the husband opened fire and shot Carrick five times.

Constable Carrick loved being a police officer, and he had a great love for helping people. His family described him as a generous person who would buy extra groceries or shoes, leaving them on the doorsteps of people who needed an extra helping hand.

I want to also recognize the work of LaSalle town councillor Mike Akpata, who tabled a motion in council, and LaSalle police deputy chief, Chuck Scanlan, who was very active on this issue. Their work led to Constable Carrick's memory being properly celebrated on August 20 this year, when our community gathered to honour the service of this hometown hero with the dedication of the Robert C. Carrick Memorial Tunnel.

I hope everyone in the House will join me in expressing our thanks to all police officers, first responders, and front-line workers who have lost their lives on the job in our community.

World Alzheimer's MonthStatements By Members

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Milton, ON

Mr. Speaker, today I rise in the House to recognize that September is World Alzheimer's Month, while September 21 was the day we reminded ourselves about Alzheimer's.

There are an estimated 564,000 Canadians living with dementia, and about 25,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. In 2016, we were one of those cases.

I want the House to know something. I want this House to know that in the past 16 months, I have learned a lot. I have learned that it is incredibly frustrating that there is no treatment or cure for Alzheimer's. I have learned that one needs to be prepared to have everything take a lot longer: a lot longer to get out the door, a lot longer to discuss issues, and a lot longer to talk about directions going to the grocery store. However, most important, I want the House to know that living with dementia can be okay. We have a good life. We focus on things Bruce can do, not on the things we can no longer do. We keep our health well. We sleep. We eat well. Bruce exercises, and we socialize together. These are the things that actually matter.

I want the House of Commons to know that life can be okay with dementia and Alzheimer's, and I will continue to update the House as we continue our journey.

Cypertip.caStatements By Members

2:15 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax, ON

Mr. Speaker, this month marks the 15th anniversary of Cybertip.ca, a tip line for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children.

Continuing our work with this organization is absolutely essential to our efforts to protect children. This group has been a vital partner in our strategy for the protection of children from sexual exploitation on the Internet since 2004, when Anne McLellan was the minister.

In the last 15 years it has received 266,000 tips, 40,000 in the last year alone. Every tip represents a child's victimization but also a step toward the rescue of that child and the apprehension of the predator.

We are so lucky and grateful to have this program. We are so grateful for the work it does. We only wish it was not necessary.

TaxationOral Questions

2:15 p.m.

Regina—Qu'Appelle Saskatchewan

Conservative

Andrew Scheer ConservativeLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, Canadians are telling us how concerned they are about the tax increases the Prime Minister wants to impose on local businesses. This affects our farmers and our small business owners, as well as all their employees. Our public meetings across the country have been attracting hundreds of people who are wondering how these tax hikes will affect their jobs and retirement plans.

Will the Prime Minister listen to what Canadians are saying and finally stop raising taxes on local businesses?

TaxationOral Questions

2:15 p.m.

Papineau Québec

Liberal

Justin Trudeau LiberalPrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, we have heard the concerns of Canadians across the country and I can reassure them. We are not going to hurt small businesses or the middle class. We are committed to helping the middle class. That is why we lowered taxes on the middle class and raised them on the wealthiest 1%.

We are always going to help small businesses with innovation and by providing them with the support they need to succeed. We know that the economy depends on them. That is why we will always stand by small and medium-sized businesses.

TaxationOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Regina—Qu'Appelle Saskatchewan

Conservative

Andrew Scheer ConservativeLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, small-business owners use legitimate tools like passive investments to save for things like the future growth and expansion of their operations. They also use it as a rainy day fund to get them through when times are tough. Now the Liberals want to tax these savings at a rate of up to 73%.

When it comes to these increased taxes on passive investments, in the long run, can the Prime Minister tell us exactly how much more revenue the government will collect?

TaxationOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Papineau Québec

Liberal

Justin Trudeau LiberalPrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, we have a system we inherited from the Conservatives that allows wealthy Canadians to use private corporations as a way of paying lower tax rates than middle-class Canadians. We do not think that is fair.

When it comes to passive investments, it is actually interesting that the top 2% of private corporations hold 80% of all the passive income in this country. Those are wealthy Canadians we want to make sure pay their fair share of taxes. That is what all Canadians want. That is what we are delivering on.

TaxationOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Regina—Qu'Appelle Saskatchewan

Conservative

Andrew Scheer ConservativeLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, that seems to be a no. He cannot tell us exactly how much the government will collect. What we do know is that when they raised taxes even on the 1%, they ended up collecting less revenue. Department officials show that. What we are learning is that the Liberal government is so incompetent that it cannot even raise taxes properly.

A new report confirms that 81% of middle-class families are paying more in taxes under the Liberals, but he admits that his new changes will not touch his own family fortune.

Why does it always seem that the Prime Minister's plans are designed to hurt everybody but himself?

TaxationOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Papineau Québec

Liberal

Justin Trudeau LiberalPrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, interestingly, that new report completely overlooked the Canada child benefit. We are giving nine out of 10 Canadian families more money every single month for the high cost of raising their kids. The way we are doing that is by not sending it to wealthy families, like the Leader of the Opposition's or mine. We are giving it to the families who need the help. The way we are doing that is actually having an impact on Canadians right across the country, as we are reducing child poverty by 40% in this country. That is what this government sees as important. That is what this government is going to continue to do.

TaxationOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Regina—Qu'Appelle Saskatchewan

Conservative

Andrew Scheer ConservativeLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, he does not seem to need the child tax benefit, but he sure does not mind taking taxpayers' money for government-funded nannies.

With these increased tax hikes, the average family is now paying close to $1,000 more every year in taxes. That is money that should be going to pay for things like bus passes, hockey practices, and swimming lessons, not new taxes.

The Prime Minister is always out there looking for more, because he has a spending problem. The first step is always to admit that one has a problem. Will the Prime Minister admit that he has a problem and abandon these unfair tax hikes?

TaxationOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Papineau Québec

Liberal

Justin Trudeau LiberalPrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, the very first thing we did in government was lower taxes for the middle class and raise them for the wealthiest 1%, which that party voted against. The next thing we did was bring in the Canada child benefit, which gives more money to nine out of 10 Canadian families for the high cost of raising their kids, but it is only nine out of 10 Canadian families, because the wealthiest families no longer receive Canada child benefits, unlike what the Conservative government previously did.

We know the best way to help this country grow is to help those who need it, not those who do not.

TaxationOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Regina—Qu'Appelle Saskatchewan

Conservative

Andrew Scheer ConservativeLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, it is just his wealthy family that gets support from taxpayers for looking after his kids.

The Prime Minister's tax increases are going to hurt middle-class Canadians who are trying to run their businesses. Their staff are worried about being faced with reduced hours and an increased chance of layoffs. He either does not care or he is completely oblivious of the impact of his policies, except that he is quite sure that these new rules will not affect his own family fortune.

Why will the Prime Minister not give the same protection to middle-class Canadians that his family trust enjoys?

TaxationOral Questions

2:20 p.m.

Papineau Québec

Liberal

Justin Trudeau LiberalPrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, we need a system that is fair for everyone. The current system encourages wealthy families to actually use private corporations to pay a lower tax rate than middle-class Canadians. That is not fair. Canadians elected us to fix it, and that is exactly what we are going to do. We are doing it because it is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.

From lowering taxes on the middle class and raising them on the wealthiest 1%, to delivering the Canada child benefit, we have created opportunity and economic growth for the middle class across this country, after 10 years of failure—

TaxationOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

Order. The hon. member for Outremont.

National DefenceOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the government issued new directives on torture. Those directives still allow the use of information obtained through torture. To the NDP, there is no context in which torturing a human being is defensible.

How can this Prime Minister, who brags about being a great defender of human rights, approve the use of the fruits of torture?

National DefenceOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Papineau Québec

Liberal

Justin Trudeau LiberalPrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, torture is prohibited under the Criminal Code, by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by the international community, and by our Canadian values.

The new directives we brought forward reinforce the prohibition on torture and clarify the fact that we do not accept it. That is what Canadians expect. We will always do what it takes to protect the rights and values of Canadians, while keeping them safe.

National DefenceOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, he says that torture is poison, but he is not shy about using the fruits of that poisonous tree.

Earlier this year, in this place, the Minister of Public Safety stated that torture was contrary to the charter. He also said, “torture is found to be abhorrent by Canadians, and we reject it.”

They cannot claim to stand up for human rights on the one hand and be complicit in torture on the other. How can the Prime Minister stand in this place and defend the use of information obtained by torture?

National DefenceOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Papineau Québec

Liberal

Justin Trudeau LiberalPrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, on the contrary, torture is prohibited by the Criminal Code. It is against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is condemned by the international community, and it is abhorrent to Canadian values.

That is why the strengthened ministerial directives we put forward actually reinforce the prohibitions against torture and reassure Canadians that we will do everything we can to keep them safe while upholding our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our values.

EthicsOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, he is not prohibiting the use of the fruits of torture. That is what is wrong here.

What do the Commissioner of Lobbying, the Commissioner of Official Languages, and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner have in common? All three investigated the Prime Minister and all three are looking for a new job.

The government has spent more than $2 million looking for a new commissioner. All we got was the botched nomination of a partisan Liberal. That cost $2 million.

What is really going on? Could it be that the Liberals want lapdogs instead of watchdogs?

EthicsOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Papineau Québec

Liberal

Justin Trudeau LiberalPrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, since we have been in government, we have put in place a new appointment process that has resulted in a number of appointments within our government that much better reflect Canada's diversity: a record number of women, indigenous peoples, and people from visible minorities.

We established a better way to select people based on merit. We will continue to choose people who reflect Canada's great diversity and strengths.

EthicsOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, it has been almost 10 months since the Ethics Commissioner launched an investigation into the Prime Minister's private billionaire island vacation. It is coming up on a year since the Lobbying Commissioner began looking into Liberal fundraisers hosted by the head of pharmaceutical giant Apotex. By the way, we just learned that Apotex is suing the Lobbying Commissioner to stop that investigation. It is hard to keep track of all these scandals.

My question for the Prime Minister is, what the heck happened? What happened to his promise of respect for Parliament and empowering the independent officers? People say that power corrupts, but boy, this was awfully fast.

EthicsOral Questions

2:25 p.m.

Papineau Québec

Liberal

Justin Trudeau LiberalPrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, Canadians expect a government that is open and transparent, that co-operates with all investigations, that encourages a level of public disclosure never before seen. As a party and as a government, we have consistently raised the bar on openness and transparency, including when it comes to fundraising, and I encourage the members opposite to follow the new rules on fundraising to prevent them from fundraising in secret, behind closed doors, and refusing to let journalists see just who they are raising money from.

TaxationOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Conservative

Alain Rayes Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, many businesses are worried about the NAFTA negotiations, but here at home, our own Liberal government is going after our small local businesses, our farmers, our electricians, our entrepreneurs, and our restaurateurs by taxing them more heavily, which will cause job losses across Canada.

Will the Prime Minister finally give our middle-class workers a break? Will he stop picking their pockets to cover the massive deficit he himself ran up?

TaxationOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Toronto Centre Ontario

Liberal

Bill Morneau LiberalMinister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, our current tax system encourages the very wealthy to set up private companies so they can enjoy lower tax rates than the middle class. It is not a good system.

We will look at ways to improve our system. We are also doing things to improve the economy. It is important to have an economy that works for small and medium-sized businesses. Fortunately, that is the kind of economy we have. We have a very high growth rate and lots of new jobs, which is very important for small businesses.

TaxationOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Conservative

Alain Rayes Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance can keep on repeating his talking points as much as he wants. There is one fact that he will never be able to deny: our job creators, the SMEs, farmers, and local businesses that create 90% of our jobs by working hard every day are going to be hit hard by this unfair tax reform.

Will the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance stop lecturing us every question period and stop this direct attack on our entrepreneurs, our job creators, the people who create jobs across Canada?

TaxationOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Toronto Centre Ontario

Liberal

Bill Morneau LiberalMinister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, that is not at all the case.

We are looking for a way to improve our tax system. We are going to find a way to have a system that encourages people to invest in their businesses. That is very important. We need a fair tax system. A tax system that encourages the wealthiest Canadians to set up private corporations that are taxed less than the middle class is not a fair system.

We want a system that is fair and allows people to invest in their active businesses.

TaxationOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Milton, ON

Mr. Speaker, this past Saturday I was at the Halifax West High School, where over 400 residents crammed into the cafeteria to talk about these tax changes. I listened to their stories and shared their concerns, and yet I was the only member of Parliament in attendance. That is right: not a single one of the 32 Atlantic members of Parliament were there to listen or to defend their government's policies.

If their own members are not willing to defend this policy, when is the minister going to drop these changes?

TaxationOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Toronto Centre Ontario

Liberal

Bill Morneau LiberalMinister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, we know that citizens in Atlantic Canada and across the country want a tax system that is fair. They want to make sure that the system does not encourage the richest to incorporate so they can have a lower tax rate than the middle class.

We are out listening to people. I too was in Nova Scotia listening to small business owners and professionals and I too was in New Brunswick listening to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and we are going to continue listening to them. We know that what we are focused on are measures that are helping the very wealthiest. We know that 80% of assets and past investments are in 2% of small companies. What we are doing is making sure our system is fair.

TaxationOral Questions

2:30 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Conservative Milton, ON

He may have gone to Atlantic Canada, Mr. Speaker, but he absolutely did not hear from constituents. Let me give an example.

On the same day that he decided he was not going to go to this incredibly large gathering of 400 people, he did have a private closed-door little session 15 kilometres down the road. Here is the thing about it: when the public tried to get in, what did they do? They locked the doors.

I want to know. Even if he cannot defend these changes to the general public, I am wondering if he will stop locking people out and start listening.

TaxationOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Toronto Centre Ontario

Liberal

Bill Morneau LiberalMinister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, as the members opposite focus on how they can help the wealthiest to maintain tax breaks not available to other middle-class Canadians, what we are trying to do is ensure that our system works for the long term, so I will continue to be out listening to Canadians. That is very important.

We know that as we move forward, Canadians want to make sure that we get this right. They want to ensure that we continue to have investments in our small businesses and the incentives to do so. We will do that, but at the same time, we will make sure the system works for all Canadians.

TaxationOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister and the finance minister are not only helping the wealthy, they are doing it by helping themselves.

The Prime Minister said his family fortune will be sheltered from these changes. The finance minister has structured the changes so that they will not apply to any company that trades on the stock market, like his billion-dollar family business, so while ma and pa in the corner store will pay higher taxes, his billionaire company will not. Why will the bill on Main Street be so much higher than for Bill on Bay Street?

TaxationOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Toronto Centre Ontario

Liberal

Bill Morneau LiberalMinister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, this sort of scaremongering is what is going on across our country.

The fact of the matter is that we will make sure small business tax rates stay low. We will make sure that small businesses can continue to invest in their business. That is our ongoing commitment. However, we are making sure that the system does not advantage the wealthiest in our society over the middle class. This is important.

We on this side of the House can actually do two things at the same time: help small businesses to invest and keep tax rates low. That is what we are going to do.

TaxationOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, they are doing two things at the same time: protecting the finance minister's family fortune and the Prime Minister's family fortune. If it is just scaremongering, if it is not true that their fortunes are sheltered, can the minister give me one example of a change in these proposals that will raise taxes on the Prime Minister's fortune or on the finance minister's fortune?

TaxationOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Toronto Centre Ontario

Liberal

Bill Morneau LiberalMinister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, we know, having taken a look at our tax code, that—

TaxationOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

TaxationOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

Most members in all parties are able to sit through question period and not react when someone else is speaking and are able to wait until the microphone is on in front of them and it is their turn to speak before doing so. I would ask the rest to show a little respect for opposing views. Whether they like what they are saying or not, we have to listen to them in a democracy.

The hon. member for Sherbrooke.

Canada Revenue AgencyOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, everyone remembers the fraudulent scheme orchestrated by Swiss Bank UBS to help wealthy individuals, including Canadians, avoid paying their taxes.

Believe it or not, 10 years later, the Minister of National Revenue is still refusing to meet with one of the main whistleblowers in this case. It is completely ridiculous. A former bank employee wants to share information about instances of tax evasion and the minister is simply refusing to listen to what he has to say. Let us be serious here.

Can the minister explain why she is still refusing to listen to what this whistleblower has to say, even though he made it possible for the U.S. to recover hundreds of millions of dollars?

Canada Revenue AgencyOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

Gaspésie—Les-Îles-de-la-Madeleine Québec

Liberal

Diane Lebouthillier LiberalMinister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, our government is fully committed to combatting tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance.

In our last two budgets, we invested nearly $1 billion to crack down on tax cheats. Our plan is working. Last year, we announced that we would recover $13 billion. What is more, 335 cases were transferred for criminal investigation, and $10 million in fines were imposed, as were $44 million in third-party penalties. We have a tax informant program in place if anyone anywhere in the world has any information they want to give us.

TaxationOral Questions

2:35 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, she could also just set up a meeting with him.

It is funny how a Liberal's memory sounds like Dory's in the movie Finding Nemo.

A small business tax reduction: never heard about that. However, the Liberals promised to tackle big loopholes for CEOs that cost us hundreds of millions of dollars. Not anymore. In fact, the finance minister said on the radio, “That issue is not something that we've backed away from. It's just not something we've moved forward on.”

Come on. Why are the Liberals targeting the little guys and protecting their wealthy friends on Bay Street?

TaxationOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Toronto Centre Ontario

Liberal

Bill Morneau LiberalMinister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to take that question. We took a look at our tax code. We took a look at where significant advantages were going to wealthy Canadians and how, just by incorporating, they are able to reduce their tax rate so it is lower than the tax rate for people in the middle class. We know that is not fair. We also know that it is not something that will allow people to make investments in the ongoing success of our economy. Therefore, we are focused on how we can make the system fairer, how we can encourage small businesses and all businesses to invest. We are going to move forward with these measures after listening to Canadians about how to do them properly. That is really important. We will end up with a tax system that is more fair.

Agriculture and AgrifoodOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a number of questions regarding the new Liberal tax and yet I keep hearing the same broken record. The Liberals are insulting farmers with their inane one-liner. The farmers, their families, and the people in my riding who purchase our high-quality local products at reasonable prices are worried. The Minister of Agriculture is creating doubt in their minds, instead of encouraging them to cultivate prosperity in Canada.

When will the minister stop being the Prime Minister's yes man and start acting responsibly to defend farmers?

Agriculture and AgrifoodOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Cardigan P.E.I.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay LiberalMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, we want to create a tax system that is fair for Canadians. We are listening to farmers and encouraging them to share their ideas as to how to create a fairer tax system.

Being a farmer, I truly understand saving money for a rainy day. I know that my colleague would not want to mislead farmers. The fact is that the money that is saved in the corporation is there, fully available for the farmers to use for buying equipment, buying land, growing their company, and making sure that the farm succeeds. What we are going to do is create more business, not less business.

Agriculture and AgrifoodOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Mr. Speaker, I find the agriculture minister's answer very interesting. He said that money invested in a corporation is there for a corporation, but clearly he does not understand his own tax changes. The finance minister is taking the ability away from farmers to save for their retirement, invest in their own operations, or put money away for a rainy day in a down year.

Canadian farmers understand the implications that these changes will have. The changes will devastate rural communities and wipe out the family farm. Will the agriculture minister stand with farmers? Will he stand up against the finance minister and beg him to back down from these tax changes?

Agriculture and AgrifoodOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Cardigan P.E.I.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay LiberalMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated, this government would create a fairer tax system. I am sure my hon. colleague would never want to mislead farmers. The fact of the matter is that the money that is invested in the corporation is fully available, if my hon. colleague wishes to listen.

The money is fully there and available for the farmers to build buildings, buy property, and increase their business. In fact, what this government wants to do is make sure there is more investment and more business expansion, and with these tax changes, there will be more business expansion.

Agriculture and AgrifoodOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, now I understand.

What is the difference between the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Finance?

There is none.

Both ministers regard farmers as cash cows to pay down the Liberal deficit. Some 43,000 farming households in Canada are desperately asking the two ministers to extend the consultation period, but they refuse to listen to them.

Farmers do not benefit from the advice of Morneau Shepell and they do not have time to attend cash-for-access events to speak with the Prime Minister.

If the Minister of Agriculture does not have enough influence to change things, who else will stand up for family farms?

Agriculture and AgrifoodOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Toronto Centre Ontario

Liberal

Bill Morneau LiberalMinister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, it is important to have a tax system that is fair.

We know that that is not currently the case. Now the wealthy can simply incorporate and pay a lower tax rate than middle-class Canadians. That is not fair.

I know that farmers can continue to invest in their farms. That is very important. We are going to keep listening in order to make sure that farmers can continue their operations, which are so important to our country.

TaxationOral Questions

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Hope, BC

Mr. Speaker, for generations, family farms have been the heart and soul of my community. Farming families work side by side and share in the risks and rewards of making their farms a success. That way of life is now threatened by the Liberal proposal to introduce crippling new taxes that could make transferring the family farm to the next generation next to impossible.

Why are the Liberals threatening to kill family farms with their tax changes, while the multi-millionaire owners of Bay Street businesses like Morneau Shepell will not pay an extra cent?

TaxationOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Cardigan P.E.I.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay LiberalMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I have indicated many times in the House that what we want to do is create a more fair tax system. These transactions are very complex and have been very complex for many years. We want to hear the views of farmers as to how we handle these transactions and make sure that we are able to help farmers move their family farm from one generation to the other. What we want to do is to hear from the farmers.

Canadian HeritageOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, this evening, the Minister of Foreign Affairs will be hosting a dinner as part of the NAFTA renegotiations at the National Arts Centre. By choosing that location, the minister is stressing the importance of keeping cultural protections in the agreement. Bravo!

However, I sincerely hope that this gesture is not just another symbolic one because the signatories to the nationwide declaration on culture are concerned. They all recall that when the Minister of Heritage went to Silicon Valley to explain our policies on cultural diversity, she hit a wall.

Can the Minister of Foreign Affairs assure our creators that she will not bargain away cultural exemption?

Canadian HeritageOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Ahuntsic-Cartierville Québec

Liberal

Mélanie Joly LiberalMinister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, protecting the cultural exemption is a priority for our government.

We recognize how important the contribution of arts and culture is to our economy and our society. NAFTA's record is marked by economic growth and job creation for the middle class. We will continue to work on the national and international levels to preserve cultural diversity in the digital era.

International TradeOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

NDP

Tracey Ramsey NDP Essex, ON

Mr. Speaker, while we remain hopeful that our NAFTA partners will see the importance of treating workers fairly, the NDP and workers are concerned. The side agreements on labour standards are weak and unenforceable and despite the minister's talking points, Canadian officials told the media yesterday that there was little chance of progress. We cannot continue to allow quality Canadian jobs to be exported to Mexico and right-to-work states, where workers are paid as little $1 an hour.

Will the minister stand up for Canadian jobs and commit to making real progress on workers' safety, rights, and income fairness?

International TradeOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

University—Rosedale Ontario

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland LiberalMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, our government is absolutely committed to advancing the cause of workers' rights through NAFTA and the NAFTA negotiations. In fact, we are very proud in these negotiations to have put forward the most progressive, the strongest labour chapter that Canada has ever put forward in a negotiation. We are very aware that it is unfair to expect our workers to be part of a race to the bottom and to compete against workers with lower standards. That is what we are saying at the table.

Status of WomenOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the vice-chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women. As she will know, today the committee was unable to elect a chair. Could the vice-chair inform the House of the agenda of the committee going forward, considering this new development?

Status of WomenOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Status of WomenOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

Order, order. As members know, questions about the agenda of a committee are in order.

The hon. vice-chair of the committee.

Status of WomenOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the leader of the official opposition put forward the member for Lethbridge as the Conservative nominee for chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, someone who is not supportive of women's right to choose. We believe that a committee as important as ours needs to be chaired by an individual—

Status of WomenOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Status of WomenOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

Order. The vice-chair has the floor.

Status of WomenOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

We believe that a committee as important as ours needs to be chaired by an individual who will protect and advance women's rights. I hope the leader of the official opposition will reconsider and put forward someone who believes in those—

Status of WomenOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Status of WomenOral Questions

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

Order, order. Members are complaining about what the member is saying, but I cannot possibly hear with all the yelling. If members want the Speaker to listen for breaches of the rules, they are going to have to allow the Speaker to hear what is said.

The hon. member for Calgary Nose Hill.

Immigration, Refugees and CitizenshipOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals have admitted that a record 40,000 people will make asylum claims to Canada this year. Many of these claims will be made by people illegally crossing the U.S.-Canada border and many of them will be found to be invalid. News reports show that the cost of processing these claims alone, never mind the social assistance payments, is projected to be over half a billion dollars.

Will the Liberals close the loophole in the safe third country agreement, or is the government's new tax on small businesses going to pay for the cost of these false asylum claims?

Immigration, Refugees and CitizenshipOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

York South—Weston Ontario

Liberal

Ahmed Hussen LiberalMinister of Immigration

Mr. Speaker, the safe third country agreement is not about denying asylum. It is an agreement between the United States and Canada on the orderly processing of asylum claimants. We are proud of our robust system. Canada is a welcoming country and we value orderly migration while also ensuring the safety and security of Canadians.

The member opposite must know that the IRB is a quasi-independent judicial body that looks at all asylum claims and determines the merits of each and every case. If an individual has a need for protection, that individual gets to stay in Canada. If not, that individual is removed.

Immigration, Refugees and CitizenshipOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, first, the safe third country agreement acknowledges that we should not allow border shopping between the U.S. and Canada.

Second, the minister does not acknowledge the fact that the IRB is not processing claims in a timely manner, and this is going to cost Canadians billions of dollars and is preventing people like Yazidi genocide survivors from coming to Canada.

When the government is looking at 300,000 more people in the same situation in the United States, why is it not closing the loophole in the safe third country agreement?

Immigration, Refugees and CitizenshipOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

York South—Weston Ontario

Liberal

Ahmed Hussen LiberalMinister of Immigration

Mr. Speaker, the safe third country agreement works fantastically well for Canada. We use it to co-operate with the United States on the orderly management of asylum claims.

We recognize that the situation presented challenges but we demonstrated time and again that we were ready and nimble enough to manage the situation responsibly.

The member opposite must know that asylum claims fluctuate on a yearly basis and sometimes even on a monthly basis.

The fact of the matter is that our agencies were nimble enough. We were able to put full capacity within IRCC to process claims and move the—

Immigration, Refugees and CitizenshipOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

Immigration, Refugees and CitizenshipOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like the minister to explain to me why disturbing cases of asylum seekers turning up at our border in possession of child pornography made global headlines last month. Worse still, according to those reports, there are no guidelines for handling such cases. Canadians want assurances that criminals are not crossing our borders.

Will the Prime Minister tell the House when Canadians can expect to have national guidelines for handling this serious problem?

Immigration, Refugees and CitizenshipOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Regina—Wascana Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale LiberalMinister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, Canadians can be absolutely assured that in dealing with extraordinary circumstances at the border, all Canadian laws are enforced and all Canadian international obligations are respected. That has in fact been the case throughout the past seven or eight months of activity at the border.

When a specific case of criminal activity is discovered, it is referred to police authorities for the proper prosecution.

Immigration, Refugees and CitizenshipOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, Quebec saw a record number of illegal asylum seekers cross the border this year. The number of people entering Canada illegally grows by the day. As we heard today, the Liberals do not want to do anything about this problem.

Will the Liberals finally admit that the Prime Minister's tweet is the reason people are coming to Canada and that he created a crisis at the Canada-U.S. border?

Will they get to work on fixing the flaw in the safe third country agreement?

Immigration, Refugees and CitizenshipOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

York South—Weston Ontario

Liberal

Ahmed Hussen LiberalMinister of Immigration

Mr. Speaker, Canada will always be a welcoming country for those seeking protection from persecution, war, and terror. That is what the Prime Minister's tweet said.

We recognize that the situation presented certain challenges and our agencies, including the IRCC, the RCMP, and CBSA, were able to move nimbly and quickly enough to address the situation.

When that party was in government it did not respond to the largest humanitarian crisis at the time. It was mean enough to cut refugee health care. We will never take lessons on refugees from that party.

The EnvironmentOral Questions

2:50 p.m.

NDP

Sheila Malcolmson NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, oil spills and marine debris from thousands of abandoned vessels pollute our waterways and threaten local tourism and fishing jobs. After years of neglect, the Liberals will not commit the resources needed to deal with the backlog of abandoned vessels.

This week, the Union of BC Municipalities will vote on a resolution urging the Liberal government to adopt my legislation to solve the long-standing abandoned vessels problem.

When will the government finally listen to coastal communities? Will it support my legislation to clean up our coasts?

The EnvironmentOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount Québec

Liberal

Marc Garneau LiberalMinister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, we have been listening to Canadians. Our Prime Minister announced the oceans protection plan on November 7. We announced the abandoned boats program in May. The Minister of Fisheries and I were in Vancouver three weeks ago announcing another cleanup program. Last week, we tabled the Nairobi international convention on abandoned vessels.

I do not know why that person is not listening to all the initiatives that we are taking to clean up our coasts.

The EnvironmentOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, talk about who is not listening and not showing up. Last week the government announced on Twitter that it had signed on to the UN clean seas initiative, but today it is obvious that there is no funding and no plan to meet our obligations. Unfortunately, tweets and selfies will not clean our coastlines.

Volunteers in my riding of Courtenay—Alberni are now in their 10th month cleaning up the largest marine debris spill in decades on the west coast, yet there has been zero funding for this cleanup from the Liberal government, just delays, excuses, and rhetoric.

When will the government finally get to work and fund the cleanup of the Hanjin debris field?

The EnvironmentOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount Québec

Liberal

Marc Garneau LiberalMinister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, as part of the oceans protection plan, we made it very clear that we would be introducing legislation with respect to abandoned and wrecked vessels. I just outlined several things related to that. Also, part of the oceans protection plan is to hold the ships that have lost some of their cargo responsible for cleaning up the cargo themselves, which will be part of the oceans protection plan.

Indigenous AffairsOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, once again, we have the Liberals lining the pockets of Liberal insiders. The Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations has limited resources to support the welfare of first nations children, and so it is shocking to me and Canadians that she gave half a million dollars to a Liberal friend rather than investing in the well-being of children.

Why do the Liberals put the interests of the former Liberal candidate ahead of the interests of aboriginal children?

Indigenous AffairsOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Toronto—St. Paul's Ontario

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett LiberalMinister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Mr. Speaker, our government is committed to completely overhauling the child and family services in full partnership with first nation communities. The special representative met with 261 chiefs, experts, officials, advocates, individuals, and lived experience from coast to coast to coast to inform our commitment to first nations child welfare reform.

We look forward to receiving a report and recommendations on how we can transform the system to better support and reflect the needs of first nation children and put their well-being first.

Indigenous AffairsOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Conservative

Alex Nuttall Conservative Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte, ON

Mr. Speaker, Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux and the Liberals are out of touch with the indigenous Canadians they are supposed to be serving. When Cindy Blackstock, an advocate for indigenous youth, questioned the half-million-dollar payout for what she called a “public relations exercise”, Wesley-Esquimaux fired back saying, “If Cindy and her bunch would work together and stop attacking, we could get a lot more done.”

Can the minister tell the House if she agrees with the statements of this former Liberal candidate turned Liberal adviser?

Indigenous AffairsOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Toronto—St. Paul's Ontario

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett LiberalMinister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Mr. Speaker, we acknowledge the disproportionate number of indigenous children in the child welfare system. We believe that the transformation requires investments in children, families, and communities, not in lawyers, agencies, and non-indigenous foster families. The MSR was critical to understanding the needs of communities in order to overhaul the system and prevent children from entering the system at all.

Indigenous AffairsOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Mr. Speaker, the only priority of these Liberals is padding the pockets of their Liberal friends. When criticized, Esquimaux defended her lavish payout, saying that it was appropriate because she would have to pay too much in taxes.

If all this minister can do is attempt to justify paying a failed Liberal candidate half a million dollars for a few months' work, will the senior minister of that portfolio sitting beside her at least stand up in the House and condemn this outrageous payout?

Indigenous AffairsOral Questions

3 p.m.

Toronto—St. Paul's Ontario

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett LiberalMinister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Mr. Speaker, time and time again we have heard from first nation communities that the present system is not in the best interests of children. We need to listen to communities, and that is what the MSR did, because communities do not believe that the perverse incentives that agencies now have are in the best interests of their children.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, we know that CETA is a progressive trade agreement that provides significant advantages for both Canadians and Europeans and that it means that Canada has access to over 500 million EU customers and their GDP of $22 trillion. This is great news for Canada's hard-working farmers, ranchers, and growers.

Can the Minister of Agriculture highlight some of the successes that the implementation of CETA will mean for Canada's farmers and farm families?

Agriculture and Agri-FoodOral Questions

3 p.m.

Cardigan P.E.I.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay LiberalMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, it will certainly be a success for Canadian farmers and it will increase our exports by $1.5 billion. It could mean $600 million in the beef industry, $400 million in the pork industry, $100 million in the grain industry, and a further $300 million in processed foods, fruits, and vegetables. This historic agreement will grow our economy, put more money in the farmers' pockets, and help more people join the middle class.

JusticeOral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal government is very selective in its approach to the economics of justice. The Liberals spend millions fighting clearly losing battles in court against indigenous children and women, but the Liberals abandoned a principled defence of Omar Khadr's extravagant claim with a $10-million payoff they tried to keep secret. The public safety minister blithely claims that, by caving on Khadr, he saved taxpayers millions. That is an unacceptable answer while the government moves to tax Canadian small businesses literally to death. How is that fair?

JusticeOral Questions

3 p.m.

Regina—Wascana Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale LiberalMinister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, the issue in the Khadr case was precisely and specifically whether the behaviour of Canadian government officials had violated the rights of a Canadian citizen while that individual was in jail. On at least two previous occasions, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled with absolute clarity that the answer was yes, no matter how unpopular the individual in question might be. Rights are not determined by popularity polls or shock jocks on radio; they are determined by the rule of law and the Constitution. In the process, we saved taxpayers millions of dollars.

PensionsOral Questions

3 p.m.

NDP

Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, I launched the “end pension theft” campaign in Jonquière, along with steelworkers, machinists, and retirees from Sears, Rio Tinto Alcan and Abitibi-Consolidated. They were all pleased to see the NDP stand up for the pensions of the workers of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, because the Liberals made all sorts of promises in the election campaign and, once in power, they just cross their fingers.

Right now, the pensions of Sears employees and retirees are at risk. When will the government make the diversion of pensions illegal?

PensionsOral Questions

3 p.m.

LaSalle—Émard—Verdun Québec

Liberal

David Lametti LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation

Mr. Speaker, those cases are settled under bankruptcy legislation in Canada. We look for a balance between workers' rights, their pension plans, and ways for the company to maintain its activities and jobs. We monitor those situations carefully. We look for balance.

Royal Canadian Mounted PoliceOral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

Dan Vandal Liberal Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, MB

Mr. Speaker, for decades, the RCMP has had Métis artifacts, including clothing, a book of poems, a crucifix and a hunting knife belonging to Louis Riel.

Advocates have been calling for the items to be returned to the Métis nation for generations. Can the Minister of Public Safety please update the House on the status of the artifacts?

Royal Canadian Mounted PoliceOral Questions

3 p.m.

Regina—Wascana Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale LiberalMinister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased that the RCMP has signed an agreement with the Manitoba Metis Federation and the Métis National Council that will see the Riel artifacts returned to the Métis people. According to the agreement, the items will remain on display at the RCMP heritage centre in Regina while the Métis nation finds a more suitable location. These important historical artifacts are being returned to the Métis in the spirit of reconciliation. The agreement is also a recognition of rights and a demonstration of respect, co-operation, and partnership.

Economic DevelopmentOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West, ON

Mr. Speaker, at a time when our retail sector is in crisis, the last thing Canada needs is another retailer going under. Sears Canada has a long and proud tradition in Canada and employs thousands of Canadians in every region. As everyone knows, Sears is currently undergoing a restructuring process.

Will the minister take action and support the efforts currently being undertaken by the executive chairman to save the retailer and most of the 15,000 jobs now at risk and avoid the company being liquidated?

Economic DevelopmentOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

LaSalle—Émard—Verdun Québec

Liberal

David Lametti LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation

Mr. Speaker, obviously we follow these situations very carefully. As this process is being regulated by the law, we will not comment specifically. However, the law does search to balance the rights that workers have but also give the company an opportunity, in restructuring or when it is being sold, to make sure it protects the workers and their jobs. Once again, we are looking for balance. We do that through the application of the law and our procedures.

International TradeOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Xavier Barsalou-Duval Bloc Pierre-Boucher—Les Patriotes—Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, in the spring, Donald Trump said that he wanted to remove aluminum from the free trade agreement, claiming national security. This is a move to give the aluminum monopoly to a less competitive American company. It is a new trick to circumvent NAFTA. Aluminum is the second largest export sector in Quebec and accounts for thousands of jobs in Lac-Saint-Jean.

Can the government assure us and our aluminum workers that their jobs will not be left on the table during negotiations?

International TradeOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

University—Rosedale Ontario

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland LiberalMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I can assure the hon. member and all Canadians that the rights of workers in all sectors in Canada are very important to our government during NAFTA negotiations, including workers in the aluminum industry. It really is a very important issue to us. We know that there is a protectionist administration in the United States, but we are working for our workers.

International TradeOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Simon Marcil Bloc Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, our farmers are used to being taken for a ride by the Liberal government. Dairy and cheese producers were taken for a ride with the Canada-EU agreement, our producers were taken for a ride with the compensation program that lasted all of 20 minutes. This is a joke. With NAFTA being renegotiated, they are once again at risk of being hung out to dry. Quebec producers have had enough.

Will the government finally protect supply management in Quebec?

International TradeOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

University—Rosedale Ontario

Liberal

Chrystia Freeland LiberalMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, we are there to help our dairy farmers and the entire Canadian dairy sector. As for dairy products, I am confident that Canada meets all of its trade and international commitments. I would like to remind everyone that the United States has a five-to-one surplus in their dairy trade with Canada.

NAFTA RenegotiationsOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Simon Marcil Bloc Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe you will find unanimous consent for me to move the following motion:

That the House reiterate its desire to fully preserve supply management during the NAFTA renegotiations.

NAFTA RenegotiationsOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

NAFTA RenegotiationsOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

NAFTA RenegotiationsOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

NAFTA RenegotiationsOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

NAFTA RenegotiationsOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

(Motion agreed to)

NAFTA RenegotiationsOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

René Arseneault Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, clearly, a few moments ago, a good portion of the House was unable hear the response from our colleague from Oakville North—Burlington. I think you yourself were not able to hear her response. How can we make sure that all parliamentarians are able to hear responses in the House? Could we please hear our colleague's reply?

NAFTA RenegotiationsOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I thank the hon. member for his comments. It is important that we listen in order to hear members' answers, and I strongly encourage everyone to listen. Attacks on members must be avoided. I will review the Hansard blues.

NAFTA RenegotiationsOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier today I asked a question of the Minister of Finance and he rose to respond. Then I asked a supplemental question, and he was sheltered from answering.

I was wondering if you would permit the hon. minister to rise now and answer that question.

NAFTA RenegotiationsOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The hon. member for Carleton knows the rules, and he knows that the government can decide which minister will answer a question, as he is well aware. This is not a valid point of order, but I appreciate his comment.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Customs Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader had 12 minutes remaining in his time for speaking when the House went into question period.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, as I was going through Bill C-21, I was trying to highlight what I believed were some really important aspects of it.

To ensure the efficient movement in legitimate trade and travel, and to keep our borders secure, it is essential that we have a clear picture of who enters and exits the country. There are many benefits to that. This is where left off when I had to sit down prior to Standing Order 31 presentations.

I was commenting on what I believed was one of the important issues I had to face over the years. I want to highlight something from a personal perspective, and that is the issue of the visiting visas and the manner in which they are issued.

One of the considerations of immigration officers abroad, whether it is in the Philippines or India, is will that person return. Whenever I have the opportunity to visit these facilities, and I do periodically, both in India and the Philippines in particular, but also in Ukraine, I try to get a better understanding of the whole question of “will they return”. That is one of the reasons why we are rejecting so many temporary visas.

Unlike many other countries in the world, we do not have the same sorts of recording mechanisms or collection of information systems that are so very important for different departments to get a sense of individuals and whether they will return. Immigration is just one of those departments,

I would like to see further discussion of this in the chamber and in the committee to see if there are ways we could improve it. At the end of the day, I hope we will see more family members coming to Canada. If we can illustrate that we have a better recording mechanism, more family members from many countries in the world will have a greater chance to come to Canada. I see that as a strong potential positive. I hope to add some more thoughts in regard to that.

That is not the only benefit. I made reference to helping prevent radicalized individuals from travelling overseas to participate in terrorist activities; verifying travel dates to determine applicable duty and tax exemptions, rather than relying strictly on self-declarations; identifying individuals who did not leave Canada at the end of their authorized period of stay; enabling immigration authorities to make more effective use of resources by eliminating wasted time and resources spent conducting investigations on people who had already left the country. It is amazing how many resources are invested in that. I mentioned limiting the collection of exit data that had existed since 2012, for example, 35 warrants and 146 removal orders of people no longer in Canada; and better protecting taxpayer money by making it easier to identify fraud and abuse of social benefits with residency requirements.

There are so many reasons why this is good legislation, and members should support it.

There are concerns with respect to privacy. The minister and the government have engaged proactively on the file with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. We take our obligations to protect Canadian privacy rights very seriously. From what I understand, that was taken into consideration as the legislation was developed.

The legislation is in good part consistent with what the U.S. has been doing. We signed an agreement, I believe back in March. It would make us consistent with with respect to collecting basic biographic entry and exit information. It is not a new issue.

I can recall sitting on the immigration committee a number of years ago when the issue was before us. We talked about how it was importance for the government to take some sort of action. As I have said on many pieces of legislation, given the legislative agenda and many other budgetary measures taking place by this government, I very am pleased we have been able to bring this legislation forward because it will have a very strong, positive impact.

Bill C-21 would improve Canada's ability to prevent people from travelling overseas to join terrorist groups. It would combat things such as human trafficking, respond to Amber Alerts, and ensure the integrity of certain social benefit programs with residency requirements. That is a significant achievement.

Bill C-21 would also improve Canada's ability to identify and intercept controlled goods being smuggled out of the country. We have a great deal of debate and concern in regard to the types of goods that leave the country at times. This is yet another piece of legislation, a government initiative, that will better reflect Canadian values and their expectations of the government.

No new requirements would be imposed on travellers and no new exchange of data with the U.S. would occur for air travellers.

People collecting social benefits in accordance with the law would not be affected at all by Bill C-21. We really need to reinforce that. Anyone who has spent at least 20 years in Canada as an adult is entitled to receive old age security, regardless of what country he or she lives in, and that is reinforced.

I look at the legislation as a whole, and there is a great deal of interest in it. For example, the province of Manitoba has literally thousands of individuals whom we call snowbirds. We have come through the best summer we have ever had. I can count on one hand the number of mosquito bites If had this past summer. Winnipeg was the best city to be in if people wanted to enjoy summer in 2017, the year in which we are celebrating the 150th. Some might debate that. However, for me, it definitely was the place to be. However, as it starts to get a bit colder, after we get into December and January, some may opt out of the sunny skies of Winnipeg and go where the climate is a bit warmer.

Legislation like this would help provide some clarification. Snowbirds have nothing to fear from it. Some might say they should be concerned, but we will put in place a system that protects the integrity of many different types of programs and benefits in different departments. The legislation would also enable our customs officers and department to look at certain material, merchandise, product, or manufactured products that could potentially cause issues with Canadian values and allow for that additional power to find out what is taking place.

I started my speech by talking about the different types of legislation that the government had brought forward, and some of the trade agreements we had entered into. Canada is a fantastic nation, from coast to coast to coast. We have a responsibility as government to look at the bigger picture and the demands our society has on us. We need to ensure we have good export and import policies.

We need to ensure we have policies that enable Canadians to travel abroad. We need to look at ways to fine tune things to hopefully provide the type of information that allows for better policy decisions to be made.

Again, I emphasize the issue of those temporary visas. There is likely no issue more important from a constituency point of view. Very rarely do I have an issue more important than that in the riding I represent of Winnipeg North. Therefore, getting the facts would allow individuals like me to get more individuals here to visit families. It is important to advocate for that. I write approximately 350 or 400 letters every month to try to assist people in getting family members to Canada. This legislation would assist in making those arguments so we could have more faith and trust in family members, allowing them to come to Canada.

I encourage all members of the House to see the bill as a very progressive step forward. Concerns regarding privacy have been addressed in a very proactive fashion. The legislation is good to go, and I look forward to its passage.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, when the Prime Minister first met with President Trump after the U.S. election, there was a lot of talk in the press release about further integration at the border. One of the things that was even floated was housing American and Canadian border agents in the same building and having common systems.

When the public safety committee went to Washington in May, we had an opportunity to hear some of the long-term plans of this entry-exit program. If the member and members of the Liberal caucus are not concerned, something is seriously wrong. We are in a situation now where accountability is at its lowest when it comes to national security agencies. Unfortunately, that includes CBSA, which as of now, until the creation of this committee of parliamentarians, is one of the only agencies that has no proper review, much less real time oversight. That is a whole other matter.

I want to understand from the member why, in that context, he would feel comfortable with this sharing of information. President Trump is signing executive orders saying that privacy protection laws no longer apply to people who are not American citizens. We see a situation that almost condones, implicitly and explicitly, potentially the use of torture, with a new ministerial directive that does nothing to alleviate that issue. Therefore, I want to understand why the member could feel comfortable with sharing more information and this further integration, given there is a president who has no respect for the rule of law of his own constitution, much less the constitutions of other countries.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I mentioned in my comments that the minister had done a fantastic job in being proactive and working with the Privacy Commissioner. We are the party that brought in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We understand the importance of protecting the rights of individuals and the information that is gathered. What is proposed in the legislation further advances Canada's relatively healthy relationship with the United States.

As I said, this is one of a couple of legislative initiatives that clearly illustrate goodwill between both governments, the U.S. and Canada, on how we can better work together so both Canadians and Americans are able to cross the border in an easier way. In many ways, the types of information being gathered is getting closer to being the same. I see that as a positive.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to touch on something the member mentioned. He addressed why it is important to keep track of those who are leaving the country. He mentioned the Amber Alert. I would like him to expand on that and to also describe what information we are actually talking about. What is the information on page 2 of the passport that we are talking about being released?

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, there is basic information required. We will see, through regulation, the types of additional questions and information. What is important to recognize is that Canada is one of what are known as the Five Eyes countries. They include Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. When we look at the Five Eyes countries, we are virtually last in terms keeping up with modernization.

With the Privacy Commissioner, looking at the type of information we gather, how that information is held, and how long it is held are all very important questions and issues the minister or caucus colleagues are justifiably concerned about. We look forward to the bill going to committee, where we can hear from members and listen to witnesses to deal with some of the issues Canadians might have with respect to this piece of legislation.

Overall, it is one of at least two pieces of legislation I can think of offhand that would move Canada forward in ensuring that we are more consistent with other friendly countries, in particular the United States. Once it is all said and done, I believe it will be a healthy piece of legislation to pass.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to come back to the matter of the information that will be shared.

A problem that we are seeing more and more of, and not just with this bill, is that the Liberal government has a tendency to legislate using regulations. For example, in the bill currently before us, the government gives the minister a certain amount of discretion through regulation. That allows the minister to change not only the type of information that is collected but also the manner in which that information is obtained, the parties from whom it is obtained, and the circumstances under which is it obtained. That is a serious problem.

In committee, we asked Public Safety officials about Bill C-23, which is essentially a companion to the bill in question. They said that they were unable to tell us what type of regulations would be changed because of this bill.

Is the member not worried that the government is making legislative changes, while leaving a big asterisk next to some parts saying that it will make more changes later, at the minister's discretion, through regulation? Is that what accountability and transparency are all about?

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, we often find that legislation provides the principles and goes into details as to what it is we want to put into law. The provincial legislatures, the House of Commons, and other countries around the world actually bring in laws but allow different departments' ministers, in our case, to assist in providing the details of a law through regulation. That has actually been quite normal practice for 100-plus years.

The member might have some specific issues in regard to a specific type of question. I do not know if that would be an appropriate thing to incorporate into the legislation. It might be more appropriate in regulation. In fact, I suggest that it would be.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am very glad my friend had an opportunity to speak to the bill. I wanted to ask about the Canada-U.S. relationship, which is obviously touched on by the bill. Does the government think it has achieved anything in its two years in power in the context of that relationship?

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I think we have achieved more in two years than the Conservative government did in 10 years. There are a number of files one could advance. If we went from one ministry to the next ministry to the next ministry, we would find ample examples.

For example, we have a Prime Minister who has met with the President on several occasions through communications on a wide spectrum of issues that are important to all Canadians. We have seen policy from the government to the effect that all Canadians will benefit. Whether it is the pre-clearance legislation or the trade negotiations that are taking place, these are all initiatives. We can talk about natural resources and pipelines and so forth in terms of what this government has been able to accomplish that the previous government in 10 years was not able to.

Had we not had the change two years ago, I am somewhat fearful of where we would be today. I am very grateful that we have a Minister of Foreign Affairs and a Minister of International Trade who are doing such a fantastic job in protecting Canada's interests and Canada's middle class.

Customs ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to follow my friend from Winnipeg North, who was eager to tell us that there have been many accomplishments in the context of the Canada-U.S. relationship, accomplishments such as meetings. Perhaps that illustrates the more foundational problem in terms of the direction we see things going. On this side of the House, we do not consider holding a meeting an accomplishment.

I thought, perhaps, the parliamentary secretary would mention the famous state dinner that members of the Prime Minister's family were able to attend. The natural resources minister was not, but there were still many people at this state dinner.

On this side of the House, we are concerned about a clear erosion of the Canada-U.S. relationship and the fact that this critical relationship for our interests, for our success, is being undermined through significant missteps by the government. It is not new to the presidency of Donald Trump. We have seen a very poor, very ineffective strategy with respect to this relationship under both President Obama and President Trump. I think we can see a number of clear examples of that.

It is important, in the context of that relationship, that we not prioritize, ahead of results, the images, the meetings, and the state dinners. They are not the priority. For the people in my constituency, who are working hard, who are looking for better opportunities for themselves and their families, their principal interest is not the photos that are taken, the meetings that are held, or the food that is eaten at the dinners. Their principal interest is what kinds of accomplishments, what specific agreements and initiatives, are going to happen between Canada and the U.S. on issues such as softwood lumber, which is not as important in my riding but is in other places, and issues such as pipelines and the trade in natural resources, which are very important in my riding.

It is results in those areas that matter in terms of the Canada-U.S. relationship. It is not the socks, the photos, and the images. As my colleague from Durham aptly said in question period yesterday, it is time for the Prime Minister to pull up his fancy socks and start trying to get results.

I want to highlight the fact, again, that the erosion of this relationship between Canada and the U.S. began not under President Trump but under President Obama because of the approach pursued by the government of this Prime Minister.

We had President Obama speak in the House of Commons, and the Prime Minister, in his introduction, referred to a “bromance” and “dudeplomacy”. I had never heard of dudeplomacy before. It sounds like a pretty gendered term, actually. I had never heard of dudeplomacy, but I have heard of diplomacy. What does not seem to have happened is actual diplomacy in terms of the traditional trying to advance ideas that advance Canada's interests. For example, it was relatively shortly after this Prime Minister took office that the American administration at that time said no to Keystone XL. We had virtually no substantial public response from the Prime Minister or the government at the time.

Fortunately, that decision has since been reversed, but as a result of changes in American politics. It had nothing to do with any activity happening on this side of the border with respect to Keystone XL. As my colleague said, immediately there was a desire to take credit for it, but the reality is that it was going to happen if there was a change in the party and the president. That was going to happen.

The government was not at all involved in promoting Keystone XL or in raising those issues, especially after it was rejected by someone with whom, supposedly, there was a bromance and dudeplomacy going on. There was a failure of results with respect to actually getting the market access we needed under that administration.

It is interesting to follow this, because there was a lot of discussion internationally about the Paris accord. Here in Canada, the government immediately wanted to tell us that to meet the Paris accord, we had to impose this massive new tax. Actually, a lot of the analysis shows that this new tax is about raising revenue. It is not going to substantially have an impact with respect to the way it is being set up and what the government has said its objectives are.

An overwhelming majority of the countries in the world are part of the Paris accord, but it is a minority of those countries that actually think that a carbon tax is the way to meet the requirements. We would think from the what the government says that a carbon tax was required by the Paris accord, but that is not the case at all. In fact, most countries that are part of the Paris accord think that the way to meet our Paris accord obligations does not involve a carbon tax, a massive new tax on Canadians.

What is interesting in the context of that relationship is that there was much discussion about the Canada–U.S. relationship vis-à-vis the environment. Canada imposed a carbon tax, and yet the American administration did not bring in a carbon tax. The Hillary Clinton campaign did not propose a carbon tax, and I do not think Donald Trump has much interest in a carbon tax either. The point is that no American administration was moving in this direction regardless, and yet Canada took a step that put us at a significant competitive disadvantage. A possible fruit of that alleged dudeplomacy would have been to push for the Americans to align what they were doing with us, but that was never going to happen. The Prime Minister was happy to accept pats on the back for his carbon tax action, while in fact there was no serious effort to do the same south of the border.

The other issue, of course, is the government's plan to legalize marijuana. There has not been any thinking through at all about what the implications would be for Canadians travelling south of the border after legalization happens, assuming the government goes through with it. We never know. The government has turned tail on so many of its promises. It is not a done deal. However, assuming the Liberals go through with that, it would create some real issues for Canadians who may choose to use legal marijuana and then want to travel to the United States. There is a possibility of their being asked about that and barred access under that. That is, again, not something that the government seems to have paid any attention to in the context of substantive discussions or negotiations.

There are all these different issues, where what Canadians expect vis-à-vis the Canada–U.S. relationship is for a government to fight for Canadian values, to fight for Canadian interests, and not to prioritize the image dimension. That is what we on this side of the House believe our approach to foreign policy should be. We believe it should be prioritizing fighting for Canadian values and Canadian interests, not prioritizing the international image or personal reputation of particular members of the government. That is important. We have a government that is fumbling this relationship. At the same time, the Liberals are desperate to look as if they are doing something.

We have a bill before us that, actually, we on this side of the House see as a pretty good bill. It would effectively streamline processes at the border. It would deal with smuggling in a reasonably effective way. I think it would reduce costs. It would make the border more efficient. It continues, importantly, with momentum that was clearly started under the Conservative government. Prime minister Stephen Harper put a big emphasis on trying to make the border more effective, and it was not because he thought he could have great photo ops at the border as a result. It was because he understood that having an efficient, effective border would help to create jobs and opportunities for Canadians, it would help to ensure the necessary market access, and it would help also to create opportunities and advantages for Canadian consumers. Therefore, we prioritized making the border more efficient and effective.

In cases where we see the government continuing forward with momentum that was started under the previous Conservative government or even, in general, in cases where we think the government is doing things that are good, we will be happy to support them, to speak for them, and to vote in favour of that legislation. However, the context is important because overall on so many important areas and fronts we have the government bungling this relationship.

I have talked about how, very clearly, under the current Prime Minister, there was an erosion of that relationship that had already started during the tenure of president Obama. Of course, it has continued in the present environment and it has continued especially as we look at what is happening in NAFTA negotiations. It is very important that we reflect on these negotiations and that the government approach them in the right way. We have to be realistic in the context of those negotiations and the proposals we have put forward, and we have to seek to advance Canadian values and Canadian interests.

I had the opportunity to be in the United States during the time of the last American election. I was actually in Cleveland, which is kind of an epicentre of activity. I was there as part of a trip with a number of my parliamentary colleagues, including the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. We observed an interesting phenomenon in terms of what was happening there, which was that messages about trade and the loss of manufacturing were really resonating in certain particular states in the United States, and a lot of those messages came back to certain perceptions about the impact of trade deals. There was a perception, I think an incorrect perception, that some of these trade deals had contributed negatively to the economy of these areas. The electoral success of Donald Trump was significantly informed by his ability to get out his message with respect to trade in those key electoral markets.

We have to recognize, then, that it was what was in the administration's mind when it talked about renegotiating NAFTA. I do not think that when Donald Trump talked about renegotiating NAFTA, his principal objectives were adding sections on gender and indigenous rights. Maybe I was reading different coverage of that election from what others read, but the message about renegotiation was very clear in terms of the objectives.

It does not mean that we should have the same objectives. In fact, it is important that we counter misinformation about the alleged negative impacts of trade, but it is also important that we go to the negotiating table with a realistic sense of what we can achieve and with a goal to do what we can realistically to protect Canadian jobs and interests. The government, in articulating its negotiating objectives, has put itself in a position of very clearly talking past the administration and, in some cases, has put forward proposals that do not even relate to federal jurisdiction. For example, it has talked about what have been dubbed right-to-work laws at the state level in the United States.

We have a federal system in Canada, so the government should understand how a federal system works, that the federal government cannot, in the context of these types of negotiations, demand that states get rid of state-level labour laws. That is not within federal jurisdiction. For the government to suggest that somehow these negotiations should hinge on changes to state-level laws is a fundamental misunderstanding of how federalism works, and it is a strange proposal to come from another country with a federal system that has strong subnational governments.

In general, whether it is labour laws or specific legal protections on indigenous or gender issues, these are the kinds of things that would be the subject of significant substantial national debate in the United States. It is hard to imagine that Canada demanding them as part of NAFTA talks is going to be the spur that makes them happen. In reality, the specific reason the Americans were going into NAFTA renegotiations was to address this perception about economic interests. What we need to do to be effective in those negotiations is highlight how trade deals have been beneficial to the economy of North America as a whole; we have benefited from trade, but so has the United States benefited from trade.

It is not a zero-sum game. I have used this analogy before. Some people talk about trade as if it is winning or losing, and that is just so outside of what we know to be true about economic interactions. It is like saying, if I go to a restaurant to order a meal, one of us is winning and one of us is losing. Am I winning and the restaurant losing, or is the restaurant winning and I am losing? That is obviously ridiculous. We are both winning. We are winning by mutually beneficial exchange: I am getting a meal and the restaurant is getting business. The same is true of trade. People choose to engage in trade because they have an opportunity that has opened up for them for mutually beneficial exchange.

The Prime Minister of Canada, as the leader of a trading nation, a nation that needs trade and has benefited so much from trade, should be championing the value of the open economy on the world stage.

He should be doing what many Conservative members are doing in opposition, which is standing up for Canada. He should be going to the United States to speak specifically about the economic benefits of trade. He should be trying to make the case, in those critical electoral markets like Ohio or Michigan, about the benefits that have accrued to those areas as a result of mutually beneficial trade, as a result of the freedom to exchange goods and services between Canada and the U.S.

We know those benefits exist. The case can be made there, and yet the Prime Minister only talks about trade in the context of wanting to redefine and talk about progressive trade agreements. In large part, he is taking what Canada has done for a long time. The Conservative government signed many trade deals, and in every case we were dealing with, as was realistic and practical in the context, provisions in the agreements and side agreements that dealt with issues like labour rights and other rights.

The trans-Pacific partnership was negotiated by the Obama administration. We still have yet to hear from the Liberal government its position on that or on some kind of successor deal that does not include the United States. The government should at some point take a position with respect to the trans-Pacific partnership, or at least the idea of a trans-Pacific trading bloc, whether or not that includes the United States. These deals have for a long time included these elements.

It is clear that the Prime Minister wants to find a way to rebrand NAFTA, which was a Conservative-negotiated deal under prime minister Brian Mulroney, and somehow put his stamp on it. It may well be in the end that we get some big unenforceable language in there about some of the issues that the Prime Minister has talked about, but there is just no realistic scenario in which, as part of trade negotiations, the United States would agree to making dramatic changes to its rights frameworks, especially insofar as those changes might impact federalism, just in response to a Canadian demand.

Not only is this relationship eroding under the Liberals, but their approach to these discussions seems to portray a fundamental misunderstanding of the United States, even the constitutional sharing of powers as exists in the United States, and also some of the key political motivations and dynamics that they should be responding to as they are supposedly seeking to advance Canada's national interests.

The problem is that we do not see the advancing of that interest in many different ways. We see the eroding of a voice for Canada's interests and in general of Canada's voice on the world stage. The emphasis instead is on image, photo ops, state dinners, and so on, not on achieving results.

We on this side of the House are in favour of legislation that would make the border more effective. Bill C-21 would improve the efficiency of the border. It is a good piece of legislation that builds on momentum put in place under the Conservatives. It would cut down on costs, it would make the border more efficient, it would address smuggling, and there are a number of different areas where we see concrete improvements coming through the bill.

However, we are concerned about the overall picture when it comes to Canada-U.S. relations. More broadly, when we speak of the government's foreign and trade policy we see a seeming lack of interest in standing up for Canadian interests and Canadian values.

Our objective on the world stage should not be to, above all else, get a seat on the UN Security Council, to cozy up to whomever and do whatever it takes to get there. Our goal should be to ask how we can concretely make life better for Canadians through more trade, more effective borders, and the kinds of opportunities that come with that.

How can we make life better for people across this country in concrete, tangible, and measurable ways? How can we reflect people's values, people's moral convictions in the kinds of causes and principles that Canada stands up for on the world stage? Canada's interests and values should be our priorities, not the image side.

While we do support this bill, we call on the government to do better when it comes to the Canada-U.S. relationship, and to do better when it comes to foreign policy in general, to reflect those priorities that Canadians are telling us they want us to focus on.

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3:50 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is good to be talking about trade here, because it is something that we hear a lot of rhetoric about from the other side. They have notions that they know they are not going to get in negotiations with the United States, but they throw them out there for their base.

My question is on the other side. Of course, I support fair trade deals. I have voted for them in the past. In his speech, my colleague made it look like he would be open to trade with any country. I am just wondering what his conditions would be. For example, if we were going to negotiate trade deals with North Korea or Somalia, or some places like that, what would his conditions be for bargaining with those countries?

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3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, I cannot recall ever having proposed a trade deal with North Korea. I do not know what we would trade, frankly, but maybe they would be willing to give up their nuclear weapons. The NDP certainly would not want those coming here. I am kidding of course.

I do not endorse trade with just any country. There are obviously cases where there would be potential concerns. However, we are talking about the Canada-U.S. relationship, and I do not think trade with the United States is comparable to trade with North Korea. In terms of creating opportunities for a more open border, the bill is in Canada's interest and reflective of Canadian values.

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3:55 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate many of the words by the member across the way. The question I have for my colleague is regarding the issue of privacy. I mentioned that we have taken a fairly proactive approach with the Privacy Commissioner. Do the Conservatives, as an opposition party, have any privacy concerns related to the legislation, or does he feel that adequate work has been done on that particular file?

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3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is important that we support the bill and see it through to committee. The committee will provide an opportunity to hear witness testimony with respect to some of the particular issues that have been brought forward. In general, and certainly at this stage, supporting the principle of the bill is good, then that further discussion will happen at that point.

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3:55 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech. Since he knows a lot about how Parliament and the legislative process work, I would like to ask him a question. There have been a number of bills on important issues such as national security. Most recently, we examined Bill C-23 on preclearance at the border. Like Bill C-23, Bill C-21 contains provisions that give the minister a lot of discretionary power over regulatory changes that will be made after the bill is passed. Looking back, when Bill C-23 was being examined in committee, public officials were asked for a list of regulatory changes that would be made to implement the provisions of an agreement with the United States. However, they were unable to provide us with a comprehensive or even a definitive list.

Does my colleague agree that the legislative process requires accountability and transparency, and that this is an unacceptable way of doing things? We understand the need for regulations, but when they are used to circumvent the legislative process, that can cause problems.

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3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, the balance between legislation and regulation is an interesting question, particularly in terms of what should be prescribed and what should be included. Obviously, it is not practical for every aspect of government decision-making to be contained in legislation. There are particular questions around the scope of regulations. There are well-established limitations on what can fit into the category of regulation.

However, the member's point, and one I strongly agree with, is that the government needs to be prepared to answer questions about what it is doing vis-à-vis regulations, what its plans are, and what elements of regulation would be required to achieve a desired outcome.

I had the great pleasure of serving on the scrutiny of regulations committee for a couple of years, and I would recommend it to the member if he is interested. Admittedly, it was frustrating on that committee trying to deal with what were sometimes very old files and to get information from the government about concerns the committee had with respect to things that were happening with regulations.

The regulatory oversight rule is very important for Parliament. Even though it is up to government to create regulations, we have an important role with respect to oversight, and it is important for the government to honour that role and work with the House and committees when it comes to responding to and dealing with regulations.

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4 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Questions and comments.

Before we resume debate, I will let hon. members know that we have gone past the five hours of debate since the first round of speeches on this question that is before the House. Therefore, for the remaining interventions the time limit for speeches will be 10 minutes and the ensuing time for questions and comments, five minutes.

The hon. member for Newmarket—Aurora.

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4 p.m.

Liberal

Kyle Peterson Liberal Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in support of these legislative amendments proposed in Bill C-21, which would amend the Customs Act to enable the Canada Border Services Agency to collect exit information from all travellers leaving Canada.

We all understand the importance of collecting basic biographic information on people coming into Canada, such as who they are, where they are from, how long they are staying. That is just basic security, but there is also value in keeping track of travellers who are leaving Canada. In this regard, Canada is quite a bit outside the mainstream. In fact, we are laggards in this regard.

While most other countries collect basic information on everyone who enters and exits, Canada collects information on only a small subset of people who leave our country. This means that at any given moment we cannot say for sure who is in this country. We know that they came in, but we do not know where or when they left, or if they ever left.

Consider that right now with no means of identifying precisely who is exiting our country, we cannot know if dangerous individuals may be leaving Canada to escape justice. Nor for example do we know whether we are expending valuable immigration enforcement resources trying to track down someone who has been ordered to leave Canada when that person may well have already left the country on their own.

Not collecting exit information also limits our capacity to respond to Amber alerts or suspected abductions in a timely way, among other shortcomings. This is an obvious and unacceptable security gap and one that many of our international partners have already closed. We need to catch up.

Let me be clear. We are not talking about the collection of reams of personal information from people leaving Canada. We are talking about basic biographic information, the so-called tombstone data that appears on page 2 of everybody's passport, including name, date of birth, citizenship, gender, travel document type, document number, and the country that issued the document.

The only other information that would be collected would be the location and time of departure, and the flight number in the case of people leaving by air, in other words, the same information that people volunteer when they enter Canada or any other country. That is it. No new information would be collected. Notably, no biometric data, such as photographs or fingerprints, would be collected or exchanged as part of the entry-exit initiative and travellers will not notice a difference. That is important.

This is how it would work. For people crossing the Canada-U.S. border by land, border officers in the country they enter will simply send that passport information and departure details back to the country they just left. In this way, one country's entry is the other country's exit and vice versa. The exchange of information in the land mode would occur on a near real-time basis following a traveller's entry to either country, usually within 15 minutes.

The exchange would take place through an existing secure electronic channel between Canada and the U.S., the same system that is used to transfer information between Canada and the U.S. under the Nexus, FAST, and enhanced driver's licence programs currently in place.

For air travellers, no new exchange of information between countries would be required. The information would come directly from airline passenger manifests. To obtain an exit record in the air mode, for example, the CBSA would receive electronic passenger manifest details directly from air carriers, with information on passengers scheduled to depart Canada aboard outbound international flights.

This information would be received up to 72 hours prior to departure to facilitate the identification of known high-risk travellers attempting to leave Canada by air. This is a key point for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it would help Canadian authorities recognize when someone with links to violent extremist groups was preparing to leave the country and stop them from travelling abroad to participate in terrorist activity. In fact, Bill C-21 would help border officials deal with a number of threats they currently lack the tools to address.

The CBSA is our first line of defence against threats originating overseas. It uses a system called “lookout” to identify persons or shipments that may pose a threat to Canada. Lookouts are based on information in the CBSA's possession or that may come from sources, including the RCMP, CSIS, Immigration officials, and local or international law enforcement agents. While lookouts are effective for identifying inbound threats, the absence of exit information means that they are not effective for identifying outbound threats. However, Bill C-21 addresses that shortcoming.

In a global threat environment with dangerous individuals leaving or trying to leave peaceful, stable democracies to join extremist organizations, collecting reliable exit information has never been more vital to support Canada's national security. We must equip the Canada Border Services Agency with the statutory authority to collect the same information on outbound travellers that it does on inbound travellers.

With the passage of these legislative amendments, CBSA's lookout system would be strengthened, allowing the agency to notify partners if and when a known high-risk individual intends to leave or has just left Canada. This information would close the loop on an individual's travel history and fill a gap that has been exploited by people trying to evade the law.

As a final note, it is important to recognize the care that has been taken to ensure that this initiative is designed to respect and comply fully with Canada's privacy laws and obligations. The communication and collaboration between the CBSA and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and the design and implementation of the entry-exit initiative has been extensive, productive, and instructive in protecting privacy rights. The protection of those rights is paramount, and this bill would ensure that those rights are indeed protected. It is a shining example of the balance between security and privacy.

There is no question that this bill would enhance the security of Canada and its allies. I urge my colleagues to support its swift passage and ensure that the women and men of the CBSA have the resources and tools they need to do their job of securing our border and facilitating the free flow of legitimate trade and travel.

Trade, of course, is important to Canadians. This bill would help facilitate trade between Canada, the U.S., and our other international partners. Bill C-21 is required and necessary to close a gap to make sure that Canada is in line with our international partners. It is a good piece of legislation that would do good work. I urge all members to support this bill.

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4:10 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.

It is interesting, because one of the things he emphasized was the idea of combining this with other information to help intercept someone who is known to authorities. That would be just another piece of the puzzle. However, there is a problem with that. When we look at some of the human rights violations created by the Government of Canada, for example, in cases such as that of Maher Arar, the sharing of information was often one of the problems. In fact, sharing information, in certain situations where profiling occurs, can insinuate something about an individual and lead to horrible and tragic situations like the one that Mr. Arar went through.

When we look at the proposed system, to allow more information to be shared, I wonder whether the hon. member realizes how little we can trust the process, especially in light of the current administration. Simply increasing the sharing of information without really putting in place adequate accountability procedures, is a problem.

For example, the Canada Border Services Agency is one of the only agencies responsible for dealing with national security, and before Bill C-22 was passed, it did not have a review mechanism, let alone any oversight, because no real-time monitoring was being conducted. Obviously, we have complete confidence in the men and women working on the Canadian side of the border, but what is happening on the American side is a different story, considering the racial profiling that is going on there.

Is the member not worried about this exchange of information? Before he tells me that the Privacy Commissioner was involved in this work, let us remember that, in the speech the minister gave about this bill, he said that the Privacy Commissioner should conduct further assessments after the bill was passed. That hardly inspires confidence.

Does the member not agree that the most important thing is protecting human rights? The government does not have a great track record in that regard when it comes to information sharing.

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4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kyle Peterson Liberal Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Beloeil—Chambly for his question.

I share my colleague's concerns and respect for the privacy components of this legislation and for the privacy of all Canadians, but this bill strikes the appropriate and fair balance between security and protection of privacy. I hope that this legislation, coupled with the other Criminal Code provisions, the protections under the charter, and the many laws we have in Canada to protect the privacy of Canadians, will work in conjunction to ensure that Canadian information collected under this bill, and under any regime in Canada, is protected and not misused by the current Canadian government or any other government.

I am happy my colleague raised these important concerns. However, these concerns are well addressed in this bill, in the legislation, and in the privacy regime that manages all interactions between private citizens and the Government of Canada and international governments. I am confident that this legislation upholds and addresses privacy concerns.

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4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

[Member spoke in Cree ]

Thank you very much, my good friend from Newmarket—Aurora.

Mr. Speaker, as an indigenous person, I understand it is very important to make sure that we know who comes into the country and who leaves the country, because sometimes we can make friendships with people who stay for a very long period of time and we are very pleased to have them here. However, I wonder if he could talk a little more about why it is important for us to know who comes into the country, how long they stay, and when they leave the country. Why is it important to have that information?

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4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kyle Peterson Liberal Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's translation of the Cree language so I could understand.

Being able to know who is leaving Canada is as important as knowing who is coming into Canada, for many reasons, most of all for security reasons. The gap between Canada and some of our international partners in collecting this information and in the ability to collect it was so glaring and so large that it obviously needed to be addressed. This bill does so fairly. It does so reasonably and with the collection of the minimum amount of personal information that is needed to serve its purpose. I think it is a fair piece of legislation.

I want to thank the hon. member for giving me the opportunity again to underline why I think this legislation is so important to the great people of his riding and all of Canada.

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is my first speech in the House.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of Saint-Laurent for their strong support in the April by-election.

We are very lucky to live in the beautiful riding of Saint-Laurent, which is one of the most multicultural ridings in the country.

We live in peace, which shows what this beautiful country of Canada is about.

It is my great pleasure to participate in this important debate on Bill C-21, an act to amend the Customs Act. The amendments proposed in this bill will give us a more complete picture of the people leaving Canada. They will strengthen the integrity of our data on who is entering and exiting Canada by closing gaps with respect to individuals' personal travel history. I want to emphasize that this will in no way delay travellers. It will enhance our security, improve our administration, and strengthen our border without interfering with the efficient movement of legitimate travellers and goods.

I would like to provide an overview of how the existing system works. When the current phase of the entry-exit initiative was launched in 2013, Canada and the United States began to exchange basic biographic entry information on third-country nationals, permanent residents of Canada, and lawful permanent residents of the United States crossing at automated land ports of entry. The record of land entry into one country can be used to establish an exit record from the other.

Since this summer, Canada has also been providing the United States with basic biographic information on American citizens and U.S. nationals who leave the United States and enter Canada at land ports of entry. At present, our two countries securely share the entry records of nearly 80,000 travellers a day.

This exit information is limited in scope and is not intrusive. Basically, apart from the time and location of the departure, the only other information collected is that found on page 2 of passports. That information is already collected upon entry. This includes the name, nationality, date of birth, and the issuing authority of the travel document.

However, Canadian officials do not know everyone who leaves the country, because the sharing of information gathered by Canada does not affect Canadian citizens and is limited to the land mode. We need a full picture of people's travel history to manage our borders effectively. The changes proposed in Bill C-21 regarding the collection of current information on the movements of all travellers will improve security and the integrity of Canada's borders.

I also want to draw the attention of the House to the fact that no new requirement will be imposed on travellers for the collection of this data. Travellers leaving Canada by land will simply present their passport to the U.S. border security officer as usual and the United States will automatically send the data to Canada.

As for travellers leaving Canada by plane, airlines will gather the basic passport information that is on the passenger manifest and provide it to the Canada Border Services Agency before they leave.

Some will be surprised to learn that we are not already gathering this information. In fact, many countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, keep track of people who leave their countries. It is time that we fill this security gap and keep pace with our allies.

There are countless benefits to this new legislation. First, it will help authorities react better to known high-risk travellers before or shortly after they leave Canada.

The RCMP or CSIS could ask border services officers to monitor individuals who are suspected of wanting to join a terrorist group or suspected of being involved in human trafficking. Border services officers would then communicate with the appropriate agency if one the individuals is identified. Canadian and U.S. authorities could then collaborate on resolving the situation.

Going after Canadians who take part in high-risk activities abroad is a key priority for our government. The collection of basic exit information will be a new important tool in preventing such activities.

Bill C-21 enhances our ability to prevent the illegal export of controlled goods, respond more effectively in time-sensitive situations such as responding to Amber Alerts, ensure the integrity of our immigration system, combat cross-border crime, and, by ensuring that we have more complete and reliable data on travel history, protect taxpayers' money by making it easier to shed light on fraud or misuse to the detriment of certain government programs.

It is important to note that people who receive benefits under the legislation will not be affected.

Naturally, proposals to enhance national security often come with concerns over privacy and freedoms. I know that the government takes its obligation to protect individual rights and freedoms, and Canadians' privacy, seriously. This is consistent with the underlying principle of our overall approach to security. We can and must protect Canadians, while protecting rights and freedoms.

Some privacy protections are built into the entry-exit initiative. Exit information will only be disclosed in accordance with Canadian law. The exchange of information within the country and within the United States will be subject to an official agreement in order to establish a framework for the use of information and mechanisms to resolve any potential problem.

I would like to remind members that the only information we are talking about is that found on page 2 of passports. This is information that all travellers voluntarily provide every time they cross the border.

The proposed changes in Bill C-21 will improve our security and help ensure our prosperity. It is important that we have a more accurate picture of the people who enter and leave Canada. Thus, we can improve the efficiency of the movement of legitimate travellers and goods while strengthening our border security. I strongly recommend that all members of the House support this bill.

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4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, allow me to pay my respects to our new colleague and congratulate her. It has been almost a year, or several months, anyway, since the member was duly elected in a by-election. I did my best to help defeat her, but unfortunately, I failed. I welcome her to the House. That is democracy. I want to congratulate her because this is one of her first lengthy speeches.

It amuses me that the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent is acknowledging the member for Saint-Laurent. People get our titles mixed up sometimes. If the member ever happens to receive my mail, I am sure I can count on her to forward it to me.

On a more serious note, this bill is very important, and we support it because it is the continuation of work our government did. Well, it is not our government's work specifically so much as the work of the Canadian government that was done while we were in power. The current government is following through on work that was done. We agree with it in principle, but of course we are always sensitive to any spending associated with new bills.

Here is my question for my colleague: Is the government planning to invest in new infrastructure to facilitate the flow of goods, services, and people between Canada and the United States?

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member from Louis-Saint-Laurent for his kind words and for his question. Obviously, if we want to improve the process at the border, we will have to put measures in place to improve the way things are done.

I would also like to point out that it is very important to work with the United States to protect our continent. We are very lucky to live in Canada and to have a good relationship with the United States. We can always work together to make things better and to protect all Americans and all Canadians living here.

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4:25 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Stetski NDP Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I too congratulate my colleague for her first speech in the House and look forward to hearing many more.

In regard to the bill before us, there is a very real concern that Canadian authorities are being asked by a foreign government, in this case, the United States, to hand over personal information of Canadians and that doing so should not a responsibility of the Canada Border Services Agency. The latter's employees, of course, have been without a contract now for over 1,100 days, and the Liberal government absolutely needs to get on with that.

The Canada Border Services Agency's sole role is to protect Canada, not to hand over Canadian information to foreign authorities. I would like to hear the member's comments on that.

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, although the number one priority at our border is to protect Canadians, working alongside our partner, the United States, is obviously a good idea. We want its co-operation as well, and it would help to protect both countries if we worked together and transmitted this information.

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4:25 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for her first speech to the House.

She mentioned the diversity of her riding in her opening comments. Could she expand on her thoughts about that diversity, which I know she is very proud to represent.

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to represent one of the most multicultural ridings in the country. There are people from so many different cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and religions, and a lot of the new refugees who have come to our country are in my riding. They are being welcomed by so many organizations there. It is a wonderful thing, because we get to see what our country has to offer, that everyone is so friendly and wants the best for everyone else. I have an exemplary riding, because people get to see how everyone lives together peacefully.

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4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise in this place. This is my first time rising in debate since we resumed sitting here in the fall, outside of question period, of course.

I think this is a very important bill. It was introduced in response to ongoing action by the former Conservative government starting in 2011 with the beyond the border initiative, an agreement put in place by former Prime Minister Harper and former President Obama. It has two purposes, which are basically to improve the security of both of our countries and to increase the economic competitiveness of both countries by amending the Customs Act in several key ways. It is good to see the work of this agreement continuing. We acknowledge that the United States is certainly a very important partner and ally for us in many regards, as we see right now with the ongoing NAFTA talks, as well as the continued discussions on shared areas of interest, such as defence and immigration.

I will speak in support of Bill C-21, but in the context of a situation that we have seen emerge in the last several months, which is the surge of asylum claimants and people who are illegally crossing Canada's border at various unofficial points of entry, and then, of course, making asylum claims. This is a situation that started in January this year. We saw a huge spike, and I believe the most recent numbers from August are that over 27,000 migrants have illegally crossed the border into Canada from the United States through unofficial border crossings. This is the highest number of crossings in many years. Therefore, I think the bill is an important step in the right direction in the context of that particular issue. However, I am not sure that it goes far enough.

What we have heard from border officials at the CBSA is that they have been absolutely overwhelmed by this situation. We have seen this evidenced by the Liberal government's having to set up tent refugee camps on the U.S.-Canada border, and basically scramble after months of inaction in failing to denounce this activity as unsafe, and failing to put in place any sort of plan that would prevent people from getting false hopes in crossing the border illegally and making asylum claims.

Since this crisis started, all of our immigration processes and services have become backlogged by this influx. Refugee claimants are being told that it will take many months to process their claims, and in some cases years. This is far too long. However, the bill would have a direct impact on this situation by amending the Customs Act so that basic information would be sent to Canada when a person leaves the country. Currently, this information is only recorded for foreign nationals and permanent residents who leave the country. The bill would close the gap in security that currently exists so that any time a person leaves the country, it would be noted.

There seems to be a consensus in the House between the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party of Canada that the bill is necessary. However, I ask my colleagues in the NDP to consider the bill from this perspective. If we want Canada's asylum claim system to be credible and to help the world's most vulnerable, we need to make sure that the finite resources our country has are applied to helping those people.

The proposed amendments to the Customs Act would ensure that it would be recorded when the individuals who stay in Canada beyond their authorized stay do eventually leave. Currently, immigration enforcement officials do not have this information, and have to waste time and resources conducting investigations of individuals who have already left the country without their knowledge. In a situation where immigration services are already backlogged, Canada cannot afford to waste time and resources on pointless pursuits. Bill C-21 would allow immigration officials to focus their activities and not waste time and energy where there is none to spare.

However, I want to make the point that while I am supporting the bill, I do not think that the government has thought writ large of how it is managing the backlog and processing burden that the illegal border-crossing crisis is putting on our border crossing and immigration officials.

This will help. I certainly do not want to see immigration officials having to track people who have already left the country. That seems like a giant bureaucratic waste of resources that could be corrected by this simple fix.

I also think that the government needs to have a long, hard look at how it is already resourcing and enforcing some of our laws, which are not being respected in Canada right now. I have certainly heard directly from CBSA officials, who have talked to me in confidence because they do not want to be outed to their bosses. There is a lot of fear of retribution by the Liberal government on this. They say that they simply do not have the resources to cope.

As a Conservative, to me the first instinct is not to say that we should dump a bunch more money into a situation. We should look at the determinants or reasons why things are happening, try to correct them, and then ensure that we proceed accordingly. In this situation, this is why our party has been making a strong case that the government needs to look at the component of the safe third country agreement that allow people crossing the U.S-Canada land border through unofficial points of entry to make an asylum claim. We believe that that particular loophole should be closed.

To my colleagues from the NDP who are asserting that somehow this is not necessary, this information is readily shareable. I do not think it is very intrusive. I think it would make our immigration system and border agencies work a little more effectively, so that we can potentially be directing resources to those who need them the most.

I want to emphasize that in the scope of this bill we are sort of remiss as a House of Commons if we are not looking at some of these other determinants such as the illegal border crossing crisis. There are a couple of other reasons for that.

This bill speaks to tools and the need to prevent human trafficking into this country. There is a lot of concern in the community, evidence, and certainly speculation of increased activity by human smuggling rings into Canada as the illegal border crossing crisis has picked up. There was a story published on CTV News entitled, “Saskatchewan woman faces human smuggling charges in connection with illegal border crossings”. This woman was arrested after being stopped by the police with nine people in her vehicle. All nine individuals, originally from west Africa, had entered Saskatchewan at the northern portal Northgate crossing. They were taken into custody by the CBSA. Through the course of the investigation, the CBSA uncovered evidence to suggest that suspected smugglers were allegedly bringing foreign nationals into Canada from the United States by facilitating their illegal crossing between designated points of entry.

This is a huge concern. Earlier this year, with the Speaker of the House I had an opportunity to visit Mexico City. We visited one facility that assisted refugees who were coming from the northern triangle of Central America. The impression I was left with was just how dire the situation was and how many people were migrating from this area. I was also left with a concern that there was a significant amount of human trafficking resulting from this situation.

My concern is that if we are not tracking people exiting and entering our country in more effective ways, and making sure we are not facilitating these groups by leaving a glaring loophole such as the one in the safe third country agreement open, we are making it easier for these people to participate in these activities. My concern is that there is a disproportionate number of women who are affected in negative ways by this activity.

At the UN General Assembly last week, I believe the UN High Commissioner for Refugees talked about the need to ensure that women and their rights are protected in migration. We have certainly seen in the Middle East that over 70% of women who are migrating experience some sort of sexual violence. Certainly we do not want to see that happen across our Canada-U.S. border. Our efforts need to be expanded here.

I hope all members in the House of Commons will support the bill because it is a common-sense measure to ease some of the burden on the CBSA right now. If that is the goal of the legislation, we need to look further and close the loophole in the safe third country agreement.

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4:35 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I extend my appreciation to the Canada Border Services Agency and the officers for doing a fantastic job, not only this year but also in previous years. Although there have been issues and an increase in numbers of individuals crossing the U.S.-Canada border, to try to give the impression that this is the only year where it has taken place is wrong, especially if we focus on Emerson. This happens every year. Our border control officers, RCMP officers, and those who are involved have done a fantastic job in serving our citizens through the fine work they do.

I appreciate the support the member has for the legislation. My question is related to our Five Eyes nations, of which Canada is one. Would she not agree that this legislation brings us closer to being in tune with our Five Eyes allies, which is a positive feature of the legislation?

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4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will spend my time responding to the first part of the member's statement. I echo the sentiment that we appreciate the work of the CBSA. However, it is completely unfair and ridiculous to basically foist the responsibility of the House to deal with a problem that has become worse, not better, onto the operations of the CBSA, and that is the illegal border crossing crisis.

Earlier this month, the government received a briefing from officials that showed over 300,000 people in the United States were set to have their TPS revoked, who are similar to their Haitian cohorts we currently see entering the country through Quebec. Therefore, the indication is that this situation will be exacerbated, not corrected.

The member opposite needs to wake up and look at the situation. He needs to say that while we appreciate the work of the CBSA, we also need legislative tools, such as closing the loophole in the safe third country agreement, to allow it to do its job more effectively.

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4:40 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to come back to the issue of information.

The government is acting as though this information is trivial since it is just the information on our passports. However, the problem with this agreement is that it takes us down the rabbit hole. I would like to remind members that this is just the first step in a more integrated border with the Americans.

Take for example President Trump's immigration order that prevented certain people from entering the country. That, quite frankly, was a racist measure. Sharing the information from people's passports can be problematic because that includes information on their nationality. We have seen cases of racial profiling at the border that targeted Canadians who wanted to enter the United States.

The NDP and I are concerned about the fact that the government wants to share even more information with the Americans, even though there have already been problems and things will only get worse since that information can be used for harmful purposes.

Does my colleague really think that the planned safeguards are sufficient?

Does she not think that we should slow things down a bit and ask ourselves just how much information we are prepared to share to supposedly speed things up at the border?

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4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would make the assumption that people choosing of their own volition to enter Canada, taking a risk that certainly they are not recognized under any sort of official immigration stream, are entering a country that at some point is going to be interested in their exit. The argument the member opposite just made is somewhat moot in that he is implying there would not be consent or knowledge of information being shared, and that is blatantly false.

There is also an assumption in his statement that I would like to rectify, which is the United States is somehow not capable any longer of upholding its democratic principles and arm's-length immigration processes by which Canada and the United States have operated with for years. This is the underlying principle that people who are arguing for the removal or the whole revocation of the safe third country agreement are trying to make. I would argue that the United States is, and remains, one of the strongest democracies in the world and many of its processes with regard to immigration are the most generous and compassionate in the world as well. That is why we have the safe third country agreement to begin with.

Given that we see global forced migration, global migration, and economic migration publicly as one of the biggest policy concerns in the world right now, these sorts of tools will help us maintain the security of our borders and the social licence to operate an integrous and smart immigration system.

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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-21 is being introduced at a rather interesting time and pertains to a very sensitive subject, specifically, privacy. The bill proposes amendments to the Customs Act to allow the collection and sharing of exit information on anyone who leaves Canada, including Canadian citizens, with American authorities.

We in the NDP have to question the legality of this sharing of personal information on Canadians with American authorities, and we believe that Canadian officials should not be collecting this information for the United States or any other country. This should be the responsibility of the American border officials, who already collect data on travellers who enter the United States.

I agree that security imperatives must be taken into account and we must ensure the strength and effectiveness of the the Canada-U.S. border, but this cannot be done at the expense of the rights and freedoms of Canadians.

Data gathered by the Canada Border Services Agency should never be disclosed to foreign agencies, except in exceptional circumstances. In such cases, police forces, such as the RCMP and CSIS, already have measures and practices in place that they can use.

In recent years, whistleblower Edward Snowden spoke to us about U.S. surveillance programs, in particular NASA's program. U.S. President Donald Trump is a populist politician who is lawless, racist, unstable, and, unfortunately, the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. He wants to increase electronic surveillance and the collection of information about foreigners, whether they are tourists or U.S. residents.

Bill C-21 would increase the exchange of information between Canada and the United States. There has been a system to collect and subsequently share exit and entry information at the Canada-U.S. land border since 2011. In 2013, it was established that this only applied to third-country nationals and permanent residents. Since then, the information exchanged by our two countries has not decreased. Americans are always looking for more information.

After hearing this, should Canadians be concerned about their privacy? We believe that the answer is yes. The giant next door influences our policies. After assuring the international community that Canada is back, our Prime Minister is making our country bend once again to what the U.S. wants.

Are we going to again allow our neighbours to dictate their demands without worrying about the consequences for our lives, our freedoms, and our privacy?

Not content with invading the privacy of its own citizens, the United States now wants to invade the privacy of Canadians crossing the border. Bill C-21 would authorize officials to collect data about every individual leaving Canada, including Canadian citizens, and share it with U.S. authorities.

Why does the government think it has the right to decide that it will collect private information about its own citizens and share that information with foreign governments?

I do not have a problem with Canada sharing information with the United States. These days, we need to strengthen our international bonds. However, authorized law enforcement agencies, such as the RCMP and CSIS, can already exchange information in exceptional cases.

With this bill, the government will make information exchange routine regardless of the consequences and how U.S. authorities will use that information. We do not know how our information will be used or who will get it. I cannot fathom why this government wants to collect and exchange even more personal information absent adequate independent oversight by our national security agencies.

Canadians recently lost the protection that was previously afforded to them under the Privacy Act. In January, President Trump signed an order allowing the U.S. to access information on any individual, including Canadians, to verify their identity.

In other words, anyone crossing the border at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, which we are hearing a lot about these days, or at Stanstead can be asked by American customs agents to turn on their phone and give the agents their password for Twitter, Facebook, or any other social network. That is a complete invasion of our privacy. Our own Privacy Commissioner, Daniel Therrien, warned us about this initiative.

He said, and I quote:

The issue is that if you allow greater information-sharing, the legal standards authorizing this activity should be such that law-abiding Canadians, ordinary Canadians who should have nothing to fear from surveillance activities of the state, are not caught by the information-sharing regime.

The bill that is currently before us does exactly the opposite. Although we need to take into account security interests and ensure our safety and the smooth exchange of information at the Canada-U.S. border, as I was saying, we need to be careful and protect our rights and freedoms within Canada. The information that is collected by the Canada Border Services Agency must not be disclosed and shared with foreign authorities.

In addition to all that, it is important to keep in mind the Trump administration's disturbing actions. In light of the discriminatory immigration orders, which, as my colleague from Beloeil—Chambly mentioned, led to the racial profiling of Canadian citizens travelling to the U.S., it comes as no surprise that the right to privacy of non-Americans has been suspended. That is very worrisome. Now, more than ever, this bill poses a threat to the fundamental rights of Canadian travellers.

When will the Liberal government keep its promises and protect its constituents? If it does not set clear limits on the exchange of information and if it does not enhance protections, we will clearly end up in a position of weakness. This affects privacy, but also other areas. The other worrisome thing is how this data will be used. According to The Economist, information is worth more than oil. That says it all. I need not remind the House that many information giants are American, including Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, and that our Canadian and Quebec companies are competing in this environment.

Can we believe for a moment that the information shared with the Americans will remain in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security? There is nothing in this bill or in the government's interventions to indicate that the information that will be disclosed will be used for security purposes only. Economic intelligence gathering is nothing new; the practice is used by both our adversaries and our allies. We get the impression that the Liberal government is hoping that the Trump administration will keep its word.

Trump will swear to us, as he often spontaneously does, hand on heart, that his American administration will never allow that information to be misused for economic purposes. If anyone believes that, that would be the very definition of naivety or gullibility. This is something of a recurring theme. The Liberals promised to be more transparent, and yet it is becoming increasingly difficult to access information. These days, there is a lot of talk about access to information regarding the NAFTA negotiations. We have no information about that. Confidentiality agreements have been signed for a four-year period. These negotiations will have repercussions on all Canadian workers.

The Liberals promised to remove from Bill C-51 any excessive transfers of power to security agencies. That has not yet happened. There was a very modest reform that did not correct all the problems in Bill C-51.

The Liberals also promised to respect official languages. We still do not have an official languages commissioner to investigate complaints and ensure that bilingualism in the House of Commons improves. That still has not happened. A number of promises like that have been broken. I could name several more.

In this case, promises were made about accountability and transparency, but Bill C-21 falls short of keeping them. We want to protect Canadians and the bill on the collection and exchange of exit data does not specify how this information will be used or who it will be exchanged with.

How can we trust our legislators if they cannot get their facts straight on the issue of privacy and how this bill will ultimately work?

In conclusion, we will be opposing this bill. The Liberals are going to have to start over.

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4:55 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech.

What is particularly interesting about all of this is the context. This bill was problematic well before the arrival of Mr. Trump. Since his arrival, however, we have every reason to be concerned about the privacy breaches and the policy of profiling that seem to be entrenched in the procedures of border services officers, especially those in the U.S.

To reassure us, we are told that only the information appearing on a single page of the passport, such as date of birth, name, and nationality, will be shared. The problem, however, is around nationality. Given the reports of profiling and discrimination occurring at the U.S. border targeting Canadian citizens with dual citizenship who wanted to cross the border to work or visit family, for example, we have every reason to be concerned. When this type of information is shared knowing that this culture of profiling exists, we are on a slippery slope. Even if the information may be simple, the reality is very different.

I would like to hear what my colleague has to say about these concerns and Mr. Trump's other executive order under which American privacy laws no longer apply to non-U.S. citizens. That is another problem that can arise from this information being shared.

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4:55 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Mr. Speaker, in light of the current immigration orders, dozens of questions have been asked about the fact that, to cite one example, a University of Sherbrooke student on his way to compete in a sporting event in the U.S. was stopped at the border just because he came from a Middle Eastern country. It led to a complicated situation, and in the end, he did not even get to compete. This shows that there are already prejudices at work at the border, and this bill will magnify this type of incident.

People are always saying that crossing the border is taking longer and longer, but this bill could make things even worse.

It is also troubling that our privacy is no longer being protected. It is said that American authorities will be able to demand access to travellers' social media accounts. That is clearly a privacy violation. This is truly worrisome, because if the government is not going to do anything about it, who will?

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4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

[Member spoke in Cree]

[English]

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4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre will need to provide the question in either of our other official languages so hon. members will have the opportunity to hear what the question is that has been posed. I will ask the hon. member to repeat the question in either English or French for the benefit of all hon. members.