House of Commons Hansard #269 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was organizations.

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(On the Order: Motions)

November 30, 2017—Mrs. Schulte (King—Vaughan)—That the Ninth Report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development (recommendation not to proceed further with Bill C-323, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (rehabilitation of historic property)), presented on Thursday, November 30, 2017, be concurred in.

Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Pursuant to Standing Order 97.1(2), the motion to concur in the ninth report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, recommendation not to proceed further with Bill C-323, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (rehabilitation of historic property), presented on Thursday, November 30, 2017, is deemed to be proposed.

Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to comment on the ninth report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development regarding Bill C-323.

The report is the result of the decision taken last year by this House to refer the bill to committee for further study. Bill C-323 proposes federal tax credits for investments in eligible projects to conserve privately owned heritage properties. During this period, the committee also undertook a robust study of heritage preservation and protection in Canada.

The committee's report, entitled “Preserving Canada's Heritage: The Foundation for Tomorrow”, urges the Government of Canada to better protect and conserve this country's built heritage. Among its 17 recommendations, the report calls for the introduction of financial measures, enhanced federal leadership, and greater collaboration with indigenous peoples.

The Government of Canada welcomes both reports, and I fully support the concurrence motion now before us.

While the end goal of promoting heritage conservation is certainly worthy, the mechanism proposed in Bill C-323 suffers from several significant shortcomings. These shortcomings make it impossible for the standing committee, or for me, to support the proposed legislation.

The standing committee properly points out that Canada must do more to protect its built heritage. As the committee noted, financial incentives that encourage investment in the rehabilitation of historic properties and heritage places have much to offer. The committee, however, identifies many of the fundamental weaknesses in the mechanism proposed in Bill C-323. One such weakness is inherent in any tax changes undertaken outside of the regular budget process. As my hon. colleagues recognize, these types of changes often lead to problems of consistency and coherence in federal fiscal management.

Furthermore, as presented, it is challenging to determine the impact of this bill on federal revenue. Then there are the added costs of administering the tax credit and requisite certification process, along with amending the Income Tax Act.

Other shortcomings of the bill include its lack of an adequate accountability mechanism, and its exclusion of important conservation partners, such as not-for-profit entities, indigenous governments, and municipalities. To me, this lack of inclusivity is serious because it fails to acknowledge a fundamental truth about heritage conservation in our country: it is necessary for it to be a collaborative undertaking.

Bill C-323 was not designed in collaboration with other jurisdictions and partners, and does not properly take into account current conservation tools and approaches. The standing committee emphasizes that for conservation efforts to succeed, they must involve broad collaboration and engagement with other jurisdictions, indigenous groups, stakeholders, and partners.

Our heritage assets are certainly worthy of conservation, and we can and must do a better job of protecting them. To achieve this goal necessarily requires thoughtful, strategic collaboration. Financial measures can be an effective way to support heritage conservation, but only when carefully integrated into a broader framework.

Bill C-323 does not meet this test and does not merit the support of this House. I thank the members of the standing committee for their efforts and fully support the concurrence motion now before us.

Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

March 1st, 2018 / 6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House as the sponsor of Bill C-323, which had the potential to revitalize our heritage sector to preserve Canada's built heritage, something that has had erosion. We are very much a product of what has come before us. Our cities, the places where we live, our small communities are defined by the buildings that are there, but we have lost far too much over Canada's history.

Bill C-323 was a bipartisan effort that was worked on together with members of the Liberal Party and other parties to ensure that something that had been asked for and sought for years and years, and worked on by governments, Liberal and Conservative, behind the scenes, could finally come to fruition through a proper tax credit scheme that would allow for the preservation of our heritage buildings.

Our heritage buildings define communities. They create economic growth. They improve our quality of life. They build social capital. They give people a reason to appreciate where they are, to go to special places, and to make special places.

It is therefore very disappointing to see this report from the environment committee with regard to Bill C-323, particularly in view of the bipartisan support it had in the beginning.

Initially, I worked with members of the Liberal Party and others to develop the bill and get it supported in the House of Commons. It would have created specific tax incentives on eligible heritage restoration work done to designated heritage buildings. Specifically, there would have been a 20% tax credit for rehabilitation and restoration work done to a designated heritage building. The work would have had to be certified by a registered architect. The bill would also have created an accelerated capital cost allowance for capital costs, again finding a way to create an incentive, with minimal cost to the public purse, for people to restore and preserve buildings instead of demolishing them.

In effect, the bill would have created a heritage policy for Canada that is fair to property owners, whom we in the public sector ask to bear the cost and burden of preserving our heritage through our process of designating their buildings and telling them that we want them saved, yet we do not provide anything on the other side to compensate them for those increased costs. This legislation would have created that impact, and it would have had a positive effect on Canada's national heritage.

The National Trust for Canada, our leading organization on built heritage, estimates that we have lost over 20% of our built heritage in the past 30 years, including buildings like the Edison Hotel in Toronto and the Redpath Mansion. For that reason, the national trust was strongly supportive, and it was one of the collaborative partners we worked with to develop this bill.

In fact, what the member said is entirely, patently untrue. There was enormous consultation with stakeholders, municipalities, etc. that went into the development of the bill. Through that process of consultation, it became evident that heritage means so much to many communities. It creates value for those communities and encourages tourism. It is something all Canadians can enjoy. That is why the bill had so much support.

What support did we have though the consultation? It was across political lines. It was across the nation. It was from individual members of Parliament, from dozens of historical societies, and dozens and dozens of municipalities. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities supported it. The royal society of architects supported it. Provincial governments supported it. I could go on and on.

The suggestion that it did not provide for collaboration with partners shows that whoever wrote that speech had no comprehension of the way heritage designation works, or the way the bill was crafted. In fact, it created a partnership that did not exist up until then among provinces, which set the terms for heritage preservation; municipalities, which make the decisions on which buildings to designate; and, finally, putting into the piece the federal partnership through the support for restoration. There could be nothing better than building a collaborative partnership. That is why I was so pleased to see that partnership build and the bill pass through second reading in the House, with support, it should be noted, from members of every party. It was not all the members of every party in the House, but members from every party in the House supported the bill, including several members of the Liberal Party.

At committee, a consensus emerged that mirrored the consensus across Canada that the bill would have a tremendous positive impact on our heritage built stock, and on the communities we live in. It seemed that all members of the committee were quite supportive. This was evident in their comments and their questions for the witnesses.

The members heard a lot about tax credits elsewhere, including for example the one in the United States, which has had a huge impact in revitalizing inner cities, in creating economic activity, and in creating tourist attractions and hubs where they never were before.

The Urban Land Institute magazine showcases its best projects of the year. Every year it overwhelming shows projects that have at their heart the American version of this heritage tax credit. People saw that it was valuable.

Also in that study they learned that the costs were minimal. In fact, the likely impact on the fiscal framework federally was because of the incentive it created for restoration and the like, and the economic spinoffs and developments that happened. More than any of these other kinds of studies that give us dubious reports on economic impact, this impact would be positive and taxpayers would get far more back than they ever put out, as well as the significant public benefits that would have been derived.

Then something happened. Just before it came time for the committee to vote, the Prime Minister's Office cracked down on its MPs for speaking their minds at committee and for having the temerity to have voted as they saw fit at second reading. Many of them had personally worked on the bill at second reading and to get it through to committee. Despite all of their previous support, Liberal MPs were forced to vote down the bill at committee by the Prime Minister's Office against their will. I understand that one of them was virtually in tears.

Supporters of the bill were understandably disappointed to see the bill voted down. Bill C-323 was an opportunity to refocus our efforts on heritage preservation during the 150th anniversary of Confederation. The policy seemed ideal for the milestone year in our nation's history. Unfortunately, the committee made the decision that we are now considering today.

We heard that in the companion report there was, believe it or not, a recommendation for tax credits like this. However, the criticism was, as we just heard in the speech from the government, that it should be done through the normal budget process. This was the criticism levelled by critics, and that is what was in speeches previously.

This committee report was tabled last year. The budget process continued. The budget was this week. Anybody who suggested to we wait for the budget and the proper budget process misled supporters of the bill, supporters of heritage preservation. No such tax credit was forthcoming. No such policy was forthcoming. It simply did not exist. The story about a budget process was a mere excuse for a government being so miserly and short sighted that it would not allow the more visionary members of a caucus who saw the value in the bill to support it as they had at second reading.

It is not surprising we see this from the Liberal government. I have been fond of noting that it seems to have a bit of a war on history. We saw it in the 150th anniversary of Confederation, where the themes disallowed the observance of the actual event of Confederation or events that celebrated our history. The five themes that were selected were fine. but if we wanted to have any support or assistance or to be part of the federal government's Canada 150 festivities, history and Confederation were not allowed.

This is just one of many examples of how the Liberal government has continued and perpetuated that war on Canadian history.

There was the cancellation of the Canada 150 medals for those people in local historical societies who do so much to build their communities. All of a sudden the opportunity to recognize people like that, people who build Canada, was wiped out. Why? Because the government is committed to a war on history.

There is a American great author who said, “History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” We are losing that here.

There was a great Canadian historian and author with great influence, Canon Lionel Groulx, who said:

No, a nation cannot separate itself from its past any more than a river can separate itself from its source, or sap from the soil whence it arises. No generation is self-sufficient. It can and does happen that a generation does forget its history, or turns its back upon it; such an action is a betrayal of history.

Then of course there was the great Joseph Howe, who resisted Confederation 150 years ago. He then embraced it, and joined the cabinet of Sir. John A. Macdonald later. He noted:

A wise nation preserves its records, gathers up its muniments, decorates tombs of its illustrious dead, repairs great public structures and fosters national pride and love of country by perpetual reference to sacrifices and glories of the past.

That was Joseph Howe in 1871. That is what Bill C-323 would do, and that is why I still encourage some within the Liberal Party to have the courage and conviction to support it, and to reject this report from the committee to turn down Bill C-323.

Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Stetski NDP Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for York—Simcoe for introducing this private member's bill.

Canadians take great pride in their built heritage, as they do in their diverse culture and history. Bill C-323 would provide Canadians with a much needed tax credit to assist them in repairing and maintaining heritage buildings. I have spoken with many constituents in my riding of Kootenay—Columbia, and the bill is very welcomed there. We have many heritage homes and other buildings, and repairing them can be very expensive.

Recently, I had the privilege of sitting on the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development while we studied this bill. At the same time, the committee also looked at the state of federal funding and management of national heritage. Along with other members of the committee, I learned a great deal. I learned that between 2003 and 2006, the federal government offered financial incentives for the restoration of commercial buildings.

Over three years, the commercial heritage properties incentive fund contributed $15 million for this purpose. The economic impact of the fund was $143.4 million in restoration work, a sound investment, and in fact, almost a ten to one return on government investment. While the committee examined many heritage concerns, I will focus on the testimony and recommendations about built heritage because they speak directly to the issues we are considering here with Bill C-323.

The committee heard from Ms. Natalie Bull, executive director of the National Trust for Canada. Ms. Bull said:

Why would a parliamentary committee be concerned with the state of historic places in Canada? I think there are lots of great reasons. For a start, there is the potential for positive impacts on climate change. Canada's buildings are the third-largest greenhouse gas emitting sector, and the reuse and renewal of heritage buildings capitalizes on materials and energy already invested, reduces construction and demolition waste, and avoids the environmental impact associated with new development.

In addition to climate change benefits, historic places can contribute to a strong economy. Rehabilitation projects generate up to 21% more jobs than the same investment in new construction. They're a great stimulus measure, and they typically use local labour and materials, such that 75% of the economic benefits of heritage rehabilitation projects tend to remain in the communities where these buildings are located.

More jobs, action on climate change, and reduced waste all seem like excellent reasons to support Bill C-323. It would have been great for the government to have included funding for this in its budget released earlier this week.

Personally, I was very disappointed that there was no money in the government's 2018-2019 budget to fund a national home energy retrofit program across Canada for homes in general and nothing for heritage homes either.

Mr. Chris Wiebe, the manager of heritage policy and government relations at the National Trust, reiterated the organization's support for this legislation. He said:

First, we would recommend implementation of a federal heritage rehabilitation tax incentive, such as the measures recently proposed in Bill C-323. That is a proven way to attract private and corporate investment to privately owned historic places and to give them vibrant new uses. Two, the government could consider extending a rehabilitation tax credit to heritage homeowners to get even more impact. Three, federal investment in seed funding for creative financing mechanisms like crowdfunding could help many more charities and not-for-profits attract private donations and would save and renew some of the thousands of other heritage buildings that make up the fabric of our communities. Finally, an increase in federal cost-shared funding available for the national historic sites heritage places program would help turn the tide of neglect for these important national icons as well.

While Bill C-323 would not answer all of these questions, it would be a good start toward supporting Canadian heritage. In fact, when the environment and sustainable development committee, which I sat on, made its recommendations to the House of Commons on these matters, it spoke directly to the need for a tax credit. The committee tabled its 10th report entitled “Preserving Canada's Heritage: the Foundation for Tomorrow”, in December 2017, just two short months ago. Recommendation no. 11 of that report said:

The Committee recommends that the federal government establish a tax credit for the restoration and preservation of buildings listed on the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

That would appear to be a slam dunk for Bill C-323. The committee recommends a tax credit for heritage building restoration and preservation. A bill comes before the committee that does exactly that, yet the Liberals on the committee went against their own recommendations and voted to kill the legislation. They forced through a report that recommended that the House stop dealing with Bill C-323. If those members of Parliament received anywhere near as much correspondence supporting the bill as I did, I have to say that their constituents will be very disappointed. Still, we have a chance to pass the proposed legislation at third reading, and I call upon all members of the House to support it.

Members may be interested in knowing what else the committee recommended on the issue of built heritage. Recommendation 12 of the report says:

The Committee recommends that the federal government, in co-operation with provincial and territorial governments, work to adapt future versions of Canada’s National Model Building Codes in a manner that will facilitate the restoration and the rehabilitation of existing buildings and the preservation of their heritage characteristics.

This is important, because old buildings do not easily adapt to new building codes. One example, given by Mr. Robert Eisenberg at York Heritage Properties, is that adding insulation to the roofs of older buildings increases snow load in the winter because heat no longer escapes through the roof to melt the snow, thus threatening the building's structural integrity.

The committee spent time looking at issues specific to rural areas, like my riding of Kootenay—Columbia, resulting in recommendation 13, which reads:

The Committee recommends that Parks Canada review its National Cost-Sharing Program and, if it is determined that rural sites are under-represented in applications for funding or in the awarding of funding, steps should be taken to improve the program.

Rural areas have specific struggles when it comes to preserving heritage buildings. In particular, there is sometimes a lack of specialized craftspeople and specialty materials available locally, and the cost to bring them in from bigger cities is prohibitive. That is why heritage buildings in many rural areas are left to fall into neglect. I am very fortunate in my riding of Kootenay—Columbia to have a number of very skilled tradespeople who are ready, willing, and able to rehabilitate heritage homes.

While recommendation 13 did not address the need for a tax credit directly, it is clear that the passage of Bill C-323 would be particularly valuable in rural areas like mine. Finally, heritage building owners would be able to afford the additional expenses required to restore these important buildings.

I wish to finish my remarks today by reading from a January 2017 letter I received from the City of Nelson that asked me to support Bill C-323. The City of Nelson said that these tax measures could transform the economic fundamentals for renewing historic places and encourage building conservation of every size and type, from landmark commercial buildings to modest homes.

I agree and that is why we will be voting in support of Bill C-323.

Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Is the House ready for the question?

Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

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

Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

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

Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

All those opposed will please say nay.

Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 97.1(2), the division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 21, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

HousingAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Pat Kelly Conservative Calgary Rocky Ridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to discuss the answer and to revisit the question I asked in November, when I asked the government about media reports of a new building code. I pointed out then that under the current government, the dream of home ownership had become increasingly out of reach for many Canadians, particularly young Canadians. This is a function of many things, which include rising prices and the restrictions on access to credit that have taken place under the government's watch, but this new building code would become a further barrier to home ownership, as it is something that would have the potential to drive up costs.

The answer I received that day was unsatisfactory, like many other answers members of the government and the parliamentary secretaries give, when they congratulate themselves and pat themselves on the back. It talked about the low carbon economy fund and the benefits of efficient buildings, which is all well and good.

However, the main problem with this new code, as was reported then, is the business of the requirement for compliance at life-cycle events for a building. Many consumers who heard about this at the time were concerned. I know that my colleague, the member for Banff—Airdrie, has also raised questions about this. The concern is about the marketability of a property and the requirement reported at that time that a homeowner would be obligated to ensure compliance with this new building code at a life-cycle event, such as the sale of the property.

For seniors, in particular, who come to the time in life when they no longer wish to occupy the home that perhaps they raised their families in and who would maybe have older homes to suddenly be confronted with the cost of compliance with a new code would be troubling. The member for Kootenay—Columbia, in the debate on the previous bill, mentioned the difficulty and expense of retrofitting a building.

The energy efficiency of a building is part of its market value. People will pay for an efficient home. Efficiency creates its own incentives. No one wants to pay more to heat a home, and there are many built-in incentives in having an efficient home.

I was concerned about the answer I received then, and I remain concerned about the government's direction with this new building code. We are concerned about how they are going to compel provinces to comply and compel existing homeowners to comply, which is probably the most troubling part of this new building code, as it was reported last fall.

HousingAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Northumberland—Peterborough South Ontario

Liberal

Kim Rudd LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member opposite's continued interest in this very important issue.

Our government is serious about tackling climate change, and doing so in ways that best serve Canadians. That is why our government is working in collaboration with the provinces and territories to develop a new model code for existing buildings and homes by 2022. It is part of the pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change, and the buildings strategy adopted by federal, provincial, and territorial energy ministers just last year. It is supported by the $182 million we included in budget 2017 to improve energy efficiency in existing buildings and encourage the construction of new net-zero energy buildings across the country.

Canadians understand the benefits of such efforts. They recognize that making their homes more energy efficient will result in lower monthly utility bills, improved comfort, and a higher resale value down the road. Through the Generation Energy dialogue, we asked Canadians to imagine their energy future. It is clear that Canadians want to take action on energy efficiency as part of the transition to a low-carbon energy future. Provinces, territories, and G20 member countries are also moving in this direction. However, none of this will happen overnight. Instead, we are signalling our intentions to the market so that there is plenty of time to adjust and adapt.

Our country's history with furnaces is a good example of how well this approach works. The price of residential gas furnaces dropped 30% between 2000 and 2010, because the market had plenty of lead time before new regulations were finalized. That is why we are also working with the building industry to lower energy and construction costs through innovative research, development, and demonstration projects. That is why we are investing in new building technologies that will bring costs down even more for consumers.

This is a five-year process that explicitly considers cost-effectiveness and affordability. It is a process that is both evidence-based and consensus-driven. It is a process built around industry-wide consultations, regional representation, and plenty of opportunities for public input well in advance of the new codes being published. This is how it should be, a truly national exercise that is led by the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes, that respects provincial and territorial jurisdiction over how new homes and buildings are constructed, and that supports partners in the building industry to come up with solutions that work for Canadians.

I am not sure why the member for Calgary Rocky Ridge is opposed to any of that. The energy we use to power, heat, and cool our homes and buildings accounts for 17% of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. Why is the member opposite opposed to finding cost-effective ways to reduce that, especially since as much as 75% of the buildings in Canada today will still be in use in 2030? It just makes sense to make them as energy efficient as is possible, reasonable, and practical, and we are doing this by working with all Canadians.

HousingAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Pat Kelly Conservative Calgary Rocky Ridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, perhaps the member did not quite understand the question or the nature of my concern, because I am certainly not opposed to or have any problem at all with the goal of efficiency, far from it. I think any homeowner wants a home that is heat-efficient. That is certainly not a problem at all.

The problem, which the member did not address in her response to my question tonight, nor did she respond to or address it when this issue was raised in the House by both me and the member for Banff—Airdrie, is the portion of the proposal that deals with compulsion at life-cycle events in the building, in particular, a sale of the property. This is the portion of what had been reported then that caused the most concern. It was compelling—

HousingAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

HousingAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kim Rudd Liberal Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON

Mr. Speaker, a clean energy future is not just a nice-to-have. It is a must-have. That is why we are investing in clean technology and innovations that support both economic prosperity and environmental protection.

Energy efficiency is an important part of that equation. It has to be when the building sector is a significant contributor to Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. The transition to a low-carbon economy demands that we ensure new and existing buildings are more efficient.

We will continue to work with all Canadians to find innovative solutions that also happen to help homeowners save money on their energy bills and increase the health, comfort, and resale value of their homes.

Access to InformationAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am here today to talk about a question I asked last year on Bill C-58.

Just so the citizens of North Island—Powell River, who I am proud to represent, know what we are talking about, I am going to repeat the question. The minister keeps repeating that his government is the first in 30 years to make improvements to access to information. However, the Information Commissioner was very clear when she said that the Liberals' Bill C-58 is regressive and that the status quo would be better than what they are proposing, meaning that Stephen Harper's government was more open and accountable than the current government. Canadians were promised more accountability and transparency. Will the government work with us to help it actually keep that election promise?

This is a very important question. The constituents I talked to across my riding spoke passionately about their concerns around Bill C-51 from the last government, and about wanting to make sure things were transparent. The President of the Treasury Board said that we are reaching a new bar, and this is absolutely not the truth. It is important we remember who the expert is in this, and that is the Information Commissioner, who said, “I would much prefer to keep the status quo.”

This is incredibly important to my constituents. This is about the transparency of government. It is about making sure information is accessible. We know so many issues have come to light because Canadians, journalists, and NGOs use access to information to ask important questions that deserve answers. I do not understand why the government created a bill that really just blocks this.

Let us look at the facts. Residential school survivors fighting the government for decades for acknowledgement of the terrible and horrific abuse they faced, the reality that type 1 diabetes in Canada is now being rejected, the under-reporting of sexual assaults in Canada, Afghan detainees and those horrendous stories we heard, these were all discovered by the access to information that this bill totally erases. That is horrendous in this day and age.

One of the most concerning things for me is the fact that the bill talks about people who may be vexatious. What may appear to the government as vexatious may be of the utmost interest for Canadians. Who gets to decide what that is? How do Canadians appeal the decision by a department? This is really important. I know the people of North Island—Powell River are very concerned. They want to know we have information and have access to it, and that journalists have access to it, so that we can learn what is happening in this country. This completely bars the way. We really need to take a moment to reflect on that.

At this point, the bill has passed through the House, but this is leading to something that will be an ever-growing concern. When the government talks about increased transparency and when it says that the PM's office can be talked to now and people can ask for information, that is simply not true. When the Information Commissioner is saying that what we have now, which was in much need of change, is better than what is being proposed, all Canadians need to stand up and take notice of what is happening.

That is why I am here today, and I think we all must focus on this. Whoever is in government has tremendous power. It must be held in check. That is what democracy is all about.

Access to InformationAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.

Northumberland—Peterborough South Ontario

Liberal

Kim Rudd LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for this opportunity to speak to Bill C-58.

Bill C-58 is guided by the principle that government information belongs to the people it serves. It advances the original intent of the act in a way that reflects today's technologies, policies, and legislation. It does this by kicking off a progressive, ongoing renewal of the AT system, one that will protect Canadians' right of access to government information well into the future. It does this by adding a new part of the act relating to proactive disclosure, one that puts into practice the idea of “open by default”.

The proactive disclosure system will apply to more than 240 departments, agencies, and crown corporations, including 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 will also be putting into law the proactive publication of information that is known to be of high interest to Canadians, information that provides greater transparency and accountability for the use of public funds. These include travel and hospitality expenses for ministers and their staff, and senior officials across government. I was happy to hear that the member was talking about the concerns her constituency has. I am sure they will be happy to know that finally the NDP joined our government in the proactive disclosure of expenses. It took a while but we are happy they are on board with us.

Contracts over $10,000, and all contracts of MPs and senators will also be included, as well as all 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; and the briefing binders prepared for question period and parliamentary committee appearances. Departments will also regularly review the information being requested under the act to help us understand and increase the kinds of information that could be proactively disclosed.

We will also strengthen the request-based side of the system by developing a guide to provide requesters with clear explanations for exemptions and exclusions, investing in tools to make processing information requests more efficient, allowing federal institutions with the same minister to share request processing services for greater efficiency, and increasing government training to get common and consistent interpretation and application of the ATI rules.

We are also following the guidance of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. We are moving to help government institutions weed out bad faith requests that put a significant strain on the system. By tying up government resources, such vexatious requests can interfere with an institution's ability to do its other work and to respond to other requests. We need to get this right and recognize that while this new tool is needed to significantly improve the system, everything from sound policy to training to proper oversight must be done to prevent its abuse.

In addition, the proposed legislation gives the Information Commissioner new powers, including the power to order the release of government records. This is an important advancement that was first recommended by a parliamentary committee studying the Access to Information Act in 1987. 0ur government is acting on it and Bill C-58 will change the commissioner's role from an ombudsperson to an authority with the power to order the release of government records.

After 34 years, Canada's ATI system needs updating—

Access to InformationAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The hon. member North Island—Powell River.

Access to InformationAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.

NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am just so disappointed. One of the realities is that there were many amendments given forth to this committee, some really meaningful ones. When we talk about a government that made a lot of promises about working across this aisle, about collaboration, we absolutely did not see that.

I just have to go back to the vexatious part. Who decides this? Allowing a department to decide what is vexatious to them could be something fundamentally important to Canadians, so who gets to decide that? That is what I am hoping this member will answer. Who gets to decide and what is the appeal process so that citizens of this country have a right to have their questions answered?

Access to InformationAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kim Rudd Liberal Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I said, we are proud to be the first government in over 30 years to make substantial improvements to the Access to Information Act. We understand that more must be done, which is why Bill C-58 includes a mandatory review of the act every five years, the first review beginning no later than one year after the bill receives royal assent.

Let us be clear, Bill C-58, for the first time in 34 years, gives the Information Commissioner order-making powers. That is an advancement. For the first time ever, the act applies to the minister's offices and to the PMO. That is an advancement. For the first time ever, the act applies to 240 federal entities from the courts to the ports. That is also an advancement.