Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased and proud to speak to Bill C-58 as the official opposition critic for the Treasury Board.
Let us put things in perspective. The bill was debated and passed in the House. Then it was sent to the Senate, which proposed amendments. In accordance with our legislative and parliamentary procedure, once the Senate made its proposals, these must be brought back to the House for analysis, and the House must accept or reject the proposals. The government calls the shots in that regard.
Essentially, the government has decided to accept most of the Senate's amendments, but it opposed four proposals, two of which are particularly interesting.
In the time I have, I will take an in-depth look and clearly explain why those four proposals should be in the act. Unfortunately, the government rejected them.
That attitude has led to the one of the worst crises of public confidence in the government, especially when it comes to the respect that the government should have for the responsibilities of the Canadian army. In fact, just a few minutes ago, here in the House, we honoured some of our bravest men and women in uniform.
Bill C-58 is a tricky bill. It is tricky yet essential, since it concerns privacy protection and the disclosure of information. We basically need to strike a balance between the public's right to information and privacy.
I know what I am talking about, having had the good fortune and privilege of being a journalist for more than 20 years. On July 17, 1989, I was officially hired as a journalist by the TQS television station in Quebec City. That was the start of a 20-year career. Actually, the year before that, I was hired by the Canadian Press to fill in as a parliamentary reporter covering the National Assembly of Quebec. During the 1988 general election, Michel Dolbec, who was a journalist at NTR and the Canadian Press, left. I replaced him for six weeks. That was my first experience as a journalist. I am not going to get into my entire life story. My point is that this is very important to me.
This issue is quite important, because we are talking about the balance we have to protect, as parliamentarians, between the right to information, which means that we protect the good work of the free press in our democracy, and on the other hand, making sure that people have their privacy respected. It is not a very easy thing to address, but this is what democracy is all about. It is about letting the press do its job while making sure that people are well protected with regard to their privacy, and especially their private lives.
It has been quite a while since this legislation was first brought forward and all the political parties committed to reviewing it. It is important to remember that the first Privacy Act dates back to 1983.
If we look back 36 years, we were entering a new world. Certain rules were needed. Year after year, successive governments thought that the rules would need to be updated one day to ensure that the approach taken in 1983 was still relevant. In 2006, the Conservative government initiated the first update to that legislation.
As mentioned earlier by the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and member for Hull—Aylmer, who is also my MP when I am in Ottawa, the fact is that in 1983, the World Wide Web, the system that led to the Internet, was not nearly as widely used as it is today. It was basically restricted to very small scientific and military circles.
To get back to what I was saying, in 2006, the Conservatives laid the foundation for a much-needed update. From one government to the next, election after election, everyone committed to reviewing the legislation to adapt it to the realities of the 21st century, such as the advent of social media and greater access to information. This dramatically changed how journalists and investigators do their jobs, as well as the information to which everyone has access.
Members will also recall that in 2016, in the last Parliament, a report was tabled that included 32 recommendations. Most of them made their way into the legislation and have been implemented to various degrees. Some of the recommendations that were not included in the legislation were subsequently proposed by the Senate and were either implemented or rejected by the government, which is part of the legislative process.
This piece of legislation is quite important, because since 1983, we have had a law here in Canada on the protection of personal information. It has been a long ride since then, but we have to understand that in 1983, there was no World Wide Web, aside from in some laboratories, universities and the military. People in general did not have access to this new reality of the 21st century. That is why, when my party was in office in 2006, we touched up that legislation, and finally, in this Parliament, the government tabled Bill C-58.
The first version of this bill was introduced a while back. That may come as a bit of a surprise, since this bill was the next logical step after the Liberal Party's election promise to address the dire need for more democratic privacy legislation. This promise appeared in the Liberals' infamous election platform, along with a number of other broken promises. For instance, they promised to run three modest deficits. Instead, they have posted three huge deficits in the last three years. In 2015, the Liberal Party also promised a zero deficit by 2019, but we now have a $19.8-billion deficit. The government has not kept its word, and Canadians will pay the price.
The Liberals' election platform also included a promise to update the privacy legislation, which led to Bill C-58. That is why I am talking about it in this speech. Obviously, when we talk about something, we must get to the point, lay out the facts and stay focused. I just felt it was important to remind the House that the Liberal Party's 2015 election platform said that they would introduce legislation on this issue, and the result was Bill C-58. Their platform also included a string of broken promises that the Liberals will have to answer for on October 21.
I would like to table the document in question, that is, the election platform. Over the past three years, I probably tried to do so 150 times, which is barely an exaggeration, but my requests are always denied. Again today, after question period, I asked for leave to table an official document of the Government of Quebec's environment ministry, which was tabled in the National Assembly by the Quebec premier on November 29. Unfortunately, once again, the government refused to let Canadians have access, here in the House, to serious, rigorous, scientific and official data on the environment compiled by the Government of Quebec. We will definitely have an opportunity to come back to this. In short, this was an important piece of legislation for the government.
When the new cabinet was sworn in at Rideau Hall, in November 2015, after the November 19 election, the Prime Minister gave each new minister a mandate letter. The Minister of Democratic Institutions' mandate letter stated, “Work with the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Justice to enhance the openness of government, including supporting a review of the Access to Information Act.”
Then, there is the Minister of Justice; he, too, was called upon to work collaboratively in his mandate letter. Actually, back then, the position was held by a woman. I apologize for misleading the House. The fact of the matter is that the individual who once held the position of justice minister resigned and was ejected from caucus. She now sits as an independent.
This unfortunately happened in the wake of a situation considered to be shameful and outrageous by any Canadian who understands that politics and the judicial process must be kept separate. I will talk more about this later.
The justice minister's mandate letter stated the following:
Work with the President of the Treasury Board to enhance the openness of government, including supporting his review of the Access to Information Act to ensure that Canadians have easier access to their own personal information, that the Information Commissioner is empowered to order government information to be released and that the Act applies appropriately to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.
I should also point out that the president of the treasury board in question also resigned. The Prime Minister claimed that he was behind all of this government's misfortunes in 2019. I will talk more about this later.
That is no small task that the Prime Minister gave his former justice minister, whom he later ousted from his caucus. Many of the tasks outlined in that letter did not even come close to being accomplished, but that is another story. Canadians will have their say on October 21, just four months and a few days from now.
In June 2017, after two years in office, the government introduced Bill C-58. I would like to recognize the outstanding work of my colleague in the upper chamber, Quebec Senator Claude Carignan. I believe I am allowed to say his name. Here in the House, we cannot identify MPs by their names, but I think I am allowed to do so when referring to a parliamentarian from the upper chamber.
Senator Carignan is a lawyer and the one responsible for the extraordinary legislation to protect whistleblowers. Members will recall that, two years ago, Senator Carignan introduced a bill in the Senate to provide better protection for whistleblowers. I had the great honour and privilege to sponsor that bill here in the House of Commons. We would therefore like to recognize Senator Carignan's outstanding work to protect access to information, freedom of the press and journalists' ability to do their job properly.
Senator Carignan played a major role in the analysis of this bill. Senator Carignan is a lawyer and a well-known parliamentarian who was nominated 10 years ago by Prime Minister Harper. He is doing a tremendous job with respect to protecting whistle-blowers. He tabled a bill two years ago in the Senate. I had the privilege of being the sponsor here in the House of Commons of this great piece of legislation.
I want to pay my respects to Senator Carignan, who played a major role in the study of Bill C-58 in the Senate of Canada.
In a speech he gave in the upper chamber on May 3, Senator Carignan noted that former information commissioner Suzanne Legault had expressed serious reservations in her report about Bill C-58, which had been tabled in the Senate in September 2017, writing:
Rather than advancing access to information rights, Bill C-58 would instead result in a regression of existing rights.
Later in his speech, Senator Carignan made the following remark:
Senator Pate spoke about this. A number of Indigenous groups have asked that Bill C-58 be simply withdrawn. Former information commissioners have spoken out against it. Several commentators hope it will not be passed. Senator McCoy pointed out that Bill C-58 makes a mockery of the very essence of access to information, and I share her opinion. She wanted the Senate to block the bill, but she dares not do it now.
Senator Carignan was warning of a very valid and relevant issue that had been raised by many commentators and journalists. Many professional journalists' associations felt that, although the government got elected by vaunting its lofty principles, the very essence of Bill C-58 fell well short of those goals.
As former information commissioner Suzanne Legault said, this was not a step forward, it was a step back. That is why the Senate did its work. Members will recall that the official opposition voted against the bill. Since we are now at the stage following the upper chamber's study of the bill and the tabling of amendments, let us focus on what the senators did.
That is why the amendments were tabled and voted for by a majority of senators. As I said, we are now studying the proposed amendments.
In the big picture, the government accepted most of the amendments tabled by the Senate, but unfortunately decided to put aside what we consider to be four key elements of this legislation and the amendment tabled by the the Senate.
The government said, in a very respectful way in the words that were read a few minutes ago, that it put aside amendments No. 3 and No. 12 and will also put aside paragraph No. 6. It also put aside amendment No. 15(c).
Now let us talk about two Senate amendments that we believe should be included in the legislation. Unfortunately, the current government is rejecting those amendments.
I will now look at amendment 12, which I mentioned earlier in my question to the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board. The amendment proposes:
12. New clause 30.2, page 17: Add the following after line 37:
“30.2 Subsection 67.1(1) of the Act is amended by adding the following after paragraph (b):
(b.1) use any code, moniker or contrived word or phrase in a record in place of the name of any person, corporation, entity, third party or organization;”.
This is a key element that I will have a chance to debate later. I will also provide a specific example that we believe justifies keeping this subsection. Unfortunately, this amendment was rejected by the current government.
In the next few minutes, I will go over the tragic ordeal our country went through because of this government's arrogant attitude. I am referring to the sad affair of Vice-Admiral Norman.
The other amendment that we believe should have been accepted is amendment 3, which reads:
3. New clause 6.2, page 4: Add the following after line 4:
“6.2 Subsection 9(2) of the Act is replaced by the following:
(2) An extension of a time limit under paragraph (1)(a) or (b) may not be for more than 30 days except with the prior written consent of the Information Commissioner.”.
Before getting to the topic at hand, I want to commend the outstanding work of the legislative drafters. When we read clauses of bills, they can seem arduous and hard to understand. They are especially difficult to follow since the language is very technical. I would like to commend the outstanding work of the legislative drafters of the Parliament of Canada, who check, word for word, line by line—