Madam Speaker, I am proud to continue second reading of Bill C-11, the digital charter implementation act, 2020. I am proud because our government set out to deliver an ambitious and comprehensive reform of Canada's framework for protecting the privacy of Canadians while fostering innovation amongst Canadian businesses.
That is exactly what we have done. There are strong imperatives for advancing this important package of reforms to our framework for privacy protection. Canadians deserve and expect strong protections, just as businesses deserve and expect clear rules of the road so that they can confidently deliver the products and services consumers want in an increasingly digital society.
Prior to my time in government, I spent 20 years in the business world. I know how critical trust and confidence can be in business: trust between manufacturers and their suppliers, between exporters and importers, and between businesses and consumers.
In today's digital economy, protecting personal information is key to earning and maintaining that trust.
In that spirit, Bill C-11 includes robust privacy protections for Canadians, and rightly so.
Harsh penalties could be imposed for violations. This new law will also provide a solid framework for businesses seeking to prosper in the digital economy. These businesses will be well placed to earn and keep their customers' trust, without compromising their ability to innovate and meet the demands of an increasingly well-informed customer base.
Bill C-11 seeks to strike the right balance between these imperatives and the need to boost Canadians' confidence in the digital economy.
There are important reasons to move forward with this legislation, and I hope all of my colleagues in the House will be supportive.
As we have noted in the previous debate and members are well aware, the consumer privacy protection act proposed in Bill C-11 would serve to bring Canada in line with other international jurisdictions. In particular, the CPPA would support interoperability of Canada's privacy regime with that of the European Union, a very important partner for Canada. I will speak more about the importance of that in a moment.
This bill would also support a strong and coherent national framework for privacy so that Canadians and businesses would know what to expect from coast to coast to coast. We are not alone in seeing the urgency of modernizing and strengthening privacy laws in the current environment. The provinces do, too. While Quebec continues to advance proposed new provincial legislation, Ontario and British Columbia are also considering new legislation or substantive amendments to their existing provincial laws.
Moving forward with our legislation now allows us to continue to provide leadership in this area and ensure a harmonized approach to privacy protection across our nation. This is really crucial for business and to encourage investment in Canada. It is also crucial to ensuring that all Canadians can have an equivalent level of privacy protection, wherever they decide to conduct business.
The past year has clearly demonstrated how fundamental digital and data-driven technologies have become in our economy and our society at large. Never before, as a society, have we been more reliant on secure, efficient and accessible technologies as a means of conducting a range of everyday activities.
As I noted previously, the foundation for such a robust digital and data-driven economy is trust.
Canadians have been clear in saying they want strong legal protections for their personal information, backed up by meaningful enforcement and oversight. They have indicated to us these principles are essential to their participation in the digital economy. Businesses also recognize this, and are seeking clear and consistent rules in this area.
Our previous legislation has served us well for almost 20 years, but the digital economy, as we all know, is constantly evolving and we must evolve with it. A modern privacy framework will set the right foundation not only for a post-pandemic recovery, but for many years to come.
I noted how important privacy protection is to the various levels of government, including the provinces and our international partners. The federal private sector privacy law is based on one key objective: bringing in national guidelines for organizations that do most of their business on the Internet, a global network that knows no borders.
We want to build a strong, innovative national economy. In order to get there, privacy rules have to be harmonized at the national level. Businesses and consumers are counting on the leadership of the federal government to set national standards in this area.
In the past few years, a parliamentary committee has examined the private sector privacy law, and I thank the committee for its work. During its study, many business representatives and experts underscored the importance of maintaining adequate protection under the European Union General Data Protection Regulation. We must ensure the free flow of data from the European Union to Canada. The same goes for data from the United Kingdom, whose data protection system is comparable to that of the European Union.
The European Commission clearly indicated that Canada had to make changes to its privacy protection regime to retain its preferred status. As a former minister of international trade and minister of foreign affairs, I can say that this is of crucial importance to Canada.
I am convinced that the proposed reforms to the personal information protection legislation for the private sector will help us attain this objective without giving up our singularly Canadian perspective.
My department's mandate for economic growth and development has required that we consider many factors when determining how to modernize and strengthen a privacy law that applies to the marketplace. One of the goals of Bill C-11 is for businesses to understand their obligations so they can build strong privacy protections from the outset in their business. Our current law and the new law that is proposed apply across sectors, businesses and activities. This means the bill must meet a diverse range of needs and be equally easy to follow for any line of work, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses. To achieve this we must first provide businesses with certainty and clarity regarding their obligations. That is why we are proposing to change the way the law is drafted.
PIPEDA, the framework that has been routinely referred to by the acronym, was based on a series of principles. The new law has translated these principles into clear legal requirements. We have also clarified the application of the act in a number of key areas.
Second, we must help businesses better understand how these obligations concretely apply to their activities and operations. The consumer privacy protection act would provide businesses with the opportunity to consult the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada without fear of repercussions. Businesses would be able to fully understand the requirements and to comply before problems arose. The bill includes a framework for the recognition of codes of conduct and certification programs. These provisions will specify how the law applies in particular sectors or areas.
These measures are especially important for our small business owners. They need to be able to focus on what matters most: quality products, good customer service and growing their businesses, while having confidence that they are following the rules. We also need to make sure that we do not add unnecessary administrative burdens, particularly on those who may not have the time or resources to invest in complex legal analysis and advice.
Our approach ensures that fundamental protections are established and enforced in a way that is fair and accessible to all businesses, no matter their size. We must provide sufficient incentives for compliance to ensure a level playing field across the marketplace. In recent years, the Privacy Commissioner has called for a stronger enforcement regime under the private sector privacy law. Bill C-11 responds to this.
The Privacy Commissioner of Canada is at the heart of the Canadian privacy regime. The commissioner and his office help businesses understand the act and intervene to protect Canadians in the event of a breach. It stands to reason that the new legislation enhances the role and powers of the commissioner.
The commissioner already plays an education role, which will continue and be strengthened under the new regime. The commissioner will retain his key research and guidance role, as well as being assigned the new task of reviewing organizational privacy practices. The commissioner will also review and approve codes of practice and certification programs. This will give organizations and individuals confidence that personal information is being managed in strict compliance with the law.
Clear guidelines help to protect personal information and prevent breaches. This clarity is essential to the proper functioning of the privacy framework. The bill sets out harsh financial penalties for companies that break the law. The fines and administrative financial penalties are a clear demonstration of the government's commitment to ensuring the protection of Canadians' personal information.
That being said, such sanctions should only be imposed following fair and accessible proceedings. That is precisely why Bill C-11 also creates a tribunal to decide on these matters. This means that companies will not have to appear before the Federal Court of Canada. The tribunal will allow all parties to pursue remedies at a lower cost and in a more accessible manner. Over time, the tribunal will also develop a body of privacy jurisprudence.
Let me summarize the approach that the government has taken in modernizing our private sector privacy law. Bill C-11 acknowledges the strengths of our existing law, referred to as PIPEDA, in particular its non-prescriptive, flexible and balanced approach to privacy protection. It reinforces individuals' control over their personal information where it matters most, and it enables innovation.
Moreover, it introduces serious financial consequences for the most egregious behaviour. It ensures procedural fairness and recognizes the role of the federal government in regulating the economy, while respecting the important role that provincial governments also play in private sector privacy regulation. This is the continuation of a made-in-Canada approach that recognizes both the right to privacy and the needs of organizations to use personal information for appropriate purposes.
I am confident Canadians will agree that the law offers them the protection they are seeking, together with all the benefits that a growing digital economy can bring. I am happy to take questions from my colleagues.