Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to support my colleague's bill, Bill C-462, an act to amend the Access to Information Act and to make amendments to other acts.
I would like to begin by posing a question. Has there ever been a time in our history since Confederation in 1867 that we needed more timely and quicker access to information than we presently have today? If we were to put that question out there, not only to the House but to the public in general, I think they would say that we need this act very badly.
That is why we in this party will be supporting the bill in principle. When we take a look at the amount of information and what a government does today and compare it to even one generation ago, the business, the budget and everything else, we need that information and Canadians need that information. I am saying that the bill is very important mainly because of the democratic deficit that we are facing in this country.
I want to tell a little story about accountability and access to information. It goes back many years ago when I was principal of a school. My office was at one end of the building and my youngest daughter was in a classroom at the extreme other end of the building. When she would drop into my office to say hello I would ask her what she was doing at this end of the building. She would say that she had come to use the washroom. I would tell her to go back and use her own washroom and back she would go.
I received some information about six or seven years later concerning my daughter. She told me that during those times she had been sent down by her teacher to see the principal and to tell him that she had been misbehaving in class. When she went back to her classroom the teacher would ask if she had spoken to her father and she would say “yes”.
I tell that story because it compares very much to what happens when someone puts in a request for access to information. They want the story. They want everything. Sometimes we get asked, if nothing else, to rewrite the question. The questions in many cases do not need rewriting. It is the answers that are rewritten so as we and Canadians do not get the total information.
For instance, suppose I were to ask questions through access to information about the Saskatchewan junior hockey league at the present time, which receives no salaries, and asked why the only pure amateur hockey league in Canada was subjected to an audit when no other pure junior hockey league in Canada was. Would I get an answer? No, I would not get an answer because there is no excuse for that happening. We need to correct problems like that and I believe Bill C-462 would correct a great deal of that.
The bill proposes 37 different amendments. What we find in those amendments is that Canadians, through their members of Parliament, would be able to get information that otherwise they would not be able to get as individuals.
I will give a case in point. At one of my border crossings, a huge building has been constructed, apparently by the government. The building has now been sold. Was it legally tendered? Nobody out there knows. How many private offers were received? Nobody knows. What did the building sell for? Nobody knows. How much was paid for the building? Nobody knows. That type of information is not doing anything to knock down the democratic deficit, not one little bit.
This bill reflects the work of an all party committee formed two years ago. For two years they have worked on this bill and I think that the two years' work done by this committee deserves the proper attention of this House. I think it deserves the support of every member of this House. Albeit it is a private member's bill, but every member should support this bill so that we can go to the people--it is much more timely now, with an election coming up--and say that we now have an access to information bill through which they can, through their member of Parliament, get the information they want and should have.
I know, and every member of this House knows, that there are certain bits of information that are private. There are certain bits of information that should not be divulged, such as when courts are in session and all the rest of it, but at the same time, the government can manufacture more excuses for not providing Canadians with the information they need.
As I said at the outset, and I will repeat it again, there has never been a time in the history of this country like this, when Canadians need to get that information and they need to get it quickly. Canadians have a right to know what is going on in government.
At the present time, the committee on public accounts cannot even get the information it wants from the people who could and should be giving them that information. This is what is upsetting Canadians today. This information is guarded, it is secret and it is locked away. That has created in this country a democratic deficiency like we have never had before. These 37 amendments would do a whole lot to prevent the government from acting and working in secrecy.
For instance, back in the 1930s, the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act was passed to help rejuvenate the three prairie provinces, mainly with pastures, water, dugouts, dams and so on. Do members know that if a farmer puts in a requisition for a deep well, a dugout or a dam at the present time, there is a two year waiting list? In other words, this portion of that act simply does not exist.
We need to know and they need to know why there is such a long waiting list. Is it the funding? What is wrong with this? Why is it not working? The simple answer from a minister that government is putting its money in other places does not really tell the whole story. And this is just one area.
As I said at the beginning, never in the history of this country have we needed information more than we do right now. I want to close by asking a question, not only of the House but of this country. Can any nation that declares itself a democratic nation ever have too much accountability in regard to the operation of government? I do not believe it can.
That is why I am asking all members of this House to take a look at my colleague's bill. It will do a whole lot for democracy in Canada. Let us not turn it down. There is too much good in this bill.