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  • Her favourite word is rcmp.

Liberal MP for Vancouver Quadra (B.C.)

Won her last election, in 2015, with 59% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Access to Information Act September 25th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Winnipeg North made a case for why this is something our government is doing that is consistent with our platform and mandate. It is good public policy, and we invited members to help us with it. The contrast he pointed to was the 10 years when the Conservative government had put it in its platform and did nothing to change the Access to Information Act, even though it was its explicit promise. By contrast, in its very first year, our government has had an interim directive from the minister, which took away the fees that were preventing people from making requests. It made the case to the departments that information would be freely available by default and other measures. That was in year one.

In year two, we are making amendments to the Access to Information Act, and drawing on some key pieces that came from the commissioner's advice and from the committee. On top of that, there will the ability for a committee to study this so we can continue to draw on those good ideas. As the member pointed out, in the previous government, there was virtually never any amendments at committee. In our government, there are often amendments allowed at committee. Lastly, by 2018-19, there will be a full review of the entire act.

Why is this update to our access to information regime important, not just to the public or business community, but to opposition members and all members of Parliament having a timely and effective access to information regime?

Access to Information Act September 25th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I want to remind viewers of this debate today and readers of Hansard that when they are watching or reading about the grandstanding and righteous indignation of Conservative members that it was the Conservative Party that put forward a promise in the 2006 election to reform the Access to Information Act and the Conservative Party did nothing to reform the act. With its culture of secrecy, that party fully exploited the weaknesses in the act.

Thank goodness we have a Prime Minister who is committed to access to information. We are reforming the act, including giving order-making powers to the commissioner of whom the member for Durham has been so congratulatory.

My question for the member is on his colleague's comments on frivolous and vexatious requests. He essentially said that we should not address that in this reform even though the commissioner and the committee recommended it, and eight provinces and three territorial governments have some variation of it. In the absence of frivolous and vexatious exclusions, the system can get completely bogged down with individuals, for example, ATIPing their ex spouses daily activities and emails.

Would the member agree that by removing those types of applications for information, the system could respond much better to the real access to information requests of ordinary Canadians?

Access to Information Act September 25th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent on his appointment as official opposition critic for the Treasury Board.

I will begin by quoting from the 2006 Conservative platform: a Conservative government will “implement the Information Commissioner’s recommendations for reform of the Access to Information Act”. That is what was said in 2006.

In 2013, the Information Commissioner said, “...there are unmistakable signs of significant deterioration in the federal access system.” What did the Conservative government do? Nothing. Zero.

Our Liberal government took a different approach and decided to act. We are proud to be the first government to bring significant changes to the Access to Information Act since it first came into force over 30 years ago.

The member opposite admitted that it is a step forward. Why does he refuse to work with us on this initiative, which is, as he said himself, very important?

Access to Information Act September 22nd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, let me be clear for the member for Victoria. What I said was that there are very good reasons for certain exclusions and exemptions. We respect those reasons. The member himself pointed out that it is an important pillar of a proper access to information approach. The focus of this bill is to implement our mandate letter of commitment, and that is exactly what we are doing.

We have also been clear that this is the beginning of an ongoing process. We look forward to continuing to strengthen the system at the first occasion, which is the mandatory review that would be started within a year of this bill receiving royal assent.

I want to also point out that exclusions such as cabinet confidences have been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada as a part of our democratic principles.

Access to Information Act September 22nd, 2017

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

I would say that these changes to the Access to Information Act are truly important and powerful for Canadians. They follow the great principles of openness and transparency and put mechanisms in place for disclosing information.

Access to Information Act September 22nd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I would say to my colleague from Victoria that exclusions and exemptions are there to protect highly sensitive information related to national security, the privacy of Canadians, commercial sensitivity, and cabinet confidence. This is a historic upgrade and improvement to our Access to Information Act, and it must include the ability to exclude certain information from public access. That is just what we are doing.

I want to remind the member that this is a historic first for Canada in that the Information Commissioner will have order-making powers. If there is a concern that an exclusion is not based on one of these requirements, that person can go to the Information Commissioner, who can order the government to do it differently.

Access to Information Act September 22nd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to Bill C-58, a comprehensive set of amendments to the Access to Information Act that would deliver on our government's key commitment to improve openness and transparency in government. If passed, these amendments would make progress in bringing Canada's access to information legislation in line with the communication advances of the last three decades.

The act has not been significantly updated since it came into force 34 years ago, when fax machines were cutting edge and information was stored in huge filing rooms. As we all know, however, the world has evolved considerably since then. Today, it is smart phones and social media, big data and high-speed Internet.

Canadians seek out information through digital channels, and government can now interact with the public through the web and social media. Moreover, the volume of information the government manages has dramatically increased.

I think we can all agree that the current act needs to be brought up to date.

We have certainly been hearing that so far in the debate.

This is why the government committed to reforming Canada’s access to information program. This modernization began with early action to improve access to information.

In May 2016, the President of the Treasury Board issued an interim directive that enshrined the principle of open by default. He eliminated all fees, apart from the $5 filing fee, and directed the release of government information in user-friendly formats wherever possible. Fees for processing large-volume requests could run into the hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars and sometimes deterred people from having access to public information.

Those were good first steps. Today we are maintaining that elimination of fees, and we are bringing forward transformative measures to enhance Canadians' access to government information.

Let me begin with one of many ground-breaking features of our proposed legislation. For the very first time, the Information Commissioner would have order-making power. No access to information regime is complete without powerful and meaningful oversight. We promised Canadians that we would find ways to empower the Office of the Information Commissioner to order government information to be released.

The bill before us today would do just that. This is something that has come up again and again in the debate as one of the key things that are a necessary change, and we are making that change. This change would strengthen the commissioner's role from that of an ombudsperson to that of an authority with a legislative ability to order government institutions to release records.

The legislation also proposes to entrench in law, for future and current governments, an obligation to proactively publish a broad range of information on a predictable schedule and without the need for anyone to make an access to information request for that information.

The amendments would create a new part of the act on proactive publication which builds on current best practices, applies consistent requirements across government institutions, and seizes on the opportunities of our digital age.

These amendments would result in the proactive release of key information throughout government.

This is a process that would take place across literally hundreds of offices and departments of the government. It would allow our citizens a greater understanding of government and would demonstrate effective stewardship of public funds.

Here is another first. Through this legislative system of mandatory proactive disclosure, the act would, for the first time ever, include ministers' offices, the Prime Minister's Office, institutions that support Parliament, administrative institutions that support the courts, and more than 1,100 judges of the superior courts.

This system of mandatory proactive disclosure puts a strong emphasis on increasing the information that is open by default and making information that is of interest to Canadians freely available on the web.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight a few more features of the reforms we will make to our access to information regime.

Having just spoken about the proactive publication that is key to our commitment to openness by default, I also want to mention a few other things we are doing in the bill.

We will develop a new plain language guide that will provide requesters with clear explanations of exemptions and exclusions. The rationale for these exclusions will be laid out, a rationale that will be in the public interest.

We would invest in tools to make processing information more efficient. That is an important way to address one of the key weaknesses of our current system, which is how many access to information requests are not responded to in a timely way.

The bill would allow federal institutions that have the same minister to share their request processing services for greater efficiency and timeliness. It would support the new legislation with government training. There are many things we would do.

It is important to note that many of our changes were initiated at the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

It would be subject to the oversight of the Information Commissioner. The bill proposes that if a department decides to decline to act on a request, the requester will have the right to appeal to the Information Commissioner, and the Commissioner could use the new order-making power to resolve the issue.

This is a new authority that could significantly improve the system, but it needs to be implemented with care.

We look forward to debating the proposed provisions with parliamentarians in a thoughtful way. All these changes were designed to address criticism from Canadians about delays and inconsistencies in the current request-based system and recommendations from stakeholders, such as the Information Commissioner and our colleagues at the ETHI committee.

We can never become complacent when it comes to openness and transparency. That is why the reforms before us today are the first legislative phase in what would be an ongoing review and modernization of the act.

The legislation would require a review of the act every five years, and as I pointed out earlier in the debate, the first review would start no later than one year after royal assent, so this is really an ongoing improvement process. These five-year reviews would provide an important opportunity for Canadians to have their say on access rights and would help us make sure that the system met their needs.

These reviews will assess what is working and how, and ensure that the act is never allowed to become so outdated again. Today, I am proud to be part of the first government to bring significant change to the Access to Information Act since it was first introduced over 30 years ago.

I encourage all members to support this work and this bill, and in doing so help us take a great step forward in updating the Access to Information Act.

I also look forward to continuing to work with Parliament, the Information Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, and other stakeholders to further strengthen our access to information regime.

Access to Information Act September 22nd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge the deep experience my colleague, the member for Victoria, has on these matters, and I thank him for his comments.

I have to say that I was very disappointed with his strong focus on what he perceives as being absent from this important next step in our access to information system here in Canada. There was very little true reflection of the major step forward that this legislation would take for Canada after 34 years of no change. I will give one example of what I think was sometimes inaccurate and many times very exaggerated discourse on the perceived flaws in the legislation, which the member acknowledges the President of the Treasury Board sees as a work in progress that will still receive quite a bit of input.

The member opposite said that it will be five years before the work that we are doing today is reviewed. In fact, it will not be. The first review would happen within one year of this bill's receiving royal assent. It would happen within one year, so this really is a step on a pathway, a very important and complex pathway. I would like the member to respond to that inaccuracy in his comments earlier.

B.C. Wildfires September 22nd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, as a woman whose first career was in the forest industry, I rise to recognize the many British Columbians who have been impacted by forest fires, like my niece's family, evacuated from their ranch north of Kamloops. The year 2017 is the most devastating year on record, and with over one million hectares of forest already burned, 124 wildfires are still burning today. In many areas, the forest harvest, sawmilling, and replanting operations were suspended and back-country tourism shut down, and local residents breathed smoke for weeks. Business owners, employees, ranchers, livestock, and individual health are all paying a hefty price.

I was proud that members of the cabinet committee on federal recovery efforts for 2017 B.C. wildfires toured Prince George and Kamloops to hear from community members directly and pledge increased federal help. I would ask that everyone listening to this today would please consider donating to the Canadian Red Cross to help B.C.'s many wildfire victims.

Access to Information Act September 22nd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the Conservative member's comments with great interest. A lot of drive-by allegations was not based in fact. I want to make a point about two of those.

One is that this legislation would do nothing to address the issue of delays. A number of measures would directly address delays so there could be a more timely provision of information, things like removing vexatious and frivolous requests that bog down the system and enabling ministers that have two different areas or departments to share the resources so there can be more effective provision of information to requesters.

However, the one that really struck me was the comment about the member receiving blacked-out information requests. As an opposition member, I received a response to a freedom of information request that was pretty benign. It was about the 2010 Winter Olympics. The entire document was black sheets.

I would like the member to acknowledge and respond to my point that for the very first time the commissioner will have order-making powers. If there is that kind of specious blacking out that I experienced as a member of Parliament, the commissioner could order the information to be provided.