Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to Bill S-4, legislation which amends the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.
As our lives are more and more immersed in a digital world, our understanding of digital privacy changes and our means of protecting digital privacy also needs to be updated. We use the Internet in so many ways. Our digital identity is now more a part of our identity when it comes to banking and commerce, our tax returns, government services, and our interactions with other people in society. Those are examples of how our identity is becoming more digital. In a world where crimes involving data theft, identity fraud and online stalking are on the rise, and we are becoming more worried about those, it is crucial to protect data to protect our identity.
Data is not simply information. In fact, as my colleague from Victoria very elegantly gave some examples, it is power. It is a doorway into the private lives of many. It is commercial power. The Liberal Party is deeply concerned that the government's commitment to safeguarding the personal information and privacy of Canadians is less than absolute.
Let me give another example which is not quite related to Bill S-4 but I think is important to mention just for the record. Members might know that since the elimination of the long form census, the government has been looking at linking different so-called administrative data sources in different parts of the government in order to reduce the burden of filling out the census. Indeed, some European countries do not have a census. They have deep links between different pieces of administrative data, and people have to report where they live every time they move. The Privacy Commissioner, whose testimony on Bill S-4 at committee was also quite important, has warned Canadians that we should be very wary of simply moving over to this European system, that there are serious privacy considerations which Canadians should look at and agree with before the government proceeds in that direction.
More and more, all of this information is becoming digital. As an example, although I think this is perhaps not the point at which we should be too concerned, in the 2016 census, the government is planning to automatically use income and benefit information from the Canada Revenue Agency. It can do this because everything is digitized. That information would be automatically tacked onto census information and any voluntary replies that Canadians provide to the national household survey, unless of course the election result in October is such that we do not have to go through that. I just wanted to bring that up for the record.
What I would like to talk about most is the process that happened at committee. We are at third reading now. We are trying to decide whether this is the best possible bill that this Parliament could pass.
Unfortunately, there are definitely concerns about whether the approach in Bill S-4 is too broad and whether there are unintended consequences. I will not go too deeply into them. In fact, my friend, the member for Victoria, has done a much better job than I ever could. Suffice it to say that Bill S-4 identifies situations where personal information can be disclosed without the knowledge or consent of an individual. It permits federal works, undertakings and businesses to collect, use and disclose personal information, without the knowledge or consent of an individual, to establish, manage or terminate their employment relationships with the individual. It permits organizations, for certain purposes, to use and disclose, without the knowledge or consent of an individual, personal information related to prospective or completed business transactions. Therefore, there is a danger, we believe, that Bill S-4 is too broad.
The problem is that at committee stage, there really was not sufficient examination of these details. There were 42 amendments proposed by the opposition parties. There was not substantive debate at committee. There were no explanations for why the government members opposed amendments that were based on the testimony of expert witnesses, such as the Canadian Bar Association, the Privacy Commissioner and the Insurance Bureau of Canada. There were 42 opposition amendments, all of them defeated rather quickly without a defence of that vote by the government side.
It has been brought up in debate by previous speakers about how committees have worked in this Parliament and how they could be changed in the next Parliament. I really do believe that a couple of simple steps would be a good start to reforming the committee system.
The first one would be to allow committee chairs to be chosen by a secret ballot in this House, just as the Speaker is chosen. My first encounter with this idea was in fact a motion from a Conservative backbencher, the member for Saskatoon—Humboldt. That would be a good measure to ensure that committee chairs are as independent as possible not only from the government, but from their own party leadership. That would be a step toward what we need to make committees really fulfill their role in Parliament, which is ultimately the role that all of us have, which is to hold the government to account.
The second thing which I think would be very useful in committee, and this reverts to past practice in this House, would be to forbid parliamentary secretaries and ministers from sitting as voting members of committees. That would be a good way to protect the independence of committees for the purpose of committees being able to do a better job of holding the government to account.
I believe that if committees had been working better, we would have at least had on the record somewhere the reasons for rejecting the 42 opposition amendments to Bill S-4. In fact, I also believe that if we really had independent committees, some of these amendments would have been adopted, and even in this majority Conservative Parliament, with those amendments we would have passed a better bill than it looks like we might be passing, given the majority on the Conservative side.
By way of conclusion, I just want to say that without a genuine, collaborative, detailed committee study, I believe that the committee has not held the government to account with regard to Bill S-4. Expert testimony has not been properly either taken into account or discounted with some evidence or some cogent argument. We have in Bill S-4 a bill in which there are potentially overly broad provisions and good reason in fact to believe there are overly broad provisions and unintended questions. That is why I will be voting against the bill at third reading.