June 14, 1972

PC

Gerald William Baldwin (Official Opposition House Leader; Progressive Conservative Party House Leader)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Baldwin:

If he identifies these words, he may claim to be their author. I repeat what was said in 1964 by this distinguished Canadian who had not yet risen to his present position in this House:

Domestic progress requires the ready availability of true and complete information. In this way people can objectively evaluate their government's policies. To act otherwise is to give way to despotic secrecy-

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink
LIB

Pierre Elliott Trudeau (Prime Minister)

Liberal

Mr. Trudeau:

That is why we created Information Canada.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink
PC

George Harris Hees

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Hees:

But the government has given way to despotic secrecy.

Information on Government Business

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink
PC

Gerald William Baldwin (Official Opposition House Leader; Progressive Conservative Party House Leader)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Baldwin:

Ah, Mr. Speaker, how the author of those words has been seduced by four years in power as Prime Minister!

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink
PC

George Harris Hees

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Hees:

Hear, hear!

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink
LIB

Pierre Elliott Trudeau (Prime Minister)

Liberal

Mr. Trudeau:

We set up Information Canada, did we not?

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink
PC

Gerald William Baldwin (Official Opposition House Leader; Progressive Conservative Party House Leader)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Baldwin:

I will now refer to a speech made on May 21, 1970 by the previous minister of justice who now has been promoted-a term I use with trepidation-to the position of Minister of Finance (Mr. Turner). Speaking to the Conference on Computers, Privacy and Freedom of Information, held at Queen's University from May 21, to May 24, 1970, the hon. gentleman said:

-the right to know is fundamental to any participation in democracy. The public cannot be expected to dialogue-still less decide- meaningfully if it is refused the very information which would make such a dialogue and decision-making possible.

What is necessary, then, is a Freedom of Information Act entitling the individual to information which the government authority has arbitrarily seen fit to withhold.

The minister said later in that speech, "... the criteria for non-disclosure should be set forth publicly in the statute ... ".

I tried to take the minister's advice. I brought forward a bill which incorporated views and thoughts I had held and expressed publicly in this House, hoping the then minister of justice would support my bill and that the Prime Minister would forget partisan politics and say, "Yes, this is a good bill; we will support it and adopt it as a government bill."

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink
LIB

Pierre Elliott Trudeau (Prime Minister)

Liberal

Mr. Trudeau:

It was badly drafted. The hon. member should go back to the drafting table.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink
PC

Gerald William Baldwin (Official Opposition House Leader; Progressive Conservative Party House Leader)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Baldwin:

I questioned members of the government about this matter. On June 28, 1971, following the report which had been made by the Science Council of Canada, I directed the following question to the Prime Minister:

In light of the charges made in the report by the Science Council of Canada to the effect that the Canadian people are being deprived of access to certain information, will the Prime Minister ensure that that information is made public and certainly available to the Science Council of Canada?

The right hon. gentleman said he was not aware of the charge and would look into it. I then asked the Minister of Justice of the day if he would support the principle of Bill C-250, the bill I mentioned just now. The minister said:

I share the objective of the hon. member, as he knows, Mr. Speaker. I should like to thank him again for his help on the Statutory Instruments Act-

That act had nothing to do with my question. This shows in what manner, when we attempt to bring before members of cabinet legitimate and proper proposals, we are sloughed off, as it were.

Earlier that year, on September 27, 1971, I directed the following question to the then Minister of Justice:

In light of the very strong recommendation in the report of the Economic Council of Canada that the government should proceed as quickly as possible to clarify the rights of the public to access to public information without bureaucratic or political strings, is the government planning to bring in a bill to this effect?

June 14, 1972

Information on Government Business

There was no answer at all. In light of these facts and this record, it is high time this question was considered by this House, by the country and by the media. We need legislation in this field. The Official Secrets Act ought to be modified. I have lost hope for this government, the members of which were spawned in a bureaucratic muskeg. This is a government of bureaucrats, run by bureaucrats for bureaucrats. So far as we are concerned, it will take an election and a new government to rectify the matter.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink
?

Some hon. Members:

Hear, hear!

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink
PC

Gerald William Baldwin (Official Opposition House Leader; Progressive Conservative Party House Leader)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Baldwin:

The right hon. gentleman said something about Information Canada. Mr. Speaker, Information Canada has been set up. I point out that there are some gems to be found in the report of the task force which ultimately was instrumental in the development and establishment of Information Canada. This organization was conceived in an establishment orgy of confusion and dissimulation. It was born in an atmosphere of political controversy and double talk. There is no hope for Information Canada. Even the Secretary of State for External Affairs (Mr. Sharp) who can usually, quite successfully surround, envelop and ultimately swallow issues of this kind was compelled to admit, under strong pressure, that Information Canada is not as valuable as it ought to be. That is strong language for that hon. gentleman. Consider, also, the Phillips report which was leaked. Mr. Phillips, the deputy director general of Information Canada, in the report said more or less what I have said: that, so far as Information Canada is concerned, it ought to go.

I see my time has about gone. May I address this question to hon. members of this House: in the light of what I have indicated, in the light of facts of which the government is well aware, does the government not think it is high time that, for the benefit of this House and the people of Canada who pay for the gathering of information, there should be embodied in the statute books of this land and in the practises of this House some rule, some law, which would enable the people of Canada to receive the information to which they are entitled and which is gathered for their benefit?

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink
NDP

Barry Mather

New Democratic Party

Mr. Barry Mather (Surrey-White Rock):

Mr. Speaker, we, of the New Democratic Party, support the motion of the official opposition, for two reasons. First, we believe the people of Canada are entitled to full and clear information on how their business is being conducted by government. We do not think they are being given that full and clear information at the moment. Second, we believe that the methods the present government uses to disseminate government information are ineffective, costly, duplicative and carry with them this danger: They permit the government to give the public information about government, that is, information the government wants to give, rather than information the public would like to be given. No wonder the people of Canada and their representatives in this House are concerned about not obtaining full and clear information about the way their business, government business, is conducted by the federal administration. Consider the money involved alone, Mr. Speaker. In this place, we are the trustees of the spending of the public's $15 billion or $16 billion of tax dollars a year. The

public is into a variety of enterprises and services ranging from the delivery of mail, the rubber business, the mining business, housing, highways and even movies and television.

There is one item that was approved in this House a few years ago. I refer to the decision to construct a National Arts Centre. That one decision cost every Canadian, man, woman and child, approximately $2.20. I am sure that most members of this place, as well as Canadians generally, approve of that decision, but I bring it up now to point out how one little item of government information can be of real interest to the taxpayers of this country.

The reason I am speaking for our party at this time is probably that I have a bill on the order paper, Bill C-98, which deals with secrecy and how to avoid it. The bill standing in my name relates to public access to government information. Aside from that, I am also very much interested in government information as a whole and the individual information services. I will say something about that a little later in my remarks. It sometimes seems to me that government information and government secrecy are interchangeable terms.

The present government has been spending millions of dollars getting out government information. For the most part, as far as I can judge, it is publicity about the government. It spends this money through various departments and agencies of government, many of which are staffed by good friends of mine. They are good fellows, former newpaper and public relations people. I know that in every case they Eire anxious to do a good job in their fashion, but they have to operate in line with today's set up of government information services.

A few years ago we received a report of a task force on government information. I want to emphasize that this was not a report by an opposition group or committee. This was a report by a government committee set up by the government. That report, as the hon. member for Peace River (Mr. Baldwin) has already indicated, strongly criticized the government for its failure to provide the information sought by Members of Parliament as representatives of the people of Canada.

It is a fact that at this moment there are many motions for the production of papers on the order paper. We are all familiar with the set phrases used by spokesmen for the government in denying members of this House information they seek on behalf of the public. The aim of the motions which we and other members put forward is to gain access to information which will reveal some very interesting facts to the voters and taxpayers of this country. It would reveal the basis of the decision of the government on matters of vital interest to the Canadian public because these decisions and the manner in which they are arrived at affect the lives and dollars of a great many of our people. To the extent we are denied that information, there is government secrecy.

At this point I wish to quote the explanatory note of the bill covering this area which I put forward on behalf of my party:

This bill is in aid of the public's right to know in what manner a government is administering the public duties entrusted and dele-

June 14, 1972

gated to it by the people: save for exceptions that are in the public interest the bill enacts Benthara's basic parliamentary Rule that public affairs must be conducted publicly.

I will not go into the details of the bill. My time is even more limited than that of the official spokesman for the official opposition. However, we have a bill which, if enacted or even sent to committee for approval, will result in a great gain with regard to opening the gates of government information to the representatives of the people here and the public. I wish to again refer to the task force report which was very critical of the government on this point. It pointed out that while the government was spending an estimated $3 million a week to provide publicity, largely to say how good the government and its agencies were, it withheld the basic facts that many people wanted to get at in the way of data and information which determines government decisions.

When Information Canada was established, it was set up partly to co-ordinate and improve the efforts of existing information sections in the various departments of government. The idea was that the cost of these services could be reduced and co-ordinated. In fact, Information Canada has become another layer of costly information while the departmental information sections remain in business and have actually increased their numbers and, in some cases, their costs. The situation is rather like that of a metropolitan council being set up in an area where there are a number of municipalities to co-ordinate and reduce the costs and do better planning for the whole area. In actual fact, with regard to Information Canada we have had another level of government information established. Actually, the costs of the various individual departmental and government information services have been increased rather than reduced since Information Canada came into being. Not many months ago, one of the officials of Information Canada indicated that unless Information Canada could find something useful to do, it would have difficulty justifying its expenditures.

In February, 1971, the government replied to some questions of mine with data which indicated that, despite the creation of Information Canada, most government departments were continuing to increase their staffs and salaries of their particular information branches. The government departments and agencies have increased their information staffs to 992. This is the individual sections of the individual departments. That was up from 900. They gained about 10 per cent since the advent of Information Canada. The staff of Information Canada in 1971 numbered 381. Today, the comparable figures are as follows. The staff members of individual information department sections have increased from a figure of 900 before Information Canada came into being to 1,091 today. The staff of Information Canada has jumped from 381 people in February, 1971, to 516 at this time.

When the second top official of Information Canada stated in a memo that that body had better find something to justify its existence, I asked the minister reporting for Information Canada what was the situation and what he proposed doing. He replied at that time, as I recall, that there was an overall look being taken toward improvement and organization. I see the minister is here today. He can correct me if I am mistaken. I said then, and I am still of the same opinion, that unless Information Canada and,

Information on Government Business

indeed, some of the information agencies in the individual sections of those departments, can be straightened out, and I refer now to Information Canada, they should be wound up.

Without any thought of boasting, Mr. Speaker, I want to say this. As a former newspaper person, a man with some knowledge of advertising and publicity and perhaps a little knowledge now of politics, I can undertake to consult with anyone on the government side who is interested in saving the public of Canada a good many millions of dollars a year through an improvement in the coordination of Information Canada and its services and, without the loss of any essential information now being provided, perhaps even increased information going out to the people. Mr. Speaker, the function of handling government information or publicity is not being any better administered now than it was last year or, in my view, before Information Canada was established. The cost of Information Canada runs into many millions of dollars, and I am sure a good many of these millions could be saved without the public suffering any real loss in terms of the information available to them.

In conclusion, I wish to urge, first, that the government make available to the public, and in particular to the representatives of the public here in this house, the information which is really desired by them. I have indicated what kind of information this is. Second, the government should either wind up or straighten up Information Canada, and improve the effectiveness of the publicity sections now attached to the individual departments. Third, I urge the government to concur in the appointment of a committee, headed by an opposition member, to which representatives of Information Canada and of the various departmental information agencies could report from time to time. This would, I am sure, result in the public being far better served, and at a cost far less than they are presently paying for the information they are entitled to get.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink
SC

Gilbert F. Rondeau

Social Credit

Mr. Gilbert Rondeau (Sheiford):

Mr. Speaker, the motion submitted today by the official opposition reads as follows:

This House, conscious of the failure of the Government to keep the Canadian people and Parliament adequately informed, urges that steps be taken by legislation and otherwise to provide clear rules for freedom of information with regard to public business.

Mr. Speaker, this resolution is curiously similar to the statements we have heard in this House and from the public before Information Canada was created. If we judge only from this motion, we are led to conclude that Information Canada is a failure since this resolution urges the government to take new measures to give the people free access to information.

However, before the creation of Information Canada, one could read for insance in Le Meunier quebecois of December 1970 this editorial by Mr. Rene Blanchard, and I quote:

June 14, 1972

Information on Government Business

-information is a public interest service.

In a sound democracy information must escape from . .. the claws of a partisan politic power and from the powers of money represented by pressure groups.

Information is a right as are education and health. It is also a major branch of continued education.

I think that this editorial which was quite appropriate two years ago is still so today. And I quote again:

Through the written and spoken media each of us is in a position to keep up with the profound changes taking place throughout the world. Our newspaper is window on the world. It is therefore important that its panes be kept clear.

And God knows how often the panes are not so clear in our newspapers and news agencies.

But what can we do if information is to escape from monetary powers and political parties? ... means should be taken to prevent information from being treated as a commodity that is sold for profit or used to magnify prejudices and hatreds, to sustain personal or collective selfishness, to cultivate chauvimism, r acism or class struggle. Every newspapers has a duty to be free, whatever the community it is intended for and it should be responsible for stating out the facts and events, explaining social trends, taking position against prejudices and demystifying them by unveiling to the public's eyes the mechanisms that are used to perpetuate them.

If the world today is at a loss and the old political recipes are still rehashed-

-and we in this corner of the House understand each other when we speak of old recipes-

-without relevance to contemporary problems ... It is surely because too many people are not free, free to act and, above all, to express their thoughts since they are prisoners of mercantile interests and government constraints.

We, of the Social Credit party, have repeatedly noted that information has, for a long time, been biased and this is why the government has set up a commission of inquiry which has published the first volume of a task force report on government information, has made a recommendations and instigated the creation of Information Canada. And no doubt it is to ensure that Canadians obtain a better quality of information that the government-to which we grant once more the benefit of the doubt-has established this agency.

But for the past two years, before analyzing the work of this new agency, Information Canada, we could also read an editorial of CFTM-TV, channel 10, Montreal, dated Monday, March 2, 1970, where the lack of information in Canada was denounced, and I quote:

-information within the federal government leaves to be desired from the viewpoint of efficiency; incoherence of information distributed among the numerous ministries, departments, and agencies of the government; overlapping in the use of personnel and material; blocking of communications in the various information services following the inevitable bureaucratic inertia ... Undeniably, citizens must be made aware of available services and told where and how to obtain them. So, it is desirable that Information Canada should address itself directly to the public-

I could say now that certain doubts that we had before the establishment of this agency, more than two years ago, have proved justified.

I keep on with the quotation:

However, on account of the measures Mr. Trudeau's government intends to take to that effect, people are somewhat mistrustful.

In order to inform the Canadian people-

-the government wishes to proceed by way of public opinion polls, which obviously implies questions provided by the government, which also prompts us to ask ourselves whether the government wishes to comment or to provide the information. It is not for any agency like Information Canada to represent the Canadian people or to hold a dialogue with them. It is up to the Parliament members to do that. Such an agency should look after the needs of the public in as far as information is concerned and not ask them by means of inevitably biased questions, their opinion on anticipated policies.

Mr. Speaker, the distrust we felt on March 2, 1970, proves justified two years later. Nevertheless, the task force that studied the information problem in Canada did worthwhile work. In fact, one can read at page 21 of the report about:

-the mess in government information.

All that to say that following an inquiry and the publication of the report, following the disclosure of the lack of coherence in government information, we are no further ahead today than we were before. There is still the same lack of coherence in the various departments, we can also note that during the last two years, Information Canada has been used in many circumstances. And I have not enough time to try to sell the government's program to the Canadian people.

I quote from Chapter V of the report of the Task Force on Government Information:

Twelve Easy Steps to a Quick Understanding oe the Mess in Government Information

The failure of successive governments to establish general information policy; the lack of interdepartmental coordination of information services; the triumph of departmental sectionalism in the information field; the confusion as to whom each division is addressing; the variations, department by department, in everything from morale to accounting methods; the absence of a central set of standards by which ISOS might measure their own achievements. Such inconsistencies and failings have all contributed to an atmosphere that has tolerated bungling, nurtured professional lassitude, lent security to the incompetent, and allowed supreme disorder.

That, Mr. Speaker, is one of the paragraphs of the report of the task force that was appointed to make a survey on information in Canada. Two years after the setting up of Information Canada, results enable us to state today that there has been no change, and this text applies very well in 1972, just as it applied before the establishment of Information Canada, which has a budget of more than $7 million a year.

At page 31 of the report, one can read the following:

Some business leaders claimed that DBS figures were frequently so late that their usefulness was doubtful. One businessman stated, "We are still (January 9, 1969) awaiting the publication of the DBS report on 1966 operations of the pulp and paper industry,-

Three years before, they had not yet received the statistical data on the operations of the pulp and paper plants. I resume my quotation:

June 14, 1972

-although the figures it will contain were made available to us for one of our publications six months ago ... The last updated catalogue came out in 1964." DBS works so slowly in some fields that a financial writer says he frequently gets his figures somewhere else.

One must refer to private enterprises to get federal government statistics. Even through Statistics Canada, the federal government is unable to supply the business community with firsthand data on manpower or other subjects justifying the existence of that federal agency whose cost is supported by the Canadian taxpayers.

And the report goes on to say:

DBS works so slowly in some fields that a financial writer-

-as I have just said,-

-says he frequently gets his figures somewhere else and then, when DBS does report them, he writes in his column,-

Mr. Speaker, while we are discussing Statistics Canada, I should like to object to the figures concerning manpower in order to show that that agency, to me, at least, is totally inefficient. In the past this House had opportunities of studying official data published by Statistics Canada. The whole thing spells obsolescence. Statistics Canada does surveys concerning unemployment; it hires from three to six people per constituency, all over Canada, one week a month. They visit country parishes, especially during winter, when unemployment is less acute than in the cities. Investigators are sent into the cities during the summer when unemployment is less severe.

Mr. Speaker, I could speak for an hour on the very bad methods used to establish the so-called statistics on unemployment in Canada. In fact, investigators are told to call during six successive months at the same house, on the same farmer, to ask him: Sir, are you unemployed? During how many hours have you worked last week? And the good farmer answers: My situation is the same as it was last month. This is the fifth time that you have called, I still have the same herd of cows, I still must work the same number of hours during the week. Yet, the investigator returns-

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink
LIB

Gérald Laniel (Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole)

Liberal

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Laniel):

Order. I am sorry to have to interrupt the hon. member, but the time allowed to him has now expired.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink
SC

Gilbert F. Rondeau

Social Credit

Mr. Rondeau:

Mr. Speaker, with your permission I should like to know whether the House would agree to my going on with the interesting remarks I have to make on Statistics Canada.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink
LIB

Gérald Laniel (Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole)

Liberal

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Laniel):

Order. To my mind, a decision was made about the length of speeches and, unless I am mistaken, it was understood that hon. members would not ask for additional time. However, it is up to the House to decide.

Does the House consent to let the hon. member complete his remarks?

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink
?

Some hon. Members:

Agreed.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink
?

Some hon. Members:

No.

Information on Government Business [Translation]

There is not unanimous consent to allow the hon. member to finish his speech.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink
?

Abram Ernest Epp

Hon. Martin P. O'Connell (Minister oi Labour):

Mr. Speaker, I was interested in the comments made by the hon. member. I think that we in this House, as well as the country generally, agree that the informed judgment of citizens is indeed the basis of a well functioning democracy. A citizen must have information in order to participate, to present his own interests in light of the facts of a given situation. He must be informed in order to present the interests of groups with whom he freely associates and to present his view of the public interest to government as he sees and expresses it.

Therefore, access to information, which lies at the root of a well functioning democracy, is a continuing obligation of government, and this access must be improved and maximized. I will go further and say that, if we think about it for a moment, we are today experiencing extremely rapid change, social, economic and political. Changes in the development of technology, particularly in communications media, result in a steady bombardment of facts and opinions, often conflicting. In these circumstances the citizen frequently feels bewildered by the flow of information, and it is therefore incumbent upon government to come to his support. I think there are at least two ways in which a review of information flows ought to be made at this time and, indeed, are under way. One would be in the more legal and complex fields of information, by defining more precisely than hitherto the boundaries between factual information and more confidential or secret information, with the objective of establishing a base for the fullest possible disclosure.

We have a tradition here of parliamentary responsibility and we also have secrecy. What we can ana ought to do is undertake a more precise definition of the distinctions to be made between that which is factual and that which is confidential. I do not think we will make much progress in the objective we all share to increase the flow of reliable and objective information unless we get down to the business of defining in more specific terms the boundaries between different kinds of classified information. I think all in this House would agree that with respect to the public service, the information often sought in this House which has been obtained through the advice and recommendation of public servants must be kept confidential in order to have good government.

The other step to which I would refer is already underway. One of the most recent moves, two years ago, was the establishment of Information Canada. The object was to relate the government more closely to the needs and interests of citizens for information. I should just like to indicate a few ways in which this agency is undertaking to fulfil that function. Perhaps I should first say, as categorically as I can, that there is no intention to follow the contradictory advice of some members of the opposition to disband Information Canada. This agency is only at the beginning of its experience, and only at the beginning of its usefulness to Canadians. I want to affirm in the most

June 14, 1972

Information on Government Business

positive way possible my own and the government's commitment to expand its functions in the service of Canadians.

First, let me point out some of the characteristics of Information Canada which are not always fully recognized. This agency inherited two existing major functions of government. One was the Canadian Expositions Commission, which is a highly skilled, technical group of persons who create and develop exhibits throughout Canada and, indeed, throughout the world, on behalf of every department of government. Exhibits convey departmental messages and services to Canadians and people around the world. In addition, Information Canada as a department inherited the Queen's Printer bookstores, of which there are now six across Canada and, hopefully before this year is out, there will be some 10; that is to say one in each of the capital or major cities of the provinces.

Some 70 per cent, if my memory is correct, or two-thirds to three-quarters of the staff or personnel of Information Canada is composed of those persons who are working in these agencies, the Expositions Commission and the Queen's Printer bookstores. Other small agencies were also taken on, for example the still photo division of the National Film Board. The other personnel are obviously those persons who have been recruited to fulfil other functions of Information Canada. One of those functions is to expand the bookstore service to include an inquiry service. We hope to have each of the major centres incorporate an inquiry system. We are already active in a number of centres so that our personnel there can respond in useful ways to the inquiries of citizens. The staff will not have all the information about all the services and programs of government at their fingertips, but Information Canada is developing a data bank which will make it possible over a period of time to respond, through its own inquiry officers, to many of the questions that come forward.

However, the main function will be to refer those questions to the appropriate government departments and, indeed, to the appropriate persons in the various government departments so that citizens will not get what they frequently think is a runaround, getting lost in a system that is very large and complex. Through this service they will be able to tap into the various services of government and be referred to other levels of government, if that is the appropriate agency to respond.

In addition to those activities, I should like to refer to another service within Information Canada which was in the original mandate and recommended by the Task Force on Information, and that was to assist the information divisions of various government departments to evaluate and improve their services. A division has been established within Information Canada to perform that function. One of the recent activities of that division was to assist various departments, which do not have well developed information services, to provide information to the public; sometimes to a special public and sometimes to the general public.

A typical example of that kind of support activity provided by experts in communication within Information Canada was in connection with the special employment programs during the past winter, including LIP. With its

support service, Information Canada officers helped to coordinate the information activities of four or five different government departments. Thus, one of the ongoing functions is coordination and supplying expert personnel to various departments participating in that combined program. They assisted them to gear up to an extraordinary demand on their information services. Information Canada is prepared and has undertaken to evaluate programs and to look at the effectiveness of advertising programs. It is prepared to advise departments and to provide them with the highly skilled and expert personnel which it would not make sense for each department of government to recruit and maintain within its own services. In this sense, it is acting as a central agency in respect of other departments.

It may be of interest to some hon. members to look at some of the more practical and down to earth efforts of the officers of Information Canada and the personnel recruited by them to do a job for Canadians in the day to day information activity. I refer to two Information Canada officers who are currently working in southwestern Nova Scotia on a summer project. The objective there is to bring to the people in that area the kind of information they need.

In this connection one begins the community, one does not begin with government brochures or existing information services, delivering them to the community. What we are trying to do is find out the needs of various communities, the attitude structures that exist and the impediments to the flow of information. We are trying to find out how Information Canada can advise the various departments, while in no sense taking over their information services, on how better to serve the needs of such communities.

Briefly, these are some of the things these two information officers discovered last week in this particular community, and some of the activities they undertook. They arranged a meeting to tell unemployed students about the student manpower centre in Yarmouth, and about various openings for students. One might say it is up the citizen to find out about these various services of government, but research reveals that people do not know that services exist for their benefit. What we are doing in Information Canada is getting out in the field where the people are, finding out their needs and trying to help the departments respond to them.

In all this, we will not take over the information function. We will assist other government departments to do their job better. In a survey of 26 grade 8 students it was found, for example, in one community that only four reported that their families took a newspaper of any kind. One man thanked these officers for having pointed out that there was an unemployment insurance office in a certain community. He did not know of its existence.

Let me say also that last summer, in an effort to look into the nature of the communication problem- and I may say I was disappointed in the remarks of the mover of the resolution because although he had an opportunity he did not lay out some of the problems-Information Canada commissioned eight information studies in more isolated parts of Canada such as southern Nova Scotia,

June 14, 1972

Labrador, Gloucester county in New Brunswick, Scheff-erville, Quebec and Riverdale in Toronto. Riverdale is not exactly an isolated part, but it had some special characteristics in which information problems existed. These studies were also commissioned in St. Boniface, Manitoba, the Crowsnest pass area and the sugar beet fields of southern Alberta.

Graduate students and others, in teams of two, one of whom was familiar with the neighbourhood, went into these communities. We did not sit here in Ottawa and cogitate about the problems. Information Canada took the initiative and went to these communities. Five reports have been released and the others are in the final stage of publication. They will be released shortly. I noted that in a radio interview this morning an hon. member opposite suggested that the reports had been leaked. This is not the case. These reports are being released. Even though the officials of Information Canada may not always agree with what is contained in the reports, these reports are released because the idea behind the research is important.

First, as I indicated, these projects started with the communities themselves. Second, the reports went to Members of Parliament, local officials and federal government departments involved in the communities as well as to many of the people who live there. These people have been asked to comment on the reports. The hope is that this will result in more meaningful communication between the federal government and the people it serves. We will not always agree on the findings in the reports. Not all communication between government and people can start at the local level. The researchers may have been wrong in some of their conclusions. But if the experiment succeeds even in part, the federal government will be in a better position to fulfil its first information priority of distributing information which people need more widely and more effectively.

I wish to assure hon. members that Information Canada and other departments are now actively following up on these and other information studies. How then can one respond to the suggestion of opposition members that Information Canada be abandoned? Are they not interested in the needs of people for information such as is being discovered here? If we discover that things are not as well as we like, are we to run to cover or try to improve the situation? Surely, the latter Information Canada officers are working in Nova Scotia and are also following up the results of the study in Manitoba. This summer there is a mobile information office working with the Indian people in Alberta's sugar beet fields. This is a direct result of the research conducted by Information Canada. This is in addition to the function of the central office of supplying information, answering inquiries and assisting various departments.

I see, Mr. Speaker, that my time is running out and we must all observe the 20-minute rule. If I might, I should like to comment very briefly on information statutes. We know there are information statutes in various countries. It is being proposed that there should be such a statute here. This matter is under study by Information Canada. I would be less than frank, however, if I did not say I am not persuaded that a statute is the right way to go about

Information on Government Business

the question of accessibility to information. We could look at other countries which have information statutes such as the United States, for example. We might look at the problems the citizens there run into in respect of obtaining information even though there is a statute which grants access to information. Freedom of Information statutes of necessity have many exceptions to the general rule which we all wish to support. There are so many exceptions that we find governments hiding behind the exceptions rather than coming forward with information.

The exceptions become statutory and subject to very wide interpretations. Legal suits result from them. I would recommend or suggest that hon. members also look at the Swedish approach where for some 200 years there has been a statute on the books concerning access to information. The experience there I believe is no better than the experience in other countries, and certainly no better than the experience in Canada.

I shall conclude simply by saying that Information Canada as an agency is dedicated to the proposition of co-ordinating and assisting government departments to do a better job. We should not deceive ourselves that, as a result of some sleight of hand, this will cost less money. It cannot. Government programs grow in scale and we are all involved in developing new programs and policies to meet the needs of people. They grow in complexity. This complexity must be explained to people. We would only deceive ourselves if we thought this would cost less money rather than more. We will evaluate the progress made thus far and do our best as a central agency to assist departments to obtain greater productivity for funds spent.

We will continue on in this way. We will not sit in our major inquiry centres but will try to move out to where people are in order to distribute printed and other forms of information to them and to provide them access to government through our enquiry service. We will not remain in Ottawa but will establish centres in the regions of Canada so that there can be appropriate responses given to special regional needs for information. We are looking at the question of mobile information offices and are testing this concept. We are considering a host of other interesting and challenging developments in information services. Information Canada, Mr. Speaker, is only at the beginning of its useful service career in Canada.

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink
NDP

Barry Mather

New Democratic Party

Mr. Mather:

Mr. Speaker, I wonder whether the minister would permit a question before he resumes his seat?

Topic:   GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic:   BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Sub-subtopic:   ALLOTTED DAY S.O. 58-ALLEGED FAILURE OF GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE INFORMATION WITH REGARD TO PUBLIC BUSINESS
Permalink

June 14, 1972