September 26, 2017

NDP

Pierre Nantel

New Democratic Party

Mr. Pierre Nantel (Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, NDP)

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her speech.

I appreciate the honesty of her speech on transparency, which is something that voters care about and expect. I applaud her for listening to the people who talked to her about it.

However, we must remember that in 2006, the party that she represents had also promised to improve transparency. God knows we talked about it for five years. You were not there. Of course, it is easy to say that you were not there, but what I am trying to ask you is if you—

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
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NDP

Carol Hughes

New Democratic Party

The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes)

I want to remind the member that he is to address the Chair and not the member directly.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
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NDP

Pierre Nantel

New Democratic Party

Mr. Pierre Nantel

Madam Speaker, if the member were in government, would she be more transparent than the Conservative government we had for 10 years?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
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CPC

Sylvie Boucher

Conservative

Mrs. Sylvie Boucher

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. As an aside, I was there from 2006 to 2011, so I have been in government, and I know what transparency is all about.

We did not make promises that we could not keep. That was always one of our strengths. We said what we would do and did what we said, unlike the Liberal Party, which says a lot of things, but does none of the things it says. I was always very honoured to work for the Conservative Party and for Mr. Harper, who was its leader. Like him or not, when he promised something, he did it, whether people liked it or not.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
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LIB

Randy Boissonnault

Liberal

Mr. Randy Boissonnault (Edmonton Centre, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-58 and the proposed amendments to Canada's Access to Information Act.

To begin, it is important to note that we have thoroughly consulted many individuals to get where we are today, including Canadians at large, parliamentarians, the Information Commissioner, and the Privacy Commissioner as well.

Our government is guided by the principle that government information belongs to the people. The Access to Information Act, which received royal assent in 1983, enshrined in law the fact that citizens, both as individuals and as corporations in Canada, have the right to see government information.

This is especially important, as it enables Canadians to participate meaningfully in the democratic process.

Providing access to government information makes the government more responsible, because it gives Canadians the information they need to ask informed questions. The legislative updates we are proposing reinforce this original objective and take into account Canadians' expectations with respect to technology, openness, and the availability of information in today's digital age.

The rise of the Internet since 1983 puts information at the fingertips of most Canadians. People who care about how our government provides services to Canadians are keenly seeking that information. Canadians' information expectations of their government have necessarily changed: faster, easier, better, and more open is what citizens are demanding of us.

Since the act came into effect in 1983, more than 750,000 access to information requests have been processed, and the number of requests received has grown by 13% annually. For instance, more than 65,000 requests were received in 2015-16.

Self-identification by requesters suggests that 41% of these requests came from business and 35% from the public. Members may be surprised to hear that only nine per cent of the self-identified requests for that year came from the media. Five per cent came from organizations and four per cent came from academia. The source of the remaining six per cent is unknown.

We recognize that although the access to information system is not perfect, overall, it has had a positive impact on government transparency and accountability. Nevertheless, we have an obligation to protect certain information.

This includes personal information, information about international affairs and defence, and cabinet confidences. Our democratic traditions provide for and protect a safe place for ministers to candidly debate and discuss policy choices, and will continue to do so. Unsurprisingly, the cost of administering the act has gone up, with federal institutions spending more than $64 million to cover direct costs in 2015-16 alone.

Those costs have gone up by an average of about 8% per year. Those figures do not include costs associated with the research and document review done by employees who handle the material in question. The process can take a long time. It all adds up, but living in an open and democratic society makes it worthwhile. In general, the system has served Canadians well.

However, we are committed to modernizing the act to make even more progress toward open and transparent government. In May 2016, we issued an interim directive that entrenched the principle of open by default.

That is our guiding principle for making government information available to Canadians because we want to make sure they can consult their government about policies, programs, and services.

The interim directive also eliminated all fees except the $5 filing fee and instructed officials to release information in more user-friendly formats whenever possible.

The Government of Canada would continue to collect only the small five-dollar filing fee for each access to information request and would not charge processing fees.

The amendments we are proposing in Bill C-58 will enhance Canadians' access to government information.

For example, this measure will legally require the government to proactively publish a broad range of information on a predictable schedule without the need for ATIP requests.

It would apply to more than 240 government departments, agencies, and crown corporations, departments and agencies that we all know well, as well as the Prime Minister's Office and ministers' offices; senators and members of Parliament; institutions that support Parliament; administrative institutions that support the courts, and over 1,100 judges of the Superior Courts. We would also be putting into law the proactive publication of travel and hospitality expenses of ministers and their staff, as well as of senior officials across government; contracts over $10,000 and all contracts for MPs and senators; grants and contributions over $25,000; mandate letters and revised mandate letters; briefing packages for new ministers and deputy ministers; lists of briefing notes for the minister or deputy minister, including the titles of these notes and their tracking numbers; and the briefing binders used for question period and parliamentary committee appearances.

Once more government information is available to the public on a predictable schedule, people will have a better understanding of how government works, they will feel prepared and empowered to participate more, and they will have greater confidence in the government.

That is why, as well as making great strides in proactive publication, we would also develop a new, plain-language guide that would provide requesters with clear explanations of exemptions and exclusions, invest in tools to make processing information requests more efficient, allow federal institutions that have the same minister to share their request-processing services for greater efficiency, and support new legislation with training across government to get common and consistent interpretation and application of the new rules. Government institutions would also be able to decline to act on overbroad, vexatious, or bad-faith requests whose intent is clearly to obstruct the system.

Along with these changes, we will continue to affirm Canadians' right to submit broad and comprehensive information requests that meet the important objective of the act, which is to increase the government's accountability in order to promote an open and democratic society and to allow public debate on the conduct of its institutions.

In addition, we are taking this a step further. The proposed amendments would change the Information Commissioner's role from that of an ombudsperson to that of an authority with the power to order the release of government records.

These are innovative improvements to our access to information regime that will build trust between citizens and their government.

The amendments also require a review of the act every five years to ensure that it never again becomes outdated.

The first review would begin no later than one year after the bill receives royal assent. In addition, government institutions would be required, through policy, to regularly review the information being requested under the act.

This measure will help expand the type of information that could become more easily available and will also inform the five-year reviews.

After 34 years, the Access to Information Act is undergoing significant revitalization. These reforms affect the whole of government, including areas never before touched by the legislation.

I am confident that by working together to strengthen access to information, we will make government more open, transparent, and accountable.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
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CPC

Gérard Deltell

Conservative

Mr. Gérard Deltell (Louis-Saint-Laurent, CPC)

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his very interesting speech and for the quality of his French. We must take note every time members rise in the House and use both official languages. We want to do so in a positive manner even though it is the day after Franco-Ontarian Day.

We must celebrate the francophonie and bilingualism 365 days a year.

The member is an experienced and senior MP. He knows very well that the bill that was introduced does not meet the expectations of the people who believed the Liberal Party two years ago. He knows very well that groups that spring up every day, those who are most vigilant about transparency and the submission of documents that shed light on the federal administration, are disappointed with the current government. We cannot help but remind members that Mr. Marleau, the former information commissioner, said that this is one step forward and two steps back and that even the Information Commissioner will have less power.

Finally, my question for the member is very clear.

Is he comfortable with the fact that he was elected in 2015 on the promise that, “We will ensure that access to information applies to the Prime Minister's and ministers' offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.”

Is he aware that this promise from page 26 of his election platform is not being honoured in the bill he is defending today?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
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LIB

Randy Boissonnault

Liberal

Mr. Randy Boissonnault

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his leadership on the francophonie outside Quebec. As a proud Franco-Albertan, I am always happy to use French here in the House.

Contrary to what the hon. member claims, for the first time in 34 years we are going to continue making the Government of Canada more transparent.

For example, the act will now apply to the Prime Minister's Office and ministers' offices, including minister mandate letters, briefing books for new ministers, titles and tracking numbers for ministers' briefing notes, travel expenses, contracts over $10,000, and annual reports for all expenses.

For the first time in 34 years, this is a good start. We will continue to make the government more transparent.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
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NDP

François Choquette

New Democratic Party

Mr. François Choquette (Drummond, NDP)

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have a chance to address my hon. colleague. We used to sit on the Standing Committee on Official Languages together, so we got to discuss this file many times. I would like to respond to what he just said, because he is mistaken.

The offices of the Prime Minister and his ministers are going to be subject to proactive disclosure. It is not the case that the Access to Information Act is being extended to cover those institutions, even though that was a Liberal election promise in 2015. Those were actually the words of his Prime Minister himself.

I would like the member to come clean and admit that he has not fulfilled his election promise. Sadly, this is yet another broken promise, and what he just said was not accurate. We are talking about proactive disclosure, not the Access to Information Act. It is not the same thing.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
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LIB

Randy Boissonnault

Liberal

Mr. Randy Boissonnault

Madam Speaker, I would like to acknowledge the tremendous amount of work my hon. colleague puts into the official languages file and other files that are important to his riding.

With regard to the Access to Information Act, not only have we listened to Canadians and the experts, but we are taking action by making profound, substantial reforms to the act for the first time in 34 years. We will continue to establish a safe, healthy space for cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister's Office, where policy can be debated in complete confidence, because that is one of the cornerstones of our democracy.

The exclusions and exemptions we are proposing will help protect sensitive information, such as records related to national security, cabinet confidences, and the privacy of Canadians. That is a pillar of our democracy. This is the first major improvement to the act in 34 years. We are proud of what we are doing.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
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NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault

New Democratic Party

Mr. Pierre-Luc Dusseault (Sherbrooke, NDP)

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate on the so-called modernization of the Access to Information Act. It is high time that this act was modernized.

I had the opportunity to serve as the chair of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics for two years, from 2012 to 2014. During that time, I learned first-hand of the major changes that need to be made to the Access to Information Act, changes that have been needed for a long time now. I had high expectations of the Liberal government's proposal to modernize this act, something that they promised to do during the election campaign.

That promise was something very different from what I was used to seeing from the Conservative government. In fact, I cannot help but be surprised every time I hear the Conservatives talk about this issue. During the three years that I worked on the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, I saw how the Conservatives continually tried to block anything that affected the scope of the Access to Information Act and any attempt to review and improve it in order to bring it up to date with 21st century technologies.

Every time a witness appeared before the committee on these issues, the Conservatives, who held a majority on the committee at that time, constantly blocked any possible progress on this file, particularly when it came to broadening the scope of the law to include the Prime Minister's and ministers' offices. There was no possibility of doing that under the Conservatives. It was non-negotiable. The answer was a resounding no. Today, they are complaining and saying that the government is not going far enough on this issue. I have been rather surprised to hear the points that have been raised over the past few days during the debate on this issue.

I also want to emphasize how important I think it is that Canadian citizens have the right to access information. They must have the right to obtain as much information as possible regarding all levels of government and the decisions they make, the motives behind those decisions, as well as public policy. It goes without saying that anyone who pays taxes, and some people pay a lot, should be able to access any and all information used by our government, since it is government officials, ministers, and people in positions of authority who use public money to keep the country running.

In publicly-traded companies, shareholders demand information and financial statements that are as complete as possible in order to have the facts they need to make decisions. They have access to information because they are shareholders in those companies. The same is true of non-profit organizations that manage donor money. Obviously, those organizations must be open and transparent when they make decisions and spend donor money.

For the same reason, our governments need to be open and transparent, and provide as much information as possible to our constituents, who pay for the services provided. Therefore, it is essential that our citizens have access to this information. This allows the government to be accountable for its actions, especially when it comes to its expenses, but mainly with regard to its decisions on public policy and the reasons motivating it to choose one course of action over another. To me, this is fundamental, which is why I am very interested in this issue.

Everyone directly or indirectly connected to this had high expectations for the modernization of the Access to Information Act, given the promises of the Liberals during the election campaign. It is almost as if an elephant had given birth to a mouse, if I may use that expression. The expectations were very high, and it is pretty clear now that we are being offered next to nothing and, in some cases, it is just a smokescreen. We are led to believe that this is an improvement but, in fact, it is the status quo that prevails in many cases.

The most disappointing things have been mentioned several times. I will not dwell on them for very long. Obviously, we expected the scope of the Access to Information Act to extend to the offices of the ministers and the Prime Minister, that goes without saying. The ministers make decisions on a daily basis, and Canadians deserve to know what they are based on and what facts justify them.

There is nothing new there. There is proactive disclosure, something that can be done now. The Access to Information Act does not need to be modernized to enable proactive disclosure. It is simply a matter of releasing information.

Obviously, we welcome that and cannot complain about it. People will publish certain hospitality and travel expenses, and some notes that are drafted by government officials for ministers, but we do not essentially have the information to understand and analyze the decisions of our governments, which is highly problematic. We are not asking for access to all the cabinet discussions and to all the positions of the people around the table who arrive at a decision. Simply put, what is being requested is access to the facts, data, and figures that are used in making public policy decisions. This is therefore a great disappointment.

Also, there was no effort to limit what the Prime Minister's and ministers' offices can use as an excuse for denying access to information. Currently, if someone makes a request, the offices can simply say that it is out of the question, that no one has the right to that information, and that it is a confidential document without providing further explanation. The person has no recourse when their request is refused. We have a prime opportunity here to set limits on this exemption so that the Information Commissioner can obtain information and determine for herself whether the documents are truly confidential or whether they are documents that might be subject to the Access to Information Act. If we dropped the ball on this fundamental issue regarding the scope of the legislation, then that is really too bad, because the offices will just continue to refuse access to information requests. There is no oversight by anyone afterward to verify the right to an exemption from the request for access to the information.

I also want to mention our disappointment with what I see as a highly problematic loophole they are creating in the Access to Information Act. They are creating a loophole for departments, not just ministers' offices, but the public service. Departments will have the right not to release information if they deem a request too broad, made in bad faith, or vexatious. Nowhere are these terms defined, and I see that as a big problem.

The government says it wants to broaden the scope of the Access to Information Act to make government more open and transparent, but it is also inventing new reasons to refuse requests. This will result in long drawn-out procedures, not necessarily in the courts, but beginning with complaints to the Information Commissioner. This will not resolve the Information Commissioner's backlog. She herself has repeatedly told the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics that she is overloaded and does not have the budget to address the many complaints she receives. The government is not doing enough to address that.

The complaints are piling up on the commissioner's desk, especially those about absolutely absurd delays for certain types of information requests, which can take years to be processed. These requests are on the commissioner's desk because a complaint has been made that no good reason was given for the refusal or because the processing times are too long.

Thus, the commissioner is swamped and will have even more complaints with the new excuses being created. The commissioner will have to examine the refusal of departments to answer a question because they claim that a request is too broad. The commissioner will have to determine whether there was cause to reject the request.

In my mind, we are going backwards. Experts are saying that we are going backwards; we may be taking one step forward, but then we are taking two steps back. Thus, we are no further ahead than before the act was modernized. That is one of the major problems that I wanted to mention, in addition to the issue of the Prime Minister's and ministers' offices.

I will close on a positive note as we should give credit where credit is due. We accept the recommendation to give the commissioner the power to order.

This process can be long, time-consuming, and costly for the government and taxpayers, but once it is complete, the commissioner will at least have the right to order that certain documents be published. Unfortunately, we are not talking about cabinet documents—I mentioned my disappointment about that earlier—but at least the commissioner will have the power to issue orders, which is something that has been requested for many years. It was also one of the 32 committee recommendations and one of the 85 recommendations of the commissioner.

Members of the NDP have been fighting for this for many years, well before I held a seat on the committee. The Conservatives always refused to give the commissioner that power, so at least that is a win. The commissioner will have access to documents and be able to order that they be published if she thinks that the refusal was unfounded.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
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LIB

Dan Vandal

Liberal

Mr. Dan Vandal (Saint Boniface—Saint Vital, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, this bill will clearly ensure that over 240 government departments, the Prime Minister's Office, and parliamentary institutions will have to proactively disclose information.

I would like to ask the hon. member why he does not think this will be an improvement for Canadians who want more access to that information.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
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NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault

New Democratic Party

Mr. Pierre-Luc Dusseault

Madam Speaker, I did not say that proactive disclosure was not an improvement. I said that we did not need the Access to Information Act to apply it.

In 2017, proactive disclosure can be done on the Internet. It is the simplest way, and it is already being done in some cases. Some departments disclose the summary of access to information requests that they have processed, so it can already be done. Parliamentarians' expenses are also subject to proactive disclosure. My colleagues know as well as I do that some information can be found on an online portal and that all Canadians can access it.

In conclusion, I did not say that this was not an improvement. I said that it was not what the Liberals promised in the election campaign. The Liberals promised to extend the scope of the Access to Information Act to the Prime Minister's Office, and yet, that is absolutely not what has been presented to us. As I said earlier, the proactive disclosure my colleague is talking about is a smokescreen.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
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CPC

Pat Kelly

Conservative

Mr. Pat Kelly (Calgary Rocky Ridge, CPC)

Madam Speaker, I would ask the member to comment on a broader theme. Over and over again, members of the government side have tried to take extraordinary credit for the steps they have taken. In this case, they failed to listen to the experts who testified at the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. They failed to fulfill their own campaign promise. They failed to carry out the instructions that the President of the Treasury Board received in his mandate letter.

We heard the President of the Treasury Board's speech on the bill, and he took extraordinary credit for the measures the Liberals had taken, claiming that this would make Canada a world leader in access to information. The experts have broadly panned the bill as a half measure and a broken promise.

Would the member comment on the difference between the Liberals saying that they are going to be open and transparent and actually fulfilling those promises?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
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NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault

New Democratic Party

Mr. Pierre-Luc Dusseault

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. If I remember correctly, he was on the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

I used a metaphor earlier involving an elephant giving birth to a mouse. The elephant was pregnant: the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics had made 32 recommendations, the Information Commissioner had repeated her 85 recommendations many times, and then there was the mandate letter of the President of the Treasury Board. All of that seemed to indicate that we were going to have a perfectly healthy baby elephant. Unfortunately, what emerged was a sickly little mouse. Everyone was disappointed, obviously.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
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GP

Elizabeth May

Green Party

Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP)

Madam Speaker, is an honour to rise today to speak to Bill C-58, the long-awaited amendments to the Access to Information and the Privacy Act.

As we have heard from many Liberal members, this is the first time the act has been substantially amended since its initial debut. As has been said by many of us in the environmental law community, Canada does not so much have freedom of information legislation as it has freedom from information legislation.

We had hoped for far more openness, given the promise that was in the Liberal platform. I will just repeat it as a way of context-setting for my presentation:

We will ensure that Access to Information applies to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.

To give Liberals their due, let me cover some of the things that I think represent improvements in openness under the new government, and then focus more substantively on the failures and gaps in this legislation.

We do have, on the Treasury Board website, the heralding of access to information that is open by default. I think that is a stretch, but it certainly is a positive step. I want to emphasize that.

This Prime Minister is the first that I know of in our history to have made the mandate letters to ministers public letters. That has already had an impact on other governments. When Premier John Horgan became premier in my home province of British Columbia recently and formed his cabinet, the mandate letters became public. I think that is the first time that has happened at a provincial level, but once it happens federally and once the Prime Minister does it, it was “Where are the mandate letters?”

I am pleased to see in this legislation that mandate letters of a Prime Minister to members of his or her cabinet will, going forward, be legislated requirements for openness. That is a very good thing. It is a good thing to know that briefing packages of ministers will be proactively revealed, that question period binders will be made public, as well as hospitality expenses, contracts over $10,000, and so on. Those will be proactively disclosed, including expenses from ministers' offices and senators.

There will be a lot more transparency around things that I am going to describe as routine, expenses that are predictable, contracts that are large, and briefing documents that are predictable. It is also important to note that this will apply to other agencies and institutions within the Government of Canada.

Unfortunately, this is not what was promised. What was promised was that access to information legislation would apply to a Prime Minister's Office and to a ministerial office so that, for instance, when an issue arose, a member of the public or the media could ask how that happened and do an access request. That will not be permitted under this legislation. We will not see the opportunity that we thought was going to transpire in this legislation.

Certainly lots of knowledgeable members of what might be called the architecture of privacy and information in this country made recommendations. For instance, Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault recommended that it be up to access to information officials and officers to determine whether emails and memos in and out of the PMO or a minister's office were political or parliamentary in nature, in which case it would be recommended they remain confidential, or would pertain to running a department, in which case they would be accessible through access to information. That recommendation has not made it into this legislation. Perhaps the Liberals are open to seeing amendments to Bill C-58 that would allow the legislation to meet the earlier promise.

I am going to quote from an article by Stephen Maher at iPolitics. He is certainly one of Canada's leading investigative journalists. He certainly has a lot of experience with access to information. He used it very effectively to investigate the robocall scandal, among other things. What he wrote was:

The proactive disclosure of some ministerial documents may be a step backward, because the decisions about what to release and what to redact will not be reviewable by the information commissioner.

In a sense, what looks like a step forward is actually a step backward. Was it an unintentional step backward? We will have to find out at committee how open the Liberals are to amendments on this bill.

One of the things I found very concerning is found at proposed section 6.1, which is that the head of a government institution can, on his or her own initiative, decide to ignore an access to information request for a number of reasons.

Many of those reasons are reasonable. If the request does not meet the requirements set out in the act, for instance, or if the person has already been given access to the record and may access the record by other means, or if the request is for a large number of records and necessitates such a large search that it would unreasonably interfere with the operations of government, it would be reasonable to refuse the request.

However, this one is outrageous: proposed subsection 6.1(1)(d) states that the head of a government institution may on his or her own initiative, and not reviewably, refuse to accept an access to information request if “the request is vexatious”. That is a subjective term. If an institution decides that someone's interest in, for instance, toxic chemicals in their watershed is something the department does not want to share with the public, the institution just has to say it is a vexatious request.

“Vexatious” is far too subjective and far too restrictive a term to be allowed in government legislation. It certainly is a shock to find it in legislation that is supposed to take us to the promise of open and accessible government.

In other areas, those who are knowledgeable are saying that this legislation is not as good as what other provincial governments have already accepted in terms of openness. The information commissioners in the Government of British Columbia and the Government of Alberta have more robust powers than the federal Information Commissioner will have even after this legislation is passed. That is a surprise, because from the Liberal promises during the election campaign, I would have thought that this new access to information legislation would set a new high-water mark to which other jurisdictions could aspire. Unfortunately, the government has fallen short of existing powers that provincial governments already have for their information commissioners.

I am again going to quote someone who is an expert in this area. Vincent Gogolek, who is the executive director of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, said, “That’s what we have here in British Columbia, and responsible government hasn’t collapsed here.” The Government of British Columbia has been living with a far more robust freedom of information regime, which has not been extended into our federal law with respect to the access to information that we certainly expected to come forward from the government.

How much of this is reviewable by information commissioners? That is an important point. There have been discussions, admittedly, in committee, and recommendations were made that there needs to be some screen to deal with requests that might be seen as vexatious. However, the screen was not supposed to be a subjective unilateral decision by the head of the agency in whose control the information resides. The decision as to whether the information is releasable or not needs to reside with the Information Commissioner or members of that agency. It is up to those officials to decide whether it is vexatious or not.

That failure in this legislation is substantial. I sincerely hope that when the bill gets to committee, the Liberals will be open to amendments. If this legislation stays as it is, there is no question that it will be considered a broken promise, because as much as there have been steps toward greater openness compared to the previous administration, this legislation falls far short of the Liberals' election promises and compares unfavourably to regimes already found in other provinces.

The model here is a weak model that can be found in other provinces. We find it in Newfoundland and Labrador. We do not find it in British Columbia and Alberta. Exemptions throughout the bill are far too broad. Access to cabinet documents is certainly not something we will see. There are questions as to who would redact information and whether the redactions are acceptable. These will also fall to the agency itself and not, as I understand it, be reviewable by the Information Commissioner.

There have been a lot of concerns on the opposition benches. I wanted to give balance in my presentation today because it occurred to me that in the debate on Bill C-58, the Canadian public watching this debate might be baffled by the assertions being made by Liberal members that this legislation does apply to ministers' offices and to the PMO, while those on the opposition benches think it would not.

Proactive disclosure of some things, like briefing documents, spending, contracts, and so on, is a good thing, but here is the rub: giving that control solely to the agency itself and not allowing it to be reviewable may actually be a step backward, in that it would increase the discretion of those who control information to deny information.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
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LIB

Joyce Murray

Liberal

Ms. Joyce Murray (Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands for taking the time to point out that there are a number of very important steps forward in terms of this legislation we are debating, Bill C-58. She is aware that this bill will go to a committee, where concerns she is expressing around powers of the Information Commissioner or issues around who defines vexatious applications will absolutely be discussed and ideas brought forward. Our government does have a record of entertaining and accepting amendments at committees.

I appreciate the balanced nature of her comments, but I take issue with her comments around proactive disclosure, for the reason that currently there is no requirement to proactively disclose briefing documents and the kinds of things we will be regulating here. As a result, if there was anything awkward, it could be pulled off the disclosure list. In fact, we know that the previous government exercised political interference, even with accepted applications that the department had fulfilled. It balked them.

To me, proactive disclosure means that people have to disclose those things. They can be counted on to do it, whether they are awkward or inconvenient or not. It is a big step forward.

Yes, things—

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
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NDP

Carol Hughes

New Democratic Party

The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes)

I am sorry, but there are only five minutes for questions and comments. We have to allow for other questions.

The hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
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GP

Elizabeth May

Green Party

Ms. Elizabeth May

Madam Speaker, it is encouraging to hear the parliamentary secretary say, as someone who is within the Liberal government with responsibility in this area, that there will be an openness to amendments. I certainly hope so, and I plead with the members on the other side to consider that this legislation is extremely significant.

My only comment to her direct point is that it is not mutually exclusive to have proactive disclosure of documents and to have access to information requests reviewable by an information commissioner. I am not against the proactive disclosure of this information. What is concerning is that it is the only way in which access to information will now apply to those offices. We were promised more.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
Permalink
NDP

Pierre Nantel

New Democratic Party

Mr. Pierre Nantel (Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, NDP)

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on her speech, which she delivered with her usual sincerity. It is right to treat these issues with the dignity they deserve.

However, I heard my colleague suggest that in committee, we should try to seek more control over what will or will not disclosed, so as not to leave it to the discretion of the departments and agencies.

I heard the question from the government member, but I would ask the following question. Even if we can agree that there will be some openness to amendments, what happened with the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage as it was preparing its last report, which was tabled in June, shows that the government is fully capable of rejecting useful amendments and reports out of hand and choosing to stick to the PMO's agenda.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
Permalink
GP

Elizabeth May

Green Party

Ms. Elizabeth May

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Longueuil—Saint-Hubert for his comments on my speech.

It is true that this government has a tendency to go around consulting everybody and then make a decision that runs counter to public opinion, as we saw with the Special Committee on Electoral Reform. That is also what this government did with the environmental assessment process. It held massive consultations, but now it is making bad decisions that contradict the results of those consultations.

I hope that this time, in committee, we will have a chance to make constructive amendments that will improve this legislation.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Access to Information Act
Permalink

September 26, 2017