November 20, 1969 (28th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Colin David Gibson


Mr. Colin D. Gibson (Hamilion-Wenl-worlh):

Mr. Speaker, the belief in free access to government documents is based on the principle that monopolistic control of information, a policy of secrecy, is in fact truly undemocratic and reactionary. Such a policy breeds distrust and contempt for the civil service and government departments. However, I do not advocate the "open access" theory which makes virtually all government

November 20, 1969
Motions for Papers
files of any description subject to public scrutiny at any time. Such a principle is a denial of the freedom to express thoughts, and inquisitorial attitudes can only spread alarm and a rush to the fireplace with documents. Those who have responsibility for long-term and detailed working papers must be protected from unfair prying and ineffective interference.
Consider, for example, an economist who is preparing a working paper for his department. Suppose he needs the opinion of officials in other departments and in assessing his interim opinion he names certain people as expressing views pro or con on a certain position: then suppose he expresses his interim view and views which are frank but not final. Should those working papers be scrutinized before the official has had an opportunity to fully develop his research material, weigh all considerations and make a decision free from outside, public pressure? I say no, Mr. Speaker. Indeed, such a policy of premature disclosure would inhibit free thought and independent judgment; it would only discourage frankness of expression by civil servants. I respect the right of the expert to work on his projects with that freedom of thought and expression which goes with the nature of his responsibilities.
Surely we have not reached the point where a politically unpopular idea cannot in private be expressed and weighed as to its merits by the officer of a government department. Otherwise all thoughts, ideas and expression of ideas would be weapons to be used in the glare of publicity and in the public, political forum. Government officials are not to be pillaried and spied on. They must be allowed to deliberate in a democratic way as is the case in nearly all businesses and professions. I should like to quote from page 30 of the report of the Task Force on Government Information:
The Report of the Royal Commission on Security (Abridged) acknowledged the fact of the Swedish system of open access but it did not approve of the principle behind the system.
"We would view suggestions for increased publicity with some alarm. We think the knowledge that memoranda might be made public would have a seriously inhibiting effect on the transaction of public business. We believe that the process of policy-making implies a need for wide-ranging and tentative consideration of options, many of which it would be silly or undesirable to expose to the public gaze ..."
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I oppose this motion and suggest it is six o'clock.

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