So it is in that sense that, while I know this bill per se leaves things to be desired, I think it is the breakthrough which will take us a long distance back on the road to recovery.
I extend my congratulations to the Prime Minister and to my good friend the President of the Privy Council (Mr. Baker) and members of the government. I know the task is not easy.
Some years ago, after a somewhat similar struggle the then government followed a proposal which I had made and brought in the Statutory Instruments Act. I remember speaking to John Turner who was at that time the minister of justice. I think some of you have heard of John Turner, his name has been front and centre lately. He introduced the bill which was passed. While the bill was defective in many ways, it was still a mechanism by which this House finally secured the right to scrutinize statutory instruments. I asked John whether he had any trouble with his colleagues getting that bill through. He said, "Colleagues, nothing! My trouble was with the senior officials, to persuade them that this was essential". I am not telling tales out of school. I am sure that my friends in cabinet had that kind of difficulty, that is, to try to persuade people in top level jobs, good people, honest people, people who believe in these views that it was wrong to open up the doors and let fresh air blow through the musty corridors of power. They had quite a measure of success, not as much as I would like.
There are still some clauses in the bill which may need some tailoring, but 1 am heartened by what has been said by hon. members on both sides. I feel that amendments will be passed. I encourage a measure of independent thought on this. I am not revolutionary by nature. There are times when I have achieved a reasonable attempt at being independent. I do not
want to encourage hon. members to depart from party lines, but on issues of this kind when we get into detail, surely there is no better opportunity in an objective way to decide on the question of amendments how we can best bring about some improvement. It will not be perfect. I have long since given up the idea of getting perfection out of this House. We move along and improve.
One of the good things about the bill, is the provision in it for monitoring, for example. It is a considerable breakthrough in the whole principle of legislation, for a government to admit that this legislative child that they have produced may not be perfect. It may have some congenital defects. It is wise to leave to all members of Parliament, both places, who are or must be in close touch with their constituents throughout the country, the challenge to examine the implementation of the bill, and how it is working, to obtain reports from the information commissioner, from the departments and agencies, and to entertain complaints from those people who feel they are not getting an equitable deal, and then, at the end of two or three years, to say, "we will make this report to government", and for the government to say it will accept this report, maybe not in its entirety, or propose amendments.
I have a feeling that if more of that were done in this House that legislation might well be expedited. I do not ever expect to see a complete non-partisan aproach. I would not want to see it. That is not what we are here for. The facts come out better in any situation when both sides are explored. I am an adversary by nature. It is my training in my profession. Any training that I received has certainly been added to in this place.
I think the best way to get at the truth, and the best way to get at the best form of legislative or spending program, is to have two or three sides, maybe even four sides from time to time. But that being the case, there are many opportunities for this House to accelerate this passage of legislation by saying that we admit that something yet remains to be done and we are going to leave to committees of Parliament the opportunity to review what is being proposed and what has taken place under that legislation, and then bring in a report dealing with it. I hope this will be done in other cases.
We are going to deal with the bill in committee. I have a number of amendments but I do not think this is the time for me to bring them up. However, I do want to bring up one or two things which have been raised. The hon. member for Kenora-Rainy River (Mr. Reid) said that he did not like judicial review. I have been dealing with judges all my life. I have had judges who did things to my clients which I did not think were proper. I did not like those judges nor their decisions either.
On balance, certainly for the first years of operation of legislation of this kind, we must go outside the system. It must be recognized that no minister, no matter how virtuous, honest or decent he or she is, will find the greatest of difficulty arriving at a final, an irreversible decision, which will put within the competence of that minister the right to say that this document shall not be produced, if there is a conception
November 29, 1979
that the document might be embarrassing to the minister, the minister's staff, to the party or to the cabinet. That is very understandable. I appreciate that. 1 think it is going to happen.
Judicial process has worked in the United States. The intervention of the information commissioner here will mean that it will be done only in a very few cases, and ultimately the courts will establish a jurisprudence which will be invoked by the information commissioner. My judgment is that in eight to ten years, which is only a heartbeat in the life of society, we will see that the recommendations of the information commissioner will be accepted in virtually all cases. There will be people in the departments who will know of the decisions and facts, and who will be delighted to disclose the information.
I have talked to public servants. Most public servants favour legislation of this kind. They want to be open. Many have told me, and I have hundreds of letters to demonstrate this, that not only does the public need freedom of information but government departments need freedom of information. They are often incapable of producing the kinds of policies which they should have. They have told me sometimes that they do not know what the minister or deputy minister thinks, or what departmental policy is until they read it in The Globe and Mail or see it on television. Most of them are delighted with legislation of this kind. There are some who hold the reins of power to whom it will not come easy, not because they are wicked or corrupt, but because they are worried about mistakes. There is a saying somewhere that the end product of shielding people from their follies is that you produce a world of fools. That is what can happen in the public service, in life, in our society and in our world.
The cost will not be high. I will not go into that now. I have received figures from my friends in Australia who, in the last few weeks, completed a Senate study of their bill. They sent a committee to America to inquire into their costs. The highest cost in any one year was under $30 million. Relate that to Canada and you look at a very, very small premium struck against expenditures of well over $50 billion. I think for us to put that against $5 million to $10 million, it is a very reasonable premium to pay for the knowledge, safety, and security which go with legislation of this kind.
1 could go on. I will have a chance later because 1 know we will deal with it in committee. I thank hon. members for their support. I thank the government for introducting the bill. I hope it will be passed and passed shortly, within a reasonable amount of time in order to permit the public service to become acquainted with it before it comes into effect. At the end of three years it will be monitored and improved. At the end of four or five years, we will not know that we ever did without it.
People ask me if this will really be used. I practised law for a great many years before 1 was seduced into politics. In all the years I practised, I only prepared papers for habeas corpus three times. Habeas corpus is the rule by which you have the body before the court to justify the imprisonment. The very fact that the writ of habeas corpus exists has constituted a
Freedom of Information
wholesome safeguard and restraint upon abuses by public authorities in the confinement of individual citizens. We will change to habeaus documentus. Is that good Latin? The very fact the law exists will contitute a wholesome and healthy restraint on the extent to which governments fail to disclose the business of the country to the people. It is a good law. It will be improved and become a better law. I commend it to hon. members of this House, the public service, and the country.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT