Order. Could hon. members come to order, please? The hon. member for Winnipeg North has the floor, and I would ask all hon. members to refrain from causing a disruption in the chamber.
The hon. member for Winnipeg North.
, seconded by the member for Winnipeg North, moved:
Motion No. 1
That Bill C-461 be amended by replacing the long title on page 1 with the following:
“An Act to amend the Privacy Act (disclosure of information)”
Motion No. 2
That Bill C-461, in the short title, be amended by replacing line 4 on page 1 with the following:
“1. This Act may be cited as the”
Motion No. 3
That Bill C-461 be amended by deleting clause 2.
Motion No. 4
That Bill C-461 be amended by deleting Clause 3.
Motion No. 5
That Bill C-461, in Clause 4, be amended by replacing lines 4 to 20 on page 2 with the following:
“(iii) the total annual monetary income of the individual, including any performance bonus, as well as the job classification and responsibilities of the position held by the individual, and any additional responsibilities given to the individual, if that income is equal to or greater than the sessional allowance—within the meaning of the Parliament of Canada Act—payable to a member of Parliament,
(iii.1) the salary range of the position held by the individual, as well as the classification and responsibilities of that position, if the individual's total annual monetary income, including any performance bonus, is less than the sessional allowance—within the meaning of the Parliament of Canada Act—payable to a member of Parliament,
(iii.2) the expenses incurred by the individual in the course of employment for which the individual has been reimbursed by the government institution,”
Motion No. 6
That Bill C-461 be amended by deleting clause 5.
Motion No. 7
That Bill C-461 be amended by deleting clause 6.
Motion No. 8
That Bill C-461 be amended by deleting clause 7.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak to the amendments that you have just deemed to be admissible with respect to the report stage of Bill C-461 dealing with public sector transparency.
The bill, in its original form, is intended to do two fairly modest things. It attempted to remedy a well-documented and often litigated flaw in the Access to Information Act regarding the public broadcaster. Section 68.1 has been the matter of no less than 14 separate pieces of litigation between the information officer and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Both the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal found that section 68.1 of the Access to Information Act, brought in by the Conservative government in 2006, is flawed in its drafting because it creates an exclusion subject to an exception. Section 68.1, and I am paraphrasing, says that the freedom of information act does not apply to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in terms of its documents and information that relate to its journalistic, creative or programming activities, other than information that relates to its general administration.
We can see the problem. It creates an exclusion where the act does not apply except under certain circumstances, in other words, matters regarding general administration.
In my view, and in fairly well-documented examples, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was able to use section 68.1 to deny the disclosure of documents that were under access request. The fact that the act did not apply indicated there was no power of review from the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner gets her powers of review from the act, so if the act does not apply there is no power of review.
This bill, in its original form, attempted to remedy this. It attempted to remedy what two federal courts indicated was not a model of clarity and was very awkward in its drafting.
The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics did a complete study on section 68.1 because there was so much controversy and misunderstanding. There were also 14 pieces of litigation between the information commission and the CBC.
The committee heard testimony. The Information Commissioner, Ms. Legault, testified in front of the standing committee on access. She recommended that section 68.1 be repealed and that it be replaced with an injury-based exemption, not an exclusion. It would be discretionary, so that if the test was made that the CBC would somehow be injured in terms of its independence, she would recommend against disclosure. However, if there was no prejudice or injury, she would recommend that the documents be disclosed.
It all seemed perfectly reasonable at the time, and that recommendation was incorporated in the original version of Bill C-461.
We heard evidence at the committee, and we had a number of hearings. I am not a member of the committee, but I sat through them as an interested member and as the sponsor of the bill. We heard cogent evidence that the independence test was too narrow. It created a level of discomfort within both the broadcast industry and the public broadcaster that the independence test was too narrow and it might be expanded to include something similar, to protect not only the independence but the freedom of expression of the corporation.
I conceded at the last of my three witness appearances before the committee that it would be helpful. Wording to protect not only the independence of the corporation but also its freedom of expression would be helpful, and it would give a greater level of comfort to both the industry and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. However, the committee, or at least the majority of the committee, was disinclined to accept that type of recommendation, so it was not passed.
The committee did pass a most unhelpful amendment regarding journalistic source protection. The House will recall that the problem with section 68.1, as it still is in the act and in law today, is the exclusion at the beginning with the words “This Act does not apply..”.
What did the government do to amend it at committee? It granted another exclusion. It provided an absolute exclusion for journalistic source privilege. It recommended the wording “This Act does not apply..”, which means that the Information Commissioner has no powers of review. Therefore, decisions of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation with respect to journalistic source privilege are absolute and not subject to review by the Information Commissioner.
The inevitable result of that untenable situation is litigation. The Information Commissioner said as much when she appeared before committee. If her powers of review are compromised, she would have to go to court to get clarification of those powers because section 36 of the act gives her unfettered power to review documents under the control of government institutions.
The government, in its so-called wisdom, proposed the exact same problem that we just set out to remedy, which was that we were replacing the exclusion in section 68.1 with a discretionary exemption. Then government members went ahead in their amendments at committee to provide an exclusion with respect to journalistic source privilege.
I believe, and I say this with some regret, that the bill as amended by the access committee is actually worse than the status quo, the existing provisions regarding the Access to Information Act.
My intent was to provide clarity and certainty, and to have less litigation rather than more litigation. The government refused to entertain amendments regarding extending the discretionary exemption to include freedom of expression, in addition to its insistence that an absolute exclusion be given with respect to journalistic source privilege. I think that makes this a bad piece of legislation with respect to the CBC access.
In the motions that have been tabled, I am proposing the deletion of any reference to access to information regarding the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, including the name of the bill. Motions Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8 deal with the deletion of sections regarding the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's obligations under the Access to Information Act.
I still believe that section 68.1 needs to be fixed because it is awkwardly drafted. The courts have called it “not a model of clarity”. When there is an exclusion and then the exclusion is limited with an exception, we would have nothing but misunderstanding and litigation. It has to be fixed, but the bill in its current form does not fix it. In fact, in my view it makes it worse.
With respect to journalistic source privilege, I absolutely understand the importance of allowing journalists to protect their confidential sources. The Information Commissioner has had 1,200 cases before her, and not one has ever dealt with journalistic source privilege. As well, the name of an informant is confidential information under the Privacy Act and could not be disclosed. The CBC amendments at committee were most unhelpful.
With my remaining time, I want to deal with what I think is the most contentious issue, and that is with respect to salary disclosure. The bill attempts to allow an amendment to the Privacy Act to allow specific salary and job description disclosure for a civil servant over an appropriate range. The range in the unamended act was for the lowest level of DM1, or $188,000. However, the committee in its wisdom, and I say that with more sarcasm than I have ever used in my life, decided to raise the disclosure bar to $444,000 to ensure it could not apply to any DM, including a DM4, or anybody below him or her.
I am not sure how the government reconciles that with Treasury Board proactive disclosure. If an individual has a contract with the Government of Canada for as little as $10,000, their name, their contract and the value of their contract is on a Treasury Board website. However, if the individual is a deputy minister making $444,000, apparently the privacy laws of Canada are made to protect them.
The nub of this issue, in my view, is the performance bonus. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice will get up and talk about already disclosing ranges of salary. That is true. However, a DM4 is the highest level. The range is $272,000 to $319,000, and that is a pretty big range. That is almost $50,000.
However, that does not end it. A deputy minister at that level is entitled to up to a 39% discretionary performance bonus, or $123,000. Nothing in our current privacy provisions or access to information allows any interested Canadian to find out anything about a performance bonus, and that to me is deficient.
This bill attempts to undo the damage done by the access committee on June 5 of this year, which incidentally was the same day I left the Conservative caucus, and to promote transparency and disclosure, not opaqueness and secrecy. Given all the allegations of secrecy and opaqueness in this town, I would think that the government would grab my amendments and support transparency and salvage its reputation.
Mr. Chair, it is inspiring to hear about the work people are doing. One of the first things I knew about my colleague from Winnipeg North was his admiration and respect for the Canadian Filipino community and how many times he had gone to the Philippines. We are hearing this around the House tonight.
I have two questions. First, will the government extend the matching funds until the end of the calendar year? Second, will the government grant visa extensions for students, temporary workers, and other workers from the typhoon area?
We are all showing our caring, and this is another way we can show our caring tonight.
Mr. Chair, before I start, I want to request that I share my time with my colleague from Winnipeg North, a riding that has one of the largest Filipino communities. I know how much my colleague is involved and how much he is helping.
That said, it is important to note that disasters have happened and will happen again, and that we as Canadians will respond in good faith. Sometimes we will respond faster than others and sometimes we will allocate more resources than other times. There have been times that the current government has responded, but it has gone there screaming and yelling, and there have been times that it has responded right away.
Let us examine those times, because it is very important to do so.
When Haiti happened, the government immediately responded. The Prime Minister went to the Red Cross and made his donation, and the cameras were following him. We were at the time of proroguing. The House of Commons was shut down.
When Haiyan happened in the Philippines, the government responded immediately. This time, we had one of the second-highest hitters, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, writing his cheque when the camera was there. How appropriate. We have seen his good spirit, and the government again is going through a crisis consisting of senators Duffy, Wallin, and Brazeau.
When the earthquake in China happened in 2008, there was no response for a couple of days. We had to force the government time and again before it responded. At that point in time, overwhelmingly the massive support was happening from the Chinese community. It collected millions of dollars, bought tents that were shipped over courtesy of Air Canada, and the Red Cross transferred the money to the Chinese Red Cross. That was all done primarily through community involvement.
A couple of years ago, another typhoon hit the Philippines, and the current government did not act.
However, this time it did act, and what did it put in place? The Conservatives put in place the Liberal protocol for disasters, the protocol that the Liberal government before them had in place for years.
Let us examine that. There were four pillars to it.
One was to expedite family class immigration processing from the areas that were affected, and if anybody was in Canada, to ensure they could stay in Canada until the disaster back home was looked after.
The second was to make the DART available.
The third was to work with communities and match dollar for dollar any funding that they raised for a great length of time.
The fourth was that we would help the communities to help themselves. For any money that they raised, we would respond quickly to ensure we were able to provide a one-time CRA tax donation number so they could issue tax receipts for the money they collected.
This is being done today by the Conservatives, and we from this side agree with them that what they have done is great.
However, we heard tonight that there is no extra allocation of staff at the post in the Philippines. Immigration has absolutely no extra staff to deal with this situation. The immigration officials in the Philippines are overwhelmed. The immigration officials in the Philippines have to deal with thousands of cases. They just got off a strike a number of months ago, so not only do we overburden them, but we also do not provide any extra staff.
The other thing we do not hear is the goodwill of Christmas that would allow for the community to respond until Christmas.
I do want to express through my speech my condolences to the families of the people who have been affected. My prayers and thoughts are with them, and I join them in their fight to overcome this. On December 4, on a Wednesday night, IDRF, the International Development and Relief Foundation, will be having an event in Toronto that I will be attending.
I am looking forward to continuing this conversation. I do hope that the Conservatives will stand up and say that more staff is going out to help immigration officials and that the time will be extended until December 31 in order for us to continue to raise more money.
The hon. member for Winnipeg North will have three minutes remaining for his comments when the House next returns to debate on the question.
The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.
Before I recognize the hon. member for Winnipeg North, I will just let him know we do not have the full 10 minutes available. There are approximately six to seven minutes remaining in the time for private members' business this evening. I will give him the signal when we get close to that time. Of course, he will have the remaining time when the House next resumes debate on the motion.
The hon. member for Winnipeg North.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend from Winnipeg North for his comments and for seeing this effort for what it is.
This is not a health minister who is conducting an effort to make Canada a more healthy place or Canadians healthier people. This is a government that is rolling from one scandal to the next, looking to shore up the base and to fundraise off legislation that comes before Parliament, as if that is all Parliament was good for: some activity for the fundraisers across the way and for a government that has lost its way.
My question is quite specific. If the government is interested in having less crime and improving the health of Canadians, with regard to the one injection site we do have in the country, the current government spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars, of taxpayer money to sue all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court ruled against the government and its efforts to shut down a health initiative. The one site we have is supported by the police, the local municipalities, and the local voices who live there, knowing that it actually reduces harm. Why then would the Government of Canada, regardless of its political orientation, not be supportive of more of those projects, where they are deemed to fit, and where there is a problem, and where Canadians are asking for them?
When it comes to pipelines and other projects that it wants to push through, the government does not care about local voices. However, when it comes to safe injection sites, suddenly the public has a veto.
I wonder why the double standard exists. We all know why that is; it is ideology coming from the Conservatives.
Before we resume debate, I would like to remind all hon. members that we have reached the five hour point in this debate. Therefore, from this point forward, the speeches will be 10 minutes, followed by five minutes for questions and comments.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Winnipeg North.
The electoral district of Winnipeg North (Manitoba) has a population of 79,366 with 51,198 registered voters and 143 polling divisions.
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