The Chair (Mr. David Tilson (Dufferin—Caledon, CPC)):
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Let me call the meeting to order.
This is the Legislative Committee on Bill C-2, meeting number five. The orders of the day are for Bill C-2, which is an act providing for conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing, and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight, and accountability.
Before we start with our guests today, I have two matters I'd like to raise with the committee. In fact, I'll give them both to you at the same time.
The Chief Electoral Officer, who will be appearing before this committee on May 16 at 9 o'clock, has asked the clerk that he be allowed more time than the allotted 40 minutes. The question I will be asking the committee is whether they would agree to extending the sitting on May 16 for the Chief Electoral Officer by a round. That would mean we would rise at 12:10, assuming we're on time, instead of 12 o'clock.
Is there unanimous consent for that?
An hon. member: Agreed.
The Chair: You didn't hear what I was saying? You have to pay attention when this meeting's called.
I'm asking for consent. The Chief Electoral Officer, on May 16, has asked for extra time, and I'm suggesting a round. That would take us to 12:10, if we allowed that extra round.
Ms. Joanna Gualtieri:
First, thank you, committee members and Mr. Chair, for having us. I have a few opening comments, and then we will deal with the six election promises regarding the promise of ironclad whistleblower protection.
I think we all can understand that understanding is best acquired through personal experience. Fortunately, most of us will be spared the experience lived by whistle-blowers, but it is precisely this absence of experience that challenges us in understanding what we need to do to provide effective legal protection. I hope that through your deliberations this committee will nonetheless understand that ironclad whistle-blower protection comes not from rhetoric or illusory devices, but rather from locking in fundamental civil and legal rights.
I hope that none of you experiences the retaliation whistle-blowers do; likewise, I hope you don't experience the tragedy that can result when we all remain silent. Twenty years ago, 60,000 Canadians were infected with HIV and hepatitis C while the government secretly debated what to do regarding our tainted blood supply. Thousands of others kept bedside vigils as their loved ones died a long and painful death, while the government covered up. We owe it to them today to ensure that above all else we are guided by simple principles: the public's right to know and an employee's right to tell.
History has given us profiles in courage: Dr. Michele Brill-Edwards, Dr. Pierre Blais, the three veterinarians at Health Canada. All departed from the unspoken conspiracy of silence to alert Health Canada to dangers. Career diplomat Brian McAdam, who is here, and RCMP Corporal Robert Read alerted the Prime Minister about threats to our national security. Linda Merk, who heroically went up to the Supreme Court of Canada, advised about corrupt union bosses. And Allan Cutler, who you will hear from, spoke about the sponsorship scandal.
What they share in common is that their careers were destroyed or detrimentally affected, and that they have faced persecution in our courts by the Department of Justice.
My knowledge regarding whistle-blower rights and protection began when I started at the Department of Foreign Affairs and spoke about extravagance and waste. Multi-million-dollar residences sat vacant while the taxpayers footed the bill for houses more to the diplomats' liking. I alerted senior management and the minister and was stonewalled and my livelihood destroyed.
As a lawyer, I could not ignore the horrific abuses applied against conscientious public servants. We needed a voice, counsel, and information, and that was the beginning of FAIR.
Today, our operations as a non-profit, non-partisan organization are made possible by a growing group of dedicated volunteers, and we are grateful for advisers, including the Honourable David Kilgour, Dr. Gerard Seijts of the Ivey School of Business, and Dr. David Swann, Calgary MLA. Our mission is threefold: to assist whistle-blowers, educate the public about their indispensable role in combating wrongdoing, and provide commentary about effective legislation.
I've learned this: that we are utterly dependent as a society on the flow of reliable insider information to combat wrongdoing that threatens the public interest. There is tremendous goodwill among our citizenry, but governments are more reticent to embrace strong protection.
We are really encouraged by the consultative approach of this new government and are deeply grateful for the openness of Pierre Poilievre, the parliamentary secretary to the President of the Treasury Board. It reflects a substantial change from the previous government, where, for example, Minister Lloyd Axworthy threatened me with libel for daring to say there was anything wrong.
Let us look now at the six components of the election promise. I would refer you as a benchmark to the whistle-blower protection law of the Organization of American States, of which, incidentally, Canada is of course a member. They have ratified the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption. This model should be our model.
The first promise is to give the public service integrity commissioner the power to enforce compliance with the act.
We know that employees remain silent for two reasons: fear of reprisal, and the belief that nothing will change. In order to combat this, the commissioner must have order powers. Unfortunately, Bill C-11 fails. Regarding the wrongdoing, the commissioner can only report to Parliament and make recommendations, and we know that bureaucrats and ministers have ignored officers of Parliament, including the Auditor General and the Information Commissioner.
Regarding whistle-blower protection, the commissioner has no power to grant a remedy, but can refer the matter to a tribunal. This will invariably start a long and onerous process for the whistle-blower, who never has control over his or her case. Rights inherently include the authority to enforce them, but this legislation offers promises whose enforcement is beyond the reprisal victim's control.
By contrast, the ombudsman in the OAS model has such corrective powers and remedial powers. In order to meet this election promise, at the very minimum the bill should provide that the minister or head of an offending department or crown corporation or agency shall take prompt corrective action as recommended by the commissioner.
The second point is to ensure that all Canadians who report government wrongdoing are protected, not just public servants. This is an important point. There's ample and growing precedent to base protection on what information the dissenter is disclosing, rather than on the person's employment context. This reflects the OAS model and the False Claims Act in the United States. To meet this election promise, Bill C-11 should at the very least provide that any time the government retaliates against a citizen who exercises freedom of expression, it violates human rights.
The third point we agree with, and that is the government's inability to exempt crown corporations and other bodies. Our position is clear. No government department, agency, or crown corporation should be exempted. They are all stewards of taxpayers' money.
The fourth point requires the prompt public disclosure of information revealed by the whistle-blower. In this regard, we must say that Bill C-11 fails dismally. It obligates the commissioner to make secret forever all information gathered in the course of the commissioner's investigation. It is also exempt from Access to Information requests. This provision is in fact more draconian than what the Liberal Government proposed. Inexcusable and Orwellian, it turns Bill C-11 into an anti-transparency proposal. Any whistle-blower acting under the law is in fact gagging himself or herself and locking in secrecy exactly when the public has a right to know. The American and OAS models contain anti-gag provisions. Bill C-11 must therefore provide that any information acquired by the commissioner must be accessible under access laws; in fact, we state that reports and materials should be deposited with a public registry.
The fifth point is a very important one. It relates to the whistle-blower's access to courts and the provision of legal counsel. Bill C-11 again is wanting.
The first part relates to the restoration of access to our courts of justice, which the Liberal government stripped away. This was done in 2003 by virtue of the Public Service Modernization Act. As insiders at the Department of Justice and Treasury Board said, it was because the government was embarrassed at being sued by public servants for harassment and abuse of power. Bill C-11 sets up a special-purpose tribunal to deal with whistle-blower cases, but it fails to reinstate the right to sue in court.
Let me be clear. A fair day in court with a history of openness, transparency, due process, public accessibility, and court reporting is the bottom line for the validity of any remedial law. I must say that the net result with Bill C-11 in this regard is that Canadian whistle-blower rights are regressing, and this proposal institutionalizes this retreat.
It's worth noting that in the United States, which has 40 years of history with whistle-blower law and where radical improvements are being made, the whistle-blowers are allowed to walk into court with their heads held high and have jury trials, in which they will be judged by the public, the intended beneficiaries of whistle-blowing.
The other issue is legal representation. It is a cruel delusion if victims cannot afford to enforce their rights. At the very least, whistle-blowers must have the same access to counsel as wrongdoers who have the public purse to defend them. I urge you to invite the Minister of Justice to provide testimony on what steps he has taken to end the abuses being directed at whistle-blowers currently in the courts. The $1,500 for legal advice is wholly inadequate.
The last point, and I'll be very brief, is the establishment of monetary rewards for whistle-blowers. This garnered a lot of debate during the election campaign. I'd like to provide some clarification. Suing for damages should not be confused with monetary rewards. Our position is that reprisal victims must have the right to sue for comprehensive punitive and compensatory damages. The idea is to make available make-whole remedies to heal the scars of retaliation.
The issue of allowing whistle-blowers to take a cut of moneys that are recovered from those who commit fraud against government is another issue. I note that Monsieur Poilievre has said they will look into it, and we support this. I would merely say that society benefits when the business of fighting corruption becomes more profitable than engaging in it.
I'd like to conclude by saying that this committee has a historic opportunity to provide meaningful protection for employees who through their individual acts of courage serve us, the public. How are we to justify giving our first-class public service the second-class rights that Bill C-11 provides? This is not the time for political expedience. The deaths from Walkerton, the blood scandal, and Air India demonstrate powerfully what can result when we fail to promote and protect free speech.
I urge you to invite the testimony of the Government Accountability Project in Washington, D.C. They are the world's leader on both legislation and whistle-blower rights as a fundamental plank in government accountability. This is the time that we should do right and not rush to adhere to arbitrary deadlines, as Canadians are expecting no less.
Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.
Hon. Stephen Owen (Vancouver Quadra, Lib.):
Thank you, Ms. Gualtieri.
I think many of us, if not all of us, in this room understand that the horrific experience you went through has added force to the demand for whistle-blower legislation in this country, which is real and remedial in the way you've set out, but also serves the broader public interest. I think Bill C-11 and Bill C-2 at this stage are a testament to your courage, determination, and resilience in this process. So thank you for that, and thank you for the very comprehensive brief.
I have a couple of questions on points one and four.
With respect to the power to actually enforce with the commissioner, despite the OAS ombudsman model you've referenced, in most ombudsman systems you do not include the power to enforce, the power of sanction, because certainly in a parliamentary system the person is an officer of Parliament and there, in effect, to assist members of Parliament to get to the truth, make it public, and get some remedial action either through embarrassment of the executive or direct legislative action.
The difficulty, of course--and I suspect this is what the government was considering in Bill C-2--is that an officer of Parliament is not elected and does not operate within a quasi-judicial due process regime. So I suspect that the suggestion for the tribunal, while it may provide some delay, is to bring that aspect of procedural fairness into fact-finding and then a sanction.
I take your point about the delay and the need to expedite matters, but I suspect that's what's going on, and I'd like to have your view on that.
The other one is the question that--and you've mentioned it--as a second-best choice, if Parliament or the government is not going to respond to a recommendation of the commissioner, then the government should have to, in a deliberative and reasoned way, explain to Parliament why not. I think that is very much in the practice of ombudsman-type models around the world, certainly in Canada, and that can be helpful.
I'll give two examples where that is used quite effectively: first of all, in the Law Commission of Canada, where its statute sets out that it's a public but independent body on law reform, but when it gives a report to the Minister of Justice, it must be tabled in Parliament and the minister must respond in Parliament, in a reasoned fashion, within a certain period of time.
There are also models in judicial compensation provisions in different provinces that require that after an independent commission makes a recommendation on increased compensation--and I don't think they've ever recommended decreased compensation for judges--if that's not followed by the government, again a reasoned response must be tabled in the legislature and that can be reviewable by a court for its reasonableness. So there's an additional model there.
The other point I'll mention briefly concerns the discretion to release. I agree with you certainly that in Bill C-2 we have to look very carefully at those increased restrictions, or exemptions, really, on release in a number of provisions there. You should at least have a public interest override or consent—at least consent, but a public interest override as well—and also a demonstration of harm, so that it not just be a blanket exemption.
I wonder if you might respond to those observations.
Ms. Joanna Gualtieri:
Thank you for those questions.
I must profess, you are far more an expert on the parliamentary system than I am. I know, I have friends who have spoken very highly about the work you've done.
I think the point that has to be made is that there has to be a strong signal that corrective action will be likely. And I think that Bill C-11.... We are weary, as Canadians, of seeing recommendations go to Parliament and having nothing happen. I don't know the modality, and it's difficult to say that an officer of Parliament is going to issue an edict or an order that a minister has to follow. Those are issues that I, quite frankly, don't have the absolute answer to. But I think that at the very least, ministers have to be held more accountable in some way in this act, and I don't see that yet. They have to at least be held to account for why they did not take corrective action.
Regarding the issue of the release of information, I think this is critical, because it basically slams the door on the purpose of whistle-blowing, which is ultimately to respect the public's interest. I think it's very dangerous. We saw in the Gomery inquiry, in which Canadians took a great interest, that the Prime Minister released a significant amount of cabinet material, and we learned a lot from that. That's another issue I haven't touched on.
I am going to provide to the committee a detailed analysis, which point by point will go through what should be an effective whistle-blowing law.
I do not believe there should be an absolute exemption on cabinet and solicitor-client materials. I think that's dangerous. We saw a president come down in the United States because of information that ultimately would have been kept private. I think the public had a right to know what was going on. Likewise, we had a right to know what was going on in the sponsorship scandal.
And finally, there are not exemptions that the commissioner has to evaluate; he has a duty. The language is that he “shall keep secret” all materials gathered, and that, I believe, has to be amended.
Mr. Pierre Poilievre:
Joanna, great to have you here today.
I'd like to clarify a few points that I think need to be said.
First of all, the tribunal will be composed of Federal Court and provincial Superior Court judges. So this is not just a random group of the Prime Minister's hand-picked favourites. This is a group of judges. And those people who believe in the independence of the judiciary must also believe automatically in the independence of this tribunal, because it is composed of the judiciary.
Furthermore, neither the Prime Minister nor the government will have the ability to decide which judges will sit on which cases. That will be selected by the head of the tribunal, who himself is a judge. So, again, if we believe in the independence of the judiciary, we must necessarily believe in the independence of this tribunal.
Secondly, the office of the commissioner will have order power. It will have the power to sanction and it will have the power to remedy. Those are two powers the office did not have under Bill C-11 but will have under the Accountability Act, because the office of the commissioner includes the tribunal, which has those powers.
I have the sections here right now: proposed section 21.7 gives the power to remedy; and proposed section 21.8 gives the power to discipline, for lack of a better word, the bully. The individual who is mistreating whistle-blowers can be disciplined directly by the tribunal in a totally apolitical proceeding separate from the political and the executive arms of government. All of those powers are given to an independent group of judges.
Those powers do not exist under the previous Bill C-11, but they do exist under this accountability act. I wonder if you agree that giving this power of enforcement to sanction and to remedy to an independent group of judges is an improvement over the previous Liberal bill, which left those powers in the hands of politicians and senior bureaucrats.
Mr. Allan Cutler (As an Individual):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'm not going to go into a long history of my experience. Suffice it to say that Joanna and I have talked many times. We have a very similar experience, and we know the isolation. We both bear the battle scars, even though you don't visibly see them.
One of the things I'd like to state is that I'm also here on behalf of the Civil Liberties Association. I'm a member of that association, and my comments have been worked out with them as well. So that's where I'm going to.
I'd like to thank you. I'd like to thank all members for hearing us and letting us speak once more on an issue that is extremely passionate and personal to us, and one we can't walk away from. We didn't originally, and we still can't.
I'd like to comment on Bill C-11, though, which is the precursor to this. I am on record as saying Bill C-11 is fatally and fundamentally flawed. And I fully believe that.
The predecessor to this committee tried extremely hard to create a good bill, but from a whistle-blower's perspective they just were not able to. But the attempts were made, and for that we all thank you.
When I read the bill--and I know Joanna does the same--I read it from the perspective of whether I would have been protected. And Bill C-11 did not answer that. There were a number of questions that weren't there.
The second question when I read this bill was whether the changes are an improvement. Bill C-2 contains improvements, but there are still important flaws that need to be addressed.
Two of my objections to Bill C-11 have not been addressed in this amendment at all. The first is that the bill--and this is critical from a whistle-blower's viewpoint--still leaves the burden of proof for reprisals on the whistle-blower. All management really has to do is say that the cases are different, and the whistle-blower is the one who has to prove that the two situations are linked--the whistle-blowing incident and the reprisal. There is no element of timeliness in the bill that says that when the time period is very close together management must accept the responsibility and the burden of proof shifts to management. That is still a fatal flaw in this bill, in my opinion.
The second objection--and this bill is not designed to address it--is that this bill only covers federal employees and people in work related to the government. It doesn't cover all Canadian citizens.
Think for a moment: if Enron had been a Canadian company, this bill would not have protected anybody or helped anybody to come forward and let them know what was going on in Enron. There's no protection. In fact, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which is the U.S. bill, is the main protection for whistle-blowers in Canada outside of the federal government. So we're protected by U.S. law, because there are no real Canadian laws that protect us.
With Bill C-11, I was on record as saying that no law is better than a bad law. And in my opinion, Bill C-11 was a bad law.
With the changes I've read in Bill C-2, it's far from perfect. I'm not going to give it a ringing endorsement, but I will give it a conditional pass. It certainly has a lot of improvements.
My background is in negotiation, and that is coming to joint resolutions. The conciliation approach in this bill is exactly the type of conflict resolution I'm familiar with, which I like, I enjoy, and which didn't exist in Bill C-11. That, to me, is a big step forward, to be able to try to reconcile situations and not let them get out of hand.
Litigation does have its place, but in my opinion it's the last recourse, not the first option. But if everything fails, the whistle-blower should still have the right to litigation.
I'm certain that Joanna would be able to say exactly the same thing, that she's been contacted and she's aware of a number of whistle-blowing incidents in the federal government right this minute. Some I have information on, some I've just been talked to on, and some I've been told about in the past.
This is systemic in large organizations. A large organization will always have problems, and almost all of these problems are what would be typified by either systemic problems or management abuse.
They're not political problems. They only become political problems if they're not addressed early enough, so if you have good legislation and you have the whistle-blowers coming forward, you will solve a lot of problems for whatever party is in power. It will help everybody.
I have read in the paper--I'm certain everybody has--that trust in the government is considered rather low. It needs to be restored.
Trust becomes a critical issue for the integrity commissioner. If this individual--male, female--is not trusted, this office will not work. Whistle-blowers need to trust to go to anybody else. They are isolated; they're being abused; they don't know where to turn or who to turn to. They need somebody they trust, and if trust does not surface very strongly, it just won't work.
But the ethics need to be addressed, too. In that regard, there is a clause in Bill C-11, clause 6, that was not changed in this bill, and that I would like to ask you to delete and change. The clause says that every government department will create its own code of ethics.
Are some employees of some departments more or less ethical than others? Why do they need a different code of ethics? Why is one code of ethics created by Treasury Board not good for all? Why is it that everybody should...?
To me, it's a make-work project. It's totally unnecessary. You only need one rule. This particular statement was in Bill C-11. It has not been addressed in Bill C-2; my request would be to have it changed so that you have only one code for the full government.
I have some other observations on the whistle-blowing section of Bill C-2, but before that I want to address a couple of other sections that are very near and dear to my heart.
Part 4 deals with the administrative oversight and accountability. To me, it is an absolutely excellent addition to make the deputy minister the accounting officer of a department and responsible for measures taken, including measures to maintain effective systems of internal control. I think making the person in charge at the top responsible and accountable in law, not just in policy, for doing the job right is an absolutely excellent set of recommendations.
The other one I have deals with the procurement and contracting function. My specialty is procurement. The procurement auditor is a good initiative; however, I would like to ask you to consider broadening it to a position similar to that of the Auditor General, and allowing this particular individual to audit the procurement practices in all government agencies and crown corporations.
There are inadvertent abuses and lack of knowledge all over the place. There are problems for a whole stack of reasons. This individual should be able to examine all contracting that involves government funds, not just the mainstream departments; this reads for just the mainstream departments of the federal government, so I would ask you to at least consider broadening the mandate of this individual, and, if necessary, making that individual an officer of Parliament--selected by Parliament, and reporting to Parliament. I would have no objection to that.
We'll go to Bill C-2, because I've said the part I wanted to on Bill C-11.
I would like to have in the preamble to Bill C-2 a statement to the effect that public servants have an obligation to report wrongdoing when in the public interest. If that's the purpose of the bill, then put what the purpose is right up front, because when I read the preamble, I don't get a sense of the purpose of the bill. This is just a statement of fact.
I'm going to read just some of the points I have. I'm not going to read everything. I've asked the clerk to get them translated so they can be passed out to everybody at a later date, but I'll read them--
Hon. Stephen Owen:
Thank you, Mr. Cutler, for being here. I think all of us are very aware of the struggles you've had, and appreciate your forthright way of addressing them in attempting to assist government, frankly, to work better in the public interest.
I appreciated your remark about the conciliation approach. I think if we look at governance as a system--you mentioned your dispute resolution and negotiation background--you need to have a number of things across a range of government and negotiation dispute resolution. The first and most important thing--to save everybody a lot of time, money, and heartache--is to have an internal system that is open, accountable, and works properly, where problems are illuminated without whistle-blowing, in the sense of someone having to step outside the system.
No system will be perfect, but if you can lay the groundwork effectively for that management system you will shortcut a lot of problems. You'll make sure that people fully understand each other. You won't have an employee frustrated in thinking something is wrong, if they don't perhaps have full knowledge because the cohesion of government may leave some issues out of their knowledge, which had they known they might have felt better about. But it leads to better governance. Then you should always, in a system of dispute resolution, have a conciliation mediation approach, and then a determination--a fact-finding process, whether it's a tribunal, a court, or whatever. But I just want to get your reflection on that.
We're dealing with the downstream stuff, on how to solve it once there's a problem and someone's been pushed to a point of having to blow the whistle. I really think the upstream aspects need a lot of work as well.
I guess if you have a healthy internal system of management you will have processes that should be exhausted first, before someone goes immediately outside, so they might find out more information and not expose themselves to worry or reprisal. I guess when you do step outside, I see in this act--and I appreciate that it's repeated a number of times--that the whistle-blower be in good faith. That to me is sort of a bedrock condition.
I wonder if you might comment on those two issues of internal management structures that might be improved, as well as good faith when one does step outside.
Mr. Rob Wright (President and Chief Executive Officer, Export Development Canada):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We're pleased to be here with you and we thank you for this opportunity to attend such an important meeting.
You have introduced my colleagues.
We have a prepared statement, which is being circulated. I won't read it, in the interests of time.
Mr. Chairman, switching gears from whistle-blowing to access to information, we've highlighted I think some important background points in the statement that's being circulated. I just want to highlight three key points.
First, this bill will have a very important impact on EDC. We have never before been subject to the Access to Information Act, and it's a big and important change for us. I want to assure the committee that we are devoting the appropriate resources and planning and we will fully respect the letter and the spirit of that bill in the way we respond to requests for what we're about.
We've already started. We have voluntary disclosure of various summaries of transactions. We released 1,200 transactions in summary form last year. We release expenses and hospitality by our board of directors and myself twice a year. Doubtless that will come out more often under Access to Information.
We release voluntarily. The Auditor General of Canada is our auditor of record. We release her special examination of EDC and other audits, including our environmental programs, and we release a number of internal documents that we feel are of public interest.
All of that being said, I've worked in the Government of Canada for over 30 years and I've worked with the Access to Information, and there is no question that this bill will represent a major change in our approach to the way we do business and will result in a great deal of disclosure. That's a good thing and we're working very hard to be ready for it.
The second thing I thought I should do up front, Mr. Chairman, is to highlight a bit about Export Development Canada. We're a commercial crown corporation. We haven't been covered by the Access to Information Act for many, many years. There are reasons for that. We are covered by some special provisions of the act, particularly section 24 and section 18. There are some reasons for that as well.
In terms of the context for what we do, last year we provided and supported over $57 billion in trade and investment from Canada through our insurance programming, loan programs, political risk insurance, and other events. We have 7,000 clients across the country in every sector of the economy from the resource sector, service industry, and manufacturing, and 90% of our clients are small business. Last year we had a record high client satisfaction rating for our programs. Canadian businesses like what we have and they need more of it, particularly given current world market conditions and a 90-cent dollar.
So we're a commercial crown corporation that is very different from a government department, not only in the way we deal with the clients we serve. We are financially self-sufficient. We manage ourselves to generate enough revenue to sustain our business and grow our business without any appropriations from government. We have not had appropriations from government for over 10 years. There is still scope to be more open and transparent about how we use the revenues we raise from our clients and this bill will force that. It's a good thing.
Not only do we deal with our clients on a commercial basis and protect their commercial information, over 60% of our business is done in partnership with other financial institutions in Canada and around the world. Those institutions also operate on a commercial basis.
That leads to my final point. We very strongly support the approach in this bill of applying access to information to EDC, but not to our clients. It's essential that we continue to protect commercially confidential client information from release.
Section 24 has been in place. It's worked effectively for the Business Development Bank of Canada in protecting the information they have from their clients, and it will work well for us as well.
Without it, thousands of Canadian companies would be at risk of losing our service. We must obtain a great deal of commercially sensitive information from our clients as we deliver our services well, generating a commercial return. We serve it directly from our clients, and as part of our due diligence we work as well, as I mentioned earlier, with a number of international private sector commercial institutions.
With over 60% of our work in partnership abroad, these institutions simply will not engage with us unless we can assure them that we're going to protect the information we obtain in confidence. In fact, we are regularly asked, as part of our normal due diligence, to sign non-disclosure agreements and to confirm that the information is not subject to the Access to Information Act.
I can give you a couple of examples of the nature of that information. One example might be where we're offering to lend money or insure a business to a U.S. airline. As part of the diligence we have to ensure that we're protecting Canadian exporters' investments in that market, we may rightly demand to see code-sharing agreements with other commercial airlines in the United States. This is extremely sensitive information, and frankly, if there's any risk of that becoming public, we won't obtain that information. It doesn't just hurt EDC, it means we're impaired in our ability to support exports of Canadian engines, helicopters, or airplanes. So it's a very important example.
Secondly, we lend money, on occasion, to foreign companies. The Codelco copper mine is an important case. It's the largest copper mine in the world. We've been involved in financing with Codelco to encourage them to procure more of their goods and services from Canada, an especially vital relationship for smaller business. Five years ago, Codelco had only two or three Canadian suppliers. Currently we have managed relationships to the point where we have 125 Canadian suppliers, and Canada is the second largest supplier to Codelco--the largest copper mine in the world.
This simply won't work if we go to a group of financial institutions and say, “We want all the due diligence to protect our investment, but we can't assure you that this won't be made public.”
Given the nature of concerns and the way we do business, the way Canadian companies must work to succeed internationally, Canadian exporters were very, very concerned about our programming being subject to access to information.
Given the bill that's before this committee, my advice to all concerned businesses is that this bill properly focuses on EDC information and protects client information.
I'm really pleased to have the occasion to meet with you and just give you a little more context of why it's so vital to protect Canadian business interests in these very challenging export times. My colleagues and I would be very open and welcome your questions in that regard.