The Chair (Mr. David Tilson (Dufferin—Caledon, CPC)):
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
This is the legislative committee on Bill C-2, which is the Accountability Act. It's meeting 6.
The orders of the day are pursuant to the order of reference of Thursday, April 27, 2006--Bill C-2, an act providing for conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing, and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight, and accountability.
Our guests today, from the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, are Dyane Adam, who is the commissioner; Johane Tremblay, who is the director of the legal affairs branch; and Carol White, who is the interim director of corporate services branch.
Ms. Adam, welcome. If you wish, you could make a few opening comments, and then I'm sure members of the committee will have some questions for you.
Ms. Dyane Adam (Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages):
I will certainly make some comments
Mr. Chair, good morning.
Good morning, everybody.
I'm very pleased to appear before your committee to comment on and answer any questions you might have about Bill C-2 and the proposed Federal Accountability Act. I intend to keep my opening remarks au point so that there is adequate time to answer questions from committee members.
I will comment briefly on four aspects. I will first speak about my role as an officer of Parliament and the importance of strengthening the independence of the roles of all officers of Parliament. I will also talk about the manner in which officers of Parliament are confirmed in their positions, and changes relating to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act; lastly, I will speak about administrative changes in the areas of internal audit and procurement.
First, I fully support the notion of strengthening the culture of accountability that underlies Bill C-2. I also strongly support the notion, as set out by the Prime Minister in the federal accountability plan, of strengthening the capacity and independence of officers of Parliament to hold federal departments and agencies accountable. This will ensure that Parliament has access to information and advice from the various officers of Parliament so that Parliament can hold government accountable.
In this regard, I am very much encouraged by the government's announced intention to establish an all-party parliamentary advisory panel on resource requirements for officers of Parliament and to continue a two-year pilot project to give Parliament a greater role in order to respect the independence of officers of Parliament from the government.
As Commissioner of Official Languages and one of the independent officers of Parliament, I act as an instrument of Parliament in ensuring that organizations subject to the Official Languages Act are held accountable to Parliament for fulfilling their obligations under that act. I do this by providing parliamentarians with appropriate information on the implementation of the act by those particular institutions.
On the appointment process for officers of Parliament set out in part 2 of Bill C-2, I strongly believe that officers of Parliament must have, and see that they have, the unequivocal support of parliamentarians. Apart from the secret ballot, the process set out in Bill C-2 is what I experienced when I was confirmed in my position over seven years ago.
On the matter of access to information, I also fully support the government initiative to review the current scope of the Access to Information Act. While making five officers of Parliament subject to the act, Bill C-2 acknowledges the unique role played by these officers, and the need to protect information obtained or created by them, in the course of their investigations, examinations or audits.
The Commissioner of Official Languages is an agent of change and ombudsman. My role is to ensure that federal institutions comply with the intent and spirit of the Official Languages Act in administering their affairs. I receive and investigate complaints against federal institutions about their duties relating to official languages and recommend appropriate corrective measures. In my role as ombudsman, it is important that I protect both the identity of complainants and the information the investigators gather and create in the course of investigating complaints.
In order to allow the commissioner to fulfill such a mandate, Parliament has included in the Official Languages Act specific provisions pertaining to the non-disclosure of information gathered by the commissioner in the performance of his or her duties and functions. Therefore, I am quite satisfied with the new exemption that Bill C-2 is adding in the Access to Information Act. The proposed new subsection 16.1 will allow the Commissioner of Official Languages to disseminate information as widely as possible without undermining the integrity, the credibility, and the effectiveness of the commissioner's investigations, audits, and examination processes.
This broad dissemination of information, accomplished through such vehicles as my annual report to Parliament and in audits, evaluations, and research studies, supports another key role I play, namely that of the agent of change.
The same underlying policy should, in my view, apply with respect to access to information under the Privacy Act. While the government recognizes the need to include in the Privacy Act an exception similar to the one provided in the Access to Information Act, such a non-disclosure provision would apply only to information obtained or created by the Privacy Commissioner or by the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner in the course of their investigations, pursuant to their enabling legislation. Since exemptions provided in the Privacy Act generally mirror those provided in the Access to Information Act, I recommend that the committee adopt a common approach under both acts.
More particularly, I urge the committee to recommend that Bill C-2 be amended in order to include in the Privacy Act a mandatory exemption similar to the new proposed subsection 22.1 with respect to personal information obtained or created by the Commissioner of Official Languages for Canada in the course of his or her investigations, audits, or examinations.
Lastly, my office will be affected by administrative changes proposed in parts 3, 4 and 5 of Bill C-2 in such areas as further strengthening internal audit capacity, and ensuring that low value procurements are fair, open and transparent. I support these changes and I have asked my staff to determine the resource implications of the administrative changes needed to implement these important procedures. I would anticipate that my successor will be presenting any additional funding requirements to the parliamentary advisory panel on funding later this year.
In summary, I am encouraged by and support the proposed legislative changes to strengthen the culture of accountability and to support and strengthen the independence of officers of Parliament, and thereby provide Parliament with the advice and information it needs to make key decisions to support change and hold departments and agencies accountable.
With respect to the new appointment process for officers of Parliament, I would stress the importance of each officer seeing that we have strong support from parliamentarians.
I support the proposed extension of the Access to Information Act to my office and the specific exemptions set out in Bill C-2. I would urge the committee to recommend that Bill C-2 be amended in order to include in the Privacy Act a mandatory exemption with respect to personal information obtained or created by the Commissioner of Official Languages in the course of his or her investigations, audits, and examinations. I look forward to working with the parliamentarians who will be on the parliamentary advisory panel on funding for officers of Parliament, to ensure the continued independence of the officers of Parliament.
Thank you for your attention. I would be delighted to answer any question you may have.
Hon. Stephen Owen (Vancouver Quadra, Lib.):
Thank you, Chair.
Welcome, Commissioner, and your officials. It's always a pleasure to have officers of Parliament come before members of Parliament to discuss our respective roles. I very much appreciate your definition of the role of an officer of Parliament as someone who is really there to be an extension of the work of members of Parliament and to assist us in holding the executive accountable for the various rules and expectations we have of the executive. That characterization is a bedrock to your role, but it is not always understood as plainly as it should be; we sometimes think of parliamentary officers, or ombudsmen, as independent. Of course, you are independent in many aspects of your work, but you have a very, very close and important connection to the relationship between the branches of government, which I think has to be properly understood.
The issue of appointment, I think, is very interesting. The aspect of having a secret ballot and therefore not disclosing the number of votes going one way or the other is an interesting way of supporting the credibility of the office. I'm sure you as the office holder will take comfort from that. That seems to be a very positive addition.
As for the access provisions and your recommended privacy mirroring of it, I agree that they are the mirror of each other. The exceptions to one are the rules of the other, and vice versa. With respect to investigative reports that you might do requiring evidence that you would rely on, I am just wondering if you might be blocked from providing fully reasoned arguments for any strong recommendations you might make in a report after an investigation if, in some cases, you could not identify the source of the information and the actual testimony or evidence provided. I worry about there being absolute exemptions where, in the discretion of the officer of Parliament, it might be felt necessary to provide full information to provide a reasoned recommendation. So I'd be interested in how you would deal with the issue of keeping the source of information confidential and the actual nature of it. Could that restrict the thoroughness of your report?
Ms. Dyane Adam:
We are not demanding more, because in fact in my own bill, in the Official Languages Act, there is already non-disclosure protection. It's already there.
With respect to the citizens, but mostly the employees, I'll give you an example. The employees find it very difficult when they notice in their institutions their supervisors or whoever, even the deputy minister, not really respecting the act.
One recent employee from my office went to another department. The first day on the job he was given his manual to be introduced to his new position. It was entirely in English. He comes from my office. He knows his rights. He was talking about this to one colleague at the office, who said, “Well, you know what you need to do. Give a complaint to the commissioner.”
He will not do that. Because it's the first day on the job, he doesn't want to do that. He doesn't want to be seen immediately.
So imagine, and this is with non-disclosure. I think it would impact enormously on the integrity and the credibility and the possibility of doing my job as an agent of Parliament and ensuring that the Official Languages Act is protected and respected.
Dr. Edward Keyserlingk:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your invitation to appear before your committee this morning to testify on those parts of Bill C-2 that apply to the past, but not yet proclaimed, Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to answer your questions. In order to give you enough time to ask them, I will keep my preliminary remarks brief. I've distributed a short written presentation in which I present seven specific proposals to amend Bill C-2 with regard to the Public Servant Disclosure Protection Act.
I am very pleased with the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. In my view, on the basis of my almost five years of dealing with public servants and whistle-blowers, it effectively reflects the proposals that I and many others have been making for some years. The prospect that my policy-based and relatively weak Public Service Integrity Office will soon be transformed into a legislated agency with a commissioner reporting to Parliament, and equipped with strong investigative powers and protections, is exciting and very welcome. As you are no doubt aware, Mr. Chairman, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act in effect mandates that my office be the nucleus of a new and expanded commission. My colleagues and I have been working very hard on transition matters to ensure both continuity of investigations and the required new structures and processes.
If I may be permitted a personal note, one reason for my pleasure is that once the PSDPA comes into effect, my original mandate of three years, which has become almost five years, will end and I can finally go back to retirement, which I left five years ago.
Of course, the Public Servant Disclosure Protection Act is not perfect. In my opinion, the amendments proposed by Bill C-2 are quite significant, and I fully support them. In my written presentation, I indicated various aspects of the bill which I found positive.
But of course Bill C-2 is also not perfect, and I have a number of proposals to make towards further amendments. For the most part, I made the same or similar proposals in my annual reports and in testimony to the parliamentary committee considering what at that time was Bill C-11. You will find, Mr. Chairman, more detail in support of those proposals in the written submission.
My proposals are the following:
1) Extend fuller protection from reprisal to private sector contractors and grant recipients who report public sector wrongdoing, by providing them with access to the reprisal complaint process available to public servants;
2) Expand the definition of what constitutes reprisal in order to cover more than only employment or work-related forms of reprisal;
3) Extend the jurisdiction of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner to include the Canadian Forces, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and the Communications Security Establishment;
4) Add an education/communication mandate to the role of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, which, once that mandate is legislated, would enable the provision of adequate funding and other resources for that task;
5) Enable investigations of public service wrongdoing to extend beyond the public sector when relevant;
6) Authorize the commissioner to access, in the course of an investigation of public service wrongdoing, any relevant information, including departmental documents protected by solicitor-client privilege, and cabinet documents;
7) Regarding access to information, without being excessively technical here, my position is threefold. The identity of whistle-blowers should remain shielded, as provided for in Bill C-2. However, the identity of wrongdoers, including those found to have practised reprisal, may be disclosed in the public interest. The third part of this proposal is that any other information gathered in the course of the investigation may become accessible once the investigation is complete.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Hon. Stephen Owen:
Welcome, Mr. Keyserlingk.
Most of us have watched your current retirement years with great interest over the last few years and are grateful for your sacrifices in putting your shoulder against this particularly heavy wheel. Thank you for your persistence in this important role.
I'm very interested in the education and communications side of your recommended extended mandate, particularly from the point of view of attempting in public administration, as best we can, to avoid, first of all, the problem of wrongdoing, and then when wrongdoing occurs and someone feels compelled to report on it outside the normal channels, protecting the person from reprisals.
I am wondering, from your experience over the last few years, how the education of the public service, and in particular of public service management, has been progressing with respect to internal channels of complaint. Are we here faced with an integrity commissioner who is challenged to really go into the public administration and shake it up and restore it and recommend the implementation of a large number of channels of complaint that are fairer, more protective, and more welcoming to the public servant? Or are we looking at a residual office that on the rare occasion when the internal workings don't work can be looked to with safety and toward an effective result?
It relates to education and communication, but also to the core role here. Would this commissioner effectively be inside the public service, even with independence, and involved in daily scrutiny, or is this a safeguard to use when things that usually go right might go wrong?
Dr. Edward Keyserlingk:
Thank you for the question. It is a very good one.
I would like to think that the Public Service Integrity Commissioner ought to be both of those things and very much involved in the exercises involving training, teaching, educating, cajoling, and all sorts of things of that kind, because if the experience of the Public Service Integrity Commissioner is anything like mine has been, one has a special vantage point, in a sense, for seeing what kinds of reasons lead to people whistle-blowing. Very often, the cause turns out to be some degree of lack of leadership, some degree of lack of accessibility on the part of managers, some degree of managers not remaining in positions long enough to gain the confidence of their staffs, and issues like that. I feel that the person who has that job will be in a very special position to be able to say that he or she would like to contribute to efforts to instill better leadership, identify wrongdoing at an earlier point, deal with it within the departments, and so on.
Those are things that, in my view, go very well with this position.
Mr. Benoît Sauvageau:
Mr. Keyserlingk, thank you and welcome. First, thank you for having inspired Bills C-25 and C-11. The entire legislative process which was created to provide protection for public servants comes from you in your capacity as Public Service Integrity Officer. Thank you also for the seven proposed amendments; I believe they are important.
With all due respect to the witnesses we heard from earlier and to those we will hear in the future, I would say that you are probably the person who has been most directly involved in this bill. That is why your amendments will surely be relevant.
I will read a passage from your presentation and will then ask you several questions. You say:
||In addition, the establishment of a Public Appointments Commissioner, to establish rules and standards for open competitions and processes [...] will be free of conflicts of interest, partisanship or patronage, is another positive feature of Bill C-2 [...]
The Prime Minister, in Bill C-2, proposes the creation of the position of Public Appointments Commissioner. While we were debating, the government decided to create this position immediately, with the probable expectation that corrections or amendments would be made in committee. Therefore, it would be possible to immediately apply certain provisions of the bill and then to make changes once Bill C-2 is promulgated.
I would like to know what you think about the request made by 11 unions representing nearly 100,000 public servants — and perhaps what you think about your request to go back into retirement — and about the immediate application of Bill C-11. In your view, would it be heretical to support the immediate promulgation of Bill C-11, which dates back to the previous session, and then to make any amendments to the legislation through Bill C-2? Does that create too many problems?
Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP):
Thank you, Chair.
Welcome, Mr. Keyserlingk.
For the record, I should start by saying we have a press release from the Public Service Alliance, which also feels that implementing Bill C-11 at this time, while we're working on Bill C-2, could be so complex that they, the largest public sector union, don't approve.
Bill C-2, of course, is just one in a series of numerous efforts to do something about whistle-blowing, from private members' bills to internal policies, to reports and various government members' bills that I've been involved with, from Bill C-25 through Bill C-11, and now Bill C-2.
Through that process you've been very helpful in making recommendations. Are you satisfied that in Bill C-2 the key recommendations that were a theme throughout most of your reports to the committee have been addressed--the powers of the commissioner, for instance?
Dr. Edward Keyserlingk:
I really don't know the answer to that. We're probably in the worst position to know how much wrongdoing there is and how many people would like to come forward but don't, because we respond to complaints, as opposed to going out looking for them.
On the other hand, I think it's reasonable to assume, just from the people we have talked to who have considered sometimes coming forward but have not because the process does not look safe enough or protective enough or effective enough, that there probably are people who would come forward but would not come forward in the present regime, because it's perceived as not effective and protective enough.
I can't, however, give you numbers, but I would expect there might be such persons. Again, I don't know how much wrongdoing there is; therefore, I don't know how many people should come forward. I don't think there will be and I have no reason to think there will be a flood of disclosures, partly because I haven't seen evidence that there is a massive amount of wrongdoing in the public service. I have not seen that, so I cannot say that there are necessarily a lot of pent-up disclosures. But I think we ought to be able to say to public servants that no matter how many people actually use the system, it ought to be available; then we ought to say, here is how to access it, and furthermore, here are alternatives.
Dr. Edward Keyserlingk:
I understood your question, sir, but I'm trying to understand whether we actually said that in that way.
What we meant was we would like to see a wider definition of reprisal that covers instances of reprisal that are not captured within the employment-related context; in other words, those that are not related to their work conditions or their employment contract, but could be something much more subtle.
For instance, you could have people who are essentially shunted aside. They're not being denied anything overtly that they're contractually entitled to, but they're still being marginalized, and over time, it becomes clear, to them at least—that's their claim—that this would not have happened if they had not made a disclosure of wrongdoing.
Our view is that the list of things that apply to define reprisal is too limited to the workplace context. I'm not talking about reprisal outside their professional life, but simply saying that within their professional life there could be conditions that amount to reprisal but don't specifically refer to their contractual arrangements or their workplace. The example I always use is the ostracization, the sort of marginalization where somebody is no longer taken seriously or isn't advancing very quickly, and it's not clearly a denial of an entitlement, but it looks as though it would not have happened if they had not disclosed it. That's the claim we have to investigate. So the list within the reprisal definition is what we're really attacking here.
Ms. Moya Greene (President and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Post Corporation):
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen of the committee.
Let me first thank you for giving me the opportunity to appear before the committee this morning.
I really welcome the opportunity to speak to you about the very important work that you have before you.
You have been entrusted with a heavy responsibility.
We understand the importance of moving the work along, so the comments I have to make this morning, Mr. Chairman, are more in the nature of I think relatively simple matters for you to take under what I hope will be positive consideration. This is a very important bill, Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act, and as CEO of Canada Post, I really appreciate the opportunity that I have to spend a few minutes to speak to it.
We appreciate the Government of Canada's efforts to bring forward measures to help strengthen accountability and increase transparency and oversight in government, and we know they are widely appreciated in this country.
Of late, we at Canada Post have been very proactive in this area. We have introduced measures, including our own whistle-blowing policy that came into effect January 1, 2005, and a renewed and strengthened conflict of interest policy that provides more clarity and guidance to all our employees in how they should conduct themselves with personal integrity, honesty, and obviously diligence in the performance of all of their duties. In addition, Mr. Chairman and ladies and gentlemen of the committee, the governance committee of the Canada Post board is led by Gordon Feeney, a very strong business-oriented chairperson whom many of you have met. We have also put in place a number of new business processes for the approval and retention of all records relating to travel and hospitality expenses that apply to board members, and of course to the senior managerial team, including me.
Nonetheless, I think that some aspects of the bill could be improved a bit. I do not want to suggest any major change. In fact, I can give you a copy of the language used in the bill, if it can be helpful.
to move things along more quickly.
As many of you know, Canada Post is a unique crown corporation. It is very large: it is the sixth-largest employer in Canada, with 71,000 employees; it has $7 billion in revenue; it is perhaps the most complex crown corporation in Canada. The presence of the company in every province and in most towns and cities across the country makes it in fact one of the most widely recognized names in Canada.
We're very pleased to talk to you about the brand of Canada Post. Some of you will know that Canada Post is recognized as one of the top ten brands of business corporations in Canada. This, I think, reflects the confidence that both our business customers across this country and consumers alike repose in Canada Post. That has everything to do, Mr. Chair and ladies and gentlemen of this committee, with the security of the mail. The brand of Canada Post is based upon the security of the mail.
The world has changed in the past five years, and all aspects of security everywhere have taken on far greater importance for every public official than they did even five years ago. That is also the case for Canada Post--perhaps more so, because of the importance of the security of the mail as the key cornerstone of the brand of this company.
The security of the mail is threatened every day. I don't need to tell some of you--many of you--with whom I've spoken personally in the course of my first year as CEO of this company about issues relating to identity theft, but the security of the mail is threatened in other ways.
Hardly a week goes by, Mr. Chair and ladies and gentlemen of this committee, that our operations are not interrupted at our largest hub facility, for example, in Toronto and Vancouver, because of concerns over suspicious parcels and letters. It stops the operation; we have to put in place different handling procedures to make sure that the security of the mail is uppermost in our minds before that piece of mail moves on to the next stage of processing.
Every day in the course of their duties, our employees are involved in security operations, in investigative operations. These investigative operations often include alliances with some of the strongest investigating forces in the world--not just in Canada, but in other parts of the world--so our people work very hard to reinforce the security of mail operations.
In order to protect the corporation's ability to properly carry out its mandate and ensure not only the security of the mail and employees involved in transmitting mail but also the security of management, we must send out a message that states that we take the prosecution of offences very seriously.
Any infraction, any offence, that would threaten the security of the mail or undermine people's confidence in our ability to safeguard the security of the mail is taken very seriously at Canada Post. These are criminal offences—tampering with the mail—and that has certainly helped us in the course of the years to reinforce the importance we attach to that and why it has become the cornerstone of the brand. But I think it's fair to say, and I mean no criticism whatsoever here, that attorneys general and public prosecutors in the provinces have a lot of difficulty giving the kind of priority that obviously we would give to infractions that would undermine the confidence we all need to retain in the security of Canada's mail operations.
So it is for this reason, Mr. Chairman, that we at Canada Post applaud the idea of creating a Director of Public Prosecutions, and we feel the office, if its attention could be directed to offences relating to the security of the mail, would be a very positive thing for Canada Post. It would open an avenue where greater priority and attention could be applied to the investigation and the prosecution of these infractions, similar to what is available for Canada Elections Act offences and Financial Administration Act offences.
Canada Post has a specific interest in this aspect. Like the offences in these other acts, there are a series of mail-related offences respecting theft of identity, national security, and the use of mail for terrorist purposes. In the wake of the horrible events of 9/11, some of you will have heard about threats through the mail, where anthrax and other suspicious substances were being put through mail operations. This happens, still, on a regular basis. Thankfully, we have in place the means to investigate anything suspicious as soon as it arises. But being able to prosecute these offences quickly and with diligence is I think a reinforcing measure that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions could help.
As I said at the beginning, Mr. Chairman, we have suggested language. We don't think this would be a big change to what is currently before you and your colleagues on the committee. We think it could be done relatively simply, and certainly it is being put forward in the spirit of minor adjustments that would improve the act.
Canada Post understands the objective of greater transparency and better accountability for the Government of Canada and supports the principles enshrined in the bill at hand.
As you know, Canada Post generates $7 billion in annual revenues. It is probably not well-known, Mr. Chairman, that 95% of that revenue comes from Canadian businesses, big and small. To the 14 million addresses, it's very important to them that we bring their messages to their customers. However, we operate in a very, very competitive environment, more competitive than I think many of you would have thought.
Ms. Moya Greene:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Many of you know the strength of companies like UPS and FedEx. That's competition, very vigorous competition for Canada Post.
Therefore, the Access to Information Act must be applied to Canada Post, Mr. Chairman, in a way that doesn't undermine our ability to continue to compete, and to compete even more effectively as the environment becomes more and more intense. We appreciate that proposed section 18.1 of the Access to Information Act does to some extent do this. However, again in the spirit of modest adjustments that could improve the bill, we think we can make changes that will do just that.
We have four specific recommendations for improvement that we'd like to make.
First, like EDC, CBC, Atomic Energy of Canada, and the National Arts Centre Corporation, and indeed the Public Service Pension Investment Board, we believe Canada Post should have the benefit of the same tailor-made language, language that recognizes and protects information relating to our essential commercial interests as a competitive postal corporation.
Mr. Chairman, I'd like you to know that this is what the U.S. Postal Service has; this is what other postal services--Australia and the United Kingdom--have. A comprehensive set of protections have been developed—
Ms. Moya Greene:
I'll move very quickly, Mr. Chairman.
Secondly, proposed paragraph 18.1(2)(b) of the Access to Information Act proposes language in reference to two Canada Post programs that we are proud to deliver on behalf of the Government of Canada: the government free mail and literature for the blind. The principle for the compensation we receive for these programs is in fact the right one, that this is a commercial corporation. While we are most proud to have the confidence of the government, we would like to suggest a modest amendment in that case to make sure that what Canada Post is recommending is focused on those two specific programs.
Thirdly, as Canada Post carries out the many investigative and enforcement activities that I alluded to above, the Canada Post corporate security office should be recognized as an investigative body under paragraph 16(1)(a) of the Access to Information Act.
Given the amount of information collected by the corporation and given the scope of its operations, Canada Post recommends that the committee consider extending the application of the Access to Information Act by 18 to 24 months in order to allow time for preparation.
It's a very complex, big company with a huge history. It goes back, as a crown corporation, 26 years, and before that, 250 years. The kind of challenge that this company will put in, and will meet, to meet the requirements of the Access to Information Act will take us some time. I am told by experts in the field that it will take us about a year just to recruit a person with the necessary seniority to take on the access to information role.
Thank you for your attention, Mr. Chairman. As I mentioned to you, we actually have suggested language so as to not delay the work of your committee with respect to these modest suggested improvements.
Mr. Pat Martin:
Thank you, Chair. Thank you, Ms. Greene.
As you know, the proposed Federal Accountability Act adds 19 new entities to schedule I of the Access to Information Act, one of which, of course, is Canada Post Corporation. I think it's section 165 of the ATI act, but while it gives with the one hand, in our view it takes away with the other because the proposed FAA also creates 10 new exemptions. We're concerned this may add further secrecy rather than greater openness and transparency.
Beyond those that are already available, in the case of Canada Post it creates a class exemption with no time limit, so a permanent exemption for any record that contains financial, commercial, scientific, technical information, etc., which is virtually all of the activities of Canada Post, other than the physical plant perhaps. We're just very concerned that these new exemptions.... I don't understand why Canada Post needs these exemptions when the Department of Finance, for instance, operates under full transparency of the Access to Information Act and manages to safeguard these very important financial confidences that could ruin the economy if they ever got out.
So how is it that Canada Post needs this additional secrecy when institutions like the Department of Finance operate fine with the existing exclusions and exemptions under the Access to Information Act?
Mr. Pierre Poilievre:
Mr. Chair, the motion reads as follows:
||That the Committee seeks to complete its work on Bill C-2 before the House adjourns for summer recess in late June, 2006 and that if that work is not complete the committee will continue to sit into the summer without break until its work on Bill C-2 is done notwithstanding the adjournment of Parliament.
I can read it in French, but I gather the translation is probably pretty clear.
The reason for this motion is that I believe members of this committee are acting in good faith and they agree we need to complete this work as quickly as possible. This debate has been going on for several years now. The Auditor General presented her original report into the sponsorship scandal back in 2003. It's now midway through 2006 and we're still waiting for a legislative response from any government at a federal level. I think three years is a long enough time to talk. We now have a very comprehensive bill for which all parties have proclaimed their support.
This motion seeks to assert the committee's firm commitment to the passage of this bill before summer, and it demonstrates the willingness of members of this committee to roll up their sleeves and do the job, even at some personal sacrifice. We're all paid here not to talk but to do. I firmly believe that members of this committee from all different parties want to achieve something for the taxpayers who sent them here, even if it means sacrificing some of the personal time that is typically afforded to members of Parliament throughout the summer.
I'm proposing that we sit here until the job is done, Mr. Chair, and work vigorously to complete the task. At the same time, this motion allows us to hear as many witnesses as we need. In fact, it gives us more time to study, more time to consider, and more time to put forward amendments and to analyze clause by clause. In that sense, Mr. Chair, it represents the best of both worlds: we can complete our work for the Canadian people, and we can also take as much time as is necessary to complete the task.
Finally, we can send a message to the taxpayers who sent us here that we're serious about achieving what we promised we would achieve at election time.
Those are my thoughts.
Mr. Benoît Sauvageau:
In my opinion, this was an excellent presentation by Mr. Poilievre on the common will of committee members to adopt Bill C-2 as soon as possible. However, I have noticed a few minor flaws and I would like to point them out.
First, if committee members are very sincerely united in their intention of providing as soon as possible a safety net for public servants who make disclosures, then it is possible for us to do it. In fact, the government holds this power in its hands. All we need to do is to pass Bill C-11 right away and then allow committee members to study Bill C-2 seriously.
Some say that if the members of the opposition were sincere, they would greatly accelerate the study of this bill so as to protect public servants. I think that this is a rather weak theory, given the fact that Bill C-11 does exist, and that the Conservatives obstinately refuse to implement it. This is the first problem.
The second problem is that we have heard about eight witnesses up to now, and they all told us that Bill C-2 was good but that it needed amendments. Now, Mr. Poilievre feels that he is on a mission, like Moses with the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. In fact, Moses had a perfect document straight from God. The eight witnesses we heard all told us the same thing, they were all in good faith and no one wanted to use delaying tactics; even if this bill is well drafted, we must look at it closely.
Can Mr. Poilievre and the Conservatives say that the eight witnesses who appeared before the committee, including Mr. Cutler and Ms. Fraser, were in bad faith because they suggested significant amendments to Bill C-2? I hope not. At least, if they look at the list, they will see that the witnesses are not members of the Bloc Québécois. I think that they came here as professionals to tell us that Bill C-2 needed serious study.
In any case, as we already said, we will go on maintaining that we want public servants to be well protected, first of all by adopting Bill C-11. Secondly, given that the Conservatives are obstinately refusing to adopt this bill with interim provisions, let me move the following amendment to the motion at hand:
|That the committee seek to complete its work on Bill C-2 before the House adjourns for summer recess in late June 2006, and that if that work is not complete the committee will continue its work until June 30, 2006, and will then adjourn until the first Monday in August 2006, which is August 7, if need be, notwithstanding the summer recess.
If, over the last six months, there had been any will to protect public servants, Bill C-11 would have been implemented. I therefore move that we sit until June 30 and come back on August 7, if need be, to hear the other witnesses. And I do now so move. Thank you.
Hon. Stephen Owen:
Thank you, Chair.
Colleagues, I just want to make one observation. I share the feeling for the noble task we have before us and the importance and complexity of this piece of legislation. I think one thing that's been evident since this legislation was introduced in the House is that it has been cast as.... I paraphrase, but I think quite accurately, the President of the Treasury Board as saying this is the strongest piece of anti-corruption legislation in Canadian history. To me, Mr. Chair, that is raising the temperature beyond the situation in our country.
I refer to Justice Gomery's conclusions that the vast majority of public servants and politicians are honest, diligent, and effective in their work. Secondly, the fact that the Gomery inquiry was set up as it was, as he says in his comments, with the breadth of access to information, even up to the Prime Minister and former prime ministers and cabinet documents, demonstrates that Canada is one of the most accountable countries in the world. These are the conclusions.
That doesn't quite square with the rise in temperature that I think is being attempted to be given to this bill. It's very important. There are incremental improvements on what's happened over the years. We have an independent conflict of interest commissioner--