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Group calls on House Committee MPs to co-sponsor bill making key open government changes most stakeholders want

Trudeau Liberals’ own report showed all stakeholders want 10 key changes to Access to Information Act, but they refuse to commit to changing it

Other key open government changes also needed to end secret lobbying, end secret investments by politicians, their staff and Cabinet appointees, and strengthen whistleblower protection

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

OTTAWA – In its testimony this afternoon, Democracy Watch will call on MPs on the House of Commons Ethics Committee reviewing the federal Access to Information Act (ATIA) not only to recommend 18 key changes, but also to co-sponsor a private member bill that contains the 18 changes that have been called for by most stakeholders for years to make the ATIA an actual open government law, and to make enforcement more independent, fully resourced, timely and effective, including by penalizing violations with high fines.

Treasury Board Minister Mona Fortier’s testimony on April 18th before the Committee made it very clear that, while the Trudeau Cabinet claims it believes access to government information is essential to democracy, and that the 70% timely response rate on ATIA requests is not good enough, it is only committed to improving administration of the ATIA, not closing any of the many excessive secrecy loopholes in the law or strengthening enforcement or establishing penalties for violations.

The Trudeau Cabinet is refusing to commit to strengthening the ATIA in any way even though its own December 2021 report on public consultations made it clear that all stakeholders want 10 key ATIA rule changes.

The more comprehensive list of 18 changes (click here to see PDF of Democracy Watch’s submission to the Committee from last October) is based mainly upon the Ethics Committee’s unanimous June 2016 report that called for many key changes, the former Information Commissioner’s March 2015 report and the current Commissioner’s January 2021 report that both called for key changes.

“Citizen groups and experts have loudly and clearly called for decades for key changes to close loopholes in the federal access to information law, and strengthen enforcement,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The Ethics Committee MPs must not only call on the Trudeau Liberals to stop their spin, lame excuses and unjustifiable delays, they should also co-sponsor a bill as soon as possible to make the key changes that voters want to ensure all federal government and government-funded institutions are transparent and accountable.”

“The federal access to information law is so full of loopholes that it really is just a guide to keeping information secret that the public has a right to know, and the key changes that stakeholders are calling for will, if MPs implement them together, make the law more effective at ensuring transparency,” said Conacher.

Despite committing to make government information “open by default” in their 2015 federal election platform, the Trudeau Liberals have broken almost all of their open government promises, and have shown little interest in strengthening the ATIA. The Liberals made no ATIA promises in their 2021 election platform, and made no commitments in their new National Action Plan for the international Open Government Partnership process. Also, Treasury Board Minister Mona Fortier’s statement on the release of the government’s consultation report last December committed only to a “review of access to information” – not to making changes.

The Trudeau Cabinet’s Bill C-58 in 2017 changing the federal Access to Information Act ignored many of the recommendations made in the unanimous June 2016 report of the House of Commons Access, Privacy and Ethics Committee, and was actually a step backwards in some ways.

Democracy Watch through its Open Government Campaign has been pushing to strengthen the ATIA for more than 20 years, including through a global coalition open letter in 2017, as have opposition MPs and the Information Commissioner. Democracy Watch’s coalitions have also been pushing for years for key transparency and integrity changes to the federal Lobbying Act, Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, and Conflict of Interest Act and related MP and Senate and government-wide ethics rules.

“The Trudeau Liberals broke most of their promises to close loopholes in Canada’s open government law, and strengthen transparency rules for government spending, and they have done nothing to strengthen protections for whistleblowers who report government wrongdoing nor to close loopholes that allow secret lobbying and secret investments by politicians, staff and Cabinet appointees,” said Conacher.

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Open Government Campaign, Protect Whistleblowers Campaign, Government Ethics Campaign and Stop Secret, Unethical Lobbying Campaign