Justin Trudeau’s Transparency Act

The Liberal leader’s fixes for access to information
Adrian Wyld/CP
Adrian Wyld/CP

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau tabled a private member’s bill today, touted as an attempt to open up the Board of Internal Economy and improve the Access to Information system.

If you’d like to review the text of the bill, I’ve uploaded a copy here.

For the sake of comparison, the NDP’s Pat Martin proposed a series of access-to-information reforms earlier this year and his bill is here. The quirk of Mr. Martin’s bill was that it was touted to be built around the basic ideas sketched out in the Conservative party’s 2006 platform. (Of course, we could haggle over execution.) Martin’s bill was supported by the Liberals, but it was defeated when it won only two Conservative votes (John Williamson and Michael Chong).

For the sake of reference, here is the current Access to Information Act. Mr. Trudeau’s bill and Mr. Martin’s bill overlap on two points: both replace the stated purpose of the act with new wording and both amend sections 37 and 41 to provide the information commissioner with the power to order the release of records.

The latter change has been kicked around before. In 2009, the information commissioner of the day, Robert Marleau, recommended extending order-making powers to his office for administrative matters and a subsequent committee reported considered that and other recommendations—scroll to Recommendation No. 3 in this report for a discussion of the idea. That committee recommended adopting the commissioner’s suggestion, but the Harper government subsequently dismissed it.

The government dismissed Mr. Martin’s proposal for full power to demand disclosure when his bill came before the House in March—the Conservatives at that time deferring to the judgment of an earlier information commissioner, John Reid, who wasn’t in favour of extending such powers. This, again, despite the fact that the Conservative platform in 2006 included a commitment to “give the Information Commissioner the power to order the release of information.”

Mr. Trudeau’s bill perhaps at least assures, barring a similar change of mind, that that commitment will turn up in the Liberal platform for 2015.