Slaying democratic deficit just words
By Bea Vongdouangchanh
The Hill Times
November 21st, 2005
House drama heats up as Liberals push for recorded roll call votes
Slaying democratic deficit just words: rookie Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski
Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski's supply day motion on changes to the Access to Information Act was passed by the House last week, but the Liberal government doesn't intend to take the motion into consideration when and if they draft new legislation.
"I'm very excited it got passed by all three opposition parties," Mr. Lukiwski (Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre, Sask.) told The Hill Times last Wednesday after Question Period. "I think all of us understand that there's a need to increase the level of access to information in this and any other government. I am not surprised the Liberals voted against it and I do not think they will act upon the motion. They've proven time and time again that regardless of what this House believes, the Liberals do what they think is in their best interest."
Mr. Lukiwski's motion called for amendments to the ATI Act to include "coverage of the act to all Crown corporations, all officers of Parliament, all foundations and to all organizations that spend taxpayers' dollars or perform public functions; a Cabinet-confidence exclusion, subject to review by the Information Commissioner; a duty on public officials to create the records necessary to document their actions and decisions; a general public interest override for all exemptions, in that the public interest should come before the secrecy of government; and that all exemptions are discretionary and subject to an injury test."
When asked whether he planned to do anything about the passed motion, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, who's responsible for the ATI Act, said the opposition and the House Access To Information, Ethics and Privacy Committee failed to do its job in making recommendations and answering the questions the minister had.
"The burden of my response was to say, 'Look, we gave you a comprehensive proposal. We asked you to respond to the queries we raised therein because we regard our freedom of information as a cornerstone of democratic governance and we regard participation and rights in these regard as being compelling, but it's a complex issue with competing considerations so we've put before you specific proposals and specific queries whether it be in regards to Crown corporations or whether it be regards to agents of Parliament, Cabinet confidences, ministers' offices, just help us, give us some advice so we can produce a bill, in form, by that and we asked you to conduct hearings with stakeholders in that regard,'" Mr. Cotler (Mount Royal, Que.) told The Hill Times. "Regrettably, that has not been done."
Mr. Cotler doesn't believe that the passed motion is advice the government was seeking. "That did not answer any of the specific questions," he said in the House foyer after Question Period last week. "I specifically addressed not only the proposals but addressed the queries that we have still not gotten any answers. Nonetheless, since we want to go forward with progressive freedom of information legislation, we would've preferred what the Parliamentary committee did what committees do, which is conduct hearings. We wanted stakeholders to be consulted, we wanted to hear the responses, we didn't get it."
Freedom of information, however, is a cornerstone of democracy, Mr. Cotler said, and the government will, in fact, go ahead with the legislative reforms.
"We will bring forward a bill in the next Parliament," Mr. Cotler said in a debate in the House on Mr. Lukiwski's motion. "If the opposition does not preempt this Parliament and allows the election to go ahead in the time that it was intended, we will even bring it forward in this Parliament."
But Mr. Lukiwski said this government has a habit of not listening to the will of Parliament and the legislative reforms will not be forthcoming. "This government's days are numbered, but I'm hopeful that one day, governments will listen to the will of the House," he said.
"The Prime Minister has said often that he wanted to defeat the democratic deficit. One of those things to end such a deficit would be to respond to, positively respond to, the will of the House. Again, I haven't seen any evidence the Prime Minister actually believes his own words, but we'll keep trying. And if nothing else, it will demonstrate to Canadians that really, this Prime Minister's words on ending the democratic deficit are nothing but simply that — words and no action."
© The Hill Times 2005
The Hill Times