Review of the Board of Internal Economy - BOIE

Remarks by the Information Commissioner of Canada
Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Check against delivery

Thank you for asking me to appear before you today.

I welcome this opportunity to provide my views to the Committee on the motions to increase the transparency and accountability of the House of Commons.

I will limit my comments to whether there should be modifications to existing laws to ensure greater transparency and accountability.

You will not be surprised to hear me advocate in favour of extending the coverage of the Access to Information Act to the administration of Parliament.

Access to information legislation gives citizens a legal framework to seek and get answers about how the institutions that govern them spend their tax dollars. The legislation also sets out the limitations to that right – as it is not an absolute right - and the independent review of disclosure decisions.

In my view, the only way to ensure transparency, accountability and effective oversight, is for parliamentary institutions to be covered by the Access to Information Act.

Both the Standing Committee on Justice in 1986 (Open and Shut) and the Access to Information Review Task Force in 2002 made similar recommendations.

Internationally, the UK Freedom of Information legislation applies to the administration of Parliament but it exempts records if their disclosure would infringe the privileges of Parliament.  It is my understanding that this is working fairly well.

During the hearings thus far, there has been a lot of discussion on proactive disclosure and whether or not the new rules set out by the Board of Internal Economy are sufficient.

In my view, proactive disclosure of expenses is a necessary step to making detailed information available to the public.  Consistent proactive disclosure can be done in a detailed way, in an open, accessible and reusable format, on a regular cycle, and in a timeframe that preserves the relevance of the information.

So proactive disclosure is a good thing. However, it isn’t enough.

In order to promote trust in public institutions, there is not only a need to increase the availability and the quality of information, but also to ensure access to that information.

Citizens want to be able to validate the information that is provided to them, or to obtain more details about an issue of interest or simply know that the right is there for them to exercise when needed.

Bringing Parliament under the Access to Information Act, with appropriate safeguards, would guarantee that right.

Thank you.