NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is “delighted” his Liberal counterpart is trying to make government “open by default.”
“Even if it took him a year, I’m delighted he’s talking about opening the Board of Internal Economy,” Mulcair said Wednesday after caucus.
Earlier in the day Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced he would table a private members bill in the House of Commons to make information from Ottawa more accessible.
The changes Trudeau is proposing include toughening the access-to-information law and targeting the secretive Board of Internal Economy (BOIE) – the panel of MPs that oversees other MPs' spending.
“Our parliamentary system enables parliamentarians to govern themselves, but it must be done in the open,” Trudeau said while acknowledging the public doesn’t know enough about how MPs spend money.
Mulcair says he couldn’t agree more.
“This is about public expenditures; you want to know how (the money) is being spent? You have 100 per cent the right to know how it’s being spent. But the rules are going to apply equally to everyone,” Mulcair told reporters.
The NDP is expecting another rough ride as the BOIE meets again Wednesday evening.
It is pondering just how much it may ask the NDP to pay back after the Conservative and Liberal members of the board determined the NDP had improperly used taxpayer dollars to open satellite offices and send out partisan mailings to 1.8-million Canadian homes.
Private member's bill
The Liberal leader's bill is a private member's bill, which takes longer to pass and usually has less chance of becoming law because it won't necessarily be supported by the party with the most seats in the House. But Mulcair says Trudeau doesn’t have to wait to act.
“I think that the smartest thing that he could do would be to walk out (of the BOIE meeting) with us today because we would make sure in that case that it wouldn’t have quorum, it couldn’t proceed and we would be forcing the Conservatives to actually do something about opening up the Board of Internal Economy,” Mulcair said.
Last year, it was the NDP pushing for the BOIE to be opened up as the auditor general was calling for more oversight of MP spending.
Access to information
The other focus of Trudeau’s bill is to give some teeth to the country’s access-to-information law.
Trudeau says Canada's information commissioner should have a mandate to enforce access-to-information laws and that requests for such information should cost only the initial $5 application fee.
"The ability of a citizen to access information on what a government is doing with their tax dollars, in their name, is one of the fundamental tenets of building confidence around government," he said.
Trudeau said the information commissioner now acts as an ombudsman and has to take the government to court if it refuses to release information that she believes should be made public.
The commissioner should be able to direct civil servants to release records, Trudeau said, and if civil servants aren't sure whether something falls under an exception, they should automatically release it.
"What we're proposing as a principle is that if the government disagrees that they should be releasing something, they should be able to challenge the information commissioner's order to release in court," he said.
"It shifts the onus of proving confidentiality or exceptions to the rule ... onto government rather than onto the information commissioner, which I think is in keeping with what a lot of other jurisdictions have done."