Several backbench Conservative MPs on the House of Commons standing committee on ethics, privacy and access to information have dissented with the Prime Minister and Cabinet on needed reforms to the Access to Information Act (ATI Act).
Led by Tory MP Mike Wallace, they have rejected the government’s request that the committee begin its work on ATIA reform by studying a regressive White Paper the Conservatives introduced after the last election. Instead, they asked that by December 2006, the government proceed with its election promise to introduce a new, stand-alone positive ATIA reform bill.
According to Macleans Magazine (Oct. 14, 2006) “At least a few Tories agree that asking the standing committee on access to information, privacy and ethics to examine the issues isn’t good enough.
Maclean’s has learned that Ontario Conservative MP Mike Wallace wrote to Justice Minister Vic Toews on June 22, on behalf of himself and three other Tories on the committee, pressing for decisive action – nothing short of legislation – this fall to toughen the access law in line with the Tory campaign pledges.
Wallace said in an interview that Toews has not responded to his letter. “We are committed to bringing forward a new act,” he said, referring to the party’s election platform. “Now, I know the justice minister has a lot on his plate, but I’m just pushing for him to get to it this fall.” That push gained added weight when the opposition MPs joined with the Tories on the committee recently to unanimously ask Toews to send them new legislation on access by December.
The all-party call for action is hardly welcome in the government’s senior ranks. Wallace’s letter to Toews suggests Tory MPs are squirming when they face their opposition counterparts. “A number of opposition members of the committee are claiming that our Conservative government is not interested in reform of the Access to Information Act,” he complains in the letter. “I know this is not true. To this end, I ask that you please initiate the drafting of a reform bill at your earliest convenience.”
Beneath his polite tone is an unmistakable anxiety about what exactly the Conservatives stand for, now that they are running the show.