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Trudeau bill would force more transparency on government, reform info act

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau speaks in the House of Commons May 27, 2014 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

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Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau speaks in the House of Commons May 27, 2014 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA - Justin Trudeau wants to make it easier for Canadians to pry information out of the federal government.

The Liberal leader has crafted a private-member's bill that would make several amendments to the Access to Information Act, aimed at forcing the government to be more open.

Most significantly, his bill — dubbed the "Transparency Act" — would give the information watchdog the power to order the government to disclose documents.

Currently, the information commissioner can only try to cajole the government into disclosing documents and, if that fails, can refer the matter to the Federal Court.

Trudeau's bill would also strengthen the language of the access act to make clear its guiding principle is that government must be "open by default" — that is, transparency should be considered the norm and secrecy the exception.

And it would eliminate all fees related to access-to-information requests, except for the initial $5 application fee — and even that would have to be refunded if the government did not respond to a request within 30 days.

Trudeau is to table the bill later today but it won't come up for debate or a vote until the fall.

Should the bill be passed, it would require Parliament to begin a thorough review of the entire access act within 90 days and to conduct similar reviews every five years thereafter.

"I am convinced that by working together, we can achieve all-party consensus to pass this bill that will raise the bar on openness and transparency for all Canadians," Trudeau said.

His bill picks up some recommendations made by information commissioner Suzanne Legault, who has pushed for the power to order the government to disclose information, more periodic reviews of the act, incentives for timely disclosure and fewer exemptions.

It does not, however, adopt her recommendation that the access act be expanded to cover Parliament, ministers' offices and administration of the courts.

In addition to the Access to Information Act amendments, Trudeau's bill would also change the Parliament of Canada Act to require that meetings of the secretive, multi-party board of internal economy, be conducted as much as possible in public.

The board oversees House of Commons finances, including setting rules on MP spending and disclosure of expenses.

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