TORONTO, ON – Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) celebrates the principled stand taken yesterday by independent MP Brent Rathgeber in killing his own private member’s bill, C-461.
"The bill would have forced the CBC to disclose journalistic, creative and programming information – including information that would jeopardize the identity of its confidential sources – that no other Canadian media outlet has to release," said Peter Jacobsen, Chair of CJFE's Canadian Issues Committee. "The public broadcaster would have seen its journalistic integrity compromised."
“Few MPs get the chance to pass their own bill in Parliament,” CJFE Board member Bob Carty noted. “Mr. Rathgeber gave up that opportunity on the principle that it would do more harm than good. It was a good day for democracy.”
Just before the bill’s Third Reading vote – expected to be passed by a whipped vote of the Conservative back-benches – Rathgeber stood on a point of order. Stating that the bill no longer resembled his original law, he asked for C-461 to be dispensed. Speaker Andrew Scheer, somewhat startled by the unusual move, dropped C-461 from the order paper. The bill was killed.
Rathgeber gained notoriety last June when he quit the Conservative Party over changes made by the Canadian government to his private member’s bill. The MP for Edmonton-St. Alberta originally wanted a bill that would allow citizens to request the salaries of civil servants earning more than about $188,000 yearly.
But the Canadian government, through its members on the Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee of the House, “gutted” the bill (in Rathgeber’s words) by raising the threshold for disclosure to bureaucrats earning more than $444,000 a year. That level would apply to only a very small number of crown corporation executives and senior bureaucrats enjoying special bonuses.
There was also another side to C-461. It changed the way the CBC would be treated under the Access to Information and Privacy Acts. CJFE was instrumental in bringing the problems of this part of the bill to light through its comprehensive analysis and parliamentary testimony.
CJFE argued that C-461’s wording could force the CBC to disclose journalistic, creative and programming information – including the identity of its confidential sources – that no other Canadian media outlet has to release. This onerous requirement would compromise the public broadcaster’s journalistic integrity and leave it crippled in a competitive media marketplace.
Opposition members, the Information Commissioner of Canada, and Rathgeber himself came to recognize that the act needed stronger language to safeguard the CBC’s duty to protect the identity of confidential sources and many other aspects of its journalistic activities. In committee hearings however, Conservative MPs voted down all opposition proposals to correct those problems.
When C-461 came back to the House of Commons in November, Rathgeber took the unusual step of making amendments to his own bill. He removed all references to the CBC and reinstated lower salary disclosure thresholds, which set up the final scene in the House yesterday.
“Although a handful of Conservatives broke ranks with their party, the government defeated all of Rathgeber’s amendments,” Carty explained. “It was a clear indication that the government’s intent from the outset was not to promote greater disclosure but to weaken the legal protections for CBC journalism and programming.”
At that point, parliamentary procedures allowed Rathgeber to withdraw his sponsorship of his own bill, without which it could not be moved.
For more information, please contact:
CJFE Board Member
Chair, CJFE Canadian Issues Committee