The new Conservative government of Prime Minister Joe Clark pledged today to introduce comprehensive freedom of information legislation -- an idea borrowed from the United States -- in the so-called speech from the throne officially opening the Canadian Parliament.
Clark's Conservatives -- who spent years in opposition -- also promised that the government will cut spending, strengthen Parliament by giving committees powers similar to those of U.S. congressional committees and end bickering between Ottawa and the country's 10 provinces.
Clark argued during the spring election campaign that Parliament's powers had been eroded under the Liberal government of Pierre Thrudeau. He said today that eight committees would begin work studying matters such as nuclear energy and the influence of the Foreign Investment Review. Act implemented by the Liberals.
But the new government's first priority will be freedom of information legislation. A bill, based partly on U.S. experience, will be introduced in Parliament in the next few days. The bill will provide for judicial review of ministerial decisions to withhold information from the public. When in power, the Liberals opposed the judicial review idea.
"Citizens and Parliament can control government only if information is public," Governor General Edward Schreyer said in reading the speech that traditionally opens Parliament.
"You will be asked to approve freedom of information legislation based on the principle that government information should be available to the people, that necessary exemptions to that principle should be limited and specified, and that disputes over the application of those exemptions should be resolved independently of government," Schreyer said.
In the speech the government also repeated its promise to introduce tax credits for mortgage interest and property taxes, inspired by similar legislation in the United States. During the election campaign, the promise proved politically popular in urban electoral districts in southern Ontario and British Columbia.
Perhaps the most intensely partisan debates in the coming session will center on the federal government's response to increasing demands for more power from Canada's 10 provincial governments.
Trudeau's Liberal government campaigned unsuccessfully on the need for a strong central government, but Clark favors a greater measure of decentralization giving more power to provincial goverments. In its first four months in office, his government already has handed over control of the national lottery and offshore resources to the provinces, a move sharply criticized by the Liberals.
"To make federalism work, it is essential to change the attitudes of the past and the federal government must set the example," said the speech delivered by the governor general.
"Accordingly, it is a primary goal of my government to bring about a new era in federal-provincial relations. Consultation and cooperation will be the hallmarks of that era," the speech said.