The Canadian Press can reveal that the Harper government is proposing to change the rules governing the distribution of electronic documents.
A report released by a government-appointed panel, chaired by Conservative MP John Duncan, suggests that the government is considering adopting an opt-out system for electronic mail.
The change, if adopted, would create an electronic record for each mail-delivery envelope, as well as for any information on that envelope that was sent in an electronic format.
Duncan’s report argues that the change would allow the government to control the content of the electronic documents it uses to conduct political business.
“It would create a digital record that would be accessible to the government, to Parliament, to the media, to citizens and to the public at large,” Duncan said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
Under the proposal, any information in an email would be recorded in the “electronic file” of the mail, not just its content, but the time and date the information was received.
Information would be stored in a central location for government purposes, and could only be accessed if it was approved by a designated official.
If the proposed opt-outs are approved, it could lead to the elimination of the requirement for an electronic signature in most cases, Duncan said.
But it could also lead to restrictions on the kinds of electronic communication that can be carried out, which could limit the ability of citizens to use email for political communication.
The Liberals have promised to adopt the opt-in approach, as they did in 2009, but have been slow to do so.
The Liberals are opposed to the Conservatives’ plan to opt out of the mandatory electronic signature requirement, saying the move could lead the country to fall behind in meeting its environmental and climate commitments.
“We want to be on top of these issues, and we are on top right now,” Liberal environment critic Michelle Rempel said in a recent interview with CTV News.
“We are going to look at a number of options.”
In the Conservative government, it’s been clear for some time that the Conservatives would seek to implement the opt out, though the government has not said whether it will follow through with it.
While the Liberal party has been cautious about its decision to implement an opt out as it moves forward, it did back the NDP’s plan to adopt it, and is now seeking to adopt a similar plan from the Greens.
In May, the Conservatives released their “digital transparency” plan, and it included the proposal for an opt in system.
The Liberals and NDP have since introduced their own digital transparency plans, which they say would help Canada meet its environmental commitments.
Meanwhile, Duncan’s report says the Conservative party is considering the adoption of an opt up system, which would allow electronic documents to be sent in a format that is not electronic but is capable of being viewed by the recipient.
The Conservative party has indicated that it would support such a proposal.
Electronic records would also be made accessible to anyone who would like to use the records for any purpose, Duncan says.
On a more positive note, the government would allow any government agency to access the records, including the police, courts, and health care.
The Conservatives would also allow the public to make use of the information, although the plan does not specifically address the use of it for any political purpose.
Duncan said he’s confident that the Liberals and the NDP will eventually adopt an opt opt-up system.
“I am confident they will adopt an alternative approach that meets the needs of Canadians in a way that is consistent with their values and with the objectives of the Conservative Party,” he said.
“There are many aspects of our public policy that the Conservative Government will adopt over time.”