Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the committee.
My name is Teri Kirk and I am the Vice-President, Government Relations and Public Policy, Imagine Canada. I am pleased to make this submission on behalf of Imagine Canada and the 13 other agencies listed on page one.
Our purpose in so doing is to draw the committee's attention to the sector's views on the impact of Part I of the bill which concerns the administration of grants and contributions, as well as of Part 3, which concerns the contracting process.
I'm going to divide my comments into three parts. I'd like to start with a brief overview of the community non-profit sector and of Imagine Canada. I'd then like to address four issues in the bill that are of interest to our sector: grants and contributions, procurement, sector infrastructure, and a government accountability framework for the sector. Finally, I'd like to take a minute to express the sector's appreciation for several recent initiatives.
The community non-profit sector is quite large and complex. Included in your materials is a pictogram; the sector is often depicted as a pyramid. You'll see that at the top of the pyramid there are about 161,000 incorporated organizations in the sector; 80,000 are non-profits, and another 80,000 are registered charities. The difference is that registered charities can issue tax receipts for donations. There are close to another one million unincorporated organizations existing in Canada at any particular time. They rise up to support victims of crime, for example, or to host events in communities. Forming the base of the community non-profit sector, there are about six and a half million Canadians who volunteer their time, representing about 30% of Canadians.
I've also included a breakdown of the types of activities the sector participates in. I'm sure that individuals around the table are very active in their communities and will find this of interest. You'll note that about 50% of the organizations forming the community non-profit sector are involved in sport, religion, and the delivery of social services. You get a sense of the size of the sector when you see that hospitals, universities, and colleges together represent only 1% of the sector, whereas organizations delivering social services are about twelve times the size of our national hospitals, universities, and colleges. In terms of its economic strength, the sector employs over two million Canadians. In terms of paid employment, this makes it larger than the manufacturing sector, and it accounts for about 7.8% of GDP.
Imagine Canada is the largest intermediary organization in the sector and has over 1,100 members. It was created about two years ago as the result of a merger of the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy and the Coalition of National Voluntary Organizations to provide one strong national voice for the sector.
Imagine Canada is a bit unique within the community non-profit sector in that it works closely with business and government as well as the sector itself to support community-based organizations. It works with business through our imagine caring companies program. This is a program whereby companies commit to giving 1% of their earnings before taxes back into the community. All of Canada's large banks and the leaders in the oil and gas sector such as EnCana, and leaders in telecom such as Bell Canada, are involved in the program. As you can imagine, committing 1% of their pre-tax earnings into the sector represents a very significant amount of money.
Let me turn now to the four issues in the bill that I'd like to bring to your attention. The first relates to grants and contributions under part 1 of the bill. I would just like to underscore the extent to which the flow of Gs and Cs are of paramount importance to the sector. Federal government grants and contributions are frequently the single largest source of funding for many of these organizations, and across the board they account for 7% of all funding into charities and non-profit corporations.
The web of rules associated with compliance under federal Gs and Cs unduly strains the capacity of these organizations and imposes an administrative burden that is often wholly disproportionate to the amount of the grant or contribution or the capacity of a typical recipient organization to comply with. Examples of this are legion.
We support the government's commitment to recalibrate the administrative demands under the federal G and C processes and to focus more on outcomes, and we support the striking of the blue ribbon task force under the accountability action plan.
With respect to procurement, the sector supports the inclusion of fairness, openness, and transparency in respect of procurement under part 5 of the act, but we echo the views of umbrella groups representing small and medium-sized enterprises in expressing concern that the proposed consolidation of the government's purchasing power will tend to result in contracting practices that greatly favour large enterprises over small and medium-sized businesses and small and medium-sized organizations. We are concerned that indeed such a level of consolidation might in fact breach the fairness principles to be enshrined in the act.
The third point relates to what I've called sector infrastructure. That is really the capacity of organizations to sustain themselves over time and to undertake activities such as long-range planning, facilities maintenance, investment in information technologies, and even paying directors and officers insurance to attract the boards and to carry out the community service programs that are at the heart of what the community expects them to do.
While we very much applaud the efforts to streamline the flow of grants and contributions, to ensure that the principles of fairness are maintained under procurement, and to see that small and medium-sized enterprises and organizations are reflected, these really represent improvements or fixes to current funding regimes that have become very short term and constrained and do not address the long-term stable funding needs of the sector. The result has been a very continual erosion of sector infrastructure.
We are asking that government consider, in addressing grants and contributions, that the need for longer-term and more stable funding models must apply.
We recognize that long-term funding for our sector is probably beyond the scope of the Federal Accountability Act and the action plan of this committee, but I will include some recommendations at the end of my comments about some alternative measures we would ask the committee to consider.
Finally, I would like to raise the merits of a government accountability framework vis-à-vis this sector. In 2001, efforts were made along that line; the government and the sector signed the accord between the Government of Canada and the voluntary sector, which led, in turn, to the adoption of two codes of good practice: a code on funding and a code on policy dialogue. Together these three documents form an effective government accountability framework for our sector.
Nevertheless, the documents were voluntary in nature. Service Canada serves as an example of one that has very much taken up and observed this accountability framework, whereas other departments have virtually no knowledge of, or real willingness to comply with, the accord and codes.
So we are asking that this government reassert its commitment to an accountability framework between the government and the sector. We think it can be quite easily done by taking the existing accord and codes and perhaps updating them somewhat as required, and reissuing them as part of the accountability action plan.
Let me conclude my comments with two compliments and several recommendations. We'd like to compliment the Government of Canada on its striking of a blue ribbon task force on grants and contributions under the action plan and on the enshrining of the principle of fairness in respect of procurement under the act.
Our recommendations are as follows: in respect of grants and contributions, we recommend that the Government of Canada recalibrate the burdensome impact on the community non-profit sector of the web of rules embedded in the federal grants and contributions process and refocus on outcomes that are more consistent with the sector's mandate to its donors, to its volunteers, and to the communities that depend on them.
We would ask that the government ensure implementation of the recommendations in the Auditor General's most recent report of May 2006. In chapter 6 of that report she addressed the need for streamlining of grants and contributions.
Finally, we would ask that the government empower the blue ribbon task force to broadly address the need for long-term funding as well as fixes to the grants and contributions process.
On procurement, we recommend that the government enshrine the fairness, openness, and transparency provisions, but be cognizant of potential inconsistency in consolidating procurement and whether that is consistent with the principles of fairness vis-à-vis SMEs and SMOs.
On sector infrastructure, we encourage the committee to put forward some recommendations that the issue of longer-term and more stable funding is required if we're going to have a vibrant community non-profit sector. We do have one of the strongest sectors in the world, but it has been very significantly eroded over the last decade with the erosion of long-term funding models.
Recommendations that you may wish to consider include striking a parliamentary committee with a mandate to look at the long-term funding issues; establishing an endowed national foundation, similar to perhaps the Wild Rose Foundation in Alberta or the Ontario Trillium Foundation, that could supplement the grants, contributions, and contracts regime with a national infrastructure funding program for the sector; implementing the Auditor General's report; and ensuring that the blue ribbon task force mandate is sufficiently large to address the longer-term funding issues.
Finally, as to the government accountability framework, we ask that the government adopt the accord between the Government of Canada and the two codes of good practice, and reissue them on behalf of the Government of Canada as a whole, as part of Treasury Board guidelines.
Those are all my comments. I welcome any questions you may have.
In respect to the Auditor General, we clearly support the need for the Government of Canada to have a strong audit function in respect to auditing its own practices. I think the concern of the sector is that we're already, frankly, subject to multiple audits under the grants and contributions processes. Sometimes the grants are multi-departmental: there may be a Heritage Canada component that supports volunteerism, for example; or there may be an Industry Canada program that supports consumer protection. With these very small organizations, it's helpful to understand that 46% of them have under five employees and their ability to sustain multiple audits is part of the problem and not really part of the solution we would see. So our representations are about fewer administrative demands on the organizations so that they can focus more on helping people in the communities and not have the personnel who are trained to do that filling out forms in the office all day.
In terms of long-term funding, this is a really a very critical issue for our sector. For many of you who are active in your communities and have served on these boards, you will understand that the human resources cycle you refer to is an in-and-out-the-door policy; grants end and three months later they get restarted again and people have to be terminated and rehired. It does interfere with the ability of these organizations to have effective human resources planning.
There are five or six areas where the lack of long-term funding really impacts on these organizations. I'll give you one very practical example. It's in the area of insurance. By definition, organizations in our communities that are out there delivering summer camps to disabled children or providing shelters for battered spouses and for homeless people are doing high-risk things with a high-risk clientele, and they're not able to do that unless they can have insurance to cover their staff and their volunteers. With liability insurance rates rising by 25% and none of the grants and contributions and contracts necessarily including provision for insurance, it becomes impossible for many of these organizations to carry out the very services that we would like them to in dealing with higher-risk clientele.
The same applies to directors' and officers' insurance. In order to be a not-for-profit corporation or a charity, you must have a board of directors. If I approach any of you about coming onto the board of an organization and advise you that there's no liability insurance and that you will be personally liable for any acts or omissions of that organization, or any of its staff, the likely response of most individuals is they are not going to serve on that board. This is one of the repercussions of the lack of infrastructure funding and long-term funding, that the organizations have trouble attracting the qualified people to their board who they need in order to comply with their legal obligations.
I think that's me, not the whole caucus.
I certainly have a question, Ms. Kirk. Thank you very much for being here.
Ms. Kirk, several months ago, HRDC, as it was known at that time, went through a process of reassessing contracts with community-based organizations. It was a real schmozzle. On page 12 of your document--the accord and codes--you relate all the things that came out of that process to improve it: more streamlined administration, improved call for proposal process, a fairness adviser, a fair practices resolution mechanism, a joint steering committee, and an undertaking to publish an annual public report on consistency with the accord and codes.
Regarding your recommendations at the end of your report under grants and contributions, procurement, sector infrastructure, and government accountability, it seems to me that if there was a generic application of the accord and codes within the context of those improvements, most of your recommendations would be covered. You state, and I quote from your report here: “However, “take-up” of the Accord and Codes across the Government of Canada has been inconsistent at best.”
I guess mine is a systemic question. How can we make sure this framework, through the Accountability Act, is distributed right across government departments?
The Public Affairs Association of Canada is a national not-for-profit organization founded in 1984. PAAC's growing membership represents a cross-section of the many disciplines involved in public affairs, including policy development, government relations, communications, opinion research, and public relations. I want to say first and foremost that the Public Affairs Association of Canada supports the spirit of the Federal Accountability Act because it's all about transparency and accountability, which are cornerstones of ethical behaviour.
Our association recently developed a statement of ethical principles for our members, because we stand in favour of ethical conduct in all facets of our work. So yes, we support the spirit of the legislation, yet we would like to offer constructive suggestions concerning the letter of it.
Lobbying--or government relations, as we prefer to call it--is not the unsavoury activity that many in the news media have made it out to be, any more than politicians are as villainous as the press often imply. Government relations specialists are not just hired consultants, and they don't just work for large wealthy corporations. GR people are vital for not-for-profit organizations as well, and to help volunteer advocates in grassroots organizations present their cases to government.
It is important to bear in mind that government can be complex to the point of confusion to those not experienced in its workings. That is why it takes a seasoned professional to present a case to government in the course of public policy development.
Most people accept that those who present a legal case before a court need the services of a lawyer. They should not try to do it themselves. Similarly, making a case before government for non-profits and grassroots organizations, as much as for big companies, also requires professional expertise. This expertise should be facilitated for such organizations, not denied them.
Certainly our ethical elected officials want to, and should, listen to both sides of an argument prior to crafting public policy. That is why we're here today. And since public officials cannot be experts in all fields, listening to professionally prepared presentations on all sides is vitally important if public policy is to truly reflect public interests.
With these things in mind, I must draw the committee's attention to a few areas of concern we have with the legislation in its present form. Some of its provisions, intended to enhance transparency, in fact create unintended problems.
Consider the additional filing requirements for people lobbying government. They would have to file on a monthly basis the names of senior public officials with whom they met, the date of the communication or meeting, and many other particulars. By taking transparency to this extreme, the legislation will impose a competitive disadvantage on some organizations due to the high cost of hiring administrative people to deal with this. Worse still, it might encourage some people to try to circumvent an onerous process and thus create an atmosphere of disrespect for the law.
If the Commissioner of Lobbying is to contact present or former senior public office-holders to verify the information provided, and then post these responses on its public Internet-based registry, the result is a similar set of unintended problems. The reason is that it makes the process cumbersome for staff who would have to follow the same process as lobbyists just in case they're asked for information, even though technically they don't have to file information as lobbyists do.
Again, this creates an unintended and onerous burden of administration and time. This may be burdensome to the large and wealthy corporations often associated in the public mind with lobbying, but to grassroots advocacy it will be destructive and debilitating. Grassroots advocacy, by its nature, is the communication between individuals and their elected officials. In particular, volunteer advocates for not-for-profit organizations, such as ones focused on medical research, could be driven away from this socially useful work, fearing that these sweeping regulations will make lawbreakers of them.
The new filing requirements represent the first of two main pitfalls we see in the legislation. The second concern is well-intentioned but potentially harmful restrictions on who may work in government relations. As it stands, the legislation says that no individual shall work in GR during a period of five years after the day on which that person ceases to hold a senior public office.
To newspaper readers eager to believe that recent government office-holders would wield some kind of unfair advantage, this sounds good. To people familiar with the making of good public policy, alarm bells should ring.
The reason for this is that to work effectively in GR requires familiarity with the public policy process. Again, the valid comparison is with the work of lawyers: not just anyone is qualified to argue a case before a court. To forbid those who recently graduated from public service from using their fresh skills in GR for five years is akin to preventing new law school graduates from practising law for five years.
At one level, it can only ensure that fresh skills become stale before they can be put to use. Yet there is a more important argument against this provision. Government relations work is a career that many good people work toward. By telling dedicated and skilled people that government service will disqualify them from that work for five years, the prime accomplishment will be to steer them away from government service, which cannot be good for government itself or the public interest in general.
Ladies and gentlemen, in both of these areas of concern, onerous filing requirements and the five-year prohibition after government service can be addressed without altering the legislation's prime goal of increasing accountability and transparency. The guiding principle is simply that if something is not really broken, it need not be fixed. Filing requirements should not be changed in order to alleviate public fears of secret lobbying, fears that are unfounded. Nor can anyone expect the five-year restriction on lobbying to serve the development of good public policy, when it will only discourage participation by the very people who have the most to contribute.
If there is to be a restriction on lobbying after government service, it makes sense only with regard to the files a person worked on while in government, or perhaps to the specific ministry in which she or he worked. Better still would be to preserve the current requirements in both these areas for the sake of facilitating, rather than hindering, the work of grassroots advocates and for the sake of encouraging the recruitment of good people to government service.
Thank you for listening.
I appreciate the opportunity to come and join you today. This is a very complex piece of legislation, but it's one that's very important as well.
The members of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, for those who aren't familiar, are basically CEOs of large companies operating in Canada. As such, I think our members understand very well that good governance matters in the public sector and in the private sector alike. Good corporate governance provides a competitive advantage in attracting investors and attracting talented people and thereby drives stronger and more sustainable growth in shareholder value.
Similarly, good public governance provides a competitive advantage to the country, in attracting people in investment within a global marketplace, and also in helping governments deliver better value to citizens and taxpayers. This is why our organization has been involved, deeply engaged, on governance issues for more than three decades. We were active participants in the great national debates involving the Constitution and parliamentary reform. I think we were the only business organization to appear before a committee of this House to support the reform of the financing of political parties, when that bill was in front of the House, and we've certainly been champions of stronger rules and voluntary efforts in improving the standards and practices of corporate governance.
Let me begin, therefore, by congratulating the government for moving quickly and decisively to address what I would describe as a crisis of public confidence. The proposed act before the committee includes a wide range of important measures. I would commend, in particular, the strengthening of the powers of the Auditor General and the role of the Ethics Commissioner, as well as the creation of a parliamentary budget officer, and an independent body to review the public appointments process.
But I want to take you back to 2002, when the response to the corporate governance crisis in the United States was the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. It did reassure investors by providing tough new rules and penalties, but it was highly complex and hastily drafted and it created months of headaches for regulators and a continuing very high cost of compliance for companies.
Canada took a more thoughtful approach and came up with a system that remains fully compatible with the U.S. rules for companies like our members, which are often cross-listed, but at the same time it provided a much more flexible and responsive environment that was better suited to the needs of the smaller cap companies that make up the bulk of our financial markets.
Today, I'd like to suggest we're seeing some important parallels between issues of corporate and public governance. In both cases there are real failures and fundamental issues of lost trust that have to be addressed. But as with Sarbanes-Oxley, we would ask whether the political desire to move quickly may lead to an excess of new rules that may, in time, prove counter-productive. I'd remind you that in the corporate sector, governance rules are aimed at protecting investors. At the same time, they do impose new costs, costs that come right off the bottom line. What's more, if executives spend too much time talking with the lawyers and the accountants instead of growing a business, the end result is not to serve the interests of shareholders.
Now, no one questions the need to repair the flaws in public governance exposed by the sponsorship scandal, but as in the corporate sector, new rules, new internal controls, all will add significant new fixed costs, even as they reduce opportunities for fraud.
I'm also worried about whether these new measures, as a whole, could affect the culture of government. Could they lead to an obsession with obeying the rules and avoiding mistakes that, in turn, could become a serious break on innovation and efficiency? There is more to delivering the best possible value to citizens than simply preventing fraud.
Let me add one final concern. Public servants, however well qualified and well intentioned, do not have a monopoly on good ideas. Effective government involves a healthy exchange of ideas with people outside government. My own organization's experience is that this exchange is often initiated by government officials themselves, who want input on the state of an industry or the likely impact of a policy change that's under consideration. The new act, however, is going to impose much more intrusive record-keeping and reporting, both by anyone who talks to senior officials in government and de facto by officials themselves in order to provide a check.
I want to make it clear that I'm not arguing against the idea of making sure that the process of lobbying government for gain is transparent and above board. We really only have one major concern on that front, and that is the question of whether the level and speed of reporting that will be required could lead to the unfair release of commercially sensitive information.
The new rules, however, also would appear to affect the activities of a vast array of organizations who engage government for the purpose of influencing public policy, and doing it in ways that they believe will be good for the country as a whole. The vast majority of these organizations already maintain a high level of transparency with respect to their public advocacy, and I'm worried that the new compliance burden may prove to be especially daunting--as my colleague here has suggested--for smaller non-governmental organizations. If the compliance procedures are burdensome enough to discourage dialogue, the result could be a government that is more isolated from citizens and less likely to draw on the country's collective wisdom to drive innovative public policy solutions.
This is an important bill. It addresses an urgent need to restore public trust, and Canada's business leaders fully support its goals. At the same time, our own experience with the crisis of corporate governance suggests it is very important to think through all of the implications of complex legislation like this, as you are doing today.
I'll now turn it over to the committee for questions.
If I may, Mr. Chair, the concern isn't so much about what's said, but about a lack of certainty concerning what's there and what it means.
The issue of reporting requirements has been raised. Again, I don't look at that primarily from the viewpoint of transactional work, because we don't do that; we deal strictly in the public policy sphere. But it's not clear.
My apologies, Mr. Chair, if I'm extending into someone else's time.
But for instance, what are the boundaries on that? It's obviously clear that if one individual goes to a senior government official to talk about a policy issue, this is a reportable meeting. If it involves a group of people under the umbrella of a single organization, does that require one report or a report by each individual in the organization who takes part in the meeting? If more than one government official takes part, does it require a separate report for each official, or is a single one enough?
What happens if you extend that to consultations by government itself? Recently I took part in a pre-budget consultation involving the Minister of Finance. It was at the minister's invitation and involved 17 organizations, if I recall the number correctly. Would each of us be required, in a consultation initiated by government, to file a report?
More broadly, there might be a policy conference involving hundreds of people at which senior officials or ministers speak because policy is being discussed and different points of view presented. It is an arranged event but might not be public. Does that make it reportable for every individual in the room affected by the provisions of the bill? It's not clear.
Thank you very much for the opportunity.
Pertaining to the question, and not to repeat much of what has been said, I think it's important to make two points. One has to do with the administrative complexity and the time required to actually assess the bill. As a practitioner in the field, I can tell you that most of the people who are government relations practitioners are actually small independent businesses. Many of us are actually sole practitioners in the field.
As it currently stands, the amount of time it takes on the administrative side to abide by the rules presently in place is certainly justifiable. In our view the rules are detailed enough to ensure that in the work we do, the reporting required and the transparency needed are already done in the reporting we do at present.
As it stands, from our vantage point, even the resources contained within the office of the lobbyist registrar are such that there is a significant backlog of registrations currently being processed. So if you can imagine, by the time somebody takes a look at what we now have to disclose or provide, we're often required to submit the next iteration of whatever the reporting requirement is.
On the second point in terms of accessibility to government, our view is this. We're quite happy to hear that the government is considering looking at how decisions are made in government and looking at ways to make those more accountable, but our fear is that the bill in its present form looks primarily at access points to government. We certainly believe or are aware of some of the accountability legislation in other jurisdictions, where quite often what is looked at is how you can make government more accessible to people and thus make it more transparent, so that those decisions that government makes can be more just and more in the public interest.
Our fear is that this legislation looks too heavily at the access points themselves. Our view is that it is fundamentally the incorrect place to be looking in terms of what makes government transparent and accountable.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, witnesses.
If I could begin, please, with the comparison of the Federal Accountability Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, it makes for an interesting juxtaposition. I'm glad you drew that parallel for us. I certainly do agree with your point that for both public and private institutions there's a crisis of confidence amongst the general public. Where we part somewhat is that Sarbanes-Oxley was introduced as a swift dramatic reaction. It was symbolic as much as practical, I think. Something had to be done. The reaction to the corporate world here, the corporate community in Canada, is that we would prefer voluntary compliance to ethical guidelines rather than the rigidity of Sarbanes-Oxley. That's the message we had from your boss and others.
I can tell you, I used to work for an international union and we had $40 billion in our relatively small union pension fund that we managed on both sides of the border. And white collar crime became a blue collar issue very much amongst the beneficiaries of our pension plan. So I disagree with you partly in the tone and the content when you make the case that perhaps we're doing here what the Americans did with Sarbanes-Oxley and that they were going over the top. That's the message we got from the Liberals. The immediate reaction to this bill was that it really wasn't that bad; we don't have to go so hard on this; we don't want to imply that we were a bunch of crooks. Well, that's the tone I'm getting from your reaction. Maybe you're underestimating how horrified Canadians were at both the Liberal scandals and the corporate community's malfeasance.
The rules we've put in place here don't come close to Sarbanes-Oxley. I was reading that Kenneth Lay would have walked away free had he been charged here in Canada under our rules, whereas he's going to be led away in handcuffs in the United States.
You raised the issue of independence of auditors. Why is it that in Canada the auditor of a major corporation can also be selling tax advice and other financial services to the same company? To me, if I were a pension trustee, I would say, don't invest in that company because there is a clear conflict of interest. But you're willing to allow that to.... I'm not questioning your right to criticize the Federal Accountability Act as being too stringent, but I certainly take it with a grain of salt, because your own institutions haven't gone very far to satisfy Canadians fears.
I will build on Mr. Martin's point.
We've had a lot of people before the committee who say they love the Accountability Act; they just don't like how it applies to them. We find that very interesting.
You will all be glad, also, to be reminded that we've been talking about an accountability package for two years now, since the Liberal sponsorship scandal was exposed by the Auditor General's report in the very beginning of 2004. We're now moving into mid-2006. So yes, there has been plenty of discussion. It has gone on and on. There is no knee-jerk reaction in this country; if anything, we're moving far too slowly.
You'll also be very pleased to know that this committee, by the end of this week, will have had a total of 70 witnesses. We will have had 45 hours of witness testimony and can anticipate probably another 45 hours' worth of review on the amendments through clause-by-clause. I'm sure you will be very impressed with the volume of work that's going into this particular bill.
On your particular concerns, though, about filing requirements, we've had other lobbyists before this committee who said it was too cumbersome to have a filing requirement. They, of course, say they're not worried about lobbyists, but are worried about these mom-and-pop shops that are somehow going to be encumbered by these rules.
I have never met a single small business in my riding, or a single charity in my riding, that has said they couldn't get by without their lobbyist--not one. We're not really talking about mom-and-pop charities and small businesses, are we? We're really talking about big enterprises and big lobby firms--most of which, by the way, do these filings anyway, every single day. They even have software designed to do these filings. They do it because they want to bill their clients. Every 15-minute phone conversation is recorded. They have no problem putting those into their invoices, but when it comes to reporting it to the public and keeping it out in the open, all of a sudden it's a huge encumbrance.
I want to know why. Maybe you can explain the contradiction there.
My short response would be that there is no one silver bullet that's going to restore public confidence. Confidence and trust, as I said earlier, once lost, can be very hard to restore. It will take time; it will take a number of measures and a lot of dedication.
What I'm trying to suggest is that it's important not only to be aware of unintended consequences but also to focus on the purpose of good governance, which comes back to meeting the needs and expectations of citizens and making government as efficient as possible.
That's why, if I can again draw a parallel with the private sector issue, one of the changes in governance requirements included in Sarbanes-Oxley and in Canadian legislation is the notion of personal accountability--in other words, the personal certification by chief executive officers and by chief financial officers with respect to individual company reports.
If I can summarize quickly, Mr. Chair, the expectation and legal requirement for a CEO is now clear: not only does a report have to fully and fairly reflect what's going on in the company, but everything said in that report must be true. Nothing may be left out such that leaving it out might make what is said misleading; the person certifying must be fully aware of all material facts; there must be processes in place to make sure that person is fully aware of all material facts; and that person must certify that they've checked those processes and reported any deficiencies.
That is a very simple measure. It was included in Sarbanes-Oxley, it was included in Canadian law, and it was fully supported by our member chief executives. I ask myself, if similar provisions had been in place in the public sector, whether they might have changed the outcome of the events we've seen with respect to the sponsorship issue, for instance. I don't know, but I put it to you as a question for consideration.
There is work involved in that certification. It involves CEOs spending a lot of time making sure they can properly attest, because there are significant penalties attached to that certification. That's not an approach that has been pursued to date on the public side. Is it something worth considering as we're talking through a complex bill? What does it take to restore public confidence, restore public trust?
As I say, there are many things in this bill that I think will help and are important, and I would encourage members of this House from all parties to support it and move this bill forward. At the same time, I think it's important to recognize that no one bill, no one provision in a bill is going to solve the problem, and therefore it's important not only to do everything possible to get this bill right, but also to remain aware that there will be more work to be done, no matter in what form this bill may pass.
When I was appointed to the scrutiny and regulations committee, I was told it was sort of a non-wanted committee. Now I realize that we're going to interpret the Accountability Act, so I feel good about that.
I feel that we have a problem here when everything is put into dichotomies. If we don't push this bill through--websites say so--we're bad. If we spend 45 hours on witnesses, but in 35 of those hours we as politicians espouse our political bandwagon of the week, that's not really a thorough review of the project.
Finally, if the lobbyists are former Liberal staffers, they're bad and they shouldn't be allowed. But if they're former Conservative opposition staffers, then they're okay. So I want to get away from that dichotomy of good and bad, red and blue—I'll never be blue in the face, Mr. Poilievre, probably red—and hit on a central point, a very positive point, as a road map forward that Ms. Flis brought up, and that is the idea of conflict of interest as determined by other societies. I'll throw it to you because I think you have a duty, as Mr. Martin was really saying, to do some self-policing at a higher gear.
Governments across this country are in partnership with law societies, dental societies, psychologist societies, and so on, and they police their own. But it's a partnership, because the government gives you a private bill and says, go police thyself. It doesn't work perfectly, but lawyers get disbarred and get criminal charges brought against them, etc.
I think this may be a way to go. As you may know, with conflicts of interest in psychology and law societies across this country, if you have knowledge of a client's business and then go to work for the other client, that's a no-no. It's very similar here.