That, given the apparent loophole in the Lobbying Act which excludes Parliamentary Secretaries from the list of “designated public office holders”, the House calls on the government to take all necessary steps to immediately close this loophole and thus require Parliamentary Secretaries to comply fully with the Lobbying Act, in the same manner as Ministers are currently required to do.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I will begin this morning with a quote:
Some people feel that there is a privileged access to government that is reserved only for a chosen few. That is something this government intends to deal with head on when we introduce the federal accountability act next week.
Who said that? It was the current in April of 2006, when speaking of the Federal Accountability Act, which includes provisions for the Lobbying Act. I wanted to begin my remarks this morning by reminding colleagues of the commitments by the government.
I am pleased to speak today to this motion that would close a loophole in the Lobbying Act, which presently excludes parliamentary secretaries from the list of designated public office holders. The need to close this loophole has become quite apparent in recent weeks as we learn more about lobbying activities surrounding the renewable energy project funding.
This renewable energy project funding has some $2 billion from the economic stimulus plan: $1 billion for the green infrastructure fund, which supports sustainable energy, generation and transmission, along with municipal waste water and solid waste management infrastructure; and a further $1 billion in clean energy funds that invest in research, development and demonstration projects to advance Canadian leadership in clean energy technologies.
Responsibility for these funds rests with the as well as with the . Lobbying activities in these funds, now known as the Jaffer affair, have illustrated how the Lobbying Act does not extend responsibility under designated public office holders to parliamentary secretaries.
In at least one department, and perhaps in others, the parliamentary secretary has been delegated the responsibility for those funds, which circumvents the requirements under the Lobbying Act.
I began today with a quote from the current . He also said at the time:
--we can ensure that the public business is done in the public interest and not for private gain.
That was then and this is now.
Back in 2006, Mr. Jaffer was a Conservative caucus chair and now, some four years later, he is at the centre of some serious challenges to accountability and to the Lobbying Act. Some seven ministers and departments, that we know of to this point, have given him privileged access. With the revelations of the privileged access, the robustness of the Lobbying Act has been called into question.
Although the Conservatives have toughened the rules governing lobbyists, a gaping loophole has become obvious. Lobbyists are required to submit monthly reports on their meetings with “designated office holders”, which include ministers and their staff, deputy ministers and associate deputy ministers; however, parliamentary secretaries are not included in this list. This means that lobbyists can meet with parliamentary secretaries without any public scrutiny.
A good example of this is with the Jaffer affair. In June of 2009, the met with Mr. Jaffer and Mr. Glémaud. Within a month, the parliamentary secretary received three proposals from Green Power Generation Corporation. Two of these proposals were, in turn, submitted to the department for consideration under the green infrastructure fund. These proposals were then studied by the federal government to see whether they might be eligible for funding. These were submitted by the parliamentary secretary.
The parliamentary secretary's office continued to follow up with the public servants for updates on whether the projects were being considered. The parliamentary secretary and his office had regular interaction with the proponents throughout the fall, getting more details, and asking very specific questions for project-related funding. He was helping to determine whether projects fit under any of the criteria for funding.
In this entire situation, lack of public disclosure has caused challenges in the confidence that Canadians have that their government will be open and transparent. Rather than privileging their own, the Conservatives need to be more forthright in what was occurring. Adding parliamentary secretaries under the designated public office holder list would mean public disclosure would be required by lobbyists.
In this particular Jaffer affair, Mr. Jaffer felt he did not meet the criteria as a lobbyist, as no compensation was paid for his services. This matter is under investigation, as well other matters under investigation by the Commissioner of Lobbying.
I do point out, however, that in testimony at committee, it was clear that there was an intent for finder's fees as compensation. This was discussed in testimony as well as in contract evidence. Therefore, while we await the Lobbying Commissioner's decision, it does appear that compensation was considered, and therefore public disclosure should have been made.
The Lobbying Act defines activities that when carried out for compensation, are considered to be lobbying. Generally speaking, they include communicating with public office holders with respect to changing federal laws, regulations, policies or programs; obtaining a financial benefit, such as a grant or a contribution; and in certain cases, obtaining a government contract or arranging a meeting between public office holders and another person.
The act requires that individuals register themselves as lobbyists when they engage in lobbying for compensation. This involves providing certain details about themselves and their business, where applicable, the subject matter of what they are discussing and the name of any department and/or other governmental institution in which any public office holder with whom the individual communicates or expects to communicate. This information is made public on the registry of lobbyists.
The act provides exemptions for certain types of communications such as simple requests for information. Under the Conservative government, the Lobbying Act, formerly the Lobbyist Registration Act, was made more stringent. A new class of public office holder was defined, the “designated public office holder” as described.
One of the new rules aimed at increasing accountability was that any lobbyist who had oral or arranged communications with the designated public office holder must file a monthly report. Oral and arranged communications included telephone calls, meetings or any other communications that were arranged in advance.
The report must disclose, for each communication that took place in a given month, the date of the communication with a designated public office holder, the name and title of all designated public office holders who were the object of the communication, and the subject of the communication. The return must be submitted to the Commissioner of Lobbying no later than the 15th day of the end of the month covered by the report. This information is then made public on the registry.
No such report is required for meetings with parliamentary secretaries. This is from the government's own website. It states:
--the Lobbying Act creates a new statutory category of “designated public office holder” to refer to officials responsible for high-level decision-making in government. This term is defined in the Act to include ministers, ministers of state, and ministerial staff, as well as deputy ministers and chief executives of departments and agencies and officials in those organizations at the ranks of associate deputy minister and assistant deputy minister.
For the purposes of the act, departments include those federal departments and agencies listed in the Financial Administration Act. The Lobbying Act further defines any person identified by the as having the task of providing advice and support to him during transition.
An additional 11 positions or classes of positions have been designated by way of regulation, including a list from National Defence and any positions of senior adviser to the Privy Council Office to which the office holder is appointed by the governor in council. Currently, parliamentary secretaries to ministers do not fall within the definition of a designated public office holder within the act.
The loophole has allowed meetings between Conservative lobbyists and parliamentary secretaries, who are essentially the eyes and ears of cabinet ministers, to take place without anyone's knowledge or any record of the nature of these meetings.
We are calling on the government to close this loophole by including parliamentary secretaries in the definition of designated public office holder under the act. Clearly, ministers are delegating authority, but not the accountability that goes with it.
There may be other changes that are required and needed to meet not only the intent of the law but also the spirit of the law.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for again for bringing up an issue in the House of Commons today that is very troubling. As you know, for several weeks now, the scandal surrounding the dismissal of the former status of women minister and the allegations regarding the activities of her husband, Rahim Jaffer, have made many Canadians, and especially the House of Commons, wonder about whether the government was serious in its last election campaign or even the previous 2005-06 campaign, when it claimed to want to strengthen legislation to prevent such ethics violations, and also to make significant improvements to transparency in the lobbying process.
Within the government, the is one of the ones who fiercely maintains that the government has always taken measures to strengthen the Lobbying Act. He often talks about the Accountability Act, but he always fails to answer a very simple question my colleague has put to him many times. Several other members, as well as myself, have asked the government that same question. Why did they forget to include parliamentary secretaries in the definition of a public office holder? That is the basis of the motion that is before the House today.
Because it is so important, I am going to remind the members and you, Mr. Speaker, that there is an apparent loophole in the Lobbying Act that excludes parliamentary secretaries from the list of designated public office holders. This loophole likely exists for a very simple reason: because the government wanted to find a way for its friends, the Conservative lobbyists—even unregistered lobbyists like the former Conservative caucus chair, Mr. Jaffer—to have access to the government without coming under the Lobbying Act. So the government deliberately left parliamentary secretaries off the list.
It is a bit strange for a young assistant fresh out of university who is working in a minister's office. I know something about what it is like, because when I finished law school, I had the opportunity to work in the prime minister's office as a political staffer for former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. As a young assistant in the PMO, I had to comply with the Conflict of Interest Act. I had been designated by Mr. Chrétien to comply with the Ethics Act and the Conflict of Interest Act, the same measures that apply now with the Lobbying Act.
Now, suddenly, the government has decided to exclude parliamentary secretaries, who are members of Parliament. As we have seen, they often have authority delegated by their minister to make decisions, evaluate projects and make recommendations to senior departmental officials, who themselves may be subject to the Lobbying Act. We can see how this system has become corrupted. The parliamentary secretary who meets with lobbyists is not on the list of public office holders and therefore is not subject to the Lobbying Act. But the deputy minister to whom the parliamentary secretary will refer requests for grants or contributions, as in Mr. Jaffer's case, is subject to the act.
These people are subject to the code, unlike the parliamentary secretary the appoints by order in council to assist the minister. Moreover, as I said, the minister sometimes formally delegates authority to the parliamentary secretary, which is what happened to the in the case of the famous green infrastructure fund.
The motion is designed to correct a very deliberate loophole that the Conservatives put in place allowing them to have a very secretive point of access into the government for Conservative lobbyists without being obliged to report as they would be under the Lobbying Act.
Otherwise, it is inexplicable that the government pretends to want to submit itself to greater transparency, pretends to want to strengthen measures like the Lobbying Act, pretends that its Federal Accountability Act was this great moment for accountability in government. There is no other plausible explanation as to why it would exclude people who receive delegated authority from their ministers, who meet on many occasions with lobbyists seeking either contributions from the government, grants from the government, access to government programs, or to change policies, decisions, regulations or statutes.
The member for is asking this House of Commons to say to the government that this loophole, deliberately designed and allowing such worrisome behaviour as we have seen with Mr. Jaffer, needs to be plugged. The actually has to walk the walk and not simply talk the talk, as he did four years ago with respect to accountability.
Another aspect which is worrisome around this question of secretive lobbying of parliamentary secretaries is the whole defence the government offers, that it is okay because no money changed hands. That argument makes no sense at all.
The member for comes from the great province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and she will know a lot about the fishing industry. I am sure she will agree with me that unfortunately some people who are issued fishing licenses by the are unsuccessful in actually catching fish. I know the idea that a professional fisher would go out fishing and not be able to catch fish would appear appalling, but we have seen examples of massive overfishing, for example, in the crab industry and the government's mismanagement of that. Certainly in my part of New Brunswick we have seen the effects of that.
When those people go out fishing, they are required to have a licence. The fact that they were bad fishermen, the fact that they were unsuccessful does not excuse them from the legal obligation of having a licence. The same minister who would issue fishing licences would also prosecute unsuccessful fishermen who were fishing without a licence.
Just because someone is a bad lobbyist and failed does not mean that he or she should not be subject to the lobbying legislation.
The other issue which really disturbs us is the lack of proactive disclosure. The government also says that ministers are not responsible, that all the obligation is in the hands of lobbyists. We need to go further. The government needs to actually respect the commitment it made in its election campaign platform to have those who are being lobbied proactively disclose in a public way those who are lobbying the public office holders. That would have eliminated a lot of Mr. Jaffer's ability to waltz around the government without anybody noticing or feeling an obligation to report.
I support the motion brought forward by my colleague, but I want to propose an amendment. I move:
That the motion be amended by adding the following:
And further calls on the government to immediately implement the 2006 Conservative Platform promise to require ministers and senior government officials, including parliamentary secretaries, to proactively record and report their contacts with lobbyists.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to address this initiative that has been brought to us today by the member for .
I will put this in context. A wise person once told me that context is very important. If we take something in isolation it can be misinterpreted.
The first part of the context would have to do with where this all came from in terms of things we have put in place as a government over the last few years. I know what it is like to sit on that side of the House as an opposition member. It is a very honourable role being in opposition but I dearly hope I never have to sit on that side of the House again. Of course, that is always left up to the voters to decide and we respect the voters' decision on that. However, I know what it is to sit on that side and to watch the results, not of partisan bickering but of inquiries into the whole area of scandals in government when, at the risk of sounding partisan, the federal Liberals were in government.
We were surprised to see time after time scandal after scandal. We expected that we would see some level of scandal discovered but we were shocked. In all sincerity, I really believe that some Liberal members were also surprised at what was going on. Some of them told me that and I take that at face value.
Therefore, we came through a period where for an extended period of time the public was exposed to official inquiries that showed, beyond lobbying, the discussions, the decisions that would be made in high priced restaurants over $400 bottles of wine and the results being bags of cash being handed out. These were things that were reported not by us but by independent officers doing the research. Quite rightly, I think people were losing some confidence in the system.
We made some commitments to rectify some of that. We brought a number of things into play right away. We brought in whistleblower legislation to protect hard-working public servants who knew things were not right and wanted to report it but they were worried about losing their jobs.
We brought in the Office of the Ethics Commissioner, a separate agent of Parliament, where the broad subject of ethics would go from being something that would be just discussed in kind of a nebulas way to being an actual reality that certain elements and principles of ethics would have to be maintained.
We put an end to secret donations to political parties. That was something that was shocking to people and people did not want to see that go on. I think most people understand that political parties need finances and we should be able to appeal in a voluntary way to the public and people should be able to donate. We put an end to donations by big business and by big labour. We said that if individual Canadians wanted to step forward, that would be fine, but no more donations from big business and big labour. That does not even happen at the municipal level. We have really set the trend in that particular area.
We also brought in new guidelines for access to information and we gave the Access to Information Office more money which, incidentally, was resisted by the Liberals.
The was not entirely happy with the results of the last report from the Access to Information Officer in terms of speed of getting information out there. I am not particularly happy with it, as President of the Treasury Board. The office receives about 40,000 requests a year. A majority of those do get answered within 30 days but there is about 12% of that 40,000 that take over 120 days to get the information out to people who are asking for it. Some of that falls under security clearance issues but we want to see an improvement on that. In a lot of cases that is just too long. We have already sent instructions to ministers and deputy ministers that we want to see that process speeded up.
As to the actual issue being discussed today, lobbying, we have made some very significant changes in that area. A lobby registrar was in place before but that registrar had very little mandate, was not independent and did not even have the resources to do the work in terms of follow-up or possible investigations that should be expected from a lobby registrar. That little office was very much under the thumb of the federal Liberals at the time. Therefore, since the registrar did not have the freedom to move that was necessary, we changed that in a very real way.
The act of lobbying, unfortunately, has kind of a negative taint to it.
I door-knocked when I was in provincial government and have door-knocked for years at the federal level. I door-knock year round and the demand for lobbying registration has never come up at one door in all my years of door-knocking. I am not saying that it is not an important issue. It is important. However, in terms of what is on the minds of Canadians, this has never come up. It is fascinating how these things do evolve. However, I am not diminishing the importance of this.
However, Canadians do want to know that their taxpayer dollars are being well spent and that they are not being ripped off by politicians or anybody in the process.
I do not see lobbying as a negative thing. When my constituents ask me what is being debated in Parliament these days, I say that the lobbying thing is coming up again. I tell my constituents that they are lobbyists because anybody who comes to an elected representative is lobbying. That is an appropriate and right thing to do in a democratic setting. How else do constituents make their views known or bring their interests forward if they do not talk to an elected representative?
However, we were looking at the problem of a weak lobbying registrar that was operated by the federal Liberals so we changed all that. We now have an independent Office of the Lobbying Commissioner. We finally gave that office the resources, $4.6 million this year, to do the work, the mandate to pursue these issues and the ability to investigate. Actually, $1 million of that $4.6 million is just for investigations. The Liberals did not give the independence to that office, a clear mandate to the office nor the resources it needed to do the investigations. We have done all that.
We have even put certain elements in place where, if one does not follow those items as a lobbyist, then the lobbyist could wind up not just paying a fine but could wind up going to jail. We have made it a criminal offence not to follow the lobbying rules and regulations. Before that, there was virtually no or a very low level of compliance under the federal Liberals. Now there is a high level of not only compliance but lobbyists must register as lobbyists, they are told the repercussions of not following the act and registered lobbyists must give a monthly report of their activities.
Let us try to strip away some of the partisan nature of the debate and at least agree, whether it is working perfectly or not, that we have put in a far more aggressive lobbying procedure than the Liberals ever had in place. I think, at a minimum, we can agree on that. I think there were federal Liberals who wanted to see this increased, and why their leadership did not do it is another question, but it is passed and I do not even want to get into it. However, our changes are very different and far more aggressive. Let that be a matter of record.
We are open to looking at improvements to it. We are saying that we can look at how that can be improved.
A suggestion came up today and the amendment needs to be addressed. Right now, under the definition the onus is on the lobbyists to register and they must register. We did that and we have made that very clear. However, what is being suggested now is that every time we are approached by a lobbyist, as a minister or a parliamentary secretary, the one being approached needs to do the registering. We have talked about that in the past and have looked at it in terms of some unanticipated consequences.
If that is going to be the approach, we need an answer to this question: What prevents a minister or a parliamentary secretary from being set up? We go to receptions and are out in public all the time.
Not that any opposition member would ever do this, but picture this: Someone who is registered as a lobbyist, and it could be in the hundreds or thousands of people, approaches a minister or parliamentary secretary, if that is the case, and says, “Hi, how are you? How is business? How are things going in the world of environmental improvements? It is great to see you. Bye, now”. A minister or parliamentary secretary has just been approached and spoken to by a registered lobbyist but has no idea of that.
However, the opposition member who talked to the lobbyist beforehand had said, “Go have a little chit-chat at the football game or the concert. Just go have a little chit-chat with that particular minister about the environment. Just say hello and don't mention anything too specific”. Then two weeks later, in a mischievous way, that MP stands up in the House of Commons and says, “This minister spoke to that lobbyist on that day and didn't report it”.
I would ask how we prevent that kind of mischief-making. Far be it from me to say it would ever filter into the mind of an opposition member to do that, but just in case, how do we have the reassurance to deal with that particular problem? It is a fair question to be addressed.
This motion, in its original form, is asking that parliamentary secretaries also be considered in the same light as ministers under the Lobbying Act, so if somebody lobbies them they have to register that. That is an interesting initiative.
The has rightly reflected, and we are asking why that would be limited to parliamentary secretaries. Why not all MPs, including opposition MPs? Why should opposition leaders not be subject to the same provisions? I am not saying this in a pejorative sense, but there was a case when an opposition member came to me representing a business in his or her constituency asking, “Could you adapt this or that” or “Could this be done to make life easier for this particular business?”
Inherently, I do not think there is anything wrong with that. There would be something wrong if that member were getting a fee to do that or being paid by that business. That would be wrong. However, in the cases I can think of, and there are many, where opposition members have come to me with bona fide concerns about things in their constituencies, I take them at face value. I think they are just doing good work. In fact, however, those cases are falling under some of the things they are suggesting should be under a revised Lobbying Act. Therefore, we need to think about these things.
I take them at good face value. I do not think they are receiving anything from a particular business or organization. I think they were just lobbying in good faith. However, these are the types of minefields we can start to wander into.
We are interested in opposition members' response to that. Why would this apply just to ministers and parliamentary secretaries? How about all MPs? How about senators? People in business talk with them all the time. They deal with legislation and things that affect our way of life. They deal with tax codes and everything else. Of course, why not leaders of the opposition? We are in a minority Parliament. These things become very pertinent questions.
This item that the has rightly raised as a sincere question, how about that? We have not seen a rush to the ramparts of excitement about that from opposition members, but what about the act applying to all MPs, senators and leaders of the opposition?
We thank the members opposite for their interest in this. I am taking it as genuine. I would ask everyone to reflect on the fact that the Lobbying Act has changed significantly under this . It has real attributes that it never had before under the Liberals. Taxpayers appreciate that. We look forward to the ongoing discussion.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for .
As Bloc Québécois critic for ethics and access to information, I am pleased to speak today to this official opposition motion stating that there is a major loophole in the Lobbying Act currently in force in Canada, .
The motion states that parliamentary secretaries are simply not included in the list of “designated public office holders” who are subject to this Lobbying Act, unlike the ministers whom they assist.
A lobbyist must be registered in order to speak with a minister or a member of their staff, but not with a parliamentary secretary, who is in fact a member for the party in power appointed by the Prime Minister and responsible for helping a minister in the performance of their parliamentary functions and for liaising between ministers and other parliamentarians.
Do I need to tell you that parliamentary secretaries wield obvious power and undeniable influence in the offices of the ministers they assist? The individuals who consult them or seek their help are not subject to the present Lobbying Act? How can a loophole like this have gone unnoticed before today?
For the benefit of members of the public who are following this debate, I think we need to remind them of a few points of information concerning this legislation.
Until July 2008, lobbying at the federal level was governed by the Lobbyist Registration Act, which provided for a registration system designed to protect the public’s right to know who was trying to influence government policy. It is a fundamental piece of legislation, if ever there was one, for any self-respecting democratic society. And yet the famous Federal Accountability Act instituted by this Conservative government, which was supposed to guarantee perfect transparency on the part of this Conservative government, made major amendments to the Lobbying Act in December 2006, amending its title and replacing the simple director of lobbying position with the position of Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada, a senior independent official in the Canadian administrative structure.
Our Lobbying Act was apparently not improved sufficiently, from what we can see. The new Lobbying Act has been in force since July 2, 2008.
I would point out that Canada's Commissioner of Lobbying is responsible for publicizing and enforcing the rights and obligations set out in the Lobbying Act. In fact, that act quite simply requires that lobbyists register and report certain information each month to the commissioner, which information is then recorded in a public record that everyone can consult on the Internet.
The registry discloses information about lobbyists and their lobbying activities. The law requires lobbyists to produce returns if there has been oral arranged communication by mail, email or telephone with designated public office holders such as ministers or ministers of state, their political staff, assistant deputy ministers and associate deputy ministers. The commissioner also has the power to verify information provided by lobbyists.
However, there is a major loophole in the law because it does not consider the parliamentary secretaries attached to various government ministers to be designated public office holders. This loophole appears to have enabled certain well-informed individuals to get around the law and gain privileged access to some departments.
How did we discover that such a loophole exists in a law that is supposed to ensure transparency with respect to lobbying activities on Parliament Hill, with ministers' offices and with various elements of Canada's government?
I hardly need to remind anyone that on April 9, the media broke the story that the Minister of Status of Women resigned or had been directed to resign—which is how these things work—and had been expelled not only from the 's cabinet, but also from the Conservative Party of Canada. The Prime Minister never revealed any information whatsoever about why she was expelled.
The abruptly fired the member for from her cabinet position because of what he described as “serious allegations”, which he passed on to RCMP investigators.
Apparently, the RCMP was called in because of questionable meetings involving the former minister's husband and the inappropriate use of House of Commons resources.
Mr. Jaffer contacted a number of ministers' offices using his wife's ministerial email address. Documents show that Mr. Jaffer also openly contacted people he knew in at least six different departments to discuss business proposals. During his testimony before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, Mr. Jaffer, who is not a registered lobbyist, denied undertaking any illegal lobbying activity.
But at the end of April, following their former colleague's testimony, Conservative ministers, one after the other, contradicted him openly and mercilessly.
We now know that Mr. Jaffer and his associate increased their contacts with government members in recent months.
These documents provided evidence of contacts with the offices of ministers and officials from various federal departments and agencies, including the offices of the , the and the . Mr. Jaffer even lobbied departments and their ministers, particularly the and his parliamentary secretary, the , the , the and of course, the former minister for the status of women. This is a great deal of lobbying for someone who is not a registered lobbyist.
Rahim Jaffer also communicated with these ministers' parliamentary secretaries, because he knew that parliamentary secretaries are not subject to the Lobbying Act. This also needs to be investigated.
One thing is certain: this whole mess surrounding the unregistered lobbying activities of Rahim Jaffer, a former Conservative member and former chair of the Conservative caucus, has given us the opportunity to speak to this Liberal motion. It also gives me a chance to remind the House that neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have the political will to change anything when it comes to ethics.
The Liberal Party refuses to completely turn its back on the sponsorship legacy and the Conservative Party is sinking deeper and deeper into favouritism and secrecy. The Bloc Québécois can make such observations because it does not award any contracts, hand out any grants or make any appointments within the government. The Bloc Québécois has the leeway and credibility needed to keep an eye on how public money is spent and to denounce favouritism.
The Liberals and Conservatives have promised again and again to clean up politics in Ottawa, but they have not kept their promise. The Bloc Québécois has always maintained that the problem in Ottawa is not the lack of rules, but rather the lack of political will to follow the rules.
If we look at what the Liberals and Conservatives actually do, it is impossible to think there will be any real change in the political culture in Ottawa. The evidence is all around us. Just look at the entourage of the , which still includes people tainted by ethical issues, such as the president of the Liberal Party of Canada, Alfred Apps, who took advantage of a loophole in the Elections Act to encourage Liberal supporters to contribute twice as much money to the Liberal Party as allowed.
Another example is the Quebec Liberal caucus. Ten of the 14 Liberals from Quebec were members and in some cases even ministers under Jean Chrétien, but not one of them managed to prevent the sponsorship scandal.
The Conservatives, for their part, can hardly cast any aspersions because their record also demonstrates a complete lack of political will and lack of respect for the existing rules, even though they claimed they would end the political culture of secrecy and lack of transparency. But it still continues to rule the roost in Ottawa.
The crooked sponsorship program lasted more than six years because of the culture of secrecy. Adequate access to information and an effective method of protecting whistleblowers are absolutely essential if we are to have a reasonably transparent system.
By breaking its electoral promises to reform the Access to Information Act and to protect whistleblowers, the Conservative government has perpetuated the culture of secrecy inherited from the Liberals. The Liberals and Conservatives are only interested in power. They have no interest in ending the culture of secrecy in Ottawa.
The Conservatives promised to implement the Information Commissioner’s recommendations to reform the Access to Information Act but have never tabled a bill to do so.
The just informed the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics that he would not implement most of its recommendations to improve the Access to Information Act, closing the door again.
The Bloc’s demands regarding access to information are well-known. In June 2008 it tabled a bill that was similar to the one proposed by the Information Commissioner in 2005.
Governments of various hues have been consulting for 20 years now. It is time to act.
We will support the Liberal motion, but small changes like this will not do anything to change an entire culture. Action is needed to end the culture of secrecy and lack of transparency that still holds sway in Ottawa.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion presented by our Liberal colleagues. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleague from for her presentation and the very good work she does on behalf of the Bloc Québécois on all things related to ethics and on the Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee.
As my colleague stated, the Bloc Québécois will support this motion for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, the time allotted to me is too short to speak in detail about each one. Therefore, I will outline the reasons and spend more time on certain points.
One of the Bloc's reasons for supporting this motion is that we condemn the fact that a program such as the green infrastructure fund, which has a $1 billion budget—yes, that is the figure—is administered by a parliamentary secretary.
Furthermore, the Conservatives have not kept their promises to the people and democracy. I remember well that, in 2006, in the wake of the Liberal sponsorship scandal, the Conservatives played the transparency and ethics card. They boasted that their party would set things right, clean house, and champion ethics. They almost called themselves the Mr. Cleans of federal politics. They promised to wash everything cleaner than clean. That was the Conservative claim.
In 2006, when the current came to power, one of the first bills, Bill , known as the Federal Accountability Act, sought to clean house in a number of areas.
Unfortunately, with time, we realize cannot see any difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives. They conduct themselves exactly the same way. Anyone who was not out of the country or cut off, for whatever reason, from modern communications such as the Internet, or traditional media such as newspapers, radio or television, will have seen how the Conservatives conducted themselves in the case of Mr. Jaffer and the member from . The more witnesses who appear before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, the more we learn about the illegal lobbying activities of Rahim Jaffer.
Members will recall that Rahim Jaffer is the husband of the former status of women minister, who was kicked out of the Conservative caucus for unknown reasons. When he was in opposition, the accused the Liberals of hiding things, but since he took power, he has done exactly the same.
The Conservatives' actions now make it clear that they have not kept their promises to the people and democracy. When opposition members demand answers in a parliamentary committee or ask questions during question period, they are not doing it for themselves; they are asking on behalf of the people who elected them democratically in each riding to represent them and their needs in Ottawa.
That is democracy. People trust Bloc Québécois members and our party because we defend their interests in Ottawa. That is surely why the Bloc Québécois has won a majority of the seats in Quebec since 1993, in the last six elections. The public realizes that the only party who can truly defend the interests of Quebec in Ottawa is the Bloc Québécois.
Unlike the members of the old, traditional parties, both the Liberals and the Conservatives, we have no majority to protect in the west, in Ontario or in the Maritimes. Our only loyalty lies with Quebec, all the regions of Quebec, and with Quebeckers.
The Conservatives have hardly made ethics and transparency a government priority. Instead, they have promoted the culture of secrecy and cronyism, expressed as “Tell me who you know, and I will tell you how I can help you.” That is exactly what Rahim Jaffer does when he makes contact with his former Conservative Party buddies, the people he sat here with.
Let us not forget that Rahim Jaffer is a former chair of the Conservative caucus. That is why the government cannot turn a blind eye and wash its hands of this situation like Pontius Pilate by saying that meeting with a parliamentary secretary is not the same as meeting with a minister. That is why I made it clear from the outset that this Conservative government has a parliamentary secretary that manages a fund worth about $1 billion.
When Mr. Jaffer, an illegal lobbyist, has a meeting with this parliamentary secretary, there is no denying that some lobbying is going on. That is why the Liberal motion to include parliamentary secretaries makes sense and that is why the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the motion.
We are pleased to see the Liberals take this approach and we hope that if they return to power one day, they will remember that the wrongdoings in the sponsorship program went on for more than six years because of the culture of secrecy in Ottawa.
For that reason, we in the Bloc Québécois are calling for two things that go hand in hand: first, an appropriate access to information system, because the public has the right to know and to be informed; and second, effective whistleblower protection. These two conditions are indispensable for true transparency. We do not want superficial transparency nor transparency based on complacency just because the Federal Accountability Act has been passed. That is why the Conservatives are literally laughing in our faces. In the absence of those two things, the Federal Accountability Act is nothing but smoke and mirrors.
In closing, in supporting the motion, the Bloc Québécois is calling on the Conservatives to keep their election promises on ethics, and those on lobbying in particular. There are other loopholes in the act. I do not have enough time to go over them, but the different parties will be talking about this all day. For these reasons the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the motion.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the debate on the Liberal opposition day motion tabled by the member for . To remind us, the wording of the motion is:
That, given the apparent loophole in the Lobbying Act which excludes Parliamentary Secretaries from the list of “designated public office holders”, the House calls on the government to take all necessary steps to immediately close this loophole and thus require Parliamentary Secretaries to comply fully with the Lobbying Act, in the same manner as Ministers are currently required to do.
The Liberals have also introduced an amendment to that. The member for added the following amendment:
And further calls on the government to immediately implement the 2006 Conservative platform promise to require ministers and senior government officials, including parliamentary secretaries, to proactively record and report their contacts with lobbyists.
It looks as if the Liberals did not quite get their communications strategy together and had to add something to their motion, but the NDP will support both the motion and the amendment.
It is really crucial in this debate that we understand the difference between civic engagement and paid lobbying. With the Lobbying Act, we are really focusing on the whole question of paid lobbying.
The Lobbying Act's preamble states:
Free and open access to government is an important matter of public interest;
Lobbying public office holders is a legitimate activity;
It is desirable that public office holders and the public be able to know who is engaged in lobbying activities; and,
A system for the registration of paid lobbyists should not impede free and open access to government.
Currently, a designated public office holder is defined in the Lobbying Act as a minister of the Crown, or a minister of state and any person employed in his or her office. It also includes senior executive position holders such as deputy ministers or chief executive officers, associate deputy ministers, assistant deputy ministers and those of comparable ranks.
The Lobbying Commissioner has issued an interpretation bulletin to further clarify the definition of a designated public office holder in the Lobbying Act.
Parliamentary secretaries are members of Parliament assigned by the to assist cabinet ministers, but who are not part of the ministry. They are not cabinet members. Parliamentary secretaries are not included in the definition of a designated public office holder in the Lobbying Act.
Parliamentary secretaries, however, are public office holders, as are members of Parliament, senators and their staff, Governor-in-Council appointees, officers, directors and employees of federal boards, commissioners or tribunals, members of the Canadian armed forces and the RCMP. Therefore, the definition of public office holder is much broader than designated public office holder.
The Lobbying Act sets down different requirements of lobbyists when it comes to designated public office holders and public office holders. The key difference is that when a lobbyist is communicating with a designated public office holder they must report those contacts to the Lobbying Commissioner on a monthly basis and within a stipulated time frame. This is not required when a lobbyist is communicating with a public office holder. Therefore, there are different provisions for ministers, cabinet ministers and ministers of state than there are for ordinary MPs, for instance.
However, in both cases the lobbying is considered a registerable activity; that is the lobbyist must be registered with the Lobbying Commissioner. Registration is required when the lobbyist is paid to communicate for the making, development or amendment of any proposal or legislation, bill or regulation, or the awarding of any federal grant or contribution. It also includes written and oral communication.
All paid lobbyists must be registered. Paid lobbyists who approach ministers and ministers of state must file monthly reports on their activities. Paid lobbyists who approach parliamentary secretaries do not have to include those communications in their monthly reports. That is because parliamentary secretaries are not included in the definition of a designated public office holder.
In “Accountable Government: A Guide for Ministers and Secretaries of State”, and that is the 's ethical guidelines essentially for members of the cabinet, the role of a parliamentary secretary is described and it includes the following. It talks about their responsibilities are carried out within the policy and program frameworks set out by their minister. It notes that there is a fundamental link between ministers and Parliament. It goes on to say that they play a liaison role within the caucus and throughout the House of Commons and its committees and between committees and the public service.
Parliamentary secretaries are expected to facilitate departmental appearances at committees by representing the views of the ministers and addressing political issues that may arise. Parliamentary secretaries may be called upon to answer policy questions during question period in a minister's absence. It notes that, given that parliamentary secretaries work under the direction of a minister, they do not introduce their own private members' bills or motions and a minister may delegate to parliamentary secretaries specific duties for parliamentary development issues.
It is very clear from the 's guidelines that parliamentary secretaries have a close relationship with their ministers. It is also clear that it was thought that some restrictions on the activities of parliamentary secretaries were necessary, the example being that they cannot introduce their own private members' bills or motions.
The problem is parliamentary secretaries are perceived to be, and indeed can in reality be, people who have inside knowledge of the departments with which they work and special access to the ministers with whom they work. The role of parliamentary secretaries likely varies across governments. Some are given more responsibilities than others. Some will be closer to ministers than others.
The occasion for this opposition motion today, the case of Rahim Jaffer and his lobbying efforts, has raised the possibility that a parliamentary secretary was delegated a key role in the decision-making process, perhaps up to and including a role in the awarding of government contracts in a key government program. However, given the current status of the Lobbying Act, as it stands, contacts with a parliamentary secretary are outside the purview of the Lobbying Act and are therefore not subject to the reporting and scrutiny that is implied in the Lobbying Act.
The concern is it is therefore possible to delegate key responsibilities and possibly decision-making responsibilities to a parliamentary secretary to make him or her a direct point of entry for lobbyists to government. The concern is that where this is done, access to a key decision maker would take place outside the requirements of the Lobbying Act.
The Lobbying Act was designed to deal with decision makers, and this is an important point to make, especially given some of the debate this morning about who actually should be covered. The Lobbying Act was designed to deal with people who actually made the decisions. That is why it talks about ministers and ministers of state. The Lobbying Act was designed to deal with the decision makers. It appears from our recent experience that some parliamentary secretaries are exercising or coming very close to exercising some decision-making powers.
Given the discretion involved in establishing the duties of a parliamentary secretary, the best option would be to include them as designated public office holders under the terms of the Lobbying Act. The motion we are debating today calls on the government to do that without delay. It would also be incumbent on the government to review the job description for parliamentary secretaries in an accountable government and clarify whether they should have any decision-making powers at all.
It is really no stretch of the imagination that this is the only aspect of the Lobbying Act that requires attention. The Lobbying Act is just about due for its required five-year review. The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics has already made preliminary plans to begin that review this coming fall. There is no doubt that the Lobbying Act can be improved and there are many issues that should be considered in preparation for or as part of that review process.
A few years ago, at the end of his time as a member of Parliament, Ed Broadbent made proposals for democratic accountability, which included the need for tougher laws requiring disclosure of fees and expenditures of lobbyists and the need to make illegal the acceptance of profit-based fees or fees based on the outcome of the lobbying effort. He also called on the government to initiate reforms with tough sanctions applicable to wrongdoing in the public sector. At the time, Ed Broadbent said, “we need institutions that work against that culture of entitlement” and that rules were important to ensuring that this effort was successful.
We have often heard from the government that there was no problem in the current controversy because the unregistered lobbyists' efforts did not result in the awarding of a contract, but it is pretty clear that this is really not the point. The point is access to the decision makers. It is not whether they are good at their job, but that they were undertaking the effort at all.
Ed Broadbent also said that political cronyism must end. The perception that some people have better access to government officials runs absolutely counter to our hopes for a democratic society.
Those were issues that were highlighted by Ed on behalf of the NDP just a few years ago. There are many other issues that should be considered when we look toward the reform of the Lobbying Act.
The current Lobbying Act emphasizes the duties and responsibilities of lobbyists as opposed to those of designated public office holders. For example, while paid lobbyists who communicate with a designated public office holder must report those contacts monthly, there is no similar requirement for designated public office holders to file a similar report with the lobbying commissioner.
The only requirement for designated public office holders is that if the Lobbying Commissioner requests that they verify a communication entry made by a lobbyist, the designated public office holder must reply. In a sense, we have a system that monitors the lobbyists but does not keep track of what designated public office holders do when it comes to the efforts of lobbyists.
This is the issue that the Liberal amendment gets to. It is a very important amendment and that is why we will support it.
This two-way direction of keeping track of the lobbying efforts is very important. The Lobbying Commissioner has reported that, right now, there is over-reporting given the existing requirements of the Lobbying Act. Some lobbyists report their contacts with senators and MPs, which is not required presently. Changing the emphasis of the system to having designated public office holders report contacts might address this and should be considered as part of the review of the legislation.
There is also the very confusing aspect of dealing with definitions around public office holders and designated public office holders. It varies across different pieces of legislation. The Lobbying Act, the Conflict of Interest Act, the MPs' Conflict of Interest Code and the 's “Accountable Government: A Guide for Ministers and Secretaries of State” should all have a consistent definition so confusion is reduced and hopefully eliminated. Right now, it is very complicated to explain exactly who one is talking about and in what context. The language that talks about inquiries and investigations should also be standardized as much as possible to eliminate the kind of confusion that exists today.
There is no requirement for lobbyists to disclose the amount of money they spend on specific campaigns and no requirement for financial disclosure. In fact, there are no spending limits for lobbying campaigns. This issue has come up many times in the past and it should be discussed again when we have a review of the legislation.
We see the need for the ability of the Lobbying Commissioner to undertake speedy and fair investigations all the time. There is frustration when an issue arises and there is not a speedy conclusion. We need to ensure the commissioner has the resources needed to accomplish both an expeditious and fair investigation into any concerns with regard to the Lobbying Act.
One thing we might consider is administrative penalties as a tool for the Lobbying Commissioner to enforce the act. Right now, an infraction of the act is a criminal infraction, but there is nothing in terms of administrative penalties that might help in things like filing late reports, for example.
The current Lobbying Act deals only with people who were considered decision makers. Some believe, and we have heard it in the debate this morning, that it should be extended to include others, including party leaders, committee chairs, caucus chairs and people who have other specific responsibilities in Parliament. Some would go even further and extend it to all MPs and senators. Again, this is idea merits discussion so we are clear on the intent and what the Lobbying Act is about.
The commissioner of lobbying must also have the resources to analyze the situation with regard to lobbying. For instance, the commissioner recently reported that the number of registered lobbyists has stabilized at around 3,500, which is a reduction of almost 30% since the Lobbying Act came into effect. The commissioner noted that there might be several explanations for this change. Some in-house lobbyists indicated that the additional reporting requirements of the Federal Accountability Act led some corporations and organizations to rationalize their approach and reduce the number of employees engaged in lobbying activities. The economic downturn might also have been a factor.
Contrary to this, the number of transactions in the registry has gone up, perhaps because of the monthly reporting requirements. However, this change in the number of registered lobbyists and the increase in lobbying activity have not been carefully analysed. It is important that the commissioner of lobbying has a clear mandate and the resources to fully research the situation, including contacting organizations and corporations that chose not to register.
The commissioner of lobbying also needs a clear education mandate. This is absolutely crucial. Educating designated public office holders and lobbyists about the Lobbying Act is a key to its success.
We also need to review the lobbyists code of conduct. This document dates from 1997 and it has not been significantly changed in the over 10 years since it was first promulgated. Rule number eight in the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct says:
Lobbyists shall not place public office holders in a conflict of interest by proposing or undertaking any action that would constitute an improper influence on a public office holder.
Back in 2002, Howard Wilson, who was then the ethics counsellor with responsibilities for the Lobbyists Registration Act, interpreted this to mean:
...it is not reasonable to believe that the lobbyist has exercised an improper influence on a Minister, placing him or her in a conflict of interest, merely because the lobbyist was assisting the Minister in a leadership campaign at the same time that the lobbyist was lobbying the Minister's department on behalf of a client.
More broadly, I conclude that the mere fact that these two legitimate activities are being pursued by a lobbyist does not, in and of itself, breach the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct.
Democracy Watch, which has done lots of excellent work with regard to accountability, democratic accountability and on the Lobbying Act, challenged this interpretation in the Federal Court of Appeal. That court ruled that the 2002 advice of Mr. Wilson was “unreasonable”. As a result of that court decision, the current commissioner of lobbying released an interpretation bulletin on this rule. She stated:
A lobbyist may be in breach of Rule 8 if: the lobbyist's actions create a real conflict of interest for a public office holder, or the lobbyist's actions create the appearance of a conflict of interest for a public office holder.
The commissioner also said that real or apparent conflict of interest includes the presence of a tension between the lobbyist and the designated office holder which could arise from the provision of a gift, an amount of money, a service or property without an obligation to repay, the use of property or money that is provided without charge, or at less than its commercial value, and political activities.
The whole question of political activities is something that some people have said needs to be further defined, but this is an example of the kind of clarification that should be considered when the Lobbying Act is reviewed.
The Lobbying Act is key to government accountability and ethical behaviour. It requires our attention and respect as parliamentarians. It also requires the attention and respect of those who seek to lobby decision makers.
The motion and amendment being debated today are timely and respond to an important emerging issue and they merit strong support, but the job is not done and there is much more to look at. The review of the Lobbying Act will also require diligence and attentiveness to ensure the best possible legislation in this crucial area.
This is a work in progress. No party corners the market on ethical behaviour in this place. We all have to take responsibility for how we behave as parliamentarians, and this debate is certainly part of how we hold ourselves accountable in that effort.
Mr. Speaker, I have been here now close to six years and this is my first speech regarding accountability, openness and transparency in the system, and the need to inject a degree of fairness into it that is so badly needed.
I would also like to point out that in the past little while demands from taxpayers in general upon our public offices have been great because of the issue of fairness. Over the past two to three decades people have been crying out for more openness and transparency. They have been looking for ways to hold their public office holders accountable. Therefore, over the years, we have done many things in regard to lobbying and registration itself.
Recently, I was at the Council of Europe where we talked about lobbying, which has now become an international event. Many countries have been grappling with this issue of lobbying because there has been a revolving door of people in and out of government. We saw that in the United States of America where the lobbying industry is excessively large. We saw that in the debate regarding new health care reforms in the U.S. We also saw that through other measures in the United States over the past little while, such as pharmacare. We certainly saw that in Canada given the fact that we have become the subject of many U.S. critics because we have a more generous health care system. We have been accused of having cheap drugs, as it were.
I would like to point out to the House that over the past two to five months this issue has become part of the mainstream, and when I say mainstream I am talking about the mainstream media, certainly the news over the past little while. Former Conservative MPs have figured prominently in the news. Over the past little while we have been talking about a former minister, who has also figured prominently in the news.
Everyone is wondering who is a lobbyist and who is not. That is the grand question that everybody wants answered. They also want to know what is considered above board and what is considered to be undue influence.
If a person leaves government, leaves Parliament, and then decides to get into the business of lobbying in this country, certainly in Ottawa, there are many ways that individual can interact, both socially and professionally. When a person comes to me as a member of Parliament, not a member of the executive, and certainly not a member of the Privy Council, I keep track of that. It is in my calendar. It is still there. I never erase that.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, I have many meetings with artists groups, the cable industry, the television industry, broadcasters, and the like. Many of them come to me on several different issues. We just went through an issue on broadcasting regarding fee for carriage. I am sure many of these people have records of coming to me. I have no problem telling anybody about that because it is a transparency issue.
Soon we will be seeing copyright legislation. Copyright legislation is complex and deep. There are many issues from many groups that have so much money tied up in their own personal interests that naturally they want to be a part of this debate. Naturally, with so much money at stake, their livelihoods at stake, they want to be involved, so they lobby not only the minister or the parliamentary secretary but MPs as well.
But let us stick to this one and I will just carry my example even further into this debate.
Our motion says:
That, given the apparent loophole in the Lobbying Act which excludes Parliamentary Secretaries from the list of “designated public office holders”, the House calls on the government to take all necessary steps to immediately close this loophole and thus require Parliamentary Secretaries to comply fully with the Lobbying Act, in the same manner as Ministers are currently required to do.
Now I know for a fact, being on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, that the has requested many meetings, all above board, to present views on what a new copyright act should look like. It is part of the system that we work in.
What has to be done here is that the parliamentary secretary, in many cases, will act as a gatekeeper to the person who is within the department or at least the minister's office. We know this. History tells us, and from the responses that we see here in the House, we know that the parliamentary secretary must be receiving the information that a minister would get, save perhaps a few little details.
We have a parliamentary custom here where if I ask a question in question period, I can request that the minister appear at a later date, in the evening mostly, to go further into that question. The last time I did that, I did not hear from the , I heard from the .
Logic dictates that if the government feels that the parliamentary secretary should be the one to answer my question, as a member of Parliament, should that person not be under the same responsibility, rights and privileges as the actual minister?
Pardon me for using the obvious vernacular, but if it walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, we all know what it is. Not that I want to talk derogatorily about my colleagues, but I think the analogy is an apt one.
In essence, the parliamentary secretary in this particular case does have that information which people can use. They can look to the parliamentary secretary and feel that they are actually getting their point across to the government. That is part of the reason why they should be included in this. That is the part of accountability and transparency, and a frame of mind, which is not to lobby a particular person using inside connections or knowing, in their mind, that if they talk to this person it will never become public.
That is what happens. We have to trace the frame of mind of particular individuals who want to make their case known to the government in a formal manner. If these people go to the parliamentary secretary knowing full well that they are not bound under the same responsibilities as the minister, that is a route of easier access. That is the loophole that effectively should be closed.
Transparency, accountability and responsibility are demanded by our taxpayers.
I heard the speech made by the earlier. He talked about how on the doorstep nobody talks about this issue. That does not make it any less important. That does not make us any less responsible.
One of the issues I have dealt with both here and in Europe as part of the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association is human trafficking. I know the government is also looking into this issue with a private member's bill. That does not necessarily exclude us from talking about it. Many people do not call my office about human trafficking, but that does not make it any less important. The fact is that at least 700,000 people are trafficked each year. Most of these people do not have the ability to call.
However, I do not want to talk about that issue. I want to talk about the one in hand here which is of course accountability. I hope that in this motion we elevate the debate for what is expected of us and what is expected of fairness.
These are funds that will dispense billions of dollars, and because the buzz words over the past year have been “let us get this money out the door” and “shovel-ready” as it where, we really have to be careful. The expediency by which these programs are approved is becoming much greater. Mistakes can be made. They may be innocent or they may be nefarious, but they are made.
What we need to do is to look at this and elevate the debate. I do believe that we can do that by saying that the very first step is to look at parliamentary secretaries. It may not be on paper. It may not be that official. It may not be sworn in, but essentially when people come to me, talk to me, and lobby me about issues of Canadian heritage, because I am on the committee, they do bring up the fact that they were talking to the parliamentary secretary. In their minds, by talking to that person, they feel that they are being heard directly by the ministry, so it is a frame of mind.
We have to put the rules in place so that the people who want to get around the system cannot and it should be much more difficult for them to do so. This is an important measure.
Lobbyists are required to submit monthly reports on their meetings. We have designated public office holders that include ministers and their staff, deputy ministers and associate deputy ministers. That gives us an idea of just who we are talking about as the gatekeepers. Lobbyists submit monthly reports on their meetings with office holders such as the minister, the staff, the deputy minister and the associate deputy ministers. But each and every time in this House, if the minister is away, the parliamentary secretary is the one to stand and answer, so there has to be a process by which that person is briefed through meetings with associate deputy ministers and deputy ministers. They are all part of this.
It is that communication which has to be above board and it is not entirely above board. The sheer spirit of the Lobbying Act is a strong one and one that is virtuous, but we have to include all the right people, and this is what this motion sets out to do. In the opinion of the House, the specific office holders should be accountable and should have their meetings recorded and reported so that everything is above board because again, we are talking about incredibly large amounts of money on projects and we do not want this activity to be going on.
For instance, according to the media, the current is in charge of the $1 billion green infrastructure fund. I do not know if he is in charge or not, but obviously there is an acknowledgement here that the parliamentary secretary has that responsibility to be a gatekeeper, to be a person who will meet with people. We know that the concerns of the parliamentary secretary will be brought back to the respective minister, assistant minister, associate deputy minister, deputy minister, whatever it may be, but these are the office holders who know full well what is going on in the department. They know the plans and priorities in advance, without the general public knowing, so certainly there is a process by which these people are involved in that. We are saying to just acknowledge the fact that they are involved and therefore make the system that much better.
Not many people are calling to know about this. They may not be calling the 's office. They may not be on his doorstep about it or on their doorstep about it, but the point is a sound one, which is responsibility.
The act requires that individuals register themselves as lobbyists when they engage in lobbying for compensation. This involves providing certain details about themselves, their business, and where applicable, the subject matter of what they are discussing and the name of any department or other governmental institution for any public office holder with whom the individual communicates or expects to communicate. This information is public on the registry of lobbyists.
Therein lies the spirit of this, accountability and transparency, so that we know who is lobbying whom for a certain amount of interest and that there is no undue influence by one particular group simply because of who one knows.
That element of who one knows has become quite prevalent in our debates, because sometimes the public perception is that there are different rules for different people. Just because someone is a former MP does not mean he or she cannot follow the same rules by which accountability and transparency, which is the sheer spirit of this Lobbying Act, is done. I am not including just one former MP; I am talking about all of them.
The current situation is in such a state right now that there is some confusion as to registration and how it operates to its fullest extent. That is why motions and debates like this are so important, because we allow things like the Federal Accountability Act to be fleshed out and include the right people and now include somebody who was excluded in the beginning, but not because it is politically expedient. If it were politically expedient, then we would be making policy in a haphazard way.
Therefore, we include the hole by which people come to government but have to be accountable for that. That is what this motion does, because it includes an essential part of the communication chain, which is the parliamentary secretary.
These people are good at what they do. Why not? Whether past or present, they work hard at what they do and they know their files very well. I have had many exchanges with the and with parliamentary secretaries in Canadian heritage. I never once thought they did not know their files well.
We may have had differing opinions over ideology or direction. That is obvious, given where we sit in the House. However, one thing is for certain. They certainly knew, were briefed and informed, on what it was they were talking about. It would lead anybody in the gallery or at home watching television to believe that they know the department and the minister's office and are involved in that process. Therefore, they should be included in the measure of accountability that is available, even by what the current government put out there in the Federal Accountability Act. Hopefully, this debate will allow us to make these types of amendments or changes to the act to allow a more wholesome process of accountability.
Over the past little while, we have seen a lot of my colleague from , who is on the government operations committee. Speaking of someone who knows her file, she knows it well. However, in her deliberations some of this stuff is now being brought out, and it seems as if there is this back-door method to try to find out what is right. Why do we pursue this in such a circuitous way? Why do we go around the back just to get to the front door? It does not make sense. Why do we not just take this issue, debate it and make the right decisions up front?
The current is also a fan of accountability. He said on April 5, 2006:
We also intend to eliminate the insider lobbying culture that grew up under the previous regime by banning all former ministers, ministerial staffers and senior public officials from lobbying the federal government for five years; by requiring a full record of contacts between lobbyists and ministers or senior officials; and by putting real teeth in penalties in place to enforce the Lobbyists Registration Act.
These are valid points and I will repeat, “by requiring a full record of contacts between lobbyists and ministers or senior officials”. But therein lies the fact that “ministers or senior officials” means the department. One cannot just say the department; one has to define who.
Therefore, the spirit of what the current is saying is that the department has to be accountable. Who does one meet with in the department who knows the file? That has to include the parliamentary secretary. There is no choice.
We know by their actions that they are involved in the process of devising policy and being briefed on policy. Therefore, the spirit of what the is saying would be answered by including the very people who also serve as gatekeepers.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak. I will be sharing my time with the distinguished member for .
I rise today to reiterate our government's commitment to ensuring elected representatives put the interests of Canadians ahead of special interests. Like all Canadians, the government makes decisions every day. It makes decisions about the kinds of programs and services it offers and about policies affecting everything from entire industries to small businesses and individuals. Like individual Canadians, the government gathers available information and weighs options before making a final decision.
Lobbyists, whether they are paid or voluntary, provide information that contributes to the decision-making process. They bring facts and an in-depth understanding of issues to the table. They contribute to the knowledge required to make the best decisions for all Canadians. In a modern democracy like Canada, lobbying provides an opportunity for different views to be considered.
At the same time, we need to ensure that lobbying is carried out in an open and transparent manner. That is why our government made it a priority when we were elected to introduce the federal Accountability Act and to ensure it included measures to toughen up the lax Liberal rules around lobbying.
Since bringing in this sweeping legislation in 2006, there are now clear rules for lobbyists to report their interactions with the government.
One of the key aspects of the Lobbying Act is that lobbyists must file monthly reports on lobbying activities they initiate with ministers and senior officials. These rules have made lobbying more transparent and open than it has ever been in Canadian history.
Today, any Canadian can find out who is lobbying ministers and senior government officials and in what context. In fact, this information is available on the Internet.
In addition to delivering on our promise to clarify the responsibilities of lobbyists, we have drawn a line between proper and improper lobbying. One of the most important changes we made was to ban key people in powerful positions in the government from lobbying for a period of five years after they leave those positions. This measure has gone a long way in maintaining the trust of Canadians in their government.
The people who fall under this rule could unduly influence the government's choice of policies, programs and services that affect Canadians directly. That is why the five year ban applies to key decision makers, including ministers, ministers of state and their exempt staff. It also applies to senior public servants, such as deputy ministers, chief executives of departments and agencies, officials in departments and agencies at the rank of associate deputy minister, assistant deputy minister, as well as those occupying positions of a comparable rank.
The five year lobbying ban also applies to other top government jobs, such as the Chief of Defence Staff and the Comptroller General of Canada. Finally, it applies to people identified by the as having provided support and advice during the transition period from an election to a swearing in as prime minister. All these key decision-makers are referred to as designated public office holders in the new act.
The penalties under the Accountability Act are tough. If any designated public office holder breaks the five year ban, they can be subject to stiff fines of up to $50,000 or even jail time. These rules have given Canada one of the most robust lobbying regimes in the world. They have also given Canadians the reassurance that senior government decision-makers do not use their personal connections to get special favours from the government once they leave office.
In addition to improving rules and the five year ban, the Lobbying Act includes a number of other measures to assure Canadians that lobbying is done in an ethical and transparent way. For example, the act created a Commissioner of Lobbying, who is an independent agent of Parliament. The commissioner is responsible for maintaining the registry of lobbyists, which includes information about all registered lobbyists and their activities. The commissioner is also responsible for developing a lobbyist code of conduct and has the power to carry out investigations to ensure compliance with the act and the code
As well, the commissioner must now table a report each year in Parliament on the administration of the act and the code. This is such a significant improvement because, as members will recall, there were no tools to enforce a breach of lobbying rules before. The Lobbying Commissioner now has a budget, thanks to the government, of around $4.6 million to aggressively pursue anyone who breaches these rules and regulations.
That is a significant improvement over the loose rules under the previous government when this position was considered only as a registrar. Since day one, this government has put accountability and ethics at the centre of our agenda.
Canadians need to know that the Government of Canada holds the highest ethical standards and principles and provides programs that deliver value for money. Canadians told us clearly that they wanted a government that was more open and transparent, so we introduced the Federal Accountability Act to tighten up rules around lobbying. It is also why we are now looking at bringing in members of Parliament and senators under the Lobbying Act, including the offices of opposition leaders. If the members opposite are serious about providing real accountability to the Canadian people, they will have no problem supporting this measure.
Mr. Speaker, as a proud Canadian and a member of Parliament, I am pleased to defend the government's record on improving lobbying rules.
Over the course of 140 years, Canada has achieved remarkable success as a free, open and prosperous democracy. We are seen as one of the best countries in the world in which to live, a place with world-class cities and a place where people line up to come to. More recently, Canada is becoming known internationally as the jurisdiction that is leading the way on accountability.
Legitimate lobbying is one of the ways that the government remains responsive to the needs of Canadians and that is one of the reasons that this government acted to improve the rules around lobbying in Canada. Most important is the fact that Canadians deserve to know that their government is conducting its affairs openly and transparently.
The truth is that lobbying is not always about the next fat government contract or big tax break. Many interest groups, such as non-governmental organizations and advocacy groups, have government relations staff or consultants who speak with the government on their behalf. These efforts help government develop policy that better reflects the values and interests of Canadians.
However, these same organizations are not just lobbying the government. Parliamentarians play a key role in the development of public policy. These same members, senators and their staff are constantly approached by lobbyists looking to ensure their client's views are taken into account.
We think this is legitimate but it is also an area where we have not yet tread in terms of rules. So the negative picture that some people have of lobbying probably is not what leaps to mind when one thinks about people promoting support programs for families or better health, food and product standards, but this is an important aspect of lobbying that is often forgotten.
In short, lobbying, when it is done ethically and transparently, is a legitimate and fundamental part of our democratic system. Individuals, organizations and businesses can and should be able to communicate their opinions and ideas to government decision-makers and parliamentarians.
Our challenge as legislators is to have clear rules to ensure that lobbying is done and is open for all to see. Ultimately, that is what this government believes in and what this government is achieving. That is why the Lobbying Act is so important and why the government took the time to consult with Canadians on its implementation. We also think that principle should apply equally to decision-makers on the government side and the parliamentary side.
Thanks to the actions of this government immediately after we were elected in 2006, Canadians now have the assurance that their government is handling its affairs transparently. Lobbyists now have clear reporting responsibilities for interacting with and advocating to government. In fact, one of the key aspects of the Lobbying Act is the requirement for lobbyists to file monthly reports on lobbying activities that they initiate with ministers and senior government officials. As a result, Canadians can find out who is lobbying ministers and senior officials and in what context.
In the quest for complete transparency in lobbying activities, this information continues to be published on the Internet. Canadians now have access through the Internet to information about lobbying activities. Canadians now know which lobbyists are communicating with ministers and senior government officials and what is being discussed.
The government has delivered on its promise to clarify the responsibilities of lobbyists and draw the line between appropriate and inappropriate lobbying. In fact, in introducing the Lobbying Act in 2006, we demonstrated to Canadians that they can have confidence in the management of the public sector, both in politicians and in senior officials.
It all goes back to accountability. This is the government that promised greater transparency and openness in government and we had to take action. We were elected in the wake of serious Liberal scandals. Canadians demanded to know that their government was being well managed, that it upholds the highest standards, values and principles, and that it provides programs that deliver value for money.
When this government came to power, our top priority was to implement this pledge to Canadians. We delivered. The Federal Accountability Act strengthened accountability in government, restored Canadians' trust in our public and democratic institutions and laid the foundation for the government we needed and will continue to want in the future.
As hon. members know, this act was one of the most comprehensive and complex pieces of legislation ever passed in this country. It made substantive changes to existing federal statutes and created two new ones. This legislation touched virtually every part of government and beyond.
The measure designed to strengthen ethics in government comes through a stronger and more transparent Lobbying Act. Because of these measures, Canadians can be assured that lobbying and government advocacy is done openly. This was just one of the steps we took through the Federal Accountability Act to meet the evolving needs of Canadians for efficient, effective and honest government.
I am proud of the actions this government has taken to ensure the relevancy and effectiveness of our system of government. The reforms contained in the Federal Accountability Act descended from the political reforms that brought responsible government to our country. Indeed, they are democracy at work.
Canada deserves a government that is accessible, open, transparent and accountable. That is what the Lobbying Act helps provide. This act is working well in helping to create the necessary balance between government that is relevant, as well as open and transparent, to Canadians.
As stated earlier by the , we think an important component is missing. Parliamentarians are a crucial link in the decision-making process. Members, senators and their staff are entrusted by Canadians to make decisions in their best interests. If opposition members want to really demonstrate a commitment to openness and transparency, they should have no problem supporting that.
Mr. Speaker, I will come back to the motion before the House. The motion moved by the member for tries to address a loophole that exists, which is parliamentary secretaries are not designated office holders and therefore not subject to the same rules with respect to the Lobbying Act as ministers.
In the previous government, parliamentary secretaries were sworn in as privy councillors so they would have met that definition, but they no longer are. This became a particular concern when we found out that the had designated his to oversee a $1 billion fund, to hold meetings on it and to do this work for the minister, all without having the same rules and regulations as the minister. It is a major loophole that allows a minister to designate a parliamentary secretary to do work under a shadow and under shade that a minister could never be afforded. This situation came to light with the happenings of the Jaffer affair.
It is important to note that the government's principal defence in this is ministers are not required or obliged to do disclosures. One thing it fails to mention, and it is addressed in the amendment that was introduced earlier today by the member for , is the fact that in 2006, during the election campaign, the Conservative Party said that this was essential, that there should be proactive disclosure of any meetings that took place with the ministers to the public.
It was part of the Conservatives' campaign platform, but was conveniently dropped when they introduced their act. They now actually use the defence that it is not an obligation for them to report these meetings proactively and that they have done the right thing, even though, by their own words, it is what they campaigned on in 2006. They should have done it and they were supposed to do it.
It is interesting to note that there are many instances, including for the , where there has been proactive disclosure of other meetings with lobbyists that have taken place. Therefore, it has become a selective practice. If they feel it is worth disclosing and it is not anything embarrassing, they disclose it. If it is something that might be embarrassing or a meeting they do not want people to know about, it appears they do not disclose it.
When the former caucus chair of the Conservative Party, who is the husband of a cabinet minister, walks into an office, sits down at a desk and starts lobbying for government cash, would the Conservatives not think a proactive disclosure would be in order? The Conservatives said in 2006 that it was imperative that ministers and parliamentary secretaries disclosed these meetings. If they are proactively disclosing these other meetings, then why on earth would individuals in question be sitting down, having meetings and not disclosing them? By their own definition, that should take place.
Therefore, the argument now, reaching the point of being farcical from the government's side, is it will not support this because it also wants opposition members to disclose with whom they meet. It was not that long ago when the governing party was in opposition, and it may not have to wait long before it is in that situation again. However, the government will recall that opposition parties do not have the power to fund programs or to deliver government services.
I have people who come and talk to me on all kinds of things. The best I can offer is that I will try to raise it with the government and ask that it take action, or raise it in committee. I certainly have no problem disclosing with whomever I meet, but the idea that the government would hold out on meeting its own election promise in 2006 because it wants opposition parties, which do not even have the power to give any money, to disclose who they meet with is just preposterous and shameful, quite frankly. It is an affront to what it ran on.
I sometimes wonder if the Conservative Party thinks the Federal Accountability Act was just the name of something it passed, that it was ticked off the list and it did not have to worry about it any more. It does not seem that it follows, either in word or spirit, much to do with that act.
If we take a look at the circumstances specific to this case, there is a real pattern of secrecy, a culture of deceit, that is permeating not only this issue, but across Parliament, that should give each of us great cause for concern.
If we draw a line back to the beginning of this whole sordid affair with the then minister of state for status of women and her outburst at the airport in Charlottetown, she berated the people who were working in that airport, allegedly threw her shoes, banging on doors, screaming at people, and doing something that, to be quite frank, if any other Canadian citizen did, they would be hauled away in handcuffs.
An hon. member: They would be prevented from flying.
Mr. Mark Holland: Somebody who undertakes this and under any other circumstance would be sent away in handcuffs and prevented from flying, we are supposed to just accept that she was sorry. Let us move on and there is no consequence. The protected the minister in this circumstance.
Then we have a situation where the husband of the cabinet minister is charged with cocaine possession and drunk driving. At that point, it would have been a good opportunity for the to say, “We had better do an enhanced security review of this minister to take a look at what kind of interactions have been taking place. If there is a potential that her husband has been coming in contact with illicit drugs, then there should be enhanced security screening of this minister”. It did not happen. The minister continued to be protected.
Then the former minister of state for status of women sent a series of letters written by her office, masquerading as constituents, writing her praises, talking about the great job she was doing. They were written by staff masquerading as constituents. That was not enough for the to remove her.
Then there were the allegations that exploded on the front pages of newspapers, starting first with the Toronto Star, about very unsavoury dealings with her husband trying to lobby the government as an unregistered lobbyist. Even when those allegations first broke, that was not enough. She was not removed at that stage.
Then we got to a point where the is visited in his office by a private investigator, who gives him information that is not disclosed to us and, suddenly, this is serious and credible evidence that is enough not only to remove her from cabinet but from caucus and to call in the RCMP, something that has not been done since 1987 under Brian Mulroney, when he had to call in the RCMP on a sitting member of cabinet.
What followed was a who hid the allegations, unlike following Mr. Mulroney's example where the allegations were disclosed, recognizing that the public had a right to know what is happening in the highest offices of the land. The Prime Minister shielded those allegations and said he referred them. What we find out is that no official referral took place with the Ethics Commissioner. In fact, the Ethics Commissioner said that she was reviewing media clippings, that was her access to information, and that she never received any formal request from the government.
We still do not know exactly what all the allegations are and all the information the has. We are still being kept in the dark. However, what did become clear in dribs and drabs, and we had to fight and scrape to get information, was that the former Conservative caucus chair was engaged in unregistered lobbying, had the opportunity to not only meet with parliamentary secretaries but with ministers through seven departments that we know of, and none of it was reported.
It is amazing to me, having been caught in this situation, that the government would not be leaping at the opportunity to support this motion, to say absolutely this should never happen again. That is what one would expect from a government that has been caught in this circumstance, but it has the audacity to go the other way, to say no, we do not need this, everything is just fine, do not worry.
Let us look at the seven departments that have admitted to having engagement with Mr. Jaffer and his unregistered lobbying. The principal department responsible for the green fund is the Ministry of Natural Resources. The minister who is currently responsible for that department and the immediate past minister have given us nothing but silence. We know absolutely nothing about their department's engagement with Mr. Jaffer or his business associates and the different schemes for government cash that he was pushing. We know nothing.
Not only did we have to wait to extract this information about the engagement with seven departments, but the principal departments, the ones most responsible for the fund, that were trying to be accessed by this unregistered lobbyist, we have no information. Parliament is still being left in the dark.
Requests for those ministers to come before committee have been completely ignored, so the ministers still are keeping us in the dark and Canadians are left without knowledge of what is going on. For the government, apparently this is what members call “doing the right thing”. My goodness, if this is their definition of doing the right thing, I would hate to see their definition of doing the wrong thing.
This issue pertains to the former Conservative caucus chair, husband of a cabinet minister engaging in unregistered lobbying, being given the run of seven departments, an access that no one else in this country could possible have dreamt of, by virtue of his Conservative connections.
Let us look at what other actions the government is taking that are really shutting down the ability of Parliament and independent officers of Parliament to look into the dark corners, to reveal the truth.
The actions the government is taking to shut down dissent and those who would speak against it in a method that in my opinion is a direct attack against our democracy.
Let us be clear, the ability to dissent, the ability to criticize a government, the ability for independent officers of Parliament to open up the doors and take a look at what is going on inside, and report that to the public is one of the most fundamental freedoms. I would submit it is a freedom from which all other freedoms flow. If we do not have that right there can be no democracy because we do not know the truth.
Just a couple of days ago on the government's crime agenda as an example, when the government kept telling us that one of its bills, Bill C-25, was going to cost $90 million. For months and months Conservatives said that was the cost of the bill, $90 million. I did not buy it, so I went to the Parliamentary Budget Officer and asked that he review it. The Parliamentary Budget Officer asked the government for basic information, information that should have been turned over in a day, information like projected prison population. He was denied that information. He was rebuked and told he could not have the most basic of information, completely shut out.
What did he have to do? He had to build statistical models using StatsCan data for six months using one-third of the resources of his office to get at information the government was hiding from him. Now days away from that report being released, the government says the $90 million is now $2 billion. In a 24-hour period it goes from telling the public something is going to cost $90 million, a line it has maintained all along, to when it knows it is about to be exposed turns around and says, “whoops we made a mistake, it's $2 billion”. That is one bill and that is the consequence of allowing a government to operate in secret and in the dark. That is the importance of a motion like this.
Let us continue down the list. The government began slowly in its means to control the message and bury information, first with its own MPs and its cabinet, making sure that if they did not speak off talking points that heads would roll. Members know that if they were on a panel and actually spoke their mind that they would be done. I could only imagine former members of the Reform Party, a movement started on the ability of members being able to speak their own mind, how they must feel to sit under a who has them under his thumb like that.
If that was not enough, then it went to the public service and to websites. Even the Canada Day event here on Parliament Hill, the stage was changed to blue, and it eradicated websites of any information that did not fit the talking points. Bureaucrats, whom I have had an opportunity to meet across this country, tell me that they are terrified of speaking their own mind because they are afraid of reprisals from a government that has shown nothing but vengeance for those who would dare speak against it.
When someone like Richard Colvin, a well-respected diplomat, comes forward and says that he has information about wrongdoings in Afghanistan, about torture and abuse in Afghanistan, the Conservatives attack him. They attack his credibility. Instead of calling a public inquiry to get at the facts and the truth, they attack his credibility just as they do--
Mr. Speaker, this goes right to the heart of this motion. If we do not have transparency or the ability to look into the dark corners of what is going on with the government, then there can be no democracy. This motion asks very simply for the ability to ensure that this loophole is closed, and that the Federal Accountability Act and the promises that the government made be honoured.
I am trying to establish a pattern of behaviour here that leads to the necessity for motions like this to open the doors to what is going on. It should not have to happen. The member for should not have to bring forward a motion like this, but it is because of these actions that bury truth and shut down dissent that motions like this are necessary.
We move on from attacking the public service and the independence of that public service to distorting committees. We all remember the handbook to mess up parliamentary committees. If that was not enough, after it tried to play games and shut down parliamentary committees, it moved right to shutting down Parliament not once but twice in a one-year period. It was not to refresh an agenda but to shut down debate, in this instance the Afghan detainee issue.
The Information Commissioner has come forward and said that there are unbelievable delays in people getting access to information. Departments are getting Fs. The Information Commissioner came forward and said that, in an unprecedented fashion, the government is shutting down access to information and shutting the doors on letting the public know what is going on.
As I mentioned earlier, the Parliamentary Budget Officer is getting his office budget cut and getting a refusal to get even basic information to allow Parliament to know the costs of the things that we are voting on. Then we have the attack on the independent officers of Parliament.
The nuclear safety regulator, who tried to come forward and raise concerns about the actions of the government and how they would impact both the nuclear industry and human health, was fired.
The head of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, a man who came forward, stood up against the government on issues ranging from oversight to use of tasers to the RCMP pension scandal and others, and criticized the government for not implementing the recommendations of Justice O'Connor, the conclusions of Justice Iacobucci and others, was fired. He was replaced with a wills and estates lawyer with no background in the field, somebody who has donated heavily to the Conservative Party, and somebody from whom I am wondering if we will ever hear anything again in terms of criticizing the government.
The National Science Adviser, who spoke out against the actions of the government, was fired.
The victims' ombudsman, who came forward and said that the policies of the government are unbalanced, will not work and are not right for victims, was fired.
We go down the list to the chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission, who criticized the government. He was fired.
If we dare speak out against the government, if we dare have a dissenting opinion or want to know the truth, watch out. This is from a government that is in a minority position. Imagine the unrestrained vengeance that it would unleash if it was given the opportunity.
That brings me to the ruling of the Speaker just last week. It said that Parliament had a fundamental right to know, to have access to information, and to not have the kinds of loopholes that are used and frankly abused, and that are addressed in motions like this.
It is time that the government stop hiding, stop burying, stop being vengeful on those who criticize it, and actually live up to the words and promises it ran on in 2006. Accountability is not only a word, it is an action. It is time that the government started showing some.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
It is rather ironic that the Liberals are putting forward this motion today, in light of their poor record of transparency. The sponsorship scandal went on for more than six years before the Bloc Québécois blew the whistle and brought this scheme to light.
Whether the Liberals or the Conservatives are in opposition or in power, it makes no difference, and I will explain why. When the Conservatives are in opposition, they behave in a certain way, and when the Liberals are in power, they behave just like the Conservatives. Take the anti-scab law, for example. When the member for was in opposition, he said it was a good law, but when he became Minister of Labour, he said that it was not the interests of workers, but the interests of all Canadians that counted and that he was therefore changing his position. Once he was in power, his ideology changed.
The same is true of the program for older worker adjustment. When I ran in a byelection in my riding, the same member for came to tell my constituents that the program for older worker adjustment would be restored shortly. We are still waiting for this program.
I have a colleague who, during this session, introduced a bill in the House that would abolish the employment insurance waiting period. Even though most of the opposition members supported this bill, the government is refusing to grant the royal recommendation that would allow this change to be made.
The Liberals did the same thing when they were in power. When in opposition, the Conservatives supported employment insurance measures, but the Liberals did not grant the royal recommendation.
The Liberals and the Conservatives say one thing when they are in opposition and another when they are in power. For all these reasons, I am a bit surprised to see the Liberals move this motion.
That said, we will not oppose greater government transparency, because it is a good thing.
I talked about election promises. I would remind the House that in 2006 the Conservatives campaigned on the promise that their government would be much more transparent than previous governments. So far they have not kept their promise. We are still waiting for this transparency.
In fact, what the government is doing is worse than a lack of transparency. It often uses the Access to Information Act to justify its lack of transparency. However, if transparency is so important to them, I urge the government and the to appoint an information commissioner. As we know, the current commissioner was appointed on an interim basis in July 2009 and her term will expire in June of this year. No one yet knows or can tell us if the government plans to fill this position, which is so essential to our democracy, permanently as of June 2010. It does not cost the government a lot of money and would demonstrate its goodwill. That said, we are still waiting.
The Access to Information Act is over 25 years old. To put this in context, my colleague from was first elected to this House 25 years ago.
I was not even old enough to vote and my parliamentary assistant was not even born. This legislation has been around for a very long time. It is often said that one day in politics is an eternity, so imagine what 25 years means.
Twenty-five years is a quarter of a century. I must remind the government party of this. In 25 years, the government has had the time to reform the Access to Information Act. Also, 25 years ago, media such as the Internet, Twitter and Facebook did not exist. If for no other reason than to adapt to these new realities, the government should update this legislation.
I am not surprised that the government is dragging its feed regarding these announcements. One of the Conservatives' promises was to give all regions and rural areas high-speed Internet access. This measure was meant to bring our communities into the modern world. We are still waiting to hear from the government regarding these commitments, which are so vital to our communities. I am not surprised to see that the government is not making it a priority to ensure that Quebeckers and all Canadians have electronic access to information. It is also dragging its feet when it comes to offering these services to our communities.
Moreover, the current legislation does not include parliamentary secretaries on the list of public office holders, which is not good from an ethics point of view. Parliamentary secretaries often have to answer ministers' questions and fill in for them. Because they are delegated by ministers, the same code of ethics and responsibilities should apply to them.
The government answered many questions about lobbyist registration from my leader and the member for , our ethics critic. I am very worried by the government's assertion that Mr. Jaffer cannot be considered a lobbyist because he did not sign a contract with the government.
Does this mean that from now on, when budding lobbyists go hunting for contracts, they do not have to register as lobbyists until they actually bag a deal? Will this measure apply to every individual who wants to become a lobbyist? If so, then democracy will suffer. What the government is saying is that there is a double standard.
The ethics commissioner appeared before the committee and told us that she had received no documents from the 's Office. In response to numerous questions from my leader, the Prime Minister said that as soon as he found about the allegations, he forwarded the relevant documents and information to the ethics commissioner.
However, when the ethics commissioner appeared before the committee, she said that she had never received any such documents. I know that Canada Post—which the Conservatives are planning to cut too—can be slow at times. However, I also know that those documents left the Hill over a month ago. There is no reason why the ethics commissioner should not have received them yet.
By making such statements, the 's Office is once again trying to mislead us, and that is not right.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from for agreeing to share her time with me. I congratulate her for the excellent speech and the many examples she gave concerning the culture of secrecy that has taken over Parliament, especially since the arrival of the Conservatives in 2006. The sponsorship scandal unfortunately showed us that it is possible for a government in power to fall into the murky waters of the culture of secrecy and favouritism, as shown by the examples that have been given since the motion was moved.
The Bloc Québécois supports the motion moved by the member for , which reads as follows:
That, given the apparent loophole in the Lobbying Act which excludes Parliamentary Secretaries from the list of “designated public office holders”, the House calls on the government to take all necessary steps to immediately close this loophole and thus require Parliamentary Secretaries to comply fully with the Lobbying Act, in the same manner as Ministers are currently required to do.
It seems entirely logical to me. I have not been a member for many years but I am nevertheless surprised that this was not done before. Had I been told that parliamentary secretaries were on the same list as ministers I would not have been surprised.
We now realize that there are loopholes in the law. Parliamentary secretaries, who have a great deal more power than an ordinary government backbencher, are not subject to the law. That problem can be remedied by this motion, if the majority of Parliament supports it. I believe that will be the case.
However, given the comments I heard today, I do not believe that the Conservatives will vote in favour of this motion. It is completely inconceivable that the party in power, which presented itself in 2006 as the champion of transparency and proclaimed its desire to make ethics a priority, would vote against such a motion.
I said earlier that both the Liberals and the Conservatives, when in power, frequently promised to clean up politics in Ottawa. Neither one kept their promises.
Over the years, the Bloc Québécois has made considerable progress on the ethics and transparency front, in particular by putting an end to corporate funding of election campaigns. Quebec prohibited businesses from contributing to election campaigns in 1977, under the René Lévesque government. At the federal level, parties were able to receive donations up until very recently.
Here are other achievements of the Bloc Québécois: tighter control over lobbying activities and the appointment of returning officers on the basis of merit by an independent organization, Elections Canada. That seems obvious, but that was not the case before. The government directly appointed returning officers. That is no longer the case, and the Bloc Québécois played a big role in that.
Although foundations have not been abolished, we have succeeded in making them subject to review by the Auditor General. That is a step in the right direction. Our many questions also helped put an end to the Canadian unity fund, which dated back to the Mulroney era. This reserve, with close to $800 million, was kept secret and helped fund various propaganda activities.
The Bloc Québécois has always maintained that the problem in Ottawa is not the lack of rules—although some issues could be fixed individually by filling in some holes in the legislation—it is the lack of political will to respect the existing rules.
We are in favour of this motion. During the 2006 election campaign, the Conservatives made themselves out to be the knights of transparency and ethics. This was after the Gomery commission was created by the previous government. With all the scandals that came to light, it was easy for the Conservatives to present themselves to Canadians as a different and transparent government. They claimed they would put ethics and accountability first. They ran their campaign under that banner. I know, because I ran in that election. I was running for my second term.
The Conservatives have completely failed in passing themselves off as the white knights of transparency and ethics.
The fact is that the Conservatives have not honoured their commitments to the public and democracy. Instead of strengthening ethics in government and promoting transparency, they have strengthened the culture of secrecy and cronyism. Earlier, a Liberal member referred to the early days of this government. It was clear from the start that the media no longer had access to ministers when they came out of a caucus meeting. Ministers no longer held scrums, which was something totally new for the media covering federal politics on Parliament Hill, because they had always had access to ministers. When a minister ran from the media, he made the news.
The new government had just taken power, and secrecy was already the order of the day. All the examples mentioned in previous speeches and all the examples we have heard about and seen in the media are now out in the open and show that this government has no intention of making good on the election promises it made four or five years ago.
The Bloc Québécois calls on the Conservatives to keep their election promises on ethics and specifically on lobbying. There are other loopholes in the law, including one that allows individuals to lobby without being registered if they spend less than 20% of their time lobbying or if they are just gathering information. An NDP member raised the same point earlier and said that the Lobbying Act should be strengthened. While I do not want to take a stand on behalf of my Bloc Québécois colleagues who are leading our charge on this issue, I think that the NDP member is right. The law must be strengthened, not broadened so that anyone can do anything.
Lobbying politicians is a very delicate thing to do. It is not illegal, but it has to be done by the book. Special interest groups naturally want to tell the government that they have certain concerns and that they would like to see an issue handled in a certain way for the people they represent. There is nothing wrong with that, but the rules have to be very strict and everything has to be very well regulated so that things do not get out of control.
We were all a bit dismayed when the recent example of Rahim Jaffer hit us, once all the information was made public. No matter how much he denied it in committee, and no matter how we look at the situation, Mr. Jaffer was a lobbyist. He did not register, yet he still lobbied his former colleagues on numerous occasions. He received a warm welcome from staff and from the 's Office, no doubt. At least, that is what he has always claimed. He still had the Conservative Party logo on his website. I will not repeat everything that we already know, but, one thing is certain, this gentleman created quite a stir when certain information was made public.
There is also the matter of the Parliamentary Secretary to the , who is responsible—the parliamentary secretary, himself, not the minister—for a program with a budget of about $1 billion; not $1 million, but $1 billion. That is significant. He is an obvious target for lobbyists, which is why more stringent rules for this type of role are not only justified, but also necessary.
As I said, we would have expected parliamentary secretaries to have already been included. It is a stark and prime example of how important it is to apply strict rules to lobbying. The parliamentary secretary, who has significant responsibility, opened his door to Mr. Jaffer. He is not an ordinary backbencher.
That is why we must support this Liberal opposition day motion.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and speak today to our opposition day motion put forward by the member for . I congratulate her for bringing this motion forward.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I have had the opportunity to look at the Lobbying Act through my work on the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, and I look forward to a review of the act in the fall.
The omission of parliamentary secretaries from the list of designated public office holders is either a deliberately concocted loophole or a glaring omission that the government should be falling over itself to rectify.
I fully support the motion to call on the government to immediately close this loophole and require parliamentary secretaries to comply fully with the Lobbying Act in the same manner as ministers are currently required to do so.
I would think that the Conservative government would embrace the opportunity to fulfill its 2006 platform promise to require ministers and senior government officials, including parliamentary secretaries, to proactively record and report their contact with lobbyists.
The Lobbying Act's definition of a designated public office holder is extensive, including ministers, ministers of state and their staff, deputy heads and assistant deputy ministers, and those of comparable rank. It is a long list of people who have considerable influence on the decisions of the Conservative government.
It is a mystery as to why that list does not include parliamentary secretaries. There is no doubt that parliamentary secretaries have privileged access. They serve the ministers' role in question period, in meetings with stakeholders, in relations with the departments, and perhaps most importantly they have the ear of the ministers. They too have influence on the decisions made by the government. I would argue that influence is considerably greater than that of members of the House.
The Lobbying Act defines activities that when carried out for compensation are considered to be lobbying. Generally speaking, they include communicating with public office holders with respect to changing federal laws, regulations, policies or programs, obtaining a financial benefit such as a grant or contribution, and in certain cases obtaining a government contract or arranging a meeting between a public office holder and another person.
When a lobbyist meets with a ministers seeking support for a project, there are two fundamental requirements of that lobbyist, that he or she is a registered lobbyist and that he or she provides a monthly communication report.
Canadians have on-line access on the registry of lobbyists, to the lobbyist's name and business, as well as details of the subject the lobbyist is to discuss with the minister, and also the name of the department and/or other governmental institution in which any public office holder with whom the individual communicates or expects to communicate. Therefore, it is wide ranging.
Let us say the minister, for example, was detained and unavailable to meet with the lobbyist, so the parliamentary secretary is called upon to fill in, in that particular meeting. The same lobbyist sits down with the minister's parliamentary secretary and pitches the very same project and all the paperwork disappears.
Lobbyists need to be registered. Nothing more is asked of them through the Lobbying Act. The parliamentary secretary meets up with the minister later that day, gives him or her a briefing, an update on the proposal, and offers a full endorsement of the project.
What do Canadians know about this meeting that took place? Absolutely nothing.
There is no reason that these two meetings should be treated so differently by the Lobbying Act. If the government is truly committed to transparency, it needs to ensure that all lobbyists and decision-makers are obliged to follow the same rules.
The rules of the Lobbying Act were put in place to meet the goal of increasing accountability. Any lobbyist who communicates with a designated public office holder must file a monthly report, including all arranged communications, telephone calls, meetings or any other communications arranged in advance.
The report must disclose for each communication that took place in a given month, the date of the communication with the designated public office holder, the name and title of all designated public office holders who were the object of the communication, and the subject of the communication.
Simple, straightforward information that should be readily available to Canadians, especially when we are talking about access to taxpayers' dollars.
We know that each minister and parliamentary secretary have unique arrangements in terms of the level of authority and departmental access that is provided to the parliamentary secretary, and it varies from department to department. We acknowledge that. However, we cannot dispute the fact that the opportunity exists for a minister to delegate a significant amount of decision-making authority to the parliamentary secretary should the minister choose to do so.
The Lobbying Act, as it stands today, creates an environment where lobbyists can meet extensively with the Conservative government's key decision makers without anyone ever knowing it happened. It is troublesome that government members will stand here today and boast about the government's record on accountability and transparency while we only have to look at a newspaper over the last couple of months to see it has taken advantage of the loophole to get around the law as outlined in the Lobbying Act.