My name is Jim Patrick. I'm senior vice-president of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association and president of the Government Relations Institute of Canada this year.
Joining me is Scott Thurlow, president and CEO of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association and chair of GRIC's legislative affairs committee.
We're pleased to be here today to speak to the committee's review of the Conflict of Interest Act. It was exactly 13 months ago that we were here to speak to your review of the Lobbying Act.
GRIC was founded in 1994 by government relations professionals in response to the growth and maturing of the industry over the past several decades. GRIC fosters high standards of practice through professional development and adherence to a professional code of conduct.
We also speak on behalf of Canada's government relations community on matters pertaining to the relationship between the lobbying industry and government. Our membership includes consultant and in-house lobbyists from non-governmental organizations, universities, charities, national trade associations, crown corporations, and private companies, both domestic and multinational, extending across the breadth and depth of the Canadian economy.
The Lobbying Act, by and large, governs activities of lobbyists. The Conflict of Interest Act, by and large, governs activities of public office holders. Given that much of the day-to-day activities of lobbyists and public office holders involves interaction between the two groups, it should be expected that the two statutes would intersect and overlap in key areas.
This committee completed its five-year review of the Lobbying Act in 2012. It will soon examine legislative amendments to the Lobbying Act stemming from that study. This committee's 2013 study of the Conflict of Interest Act, therefore, gives you an excellent opportunity to ensure that the two statutes are as aligned as possible and that existing gaps and overlaps between them do not work against the objectives of either statute.
We have three principal recommendations.
Specifically, first, the standard for determining whether a lobbyist has placed a public office holder in a conflict of interest should be the same as the standard for determining whether a public office holder was placed in a conflict of interest by a lobbyist.
Second, the rules on what types of gifts a lobbyist can offer a public office holder should be the same as the rules on what types of gifts a public office holder can accept from a lobbyist.
Third, post-employment restrictions on public office holders should be streamlined. They should be administered and interpreted by a single authority—in our view, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
For these reasons, GRIC recommended to this committee last year that the Commissioner of Lobbying's standard for determining whether a lobbyist has placed a public office holder in a conflict of interest be consistent with Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner's standard for determining whether a public office holder has been placed in a conflict of interest by a lobbyist. The standard should be the same under both acts, whether the test is for “real”, “apparent” or “potential” conflicts of interest. No one should ever be found to have placed a public office holder in a conflict of interest that the public office holder was never in.
Our second recommendation pertains to what types of gifts a lobbyist can offer a public office holder. The Conflict of Interest Act defines “gift or other advantage” in subsection 2(1) as the following:
(a) an amount of money if there is no obligation to repay it; and
(b) a service or property, or the use of property or money that is provided without charge or at less than its commercial value.
The act further states that:
No public office holder or member of his or her family shall accept any gift or other advantage, including from a trust, that might reasonably be seen to have been given to influence the public office holder in the exercise of an official power, duty or function.
The act further requires disclosure of any gifts or gifts exceeding $200 from any one source in a 12-month period and gifts over $1,000 are to be forfeited to the crown.
As you know, in its guidelines on gifts, including invitations, fundraisers and business lunches, the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner has noted that it interprets the definition of gifts to include such things as money, loans, property, memberships, services, meals, invitations to events, and invitations to galas and fundraisers. The guideline document goes on to explain that “no specific rule exists as to which gifts can be accepted by public office holders. The value of a gift is NOT a criterion of acceptability; it is a threshold for the purpose of disclosure to the Office and the public.”
You're absolutely correct, in that Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying has held that fundraising activities for elected members are a personal benefit.
The office's interpretation of rule 8 of the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct is such that even a riding association is considered a personal benefit—almost your property—whereas we've heard, as you rightly state, from the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner that it's not personal interest. So if you are finding it confusing, I guarantee that everybody is.
We'll say what we said the last time we were here, that the rules need to be clear.
We don't have corporate and union fundraising in Canada. We have funds that are donated by individuals typically in small amounts. Those people, as much as you do, need to know that what they're doing is not going to prevent their chance of making a case to you in the future, that if they find themselves in another job that requires them to talk to government, they won't be prevented from doing so because seven years ago they attended a fundraiser.
If any area of the Lobbying Act is really to be clarified and defined, it should be the area around political fundraising, and this is the opportunity for this committee to do that.
First of all we think that increased transparency is always good and that an absolute prohibition isn't always necessary to achieve transparency. This committee recommended a complete ban on gifts to public office holders under the Lobbying Act, and the government seemed to agree in its response to your report.
Our primary concern is that this needs to be handled very carefully, because the definition of gifts, although there is something of a definition in the guideline documents that support the act, extends to charitable fundraisers and gala dinners. I suppose on that basis, you, as elected members, might find yourselves politically compromised by attending the Canadian Women in Communications dinner, for example. It's coming up. That's why I thought of that.
If there's going to be some level of prohibition on gifts that a lobbyist can offer a public office holder, then I think first of all that level should be the same as the level that triggers disclosure on your part. As much as we can synchronize the rules on what can be given, and what has to be disclosed or forfeited, those should be the same. Most importantly, it has to be at a level that you, as elected members, are comfortable with. I think that's the starting point for that discussion. We can give you a reaction, but I think the starting point has to be whether you, as elected members, are comfortable with a lunch. Is a lunch going to influence you unduly? Is a dinner going to influence you unduly? Is a snow globe? I've been in your office, and I've seen the box of snow globes. You still didn't agree with us on that issue, so I don't think the snow globe is where we need to draw the line.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, gentlemen, for being with us this afternoon.
I think you've heard from the questions that we're getting today—and I'm sure you've been following our study as we've been going through it—that the more we ask the more confusing it becomes. So I appreciate your candour and your suggestions.
One of the things I always find confusing are the definitions. I think when we look at the Lobbying Act and we look at the Conflict of Interest Act, we have definitions in two pieces of legislation that mean different things. Could you comment on that, and in particular on “public office holder”, “reporting public office holder”, and “designated public office holder”? We interchange those definitions back and forth. Could you comment on those and give us any suggestions about how we could coordinate those?
There's another term and I just don't know who can define it, and that is “influence unduly”. We talk about that a whole lot, but who's going to define it? What do you take that definition to mean?
Yes, we noted earlier recommendations from previous witnesses that you should be examining a sliding scale based on the actual job that somebody had and how long they had it, instead of a one-size-fits-all cooling-off period for everyone, or a series of one-size cooling-off periods for everyone. Right now, the same individual can be subject to a one-year, a two-year, and a five-year cooling-off period with respect to the department they worked for, departments they dealt with significantly, and the entire federal government in some combinations. That's a lot of cooling-off for the junior analyst from the bureau of weights and measures.
There are proposals on the table to apply the full cooling-off period to everyone. We think that has probably gone too far. There are proposals to reduce it for everyone. We think that's probably going too far in the other direction.
There is a lot of merit, I think, to tailoring the cooling-off period to how long someone has been in the job and what the nature of their job actually was. We think the appropriate vehicle to introduce that would be the Conflict of Interest Act.
We think the five-year cooling-off period in the Lobbying Act should be removed when you examine the amendments to the act that the government will bring forward to respond to last year's report. That five-year cooling-off period for designated public office holders should be removed and put into the Conflict of Interest Act, and the concept of a sliding scale should be carefully examined by the committee to see if it couldn't be better tailored to the specifics of somebody's employment rather than trying to capture everybody with one tool or oftentimes a multitude of different tools.
The other thing that I guess we'd mention that goes to the concept of a cooling-off period is the 20% rule. We mention that in our remarks, I believe. We're on record as saying that you should eliminate the 20% rule as it applies to corporate in-house lobbyists.
Right now, if I determine that I lobby 20% of the time, I can't work for a trade association, and I can't work for a consultant lobbying firm, but I can work for a publicly traded company as long as I self-determine that I only lobby 19% of the time. I think that is meant as a guideline. It has been treated as a loophole. Again, I know that I'm talking about the Lobbying Act here, but that will be one of your next projects. We can't recommend strongly enough that this loophole be closed.
I think yours will be very good.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Jim Patrick: I think what you want to eliminate is the opportunity for regulatory comparison shopping.
I had a young man come in my office one day looking to move out of government into the private sector. I said, “You worked for a minister within the last few years.”
He responded: “Yes, but I worked in the constituency office. So I asked the Conflict of Interest Commissioner if it's okay if I work somewhere like the CWTA, and it would be because I'd only be unable to go back to her department for a year.”
So I asked: “What did the lobbying commissioner say?”
He said: “Well, I haven't asked her because I got the answer I wanted from the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, and my father told me, 'Stop selling once you've made the sale'”.
A Voice: Oh, oh!
Mr. Jim Patrick: We weren't hiring at the time, so it was a moot point. But it made me uncomfortable that one person could go shopping for the answer he wanted from different officers of Parliament based on the same set of facts. We've seen other more publicized cases than that where designated public office holders—and there's no question that they were designated police office holders.... In the case I'm thinking of, the person worked for a party leader, but they weren't hired under a particular section of the Public Service Employment Act, but by Parliament. Therefore the cooling-off period didn't apply, whereas it may apply to other people in the office. I'm not suggesting it was the right interpretation or the wrong interpretation, but it shows that there is room for different interpretations.
The recommendation on the table from an earlier witness is a maximum five years. From there we're looking at somebody who was—and I'll make it up here—the Minister for Weights and Measures. Maybe you say that the minister had a very narrowly defined portfolio. Maybe that minister can't lobby the bureau of weights and measures for five years. That I think most people would agree with.
Now if you turn to the complete other end of the cabinet table, the department of something that has nothing to do with weights and measures, well, maybe there's room to say, “Okay, one year across everything”. However it's put together, it has to be consistent, and I think it needs to be clear, and it all needs to be done within the Conflict of Interest Act, not spread across two acts.
Thank you to our witnesses this afternoon.
I want to talk about administrative perspectives on the act, but before I do that, I have to go back to the value of gifts and some of your questions. I'm not clear, and I hope we don't lose my full time on that issue; I'm sure we could.
I don't collect snow globes, so I shoot those across to my colleague whenever I get one.
The question is regarding the size of gifts. I know that in your opinion of these gifts, when you start talking about things like fundraisers, galas, etc., in reducing the value to zero, we eliminate it altogether. Is that standard across both acts, from your perspective, and is that a fair and balanced approach to dealing with the issue?
I'll talk about the Lobbying Act first. This committee recommended a complete ban. We haven't seen that come in. The government seemed to endorse that in its response, and I guess we'll wait to see the legislative amendments when they come forward.
With respect to the Conflict of Interest Act, we noted the framework around gifts—there is the guidelines document and so forth—and there isn't an express prohibition. There's a requirement for disclosure and a requirement for forfeiture.
There have been recent cases that we have been made aware of where the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner has strongly suggested that a number of chiefs of staff to ministers, for example, not attend an event. There was the perception that a meal would be served and therefore it was a gift. It's probably not something you would put in the act, but it's part of the downstream process, part of the creation of guideline documents that would support the act. You're going to want to look at whether a meal is a gift. What if it's two courses, not three courses? You've all been to lots of gala fundraisers.
If you put those two acts together and in the course of that discussion you determine that we should stay away from these things because there could be the perception of undue influence—“It's a lobbyist inviting me and I don't want to be lobbied over dinner.” If you're comfortable with that being the standard, then we'll live by it. But I think you need to ask yourselves.... We've all been to those dinners, and it's a pretty poor lobbyist who pulls a deck out halfway through a dinner and says “Can I go through my top 10 issues with you?” We all go to those for the same reasons you do—to eat the excellent chicken and listen to the excellent speeches, and then try to get home by 10 o'clock.
By and large, the activities that would be most harmed by a complete ban on gifts would be those activities that are the most benign, the charitable fundraisers and the types of gala events that we all go to, to support a cause. This is the opportunity to put some clarity around that, because there is a chill around these dinners around town. I know some of our members are feeling it. There are a lot of questions, and it will be up to you to answer them.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank the guests for joining us today. Their answers and points of view are especially useful and thought-provoking.
As a parliamentarian, I feel that 90% of the people I meet are lobbyists. They are all asking for something. When I go to a seniors' residence, some of them want the mailbox moved closer to their door. Others want a sidewalk repaired. So certain definitions must be clarified, but our work basically consists in listening to claims and requests.
We know that some definitions are not the same in the Conflict of Interest Act and the Lobbying Act, even though they refer to similar matters. It is as though public administration had two separate systems, where it applied different rules to similar issues. The situation can become a bit schizophrenic.
It is clear that this creates confusion and that we need more consistency, but I would like you to give me some concrete examples of what you think is the impact of that confusion and different interpretations of a definition.
The first thing I would tell you is that the senior in your riding who wants the sidewalk fixed, unless he or she is being paid by all the other seniors, is not a lobbyist. This is a constituent. This is something that we have seen from other affiants or people who are testifying in front of this committee, talking about what they've described as “volunteer lobbying”.
I want to be really clear that in order to be subject to the Lobbying Act you have to be paid. It's not an act that's subject to the situation you describe in your opening remarks.
The example that Jim spoke to in his presentation, about someone who is shopping for a specific type of interpretation in advance of whatever he is seeking to accomplish, is a good example of the conflict that exists here.
From my perspective, right now the two laws are bifurcated from one another, in that you will be placed in a conflict of interest if X, Y, or Z happens, but a lobbyist will be deemed to put you in a conflict of interest when W, X, Y, and Z happen. That should not be the case; there should be the one integrated provision.
The other interesting issue under the Lobbying Act is the interpretation of what conflict of interest is. There have been some questions about what political activities can raise a conflict of interest. In your question, Mr. Angus, you asked specifically about political fundraising.
Political activity, which was the object of the problem with rule 8, actually strikes at the very core of our fundamental charter rights concerning participating in the electoral process and freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
I would be very wary of treading into those areas for fear of constitutional ramifications on both your constitutional rights as a member of Parliament and the freedom of speech that would apply to you, but also those of the volunteers and the people who support you in your home constituencies. If they are helping you, whether by putting signs on lawns or organizing a fundraiser, that's their political right; that is their section 3 right. To then prevent them ex post facto from exercising their section 6 right would be a problem.
I think the first place to start on this question is that approaching government and petitioning government is a right, not a privilege. I don't think any legislative measure or any bureaucratic decision within the public service should try to remove that right from people.
Trying to shape the lobbying activities to conform with a legislative and regulatory framework is the prerogative of Parliament and its officers, and we recommend to our members that they follow all of that regime.
Our recommendation to eliminate the 20% rule as it applies to corporate in-house lobbyists is not, I can tell you, a unanimous recommendation. Many of our members came to us saying, “Are you guys nuts? I have friends who work for this company who are not going to be able to keep their jobs”, or saying, “I'd like to hire so and so, who is in government and wants to get out, and now I can't.”
We made that recommendation because we maintain that the rules should be the same for everyone and should apply equally to everyone. If I'm coming out of a minister's office, I can't work at a trade association, I can't work for a consultant lobbying firm, but I can work for a corporation doing exactly the same work, as long as I determine that it's 19% of the time.
As you rightly point out, that's just a recipe for confusion. We understand that it was meant as a guideline, but it's been treated as a loophole. We wouldn't suggest that you reset the level to create another guideline that could then be treated as a different kind of loophole.
Thank you, Mr. Patrick and Mr. Thurlow, for coming today.
I want to get back to the point you made about the chill in the air, because I sense it as well.
As a member of Parliament, I get invited every weekend to a number of events, some of which I can go to and some of which I can't, just due to conflicts in scheduling or whatever the case may be. On any given evening, I might be invited out to support some local charity that is part of a larger organization. If I want to take my wife with me, it wouldn't be unheard of for me to spend $200 just on two tickets—every week, twice a week, every month.
So I could be spending upwards of $1,000 just for the privilege of attending a political...or not really a political event, but an event in my riding. I'm invited because I'm the MP.
We have certain things and privileges in our member's operating budget. I don't really want to get into that, but we cannot use our member's operating budget to pay for any advertising or anything like it that is going to a third party charity. So then, as an MP, you're on the hook for the entirety of the ticket if you choose to go.
If you're not given an opportunity to go to one of these events and accept a free invitation for you and your spouse to go and attend this event, a lot of these organizations wouldn't have the presence of their members of Parliament, because even though we're paid well, paying upwards of $600 or $800 or $1,000 a month just for the privilege of going out and having a dinner with your fellow constituents does beg some questions.
As a member of Parliament, if we're not out here to meet people, whether they are registered lobbyists or not, whether they are a person with an issue.... Virtually everybody comes to you with, to use a word from a long time ago, their “petitions”. They want to have access to their member of Parliament. They want to talk to their member of Parliament. They want to engage their member of Parliament. And every member of Parliament should rightfully want that in return.
What I sense now, with all of the ankle-biting, I'll call it, and nipping at the heels, for example, of various...whether it's allegations or chasing something down, trying to tarnish the reputation of somebody. We have access to information requests, and we have people's names bandied about quite loosely with allegations coming forward that they may or may not have done something, but the optics of a story can do all the damage that needs to be done.
From the perspective of a lobbyist, it's been very clear that the act of lobbying is quite necessary and quite productive in the use of constructive dialogue and building a government that responds to the needs of its people. Member organizations of your companies work, they have jobs, they raise families: they do the things they need to do in order to be successful. Not every lobbyist comes with simply the intention of furthering their own personal ambitions. They're there to further advance the development of industries that support the backbone of our country.
I want you to just help me explain to the commissioner, or to make recommendations here, about some of the effects of clamping down too much on certain types of what are considered to be, I would think, normal practices in engaging the political process, and putting a chill on those.
I'm actually quite concerned about that.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, good afternoon. I am pleased to be here today to discuss the legislative review of the Conflict of Interest Act. I am accompanied by Bruce Bergen, our Senior Counsel.
As the Commissioner of Lobbying, I am mandated with administering the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct.
The Lobbying Act outlines requirements for lobbyists who are communicating with government decision-makers and is intended to ensure transparency in lobbying activities. The Conflict of Interest Act applies to government decision-makers and establishes a framework for preventing conflicts of interest from arising. In this way, the two pieces of legislation are complementary.
Today, I would like to share with you my perspective on matters where the two statutes may deal with related topics, such as the definition of public office holders, the treatment of post-employment periods for public office holders, and the interpretation of conflict of interest.
The first point I would like to make is that the definition of “public office holder” is different in the two pieces of legislation.
In addition, each act provides for a subcategory of public office holders—reporting public office holder in the Conflict of Interest Act, and designated public office holder under the Lobbying Act—to which specific requirements apply.
Several public office holders are captured by both subcategories, including ministers, ministers of state, parliamentary secretaries and ministerial staff. The Governor in Council appointees are considered reporting public office holders under the Conflict of Interest Act, but, with the exception of deputy ministers and associate deputy ministers in government departments, are not designated public office holders under the Lobbying Act.
In addition, the Lobbying Act considers certain public servants—such as assistant deputy ministers—as designated public office holders, while the Conflict of Interest Act does not apply to them. All members of the House of Commons and senators have been identified as designated public office holders, but the Conflict of Interest Act does not apply to them unless they are ministers, ministers of state or parliamentary secretaries.
These differences regarding who is covered by each piece of legislation are a source of confusion for public office holders. This is especially true when it comes to determining which post-employment prohibitions one is subject to.
Under the Conflict of Interest Act, reporting public office holders are subject to a one- or two-year prohibition on certain activities, which may include lobbying activities. The Lobbying Act prohibits designated public office holders from working as lobbyists, except under certain circumstances, for a period of five years. This can be confusing for individuals who are subject to both acts.
It is essential to make it clear to former public office holders that there are two different post-employment regimes, so they do not find themselves in breach of one of them.
I have worked with Commissioner Dawson's office to avoid this confusion. For example, a reference to the post-employment prohibitions that apply to former designated public office holders in the Lobbying Act is now added to letters sent by Commissioner Dawson to former members of Parliament when they leave office. I believe this will help alleviate some of the confusion between the post-employment restrictions contained in each statute.
I understand that Commissioner Dawson is recommending that the definition of reporting public office holder exclude interns and summer students who are ministerial staff for terms of less than six months.
From what I understand, this would mean that interns and summer students would not be subject to the one-year post-employment period currently in place under the Conflict of Interest Act.
Some interns and students working as ministerial staff, if hired under the Public Service Employment Act, are subject to the five-year prohibition on lobbying activities contained in the Lobbying Act.
The Lobbying Act gives me the power to grant an exemption from the prohibition to former designated public office holders if it would not be contrary to the purposes of the act. I have taken a strict view of the act and I have granted nine exemptions out of the 21 applications from former designated public office holders that I have considered to date.
One of the grounds provided by the act for granting an exemption is that an individual was employed under a program of student employment. Three of the nine exemptions I granted since July 2008 were granted to individuals on the basis of their being employed through a student employment program. In my opinion, Parliament may wish to consider the application of the post-employment prohibitions in both the Lobbying Act and the Conflict of Interest Act to individuals employed under a program of student employment.
As I mentioned earlier, I am also responsible for administering the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct. The code has been in place since 1997. Its purpose is to ensure that lobbying activities are conducted at the highest ethical level. The code comprises three principles and eight rules. Rule eight of the code deals with improper influence and conflict of interest. This rule prohibits lobbyists from placing public office holders in a situation that would create a conflict of interest.
In a judgment issued in March 2009, the Federal Court of Appeal offered clear direction regarding how the question of conflict of interest should be interpreted. My interpretation of what constitutes a conflict of interest and the guidance that I have provided to lobbyists flow from this decision. For a lobbyist, rule eight of the code is about avoiding placing public office holders in a situation that creates either a real or an apparent conflict of interest.
A conflict of interest may arise when a lobbyist offers a gift or anything of value to a public office holder while lobbying this same public office holder or their organization. My experience in enforcing rule 8 of the code is that lobbyists generally seek to avoid placing public office holders in a real or apparent conflict of interest.
Commissioner Dawson recommends that the current threshold of $200 for requiring public declarations of gifts received be lowered to a value of $30. This recommendation will improve transparency in terms of the gifts public office holders are receiving from lobbyists. In my view, however, the monetary value of a gift is not the most important test of whether that gift is acceptable—particularly those gifts given by lobbyists to public office holders. The test for acceptability requires a consideration of whether the giving of a gift could reasonably be seen to influence public office holders' decisions to the detriment of the public interest.
In 2010, I tabled two reports on investigation in Parliament, on the lobbying activities of Michael McSweeney and Will Stewart, in which I found the lobbyists in breach of rule 8 for having placed a minister in an apparent conflict of interest. They did so by helping to organize and sell tickets for a fundraising event for the minister's electoral district association. These lobbyists were at the same time lobbying the minister. Although they were properly registered, I concluded that the actions of the lobbyists created a reasonable apprehension that the minister had been placed in what appeared to be a conflict of interest. In reviewing the same situation in relation to Michael McSweeney, Commissioner Dawson in her report under the Conflict of Interest Act concluded that Minister had not taken any action that created a conflict of interest. However, she noted in her report that she was concerned that should a situation arise where the minister had to make an official decision involving the lobbyist, she could be subject to allegations of preferential treatment because of his work on the fundraiser.
As mentioned in my reports on investigation, I believe that raising funds for the minister's riding association advanced the private interest of this minister by helping her get re-elected as a member of Parliament. In my opinion, private interest is not limited to financial interest or to an interest that generates a direct personal benefit. In my view, it is broader and includes such things as political advantage and family interests, if those interests could recently be considered to create a tension between the public office holder's public duty and his or her private interest.
In summary, I believe that the Conflict of Interest Act and the Lobbying Act are key to achieving greater ethical behaviour, with the ultimate objective of enhancing the trust of Canadians in government's decision-making.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my remarks. I would now be pleased to answer any questions you or the committee members may have.
Thank you, Madam Shepherd, for coming here and, as always, giving us a very clear and concise interpretation of your work. I'd like to put this review and our review of the Lobbying Act into context. We felt that rules needed to be tightened because of a widespread disgust about big money unduly influencing politicians. Rules were brought in and standards were set. Now sometimes we might chafe against some of those rules because they may seem a little arbitrary, but the reason those rules were put in place was to stop the backroom influence that was plaguing Ottawa.
In looking at your reports, I'm really impressed with their clarity. In fact, in the reports on Michael McSweeney and Will Stewart, you found that they were in breach of rule 8 by placing the minister in an apparent conflict of interest. It was because they were helping to organize and sell the tickets to a fundraiser. They were playing an active role. In your act, the issue is real and apparent and these seemed perhaps to have an equal weight, or at least there's a clear weight there.
In the review we're doing, we're not getting a clear sense from the commissioner whether she sees fundraising as a personal benefit or not. You've said that it clearly is. Do you think that if we had clarity in the language in both acts, that it should be real and apparent, it would help to alleviate any possible conflict of interpretation between your office and Ms. Dawson's?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and my thanks to Ms. Shepherd and Mr. Bergen for being here.
One of the reasons we are here today is that the government had the foresight to bring in a number of pieces of legislation to provide better accountability and transparency through the Conflict of Interest Act and the Lobbying Act and the subsequent codes that are there. Five years later, it is appropriate for us to be here reviewing this and getting expert testimony, not only from you and other commissioners but from other witnesses who are in the trenches day in and day out. They are asking for the same thing: they want to know what the specific rules are. They're not interested in breaching rules. They want to know what the clear rules are.
One of the things we have said is that lobbying and interaction with members of Parliament, cabinet ministers, and other public office holders is a proper part of the job we all do here. Whether it's the constituent who calls about a mailbox or whether it is a lobbyist for a major company that does a significant amount of business in my riding, for them to have interaction with me, as a member of Parliament, is a legitimate part of their job. It's also a legitimate part of my job to listen to what the issues are and to what they have to say.
One of the concerns I have is there seems to be a disconnect between the two pieces of legislation and between the two commissioners' offices. It's not because you folks aren't doing your jobs. You are interpreting your different acts the way they are, but it would be better for everyone if we had one set of clear rules, clear definitions.
What are some of the specific things that we could do to have your office and the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and the two pieces of legislation do a better job of speaking the same language to the same people? You've mentioned a few of the differences, whether we call it “designated public office holder” in one act or a “reporting public office holder” in another act. Do you have any specific recommendations on how we can get these two pieces of legislation to say the same thing, generally, to all the people to whom they apply?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, commissioner, for being here today.
I have a couple of things, and Scott had mentioned them before. First, there are the difficulties you have in trying to match the two codes. Many of us are taking a look at the conflict of interest commissioner's role as well as your own.
One of the things we heard in the last session from the folks from GRIC is that they had talked about such a situation. I'll go through part of it, and maybe you can then comment on it.
They stated that in February 2011 the Commissioner of Lobbying tabled a report in Parliament finding that a lobbyist had breached rule 8 of the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct and therefore placed a public office holder in a conflict of interest. This ruling pertained to actions that took place in 2004, five years before the current rules were put in place. They speak of that. Then they said that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner had already concluded, based on the exact same set of facts, that the actions and questions did not constitute a conflict of interest on the part of the public office holder.
Therein lies the dilemma. People are looking at these two different sets of rules and they are trying to determine how each one of you is looking at those facts, if, indeed, they were the same set of facts.
Could you enlighten us somewhat on that so we can get a picture of what they were trying to say from your perspective?