To pick up where we left off, I was speaking about the necessity of this committee's undertaking a study of the “Trudeau II Report”. To advance this and to have everyone on the same page, I'd like to describe the sequence of events, the timeline, that has led us to this point.
This comes out of statements by the in 2015 that with a Liberal government, we would have a government that was open and transparent by default. Instead, on the very day this story first broke in February 2019, the immediate response was that it was false. In subsequent months, we heard time and again that the Prime Minister did not pressure former attorney general Ms. Wilson-Raybould. We know that to be not true; we know that was not an honest statement.
The story, which you can say evolved, changed. It changed throughout the months that followed the revelations in February of last year. As it evolved, it went from being false to being....The cabinet shuffle was the result of Scott Brison's resigning. Then we heard it was Stephen Harper's fault, and then we heard it was about jobs.
The jobs refrain got locked-in, and we heard it over and over again. The only reason the undertook the sustained campaign of political pressure on Ms. Wilson-Raybould was in the name of re-election. It was because of the general election that was planned for October 2019.
Even after the Ethics Commissioner released his report finding the guilty of breaking ethics laws for the second time, the Liberals continued to block the investigation of the scandal at every turn.
With this new motion, I want all members of the committee, including Liberal members who share benches with their cabinet colleagues and all opposition members—my colleagues in the Conservative caucus, the Bloc Québécois, and the NDP—to have an opportunity to give Canadians closure on this issue.
We saw the report by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, and he has not reported back to this committee. That's essential. We also heard that the government had confidence and trust in officers of Parliament. Regrettably though, we know that full transparency wasn't granted during the investigation and that obstruction continued in that process.
I expect that my colleagues on both sides of the House would agree that we want to have a Parliament for Canadians where they know that the truth will come out. That should be a strong deterrent to bad judgment or bad behaviour.
One can appreciate the use of certain rules to protect strategy or issues of national security and public safety because these necessitate secrecy in government. For political reasons—and they can be partisan reasons—Canadians expect that when an investigation is undertaken by an independent officer of Parliament, the latter will be given unfettered access. If there's a reason to invoke secrecy requirements, they expect there to be an off ramp for that officer of Parliament to review the information, determine its relevance, and that its reportability to committee and to Canadians then be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Last year, on February 12, there was a letter sent from Andrew Scheer, Leader of the Opposition, to Prime Minister Trudeau, which said:
I call on you to immediately waive solicitor-client privilege in respect of any advice given to you or your staff in relation to the prosecution of SNC Lavalin. Additionally, I call on you to also waive any and all rights to confidentiality in respect of communications to or from yourself or any member of your staff, previous or current, in relation to the prosecution of SNC Lavalin.
It went on to say:
If you do not meet this obligation, Canadians can only conclude that there is something that you wish to keep hidden.
This letter is from the outset last February. While the position of the government has evolved, we have maintained the same position. We want transparency. We want openness. We want accountability from the government, and that's what Canadians expect.
This continued in the justice committee in 2019 when, in an emergency meeting of the committee—and at the time I was a member of the standing committee—opposition members were blocked by the Liberal members of the committee in their first attempts to shed light on this scandal. So from the outset on that committee, we saw government members quickly fall into line with the government. We, of course, persisted, because that's what we heard from Canadians loudly and clearly. From coast to coast to coast, we heard phone calls and saw letters pour into our offices—certainly they did into mine—from people who demanded more from this justice committee.
On February 20 of last year, there was an opposition day motion put forward by the third-place party, the NDP, seeking an inquiry. This motion calling for an inquiry—
The member for Timmins—James Bay wisely was the sponsor of an opposition day motion that called for an inquiry into this issue. Conservative MPs supported it. NDP members supported it. Even two Liberal MPs supported the motion. Until then, Canadians were told that the justice department's decision to not award SNC-Lavalin a deferred prosecution agreement came weeks after met with the .
Well, then we learned that this meeting occurred two weeks after the decision was made. We know that in that meeting the reminded that the final decision on SNC-Lavalin's deferred prosecution agreement was hers to make. The decision had already been made, Madam Chair. The Prime Minister's reminder to Ms. Wilson-Raybould was direct pressure to intervene in the prosecution.
We saw, on February 25 of last year, a Conservative opposition day motion to call on the to testify at committee. That motion read:
That, given the Prime Minister's comments of Wednesday, February 20, 2019, that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is the appropriate place for Canadians to get answers on the SNC-Lavalin affair, and given his alleged direct involvement in a sustained effort to influence SNC-Lavalin's criminal prosecution, the House order the Prime Minister to appear, testify and answer questions at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, under oath, for a televised two-hour meeting, before Friday, March 15, 2019.
The Liberals defeated the motion, reaffirming their commitment to a cover-up.
Let's fast-forward to March, Madam Chair, and having Ms. return to committee. She had said in her testimony that she had more to say, but we know that the waiver that was granted to her was not sufficient for her to give the totality of information that the committee was looking for. She said that she couldn't answer direct questions regarding meetings and interactions after she was fired. She acknowledged that they were relevant. Canadians heard the testimony and saw Ms. Wilson-Raybould testify. It was compelling, to say the least, but again, we were thwarted in our attempt to get the full information.
As I move through this timeline, I want to go back to that February letter from that just called, at the outset, for a transparent approach in responding to this. Almost certainly that would have limited political damage, which was what gripped the PMO for much of last year. It also would have given Canadians the confidence that they deserve in public institutions. That is what's so important.
On March 19, 2019, the justice committee held an in camera meeting. Following that meeting, we know that an attempt was made to shut the committee down on all further efforts to probe the scandal. The Liberal members of the committee stated that no witness was prevented from providing evidence on any relevant information during the period covered by the waiver, but again, we know that that was not the case. Not letting Ms. give her full testimony was the largest impediment at the time.
Further directing members of a committee to close down the investigation was, I guess you could say, adding insult to injury. On March 26, Liberal members of the committee blocked a push by opposition members to open a new probe, to invite the to testify. presented a motion to the committee, calling for it to study the allegations, asking the to waive further privilege and allow Ms. Wilson-Raybould and others to speak openly on the matter. The motion also asked that the former attorney general and her colleague, the former Treasury Board president, Ms. Philpott, appear before the committee and that the committee then present its findings to the House.
Now, fast forward to August 21. The Liberal members rejected a motion to have the Ethics Commissioner appear at the ethics committee. The motion by the opposition to have Commissioner Dion testify was defeated 5 to 4, with only one member breaking from the majority, and that was one of the members who voted with that first opposition day motion, MP .
An additional motion by the NDP to have the himself testify, along with the and his former chief of staff, Ben Chin, was also defeated.
We saw in September, Madam Chair, that attempts at an RCMP inquiry into potential obstruction of justice were hindered by the government. A waiver of confidentiality was not provided by the Clerk of the Privy Council, nor did the override the clerk, which would have allowed the RCMP access—necessary access when conducting an investigation—to both staff and materials. So close to the beginning of an election—so close—it was disappointing, though not surprising, to see the continuation of what at that point was a full-blown cover-up.
We had an election. In the election, the issue was raised more than one time, including by me. This issue appeared in the party platforms. It gave rise to material in the party platforms from members sitting at this table. We have many opposition members—121 in the official opposition alone—who ran on a commitment to look at this issue. The same is true for the NDP.
Canadians didn't approve of the conduct that took place. I don't believe that voters who elected Liberal members would simply discard the potential good work of their members and throw them out of office because of this issue, but there was an expectation. They did hold an expectation that with a minority government, with parties collaborating and working together with the official opposition—a strong official opposition receiving a record number of votes and committing to examine this issue—it would be examined.
Of course, it also stands to reason that the independent officer of Parliament who undertook the investigation and duly made his findings would have the opportunity to present those at committee. To come to committee with the motion that I have presented gives all members an opportunity to deal with what for some may be an uncomfortable situation but is necessary for us to deal with.
In presenting this new motion, there's a critical element to it, and that is that it's time bound, so this isn't going to be what we preoccupy.... I don't aspire to talk about this issue for four years, if that's the duration of this Parliament. I don't. I would like to deal with it and to move on.
Following the last meeting, I read comments made by my colleague Mr. Fergus that Canadians don't want us looking in the rear-view mirror, if that's a fair characterization of his comments. I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm wrong. To a point, I'm inclined to agree. However, we're not looking in the rear-view mirror. This issue is still present and it's front of mind for many Canadians. They genuinely want to have confidence in what we do here. We don't want the representatives of the 338 ridings that make up Canada to be referred to in a pejorative way. We don't want the term “parliamentarian” to be a pejorative term in Canada. We want Canadians to know that our conduct here is beyond reproach.
When we have an investigation that reveals and validates so much of what we heard during testimony at committee last spring but isn't able to drill all the way down and get all of the information, Canadians are left wondering. They're left wondering if the cries of cover-up were just partisan tomfoolery or, in fact, was there a sustained attempt, a coordinated effort, to cover up the obstruction of the rule of law in Canada? That should give Canadians great pause, and it has. I would be surprised to hear from colleagues that it's something that was raised with them in the last year. As I mentioned before, I certainly heard about it many times.
I think what we didn't hear following the commissioner's report is also worthy of mention. There was a recognition that the investigation had occurred and that there was a finding of guilt against the Prime Minister, but there was no apology. The refrain by the Prime Minister that he'd never apologize for standing up for jobs, I do know from my interactions with people in my constituency and many Canadians, is insufficient.
It's an aggravating factor and why I believe there is public desire and that it's in the public interest that we finally set a date to finish this thing. We need to hear from the commissioner on this thing, take a look at it and report on the subject. There would be a majority report, there would be a minority report, but then Canadians would know. Would that then inform this committee on good future work we can do that would serve us well under a government of any political stripe? The relevance and the importance of officers of Parliament is tied directly to their ability to do their job.
If we have a structure set up where they're unable to do their work because it might embarrass the government of the day, it's going to leave a majority of Canadians dissatisfied with the institutions they're paying for. We have the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, and we have the code that governs members. It's critically important that we have a robust code that acts to guide members and that we have the act.
When the act is strong and when we have a commissioner who has all of the tools in his or her tool box to ensure that it is being followed and to investigate complaints or allegations that it has not been followed, and there are also real consequences available when it is not followed, that is the expectation that we have. That's what I know my constituents expect if there is a Liberal government, a Conservative government, an NDP government or another. They expect they can have confidence, because it doesn't matter who has the keys to the PMO, because we will have someone who is going to be a check on the balance of power other than another political party, other than the official opposition or opposition parties. It's going to be the independent officers of Parliament.
Just as we would find it a very cynical move by a government to cut funding from the commissioner's budget because the government doesn't want a commissioner investigating it, the same can be said to be true when we uncover the fact that the rules in place provide neither adequate guidance nor adequate deterrence when they aren't followed. That's what we can gain from hearing from the commissioner on this specific issue.
This committee is not going to issue a finding of guilt. That was done already. What this does give us is an opportunity to hear from the commissioner. By the time I finish, will I have a need or opportunity to stretch out that hearing? No, in questioning the commissioner, I will get the amount of time allocated in the rules of this committee. We could then undertake the good work that only members can do to improve the tools available to the commissioner, tools that Canadians expect to be in place to keep us honest.
It's a unique opportunity that we have in front of us here today. We have the opportunity to dispel the cloud that hangs over us sometimes, that we can't break free from partisanship or the party whip. We have the opportunity to move forward with an agenda that satisfies the public interest, that satisfies a real need that's been created. I can't underscore enough the number of times we've heard from Canadians on this matter. In recent days, before the break, there was coverage of our proceedings, and I got a lot of feedback about that. I think that speaks volumes about the opportunity we have to cauterize this and restore Canadians' confidence in our public institutions. It's a rare opportunity that we have. I know that many facets of our parliamentary system are special and serve our country well. Truly, they are the envy of the world. Many countries don't have the type of democracy that we have. They don't have the checks and balances that we have. This committee is one of those checks and balances, with the commissioner. This gives us that opportunity.
When members consider how they're going to vote on the motion, I implore them to give due consideration to the opportunity that's presented. It's different from the first in that it's time-bound. That's an olive branch, if you will, that I'm suggesting to reassure members that we can address the issue and move on. But if we don't address it, and we don't have a proper review of the “Trudeau II Report”, that's where we leave that undone and where the lack of public confidence comes in. That's where people refer to “politician” as a pejorative term. We get lumped in with lawyer jokes or something like that. That shouldn't be the case. This is honourable work that members do in this place, and it's so important. There is a great tradition that comes with it.
Here we each have that opportunity today to deal with what Canadians have told us, and they told us that in ridings across this country, not only where they elected opposition members but also in ridings where Liberal members were elected as well. There were votes cast for the parties that put forward platform items specifically on this issue. It's so rare that that would happen, and I look forward to having many opportunities to find common ground to stomp on with my colleagues on all sides of the House. I think, on this issue, that it would show that spirit of collaboration that is referenced in committee documents. It would show that spirit of collaboration that, we heard from so many, would be taken to heart after the election.
I'm going to ask if there is a copy of the motion handy. While we dig that up, I'll remind everyone that we don't know how long we're going to be here for. I don't mean today. Today I imagine we'll be done at 5:30, but I don't know how long this Parliament is going to last.
I'd like to thank my colleague for bringing forward this officer of Parliament's report to this committee. That's our work, and we have to hear from them. I was very disturbed in the previous session that we did not hear from Mr. Dion on this. His report raises a number of troubling questions that require answering.
One thing that my colleague did not speak so much about is something that I'm really interested in, namely, Mr. Dion's saying that he was interfered with in doing his work. That's not acceptable. Nobody in the Prime Minister's Office can tell Mr. Dion that he can't investigate, because then we can't have credibility. If there's a political hot-button issue, we have to trust that the officers of Parliament have the tools to do their duty. If they're being denied that, it comes to us to address that. There are many outstanding issues on this file. This came at an enormous cost to the credibility of the Canadian government. We lost the head of the Privy Council, the Prime Minister's chief of staff and two of his most respected cabinet ministers. We were put on the watch-list internationally for international bribery and corruption. They felt that if we do not have standards for independent prosecution of corporate crime, what does it say about Canada?
I guess my concern is how many meetings we're talking about. My colleague has said that he's being very judicious in terms of the time, but it has taken about an hour or two to explain the basic principles. I'm not interested in an open-ended committee. I feel that there are a lot of unanswered questions, but some of them are just going to....
In the interests of what we do with our committee, I certainly see that Mathieu Bouchard from the Prime Minister's Office should come before us. Ben Chin should come before us. I don't know if it's fair to ask Ms. Wilson-Raybould in her position now, but those two witnesses should, and maybe Mr. Butts. I heard from Michael Wernick. He spoke the last time. I felt he didn't do...his position with much credibility, but definitely Mr. Chin and Mr. Bouchard, because they were key in setting up meetings that put the Prime Minister in a situation where the Prime Minister was found guilty of attempting to influence... in aid of the financial interests of another party. As public office holders—current public office holders—I think they are obliged to meet that high standard. Since they are still public office holders, I think they should come.
I would like to hear from my colleague on how many meetings. If we have Mr. Dion for one meeting and then we have these witnesses for the other, I think we could do it in two meetings. Then I think we would be able to present a report to Parliament that would close this chapter. We would be seen doing due diligence. I know it's hard for the government to have this issue dragged up again, but when a report of this magnitude comes before us, we have the obligation to hear the commissioner, to follow his recommendations, and to test him on how he undertook that investigation to make sure that he did due diligence. When I read it, I feel he has, but we should have the opportunity to look at this.
If my colleague has interest in a witness list, that would reassure me in terms of how many meetings he wants.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
It's an honour to be able to talk about this subject in particular because I think it strikes at the very core of who we are as parliamentarians—the very core of who we are in our country and as representatives in the Parliament of Canada. I'll talk a bit more at length about that, but I would like to just thank the clerk for her work to organize a committee room with television cameras. I had mentioned that I would bring it up whenever necessary, so I do want to thank the clerk and the folks who do the hard work to make sure that MPs can do their job and who help make this happen.
The fact that we're on television speaks to accountability and to Canadians' accessibility to their democratic institutions. Certainly the motion we have before us is entirely appropriate. In fact, it's absolutely necessary to deal with what has been a true shaking of the trust in Canada's democratic institutions.
Having run for the first time in this past year, I heard the concerns about this issue regarding the actions of the . I actually found it quite stunning that there were things like deferred prosecution agreements—DPAs—and the public prosecution service and cabinet confidence. These are terms that are not generally in the common discourse of Canadians, but they were in the past election and in the approximate eight months since this story broke in the The Globe and Mail at the end of January. These terms were not something that most Canadians generally cared about—and I can say this because I spoke to thousands of Canadians over the course of the campaign. It was not something that concerned them in their day-to-day business.
However, when our democratic institutions are put at risk, when the rule of law is questioned, when you have a prime minister who says that he is standing up for jobs, yet—certainly in my home province of Alberta—it seems like the very opposite is true, it's a very troubling trend. The conversations, whether they be the recordings that were released or the testimony, are quite striking.
I often joke that the viewership of Parliament must spike after new MPs are elected. My family has commented that they've never watched CPAC as much as they have in these past number of months. I know for a fact that on the day the former attorney general went before the justice committee, eyes across this country were glued to the television because the very hallmark of the independence of the Canadian judiciary, the rule of law and our democratic institutions that protect us from governments overreaching and from the ability of corporations or individuals to buy influence.... These are all things for which this committee has a unique responsibility.
We're going to be hearing from the lobbying commissioner later today. The fact that we are able to have a system that, by and large, makes sure that we are protected from interests that would attempt to persuade unduly and disrupt the functioning of our institutions is absolutely fundamental to who we are as Canadians.
I would encourage all members.... I'm a big fan of parliamentary democracy in general and the history of it. One of the things that makes our democratic institutions—and specifically Canada's Parliament—so powerful and unique is that the House of Commons is made up, at this point in time, of 338 independent constituencies that elect members. The qualifications of those members vary from coast to coast to coast, but ultimately the person who gets the most votes is given the confidence and the trust to enter this chamber. As I'm sure every member sitting around this table who has been on the ballot can attest, when you first walk into that chamber with the confidence of the people of your constituency, it is an incredibly humbling thing.
The fact that in our institution 338 MPs get to join together.... How does a government get formed? Well, you must have the confidence of the House. That's easy in a majority; one party makes up the majority of those seats. In a minority, it gets a little bit more complicated, but the principle remains. There are whipped votes and all of these other things, but when it comes down to it, each and every one of our 338 MPs stands for his or her constituency.
The reason why I emphasize this here today is the fact that some of these questions regarding the 's actions, and the actions of some of the most powerful political staff in the country, call into question the role of our institutions. It is absolutely fundamental that we are able to address this.
The fact that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner put together a report, did the work that's required on his end to attempt to answer these questions.... Then there is the mandate. Having read through the mandate and being appointed to this committee, we have to hold those officers responsible, to ensure that the tough questions are asked, whether we're in the opposition benches or in the government benches. As MPs, we all have the responsibility to ensure that the tough questions are asked.
The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner did his part. Now it's time for us, as members of Parliament, to do our part. It is clear.... The “Trudeau II Report”—and I have it here in front of me—reads almost a little bit too much like a novel. I know that my colleague used the word “cover-up”. Time and time again, there are just outstanding questions, whether they be related to cabinet confidence, the question around who benefited from the influence, or the fact that....
I'd like to read if I could from page 2—the second-to-last paragraph of the executive summary of the "Trudeau II Report". It states:
For these reasons, I found that Mr. Trudeau used his position of authority over Ms. Wilson-Raybould to seek to influence, both directly and indirectly, her decision on whether she should overrule the Director of Public Prosecutions' decision not to invite SNC-Lavalin to enter into negotiations towards a remediation agreement.
Then, in the conclusion of the executive summary, he says:
Therefore, I find that Mr. Trudeau contravened section 9 of the Act.
I think that as you continue to read through this, and out of respect for the committee and the important business that we have.... I know that I have questions for the lobbying commissioner, who is going to appear in about 10 minutes. Out of respect for the good work that this committee is doing, I do want to ensure that we have the opportunity to....
I'll conclude. Those who—and I'm sure there's nobody in this room—were at any of my campaign events know that I talked a lot about the principles of good governance. The reason why I do that, Madam Chair, is that there are certain things that transcend politics. There are distinctions between Liberal, NDP, Bloc and Conservative members. There are distinctions that make us...and I'm sure we all have reasons why we belong to certain political parties.
However, there are certain things that transcend politics. This, I would submit to all my colleagues around this table, is one of those things that transcend politics. The accusations, the evidence presented, the fact—again, to use the word that my honourable colleague used—that there's even a conversation around a cover-up, speak to the exact reason why this issue is not closed.
I believe that, in order to preserve the very institutions we all have the honour and privilege of being able to serve and protect, Canadians deserve their parliamentarians—for me, the good people of Battle River-Crowfoot, and for each of us, our respective constituency—asking these questions asked and having them answered by those involved.
Madam Chair, with that, I would bring my comments to a close, but I do implore each member around this table to consider how this motion moving forward or not—because we all have a choice to make, and there are consequences to those choices—impacts the very job that each of us was sent here to do.
I'll speak slowly so that anyone can understand what I'm saying, with the help of the interpreter, if necessary. A big thank-you to the interpreters, who are doing an extraordinary job.
I'm going to respect our guest's presentation, but I'd also like to talk about this topic for a very long time. I don't know if you listened carefully to my speech this morning. I spent 10 minutes discussing the motion that was tabled today. The Bloc Québécois is obviously in favour of this motion. We want to know what the situation really is, and we want to have the real facts. However, I wonder about our role as parliamentarians.
I'm talking to you now about how I feel. What I was talking about this morning was raising awareness. This committee has to look at ethics; it's about morals. What is morality? It's analyzing together what is right and what is wrong, communicating, dialoguing about it in order to move forward. These are terms that have been circulating for the last few weeks; I'm not making this up. Today, my conscience tells me that I was elected to spend money so that, all this time, we are trying to go begging for information. Basically, however, it is up to our committee, the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, to make proposals to correct the Access to Information Act.
What's going on? We're stalling for time. I have a bad feeling in my stomach, which tells me that what we're doing is partisanship. I agreed to sit on this committee because we were going to talk about ethics, human realities and privacy. Please respond to the fact that 30 million Canadians out of 37 million have had their identities stolen. There is an urgency: where is your willingness to act as parliamentarians?
One of the mandates of our committee is ethics, and I want us all to show respect. I've been very respectful, and I've listened to you, but I think that respect should be collective, and first and foremost, we should have respect for our fellow citizens, who are also taxpayers. I'd like to remind everyone that there are 37 million Canadians in Canada.
You heard my heartfelt appeal today. I am a new parliamentarian, and I have a lot to learn. However, I can't wait three years to name things. In closing, I repeat, we are members of a standing committee with a mandate to study access to information. There are motions and legislation, including the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, that have a major impact on our lives—all of us—but also on ethics.
Thank you for listening. You now know how I will vote and what I consider important.
Good afternoon, Madam Chair and committee members.
I am very pleased to be here today to meet many of you for the first time and to provide an overview of the federal lobbying regime, including my office's operations and activities.
The Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct recognize that lobbying is a legitimate activity, that lobbying should be transparent and that lobbyists should meet the highest ethical standards. The act and code are intended to foster public confidence in government decision-making.
As the Commissioner of Lobbying, I am accountable to Parliament, and my mandate includes three aspects.
First, I must establish and maintain a registry of lobbyists. As the main tool for enabling transparency of lobbying activities, the registry provides Canadians with information about who is communicating with public officials and about what subjects.
On any given day, there are about 6,000 active lobbyists registered. In the past year, they've provided details of more than 13,000 reportable communications.
A key strategic priority for the office has been to modernize the lobbyists registration system. As such, we consistently look for ways to improve the registry to make it more user- and mobile-friendly.
The second aspect of my mandate is to ensure compliance with the act and code. My office conducts verifications to ensure that registerable lobbying activities are properly reported and information provided by lobbyists is accurate and complete.
Allegations of non-compliance with the act and code are dealt with in two steps. First, a preliminary assessment is undertaken to evaluate the nature of the alleged contravention, to obtain initial information and to determine whether the subject matter falls within my jurisdiction. Following this assessment and when necessary to ensure compliance with either the act or code, an investigation is commenced.
When I complete an investigation under the code, I must table a report to Parliament. However, when I have reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has been committed, I must refer the matter to a peace officer, most often the RCMP. Offences under the Lobbying Act include failing to register; failing to file a monthly communication report; providing inaccurate information; and, lobbying while subject to the five-year prohibition.
In the current fiscal year, I have referred six investigation files to the RCMP, and as of today there are eight files with the RCMP. When such a referral is made, I must suspend my investigation until the matter has been dealt with. Once this has occurred, I can then complete the investigation and report to Parliament.
As of today, the office's ongoing compliance workload includes 14 preliminary assessments and 10 investigations.
Former designated public office holders are subject to a five-year probation on lobbying when they leave office. The act provides that I can grant an exemption from this prohibition based on a limited set of criteria.
Last fall, we launched an online tool to assist former designated public office holders who wish to make such a request.
Since the beginning of the current fiscal year, I have received 10 requests. Two exemptions have been granted thus far and three remain to be reviewed. Once granted, the exemptions are published on the office's website.
The last, but certainly not least, aspect of my mandate is to raise awareness of the act and code with lobbyists, public office holders and with any other stakeholders interested in lobbying.
This past year, we focused on updating our communication products and gave more than 50 presentations to stakeholders. This represents more than 600 individuals who now know more about the requirements of the act and code.
In addition, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and I offered teleconference sessions on post-employment obligations, gifts, and overall obligations for ministerial staff.
The office's website remains the main tool to reach lobbyists and the public. We have been updating and redesigning it to make information more readily accessible. A new website will be launched at the beginning of the next fiscal year.
All of this work and the effort required to fulfill government reporting obligations is being performed by a very small team of 28 employees. It is important to recognize the unwavering engagement, professionalism and resolve of the employees of the office who, more often than not, are asked to go well beyond what is required by their positions.
Creating and maintaining an exceptional workplace is a key priority, and it is important to me that the employees feel valued and understand the importance of their work. In the most recent Public Service Employee Survey, 100% of the employees in our office specified that their workplace prevents discrimination, treats them with respect and provides the equipment they need to do their jobs. Over 90% agreed that they have the support to balance their work and their personal lives, are proud of the work they do and would recommend the OCL as a great place to work.
In terms of financial resources, the office has a budget of $4.5 million that has effectively not changed since 2008. Personnel costs represent 70% of the expenditures, which is practically $3.4 million. The remaining $1.1 million is used to acquire program support and corporate services including HR, finance, IT and contracting.
Looking ahead, I have concerns about the current budget. Our fiscal reality is attempting to operate with a budget established more than 10 years ago. At that time $4.5 million may have been sufficient, but today it means there is practically no flexibility to reallocate financial resources, hire additional human resources or make necessary investments in an IT system with today's price tags.
The registry is a statutory requirement and is vital for transparency. Constant investments are required to ensure that the registry remains up to date with evolving IT and security standards and with the necessary enhancements to improve accessibility of the information.
I have recently taken steps to secure additional funding for the coming years by submitting a budget request to the government. Should we get this funding, we will hire additional employees with expertise in IT and information management to ensure the registry remains secure, reliable and easy to use.
Finally, I cannot conclude my remarks without mentioning that the Lobbying Act has been up for statutory review since 2017. I have developed a targeted number of recommendations to enhance the federal framework for lobbying. These recommendations are values-based, aimed at enhancing transparency, fairness, clarity and efficiency. Should the Lobbying Act be reviewed, I am ready to share a summary of my recommendations or a more comprehensive document detailing the rationale for each of them.
Madam Chair and committee members, thank you.
Thank you. I'm happy to answer any questions.
When I appeared on my nomination back in December 2017, I was asked to be prepared for a legislative review by the spring of 2018, so I've been working really hard for the last two years to come up with some recommendations. And experience helps, because the more I get along, the more I think of other things.
What I've done is gone through the recommendations that were made back in 2012 and what the committee had gone through and recommended. I decided to take a value-based approach. The values I've enunciated are transparency, efficiency, clarity and fairness. There are different things that can be recommended, and I've come up with 11 recommendations that would enhance those aspects. They can be put into two categories, some with respect to registration and some with respect to compliance.
With registration, the first one that everyone knows about, and I've said it in this committee before, is eliminating the “significant part of the duties” threshold. It's very difficult to apply, and it's difficult for organizations and corporations to know when they've met the 20% threshold. If you look at the different charges that have been laid, these have always been for consultant lobbyist or lobbying while prohibited. It is difficult for them to interpret and, therefore, very often they possibly over-report, or I investigate, and it's 13% or 15%. That is the difficult one.
What I highly recommend is that it be transparent and that it be registration by default with very clear criteria. If you fit in those exemptions, then you wouldn't need to register. Of course, we need to have a balanced approach as well.
Interestingly—and as you may or may not know—British Columbia has just adopted a number of new recommendations. They have gone the approach.... Their law will be in force on May 4. I don't know if they chose that date specifically for a reason. What they are doing is to have registration by default. If you have fewer than six employees and spend fewer than 50 hours a year at lobbying, then you do not need to register. My recommendation would be—and I don't know if you want to hear my recommendation, but I will keep going—fewer than six employees, likely about eight hours and three months.... I find that allowing a full year before having to register is too long. I would highly recommend that within three months, if you meet the threshold, you register. If you ask for more than $10,000, you should be registering.
That's one aspect. The other one is the monthly communication reports. Right now they have to be oral and arranged by anybody other than the public office holder. To me, who organizes the meeting should not matter to Canadians, and whether it's arranged in advance should not matter. Those one-hour conversations while you wait for your plane together should matter. To me, that's an important one. Whoever is in the room while the lobbying is occurring should be named. That's another example of a recommendation.