Interventions in Board of Internal Economy
 
 
 
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Okay. That's a big number. That's important. Thank you for that. I think that's very helpful.
Getting back to Mr. Holland's point about having in place not just the periodic reminders, but looking forward to how we will deal with the 74 cases of non-compliance we have, I think that's something the BOIE should be looking at.
Mr. Holland has talked about social media, and that becomes a lot more difficult. That would be, I think, a major shift in terms of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. I would certainly need to talk with folks to have a better understanding. Certainly for websites, it seems to me that it makes sense to have in place measures that ensure compliance, particularly if we have 74 cases in the last year—I would assume probably from all parties, and maybe independents too—of non-compliance out of the 449 checks.
View Candice Bergen Profile
CPC (MB)
Thank you. I just have two points.
I would agree with Mr. Holland in this case. I can sympathize with Mr. Angus thinking that if his EDA is paying for it, then it would be okay to do fundraising, and it would just be looking at him linking it to his House of Commons resources. Certainly anybody who has a website paid for by the House of Commons, I think we all know you cannot get donations or memberships off of our House of Commons website. If any of our members don't know that, I think our whips should be clearly reminding us that you can't take donations out of your office, you can't sell memberships out of our office, and you can't be collecting from your House of Commons website. I think whips and parties need to remind their members.
On the issue that Mr. Holland brought up.... It's interesting. I survey my riding and I've been an MP for almost 11 years. Any time I've asked my constituents where they get the majority of information and news, up until the last two years, it had always been TV or newspapers. It is now primarily online. It's like Facebook...all of that's become a new community.
If I'm at an event that I have organized—it's not a political event; it's maybe a coffee meeting with constituents and stakeholders—and if during the course of that meeting somebody says to me, “I really like what you're doing and I want to help you or maybe help in a campaign,” I wouldn't take that information now, but we obviously don't say, “Don't speak to me about that,” just like we couldn't on Facebook. We're at a very odd place where we have to figure it out. We have now a new gathering place, which is Facebook, Instagram, the social media. How do we realistically—using some common sense, because it isn't all linear—reconcile that so we're not using House of Commons resources to do political work and at the same time we're not shutting out people? This is now their community. They're not coming and meeting with us in our offices. They're speaking to us via social media.
I don't have the answer for it, but I don't think it's as black and white as.... I can have my EDA pay for my Facebook page, or any advertising—because I don't pay for the page—but then if they're looking at the work that I'm doing as an MP, how do we separate that? I'm just suggesting it isn't entirely black and white, but I'm not sure where we land, where it's responsible but also where we have some common sense in the decision.
View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2019-05-02 12:13
I'll try to cut the line. I agree that it's difficult. I think that members of Parliament who are going to have Facebook pages are going to have other sorts of digital presence, and that's fully appropriate, and it's obviously fully appropriate to be partisan as well, including fundraising and organizing of events, so I'm not suggesting that at all.
The line that I'm drawing, and I'll just be very explicit to make the point, is, let's say I took $5,000 of House resources, advertising, and paid for targeted Facebook ads to drive up the number of people who are following me on Facebook. Then I work with my EDA with those new people who have just been added as a result of the budget that I've taken from the House of Commons to drive up my numbers to promote a fundraiser in my riding. I'm then deriving a direct benefit from the utilization of House resources.
The line I would draw is to say that, if you use a Facebook page or a digital medium, and you drive traffic to it, so in other words, you buy that traffic or you promote it in a householder or a ten percenter, then you are converting that into a House asset. If you make the decision as an EDA to purchase the eyeballs using EDA dollars, it's different.
You're absolutely right, Candice, that in the course of our business.... Let's say I have a particular image—and this may be hard for members to believe—or I have a particularly eloquent speech in the House of Commons, and I post that online, and it drives a lot of traffic, and it drives a lot of people to like my page, which I then subsequently use to raise money. It's not a perfect line, but I think that we need some kind of line because—I don't do it—it would be a remarkably effective strategy for me to take all of my advertising money, spend it on Facebook, and then work in conjunction with my EDA to capitalize that for fundraising purposes and for electoral purposes.
Today, as I read the rules, there's really nothing stopping me from doing that. That should worry us a lot more than whether or not a householder is driving somebody to a website. Maybe I shouldn't even say this out loud, because it would be such an effective strategy, but the fact that this strategy exists on the table today could be capitalized with enormous effect. I'm not sure that we want to leave that out there, because I think that it's really not the intention of what the allocation we're given is for.
Let's face it. If the rules don't block something, somebody with more ambiguous morals who is industrious will fill that grey space in utilizing this. That's why I'm saying that this is an opportunity in the ambiguity of where we are today to cut clearer and more defined lines here before it becomes a larger problem, and there's a greater move towards this digital world than a smaller one. I think we all acknowledge that. That's why I think it's incredibly important for this body.
View Bardish Chagger Profile
Lib. (ON)
I want to echo some of the comments as to the rule we hear often that you can't do indirectly what you can't do directly. I think that's where the concern is being raised. Are we ensuring that there is some guidance available?
I put out ten percenters in my riding. I thought it would be important for me to share with everyone that I was hosting a blood drive so people could come and donate blood, which I thought was great, but the rules did not permit me to ask people to come and donate blood, because it was asking for donations. They were not political donations. It was for blood, for the good of the people of the country and for saving lives.
View Bardish Chagger Profile
Lib. (ON)
I think it's important that there are systems in place and perhaps have a mechanism where if there is a little bit of grey, to be able to vet. I think what we're seeing here is colleagues will put out these letters and then people are being challenged and the system and the rules are changing. Even though this MP has been around for a long time, social media is a new norm that we're trying to grasp and come to terms with.
How do we ensure there are some parameters and some guidance available so that members of Parliament can do their due diligence? That might be to ask, like we do with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, is it appropriate for me to write such a letter or not; is this appropriate for me to post or not. Perhaps there should be some system in place where there is a resource that you can ask to confirm, and rather than be reactionary, be proactive.
I think our world is going to become more and more social media-focused. Technology is going to lead to new realities. New tools are going to become available. How do we ensure that our rules are in the 21st century and we're mindful of where the country and world is going when it comes to communications?
We've just brought our calendars and householders into full colour. That took time. How can we make sure that this conversation is not just about this issue but as to the direction of where we're going so perhaps we can be ahead of the challenges we will be facing? I really do think we might want to check out if it's okay to donate blood or not and was that the intention of the rules or are the rules perhaps casting a net into greater areas than we intended. It might be worth checking that out.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
Tangentially, I think we did address some of those third party website donation restrictions with our communicating with constituents changes to the ten percenter program in the last meeting. I believe there was some relaxing of the rules, in terms of putting a Red Cross flood relief link on our products, etc.
Putting that aside, I think we have to be very careful here that this is a comprehensive review. This cannot be done in a haphazard manner. I think there are unintended consequences or complications that you might have. Does a public figure who runs for office, who has 100,000 Facebook followers when they come into office, lose all of that personal branding? Do they lose all the ability to communicate with those people because they're suddenly elected as a member of Parliament? Can they never use that for a partisan purpose?
I think as well there has been some clarification offered by Elections Canada on what counts against a spending limit or what is permissible to use when it comes to social media. We need to be in close consultation with Elections Canada to ensure that we are doing things that are compliant with their rulings or their predeterminations that they have now. If we get into it and we suddenly make declarations that certain products cannot be used.... Certainly at this point in the game, six months before an election, I think Mr. Holland would probably have a riot in his caucus. Similarly, everyone would be concerned.
We've operating under a certain set of assumptions, rules and understandings and to now say that we're going to change course or prohibit things that have previously been allowed, I think would be very difficult at the end of a Parliament. This might be something that should be looked at at the beginning of a new Parliament so everyone is clear that the rules are all laid out when they start this process.
As to this website in particular, I would agree that no further action needs to be taken other than making all members aware. Again, I think this is another one. I think Mr. Angus quite clearly in his reply indicates that he feels the intention behind this letter was again to damage him politically. Look, we can all find websites from our political opponents. I have one in front of me right now. I'm not going to name the individual who has a “Donate” button and a big picture of one of the more photogenic leaders in this place. The donate page comes up. I will give that to Mr. Holland after this meeting.
Again, we are approaching an election and I think these are clearly politically motivated interventions here. If Mr. Sheehan actually wanted taxpayers to be protected, he could have gone to Mr. Julian's whip and said, “This is an issue and I would like you to deal with it.” Instead, now that we're in public, this is designed to politically damage Mr. Angus. Again, if this is what we are to become, I think it will become a three-ring circus and not what we intended to be here.
We want to make sure the rules are followed for everyone, not that we're using this to now score political points. We have many committees at which this is a primary objective. I'm hoping that doesn't become the norm here.
View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2019-05-02 12:24
Thank you.
For the purposes of this discussion, dividing this into two parts makes a great deal of sense, further to Mr. Strahl's point.
I think we can say this matter is closed. The members advised this shouldn't be done, and that we send a reminder of the existing policy to members and encourage whips to have conversations with their caucus to ensure compliance, but it raises a very important issue, one which I think we have to draw a line on.
To make the last point on this, my view, just as Mr. Strahl said, is that it shouldn't come into force until a new Parliament, just to make it as clean as possible, but ideally, this body would deal with it before, if possible, so the new Parliament could start immediately with a fresh slate.
I'd make the following types of distinctions. I have about 30,000 followers on Facebook. If I decide to use my House of Commons budget and House of Commons resources to promote that Facebook page, it gets converted to a House of Commons resource. If that Facebook page is only ever paid for by my EDA, I can do whatever I want with it. I can fundraise on it. I can be politically active on it. I'm not suggesting that we have this full debate today, but I am saying that we have to have an understanding because, frankly—and I'll end on this point—the amount of traffic you're going to get from putting your website on a householder, the number of people you're going to get to donate is really not a big deal compared to using a medium like Facebook with your advertising dollars to drive traffic to it and to monetize that thereafter.
It's a completely different tactic and it would be highly effective. Right now it's the Wild West on that, and I don't think people have realized the extent to which that's the case. I agree changing the rules midstream...but I think that we need to have some rules for when this place comes back, because that digital world is moving at a very rapid pace, and right now this is a big hole.
View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
It seems to me that, among other things, we need to clarify whether you can promote your Facebook or Twitter page on your own designated website or in your printed material that's paid for by the House, if you use any of those in partisan ways.
I think that may not be clear to members right now. I think we need to make that very clear.
Mr. Julian.
View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
I think it's been a good discussion, and I think we have some consensus for the websites.
I'd like to follow up on comments that Mr. Strahl made. This was a complaint that came forward from another MP to Mr. Angus, but we have found out that 74 MPs haven't been compliant in the past year. If this body became a place where political parties just threw out complaints left and right, we would have 74 complaints for administration to investigate. That involves an incredible amount of time. I don't think any of us want to see the BOIE go down that road.
Coming back to the broader picture, about a quarter of the House of Commons hasn't been compliant in the past year. For their websites, how do we best make sure there is compliance? I think having a clear communication—and I agree with everyone about letting the whips know. Whips have a lot of influence and they can help with compliance. That's going to be very important, making sure there's a reminder to members, and then I think that having a graduated series of consequences makes sense for websites.
As far as social media is concerned, as I mentioned earlier, I think there are a lot of ramifications. I am certainly going to do some research at my end, and I think for today's purposes, we've had a good discussion on the website issue.
View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
It sounds to me, if I'm not mistaken, that when you look at the options presented in the conclusion today, members seem to be wanting to provide periodic reminders to members about the rules that apply. It says:
That the House Administration provide periodic reminders to Members regarding the Members By-law and policy requirements not to use House of Commons resources, whether directly or indirectly, for soliciting membership to a political party or for activities that are related to a meeting of an electoral district association;
In itself, is that satisfactory or not?
Mr. Strahl.
View Mark Strahl Profile
CPC (BC)
In terms of the question of Mr. Holland, I think both of his interventions have been addressing, whether directly or indirectly, that portion of this. I think that's what's in question here, so I don't know if we can come to a conclusion. I think we're all in agreement with the idea that we want to be reminded of our obligations, but if we want to get into what constitutes an indirect use of a House of Commons resource, I think you're opening up that Pandora's box that we've all identified here.
View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
If the House administration gives reminders of what the rule is, as it has presently been stated in the past, members would accept to be—
View Mark Holland Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Holland Profile
2019-05-02 12:30
Not to belabour the point, but I think it's an important one. Let me ask the question directly.
Let's say I decided to spend $5,000 today on targeted Facebook ads to increase the number of likes on my Facebook page. Does that, under the rules today, mean that the Facebook page is then effectively a product of the House and I would no longer be able to advertise political partisan events on it? I don't think there's a member in the House who knows that it's the rule today.
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