Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Wayne Easter Profile
2011-03-24 11:03
Yes. On a point of order, Mr. Chair, I'm surprised at the agenda, because we were in a debate on an important motion at the last meeting.
This is really worrisome, in terms of the committee's being able to complete motions that are on the table. We were in discussion, and I realize that the Conservative members were filibustering the motion—that is their right under parliamentary procedure—but to filibuster and then not have the motion on the agenda today so that we can either accept it or reject it goes against what committees are doing.
View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Wayne Easter Profile
2011-03-24 11:04
Yes, I know the agenda went out. But as happened in the previous meeting to last, we started a debate on a motion, and because of filibustering by Conservative members, the motion was never voted on. The same thing happened at the last meeting. To not now continue, to complete the motion, I think goes against our rights as a committee. There are several motions we should be dealing with.
Mr. Chair, I will say that you were very fair at the last meeting, as hard on us as you were on them, which is great to see. If any member on the committee decides to filibuster, whether from the opposition parties or the government side, then we can never complete a vote on motions.
I'm concerned about it. How are we going to complete the motions when they delay and then they aren't voted on? Could you answer that?
View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Wayne Easter Profile
2011-03-24 11:35
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I thank all three of you for your presentations.
I can't help noticing, Richard, that you've got a big book beside you. My Conservative colleagues across the way tend to carry big books with them, on orders of procedure, so I was just wondering if yours was the same.
A witness: No, mine is blank.
Hon. Wayne Easter: I just couldn't help noticing. That's the thought that went through my mind.
Thank you all for your presentations.
All of you talked about the importance of public research. I don't think there's any question that in terms of matching investment research, the private sector is looking at a return of about six years. So there does need to be an increase in public research in the country.
I am concerned, though—and I'm wondering if you may be concerned as well—that in the estimates the federal government cut back 38%, or $152 million, on science, innovation, and adoption. And that concerns me. Now, in the budget they did put a little bit back in. They put $50 million over two years back in, in an innovation fund, so that would leave us short about $127 million from where they were, for next year. Do any of you have concerns about that? Or were you aware that in the estimates the federal government cut back 38% on science, innovation, and adoption?
View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Wayne Easter Profile
2011-03-24 11:39
Does anybody else have any comments on the extreme cutbacks by the federal government?
View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Wayne Easter Profile
2011-03-24 11:40
Thanks.
On the Networks of Centres of Excellence, there was the agriculture research in the medium term with NSERC—quality foods and novel bioproducts. The funding has not been renewed in those areas as well.
I know it affects research at the University of Guelph and research at some of the institutions. Is there any direct impact from those cutbacks on the specific industries? Are you impacted in any way, as the grain growers, or the Canola Council, or the canola growers? Are they impacted in any way by those cuts through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada?
View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Wayne Easter Profile
2011-03-24 11:41
Okay. Thanks.
Talking to people, I have found that one of the areas that is a concern when we get into new products coming onto the market is that there's really no independent research. It could be biotechnology, and a lot of people really don't understand that biotechnology is not specifically GM, which is only a part of the system. There is company research and peer review of that company research. Has anybody ever given any thought to an independent research body that could protect the commercial patents, or the “commerciality”, for lack of a better word, of a company's investment when it puts a new product, whether it's GM or another product, on the market? It would do independent research and assure the public that it is absolutely independent and not based on company data. That could be set up, I think, either domestically or perhaps better internationally to review it all. Is there any such body out there? There isn't to my knowledge. Is there any desire to go that way? It would be expensive. I think it would give some confidence to the public.
View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Wayne Easter Profile
2011-03-24 12:37
They love it when you take ten away and give seven back.
View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Wayne Easter Profile
2011-03-24 12:44
We would certainly support the researchers doing that.
But I do want to correct the record. The member spoke of the opposition members coming to their senses. There'll be one reason this government goes down and that'll be its contempt for Parliament, and we've seen that at this committee by your not allowing a motion to come forward. We see it in the House every day. You don't see it in the numbers on the—
View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Wayne Easter Profile
2011-03-24 12:45
That'll be why it goes down, fellas, contempt for Parliament, contempt for democracy.
View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Wayne Easter Profile
2011-03-24 13:02
I want it on the record that we're not opposed to bringing the Wheat Board in. In fact we favour it.
View Shawn Murphy Profile
Lib. (PE)
I will now call the meeting to order.
I want to welcome everyone here.
This meeting, colleagues, is really the start of our study into the Lobbying Act. The statutory review of the legislative provisions of the Lobbying Act has been referred to us.
We have a number of witnesses scheduled. The first witness we want to hear from is the commissioner herself, Karen Shepherd. She's with us today. She's accompanied by René Leblanc, the deputy commissioner. Mr. Bruce Bergen, senior counsel, is also here.
View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Wayne Easter Profile
2011-03-23 15:31
Mr. Chair, I have a notice of motion that I want to table.
We seem to be getting a lot of feedback; it seems to be echoing. Randy Hoback is from the Prince Albert area, and sometimes he and I row a little bit.
I hope this is not going on the record. I suppose it is.
When he talks, there's a big echo; when I talk there's a little one, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, I want to table a notice of motion:
That the committee requests that the Prime Minister's Office, the Privy Council Office, Indian Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Natural Resources Canada, and Environment Canada, provide it with all correspondence, both electronic and written, from and to Bruce Carson from September 1, 2008, to March 18, 2011, and that this information be provided to the committee within three calendar days.
It's a notice of motion, Mr. Chair.
View Shawn Murphy Profile
Lib. (PE)
Okay. Thank you very much, Mr. Easter.
That would require the 48-hour statutory period. It has been distributed. You would be entitled to move that motion anytime after Friday.
Having received that notice, I'm now going to go back to the orders of the day.
The first item is that we're going to hear from Ms. Shepherd concerning the issue of proposed legislative changes to our Lobbying Act. The chair has a few opening comments after Ms. Shepherd, and then we'll go to questions.
Ms. Shepherd.
View Shawn Murphy Profile
Lib. (PE)
Thank you very much, Ms. Shepherd.
As Ms. Shepherd has indicated in her remarks, there are a lot of issues swirling around out there about the present lobbying legislation. It's the chair's opinion, and it's the chair's opinion only, that the act does cry out for substantial revision or substantial amendments.
This committee, members of the committee, and members of the public have made many complaints and overtures or interventions over the last number of years on the Lobbying Act. Some of the provisions Ms. Shepherd has alluded to, but there are others that this committee is going to have to look at very carefully when we do the study. I'll just list some of them, and this is not extensive or exclusive.
What constitutes lobbying? Is our definition satisfactory?
Is the five-year ban on all public office holders, MPs, and others reasonable and justifiable in today's society?
There have been discussions in some fora that designated public officers proactively record and disclose their contracts with lobbyists. Is this good public policy?
Ms. Shepherd has alluded to the 20% rule, or the significant part of duties. We see people go into positions of government relations but who do not have to record as lobbyists because in their own opinion they are not spending more than 20% lobbying federal public office holders. Is this good public policy? Of course Ms. Shepherd is recommending a substantial change to that.
Should the lobbying commissioner proactively oversee the employment and other activities of former public office holders? The lobbying industry, again as Ms. Shepherd has pointed out, has expressed many concerns about code rule 8. What exactly can they do to assist political parties and candidates for political office? Ms. Shepherd of course has indicated that the present rule is clear, although many in the lobbying industry indicate that it is not clear.
The whole issue of transparency has to be talked about, because we have a situation where there have been complaints filed years ago, and we're just not exactly sure where they stand in the queue.
One of the biggest problems I see is a substantial lack of enforcement of the Lobbying Act. The fact that in the past 22 years no one has ever been charged speaks volumes. It's my view that the present legislation is compromised by imposing a duty upon our peace officers and public prosecutors to enforce what I consider to be an administrative function. Of course over the last 22 years the peace officer community has not shown any appetite to get involved in any prosecution under this particular act.
The fact that the commissioner has no powers other than to report the matter to the House, does not have power to suspend or anything else, I think is a serious matter. And then of course if it is reported to the House, as it was in a couple of incidents, about a month ago, what exactly should or would the House do in that situation?
These are just a couple of my own examples of some of the issues this committee is going to have to deliberate on very carefully. I think it's an important role we are embarking upon. And as I said, we have our first and perhaps one of our more important witnesses, the commissioner herself.
Having said that, we're going to go to round one.
Seven minutes, Mr. Easter.
View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
View Wayne Easter Profile
2011-03-23 15:47
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and also thank you for the overview. I think you touched on a lot of the issues the committee actually has to deal with.
First a question on an ongoing investigation before I get into the Lobbying Act itself. I think you publicly confirmed, Ms. Shepherd, on several occasions that you are investigating Rahim Jaffer and Patrick Glémaud about possible violations to the Lobbying Act. That has been almost a year since this issue arose. Do you know when you might be delivering a report? Or what can you tell us about that ongoing investigation?
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