Evidence of meeting #22 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was lobbying.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Stéphanie Yates  Professor, Department of Social and Public Communication, Université du Québec à Montréal
  • John Chenier  Editor and Publisher, ARC Publications
  • Duff Conacher  Board Member, Chairperson, Government Ethics Coalition, Democracy Watch

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault Sherbrooke, QC

My next question is for Mr. Conacher.

I haven't yet heard you speak about meetings of a somewhat social nature or meetings that were not necessarily planned. For example, I'm thinking about the Albany Club, where Conservatives and ministers meet fairly often. They say that it's for social meetings and that they don't discuss matters as such.

The Albany Club is only one example, but don't you think that this type of meeting should be registered and much more documented?

12:05 p.m.

Board Member, Chairperson, Government Ethics Coalition, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Thank you. I'll answer in English. My French is rusty.

Yes, all communications that are decisions have to be disclosed. That's the rule that should be in place. It's very important. Again, if the promise had been kept in 2006.... The promise by the Conservatives was that ministers and senior public officials would be required to disclose their contacts with lobbyists—meaning all communications—and instead, only oral and pre-arranged communications are required to be disclosed. Not everyone who is at the meeting has to be disclosed. The commissioners talked about that, and others.

And yes, for any conversation, any type of communication that's about decisions, that has to be the rule; it has to be disclosed on the registry in the communication reports. Again, you're not going to stop it all. You're not going to stop the conversations on the back nine of the golf course—no one is ever going to be able to stop those—but make it illegal, at least, to not register and disclose those conversations.

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault Sherbrooke, QC

Thank you.

My next question is for Mr. Chenier.

It concerns the RCMP and its follow-up on the files that the commissioner submits to it. There was no follow-up in any of the cases. Do you think the commissioner should instead be given some authority of investigation and that the commissioner have those files in hand, rather than always entrusting them to the RCMP?

12:05 p.m.

Editor and Publisher, ARC Publications

John Chenier

Yes, on all counts. All the cases that have been referred to the RCMP in the past, including the first one we referred way back in 1992 or 1993, have been dropped for one reason or another, for one technicality or another. Either it was unpaid lobbying or it was beyond the terms. The first one was a six-month rule; it was beyond six months. Then it was beyond two years, which is why we have the ten-year rule now, that you can investigate and lay charges on breaches to the act. Many of these are not what you would call serious enough to the RCMP, at any rate, to warrant a lot of resources.

I concur with what Mr. Conacher said about being proactive. Actually going out and doing audits in terms of whether the activities and the registrations match, with more powers to investigate and have administrative penalties, I think would do wonders for the act.

12:05 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Jean Crowder

Thank you, Mr. Chenier.

Your time is up, Monsieur Dusseault.

Mr. Dreeshen, for five minutes.

February 9th, 2012 / 12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Red Deer, AB

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

I have a couple of points. First of all, there was a comment made by my colleague about Stockwell Day and the work he was doing. I suggest that when you have someone who is trying to show people how they should be following the rules so that they aren't being accused of being secret and unethical lobbyists.... I know he would understand what that situation is. When we just throw that out as an example of something that's bad, I think this is actually an example that would enhance the types of things that you are talking about. If there are changes that come, one would assume that this would also be part of what someone in his position would perhaps talk about.

The other part that I wanted to mention goes back to your comments about backbenchers and whether or not they are on committees. If they are, there should be a four- or five-year, or whatever, timeframe before they or their 20-year-old staffers who come with them to the committees.... I don't think people should be led to believe that it is an occasion that happens once in a while. All backbenchers are on at least one committee—most of us are on two committees—so you can recognize the gravity of what you are saying. It isn't just an occasional thing that backbenchers do.

I guess the other aspect is this. Madam Yates, you spoke about groups where contributions over a certain sum of money.... You felt it was important that that be emphasized, and that there could be updates in case there are dollars coming in from different groups and organizations. That's another issue that I wouldn't mind getting a little bit more information on.

Mr. Conacher had a comment first, if you want to start.

12:10 p.m.

Board Member, Chairperson, Government Ethics Coalition, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Sure.

When this committee looks at the Conflict of Interest Act, which I imagine will be on your agenda soon, because the five-year review deadline is coming up, you will have this issue. You will be looking at this rule that says that former public office holders covered by that act are never allowed to give advice to any client, ever, using information they learned on the job that is not accessible to the public.

That's the question to ask about what people like Stockwell Day are doing. Are they giving advice without using any of the information they learned while cabinet ministers that is not accessible to the public? What is being done to enforce that rule? The Ethics Commissioner is not doing any audits. And former public office holders don't even have to inform her when they leave office. She doesn't even know where they've gone and what they're doing, in many cases.

It's actually a Conflict of Interest Act rule. That's why I urge you to make changes not just to the Lobbying Act. Make relevant and related changes to the other laws. These two laws very much work together, and there are some conflicts between them now and lots of questions about enforcement, on both sides.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Red Deer, AB

Madame Yates.

12:10 p.m.

Professor, Department of Social and Public Communication, Université du Québec à Montréal

Prof. Stéphanie Yates

We're talking about the distrust and cynicism of the public toward politics. But if these groups had to disclose their sources of funding, there would be much more transparency. We've recently heard in the media about Friends of Science, which presented itself as a group that questions the role of human activity on climate change. The group is made up of scientists and researchers from the University of Calgary. Finally, it came out that the group was funded in part by a company in the energy sector, Talisman Energy.

I think this type of situation contributes to building the distrust of the public toward politics. We should simply add a field to the registry and require groups that engage in lobbying to reveal their major sources of funding so we can know which backer has an influence on their lobbying activities. It's a simple change that could help reduce the public's distrust.

12:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Jean Crowder

Mr. Dreeshen, you have 20 seconds.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Red Deer, AB

Thank you. I really don't have enough time to go back into a lot of this.

Mr. Conacher, you suggest the concept of transparency, and you look at suspicion. You have already indicated that because you choose not to register, you are suggesting that you feel there's something wrong. Are there other people in your organization, then, who are lobbying who you demand follow the rules? Is this simply something you do yourself?

12:10 p.m.

Board Member, Chairperson, Government Ethics Coalition, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

No. As I mentioned, I was the only staff person. I'm now a board member of Democracy Watch.

I have very publicly stated that since I was here three times, pointing out the loopholes, and the government refused each time, I was going to de-register, because I didn't have to be registered, and that until the loopholes were closed, I would not register again.

I have been before committee three more times, and every time the committee and the government have continued to ignore the loopholes and have allowed secret, unethical lobbying.

12:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Jean Crowder

Thank you, Mr. Conacher. Your time is well up.

Monsieur Morin pour cinq minutes.

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

It's clear, as Mr. Conacher said, that this act has far too many loopholes. The Conservative government is being lax when it comes to lobbying, which was also the case with the previous Liberal government.

My question is for Mrs. Yates.

You're quite familiar with the topic. For 2010-2011, only 5,129 lobbyists registered in the Registry of Lobbyists. Do you really think only 5,129 lobbyists are engaging in lobbying activities in Ottawa?

12:15 p.m.

Professor, Department of Social and Public Communication, Université du Québec à Montréal

Prof. Stéphanie Yates

This question refers back to the famous definition of what constitutes lobbying. If we consider that it's a communication activity, so contact between a lobbyist and a public office holder, 5,000 may seem an appropriate or logical number. But if we take into account all the preparation behind these activities, I think it's fair to say that the number of people hired by this industry is much higher than that. I think a broadened definition would allow us to take into account all those people whose work contributes to the single contact or the single communication.