Evidence of meeting #26 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 consider.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

11:10 a.m.

Assistant Secretary, Priorities and Planning, Treasury Board Secretariat

Roger Scott-Douglas

As officials supporting the president, we'd obviously be particularly interested in hearing the recommendations that come forward from the standing committee. Indeed, we would be providing advice and counsel to the president and the parliamentary secretary as the government formulates its position on responding to that. But we don't have anything to recommend in specific terms to the standing committee at this point.

11:10 a.m.

NDP

The Chair Jean Crowder

Mr. Del Mastro, you have the floor for seven minutes.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Thank you to the witnesses. Thank you to my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, for making the time to appear before committee today.

I would argue we've had a very good discussion on the Lobbying Act. We've heard from the lobbying commissioner and others who have come forward to talk about how, in very general terms, the Lobbying Act is working quite well and it is delivering a much greater level of transparency and accountability, which was the intent of the act.

We have heard a couple of recommendations that I'd like to bounce off you on which you might provide some direction or some advice to the committee.

My feeling is that wherever possible the rules should be as clear as they can possibly be so that people have a clear understanding of what is okay and what is not, what is expected of them and what is not. I think that is a goal of the Treasury Board as well.

Specifically, I wanted to ask—this might be a question for the officials—with respect to rule 8, which was a rule that was extended by the lobbying commissioner. It dealt with government or government relations representatives and the fact that they may or may not be able to participate in elections, may or may not be able to—essentially it is a conduct rule around things like elections signs and so forth. The problem with it is, and this is what I think they've indicated, they don't know what's okay and what is not until perhaps somebody comes forward and complains, or perhaps somebody comes forward and asks if what they did was—they can't get any advance notice.

They can't write to the lobbying commissioner to say they're thinking about putting an election sign for Scott Andrews on their lawn and is that okay. The lobbying commissioner will say she doesn't know. It might be. If somebody complains, they'll look into it. That doesn't make a lot of sense. In my view, we either need to codify what rule 8 means or we need to strike it, because there is no clarity in what it's trying to establish.

Can you provide me some background on that, what your impressions are in that regard?

11:15 a.m.

Assistant Secretary, Priorities and Planning, Treasury Board Secretariat

Roger Scott-Douglas

I will certainly do my best.

The principle by which you began, the principle of clarity and transparency about the rules, is terribly important. That is absolutely true. I know the commissioner feels that way also.

As you know, rule 8, as is possible for other rules within the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct, is the subject of a number of interpretations put out by the commissioner where efforts have been made to clarify exactly what that means. Anything that can be done while respecting the facts of the case, making sure that whatever is being said about what is appropriate or inappropriate, is done in the clearest possible terms. That would be the position, and I think the committee, in formulating recommendations to that effect, would wish to consider specifically how things could be clarified.

In so doing, any deviation from encouraging interpretations and encouraging positions taken by the commissioner to be distanced from the facts of any particular case might be something the committee would want to take particular care about, but I don't specifically at this point have a recommendation or a view on what specific changes need to be made to rule 8.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Thank you.

One of the things we can be very proud of as a government is the compliance rate we're seeing. The rules that were set in place through the Accountability Act have been followed, and they have been followed pretty meticulously. According to the lobbying commissioner, there have been very few incidents. The lobbying commissioner did indicate, in the case where there might be an infraction, there is very little she can do other than refer these matters to the RCMP.

Has Treasury Board or have any of the officials contemplated the idea of what the lobbying commissioner has discussed with respect to administrative monetary penalties? Would you have any recommendations in that regard?

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

Madam Chair, I'll be happy to take that question.

The Commissioner of Lobbying has recommended the introduction of a scheme of administrative monetary penalties. A number of witnesses, I understand, have come before the committee in this regard with various recommendations.

When the Lobbying Act came into force in 2008, the rules around lobbying were toughened. This included doubling the monetary penalties for breaches of the Lobbying Act and extending the timeframe for investigations. At the same time, the act requires the commissioner to table reports to Parliament about her investigations of breaches. These reports to Parliament represent a significant sanction, particularly in this type of industry where the reputation of somebody is very important.

With respect to additional enforcement tools, such as administrative monetary penalties, the committee may wish to consider issues regarding due process, which other witnesses have identified, specifically an appeal process, whether there is sufficient clarity about the requirements and obligations under the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct, and issues related to ministerial accountability over an area where an independent agent of Parliament is acting. This is a rather unusual situation where you have an independent agent of Parliament who is actually requesting the power to sanction or to levy fines on private individuals or private entities.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

So if the committee makes such a recommendation, you will take that into consideration at Treasury Board as far as the act is concerned?

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

The work the committee has been doing—I think you've had seven meetings, 14 hours worth of meetings—is very significant. This is the five-year review, and the purpose of this review is to make sure that the act is working and that it is clear to those people who are affected by the act what their obligations are under the act. So certainly the report of this committee is extremely important, and it will be taken very seriously when it's received by the Treasury Board president.

11:15 a.m.

NDP

The Chair Jean Crowder

Thanks very much, Mr. Del Mastro. Your time is up. Thank you, Mr. Saxton.

Mr. Andrews for seven minutes.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Avalon, NL

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I'm really not going to ask the parliamentary secretary any questions today. We're very disappointed that the minister wouldn't come before this committee and answer our questions today. It leads into a systemic problem in Parliament right now. We have ministers brushing off question period and avoiding committees. We have parliamentary secretaries come in and read out notes that they were given hours before their committee appearance.

I really only have one question for you, Mr. Parliamentary Secretary. Why didn't the minister want to come and appear before this committee today? What is he afraid of? What did he have to hide?

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

Chair, I can tell you that I do not have the reason. I can just tell you that I was asked to do it, and I was happy to accept, and that's why I'm here today.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Avalon, NL

I have no further questions for the witness today.

11:20 a.m.

NDP

The Chair Jean Crowder

Thank you, Mr. Andrews.

Mrs. Davidson for seven minutes.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thanks very much, Madam Chair, and thanks to our parliamentary secretary and to the officials for being here with us today.

As my colleague, Mr. Del Mastro, has stated, I also think that we've had a very fulsome review of this legislation. I think we've heard from some very excellent sources. We've heard from those who are involved in lobbying. We've heard from those who have perhaps had some concerns about the way the existing legislation is written. I think at the end of the day what we really need to do as a committee is make recommendations that are going to clarify and are going to make things more crystal clear for those who have to abide by this legislation.

One of the things that did come up during the consultation process was the confusion between the Conflict of Interest Act and the Lobbying Act. They definitely are two distinct pieces of legislation, but there's often confusion among those who have to abide by the acts. Could the officials—I expect it would probably be the officials—explain the purpose of each of these acts and why there are two separate pieces of legislation?

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

I can just begin by saying that there are two acts because they affect two different bodies of people. The Lobbying Act affects lobbyists, whereas the Conflict of Interest Act affects public office holders. However, there is an overlap, and the overlap exists in the post-employment rules. Under the Lobbying Act it's a five-year ban on lobbying, and under the Conflict of Interest Act it's two years for ministers and one year for non-ministers, other public office holders. So there definitely is a conflict.

I'm glad you brought this up because I think it is very important that the committee look at this very seriously and come up with a potential recommendation. The committee may consider, for example, putting the post-employment rules of the Lobbying Act under the Conflict of Interest Act when it refers to public office holders.

To expand on that, I'll ask Roger or Janice to add to that.