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

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

In that case, I withdraw my words.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

The Chair Jean Crowder

Monsieur Dusseault, I think any of that discussion was not on the public record.

Monsieur Morin.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

In that case, I withdraw my words. On this side, the NDP would really like to have RCMP representatives appear before the committee. My colleague's motion demonstrates that as well.

So, given that your mandate includes ensuring that government resources are managed properly, would it be a good idea to have RCMP officials come and explain themselves before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, yes or no?

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

As I mentioned, Madam Chair, the committee is the master of its own destiny. It's up to the committee to decide who it requests to come before it. I'm not here to discuss witness lists.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

In that case, I will move to another question.

There is some confusion about who is a public office holder. The definition has been broadened by your government to include all members of Parliament and employees of the Office of the Leader of the Opposition. Right now, no employees in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition are exempted.

Can you clarify exactly which employees of the Office of the Leader of the Opposition are designated public office holders and which are not? There is a certain amount of confusion right now regarding this matter and I would really like to hear your clarifications.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

On the definition of a public office holder, I'll allow my colleague to answer. That's a technical question

11:30 a.m.

Assistant Secretary, Priorities and Planning, Treasury Board Secretariat

Roger Scott-Douglas

Thank you very much.

We have to do that. Under the act, in two stages, the definition of a designated public officer-holder was made clear. In the initial amendments that came into force in 2006, there were about 11 specific categories of individuals who filled positions. I can very quickly run through those: the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, Chief of Maritime Staff, Chief of the Land Staff, Chief of the Air Staff, Chief Military Personnel, the Judge Advocate General, as well as any position of a senior advisor to the Privy Council to which the office holder is appointed by a Governor in Council appointment.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

I am sorry to interrupt you, but I would like to know exactly which employees of the Office of the Leader of the Opposition are considered to be designated public office holders.

11:30 a.m.

Assistant Secretary, Priorities and Planning, Treasury Board Secretariat

Roger Scott-Douglas

I'm sorry; in 2010 the act was amended, as you know, to include all members of Parliament, all members of the House of Commons, all members of the Senate, and any exempt staff who were in the offices of the leader of the opposition in the House of Commons or the leader of the opposition in the Senate—those who were appointed specifically pursuant to subsection 128(1) of the Public Service Employment Act.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

The Chair Jean Crowder

Thank you, Mr. Morin.

Mr. Butt, you have five minutes.

March 1st, 2012 / 11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Thank you very much to the parliamentary secretary and to the staff from Treasury Board for being here.

I have to say that as a new member of Parliament I found this study to be very enlightening, very helpful, mainly because (a) I'm a designated public office holder and I certainly need to know what the rules are, but (b) I think this has been a very good exercise by this committee to have a five-year review taking a look at this act.

There may have been some haste when the previous legislation was brought forward. We were dealing with some issues at the time, and I think Parliament wanted to make sure there were some rules, and quickly. I think now, five years later, this gives us a very good opportunity to take a look at what's working and what maybe needs to be changed a little bit.

Let me just ask you a couple of things. First, my colleague Monsieur Morin was talking a little bit about the definition of designated public office holder. Are you of the view that this is covering the right people, or enough of the right people? It is very broad. It does cover a whole scope of people. It treats, to some degree, me as a backbench member of Parliament no differently than a cabinet minister, or the Prime Minister, to some degree.

Is that still appropriate? Are we covering the right types of people in all of this? I realize that some of those who work in the bureaucracy, who are not elected officials, are also covered.

In your view, are we covering the right number of people? Do we need to be covering more, or should we be refocusing on who is within that definition of a DPOH?

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

Madam Chair, I'll take the first part of that question.

First of all, I agree that it is a very large net. A lot of different positions are covered. The overarching objective of the act is transparency, and in order to do that, in order for Canadians to know who is lobbying their members of Parliament, their senators, their government, I think it is important that we cast that net fairly wide. In order to achieve the transparency that the act sets out to achieve, it is important that all of the people you mentioned fall under the definition of designated public office holder.

However, it's up to the committee to make your recommendation. If you feel that it's not wide enough, or that it's too wide, then I would certainly encourage you to put that in your report. As my colleague said earlier, it is a balance between transparency and ensuring access to government. Sometimes it becomes too onerous, on the one hand, which then affects the other.

So it is a very fine balance, and I encourage the committee to make recommendations if you feel that balance could be better represented.

Roger, do you have anything to add to that?

11:35 a.m.

Assistant Secretary, Priorities and Planning, Treasury Board Secretariat

Roger Scott-Douglas

No, I think that's all.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Okay.

One of the things we've heard from some of the government relations firms and registered lobbyists who've been participating in this regime for the last five years or so is that when we're requiring lobbyists to report both oral and arranged meetings.... We've heard from some of the stakeholders that they've raised some concerns over the definition of “arranged”, that the term is somewhat ambiguous, or a little unclear.

Can you shed a little bit of light on what your view is of the interpretation of that term, “arranged”? Chance meetings—“I bumped into you in the hallway” kinds of meetings—happen all the time. We're all busy, and we're going to all kinds of meetings, and we're bumping into people all the time, both in our ridings and here on the Hill. Some of those people are registered lobbyists and some aren't.

Would it be helpful if there were some more clarity around what actually constitutes a proper arranged meeting, where there is a discussion of a matter of substance with a DPOH rather than these chance meetings? I assume that would be helpful if the act were strengthened, to some degree, in that regard to give clarity to both us as DPOHs and the registered lobbyists.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

I think it's very important that people who fall under the act understand their obligations under the act. If further clarity could be achieved, I would certainly encourage the committee to seek that. I think it's extremely important.

At the same time, I understand that the commissioner has asked for the word “arranged” to be removed so that it strictly becomes oral communications. My colleague mentioned that there may be some complications with that, for example, social meetings. I ask the committee to consider that it may also cause a chill. For example, you may not want to cross the street to say hello to your friend who happens to be a lobbyist, for obvious reasons.

I would encourage the committee to consider all these aspects when making their recommendations on this subject.

Roger, do you have anything further on this?