Evidence of meeting #35 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 office.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Karen Shepherd  Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying
  • René Leblanc  Deputy Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

11:20 a.m.

Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

Karen Shepherd

The short answer is yes. As I said during the legislative review, I think it is very important for me to have administrative monetary penalties so that I can have some continuum in putting the right penalty with the degree of breach that actually occurs.

Right now, what I can do and have done is that after the RCMP has decided not to proceed, I have looked at the case when it has come back to me and determined whether I had sufficient grounds to continue with a Lobbyists' Code of Conduct investigation. The evidence is the reports I've been tabling to Parliament.

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

It seems to me it would be more efficient to be able to continue on. The RCMP simply don't act, and we don't know why. The Conservatives wouldn't allow us to hear their testimony.

We heard from the other commissioners, particularly Elizabeth Denham from British Columbia. On the imposition of administrative monetary penalties, she said that lobbyists suddenly took their registration much more seriously and registrations increased significantly.

Do you believe that if you had the power to administer penalties to people who weren't complying it would put more pressure on your registration process?

11:20 a.m.

Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

Karen Shepherd

As far as increased registration, the system is such that we can handle it. Just in terms of tabling reports to Parliament, after I tabled the four reports on the five lobbyists, a number of calls came from individuals wanting to make sure they could comply with the legislation. So the system can handle increased registration, if that occurs.

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you.

Of course, in our review of the Lobbying Act we recognized that the vast majority of lobbyists are working within the rules and that some who may not be aware fully of the rules are not necessarily out to.... You could assist them.

But there are people for whom it would be in their interest. For example, there's Bruce Carson, who was pitching a project worth $250 million. So if you got 10%, that's $25 million, and the only penalty you would face was having to write an essay. It would be worth his while to fly beneath the radar.

I mention Mr. Carson because he was able to secure three meetings between the company he was representing and officials at Aboriginal Affairs, and it also appears that this company was given the inside track on funding dollars before any other company was made aware.

Given the fact that people like him will be flying under the radar because of the financial interest and the payoff, do you think there's a responsibility on designated public office holders like, for example, Minister John Duncan, to say which kind of meetings are being set up so we know that if, on the one hand, Conservative Party insiders are undermining the system, there's at least a way to catch these guys?

11:25 a.m.

Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

Karen Shepherd

One of the things I'm doing in my mandate on education is that when I'm talking to public office holders I do make them aware of what the requirements of the act are so that they can act accordingly.

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

It seems that the issue of education is really important. We have Mr. Paradis who didn't seem to know that he was way out of line in setting up meetings. We see the same with Mr. Duncan. He didn't seem to be aware. It seems that members of the Conservative cabinet don't really know what the rules are. Would it be helpful for them if they had to get some kind of remedial lessons on this?

11:25 a.m.

Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

Karen Shepherd

As part of my education mandate, I'm talking to all public office holders and designated public office holders.

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you.

A final question for you is on the issue of liability because you play a really important role, and if you take on a non-registered lobbyist or a registered lobbyist who breaks the rules and you wanted to bring in administrative monetary penalties, they could possibly sue you. That would be, to me, a bizarre cost to the government to have to defend. Do you believe that you should be immune from those kinds of counterattacks, so that you're not impeded in any way in your work?

11:25 a.m.

Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

Karen Shepherd

I've asked for the liability provisions as part of my recommendations, but all of my decisions, including I think having AMPs, would be judicially reviewable. So I would have to look at that.

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you very much.

11:25 a.m.

NDP

The Chair Pierre-Luc Dusseault

Mr. Angus, your time is up.

I will now give the floor to Mr. Del Mastro for seven minutes.

May 1st, 2012 / 11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Madam Commissioner, and Monsieur Leblanc for your appearance here today.

I'm encouraged by your presentation here this morning, Madam Commissioner. I think you described your operations as lean, efficient, and effective. I think this is something that we should strive for in government. You talked about how your focus this year will be on upgrading accessibility of information for Canadians. Could you expand a little bit on that? Are you seeing a lot of traffic from Canadians, for example, who are seeking to find out more about who in fact is talking to government, who government is talking to, opposition members, everyone here in this place? Are you seeing more requests, online requests, or traffic in that regard?

11:25 a.m.

Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

Karen Shepherd

Yes, there's a wealth of information on the registry in terms of who is lobbying federal public office holders and on what, especially now with the monthly communication reports. What we have found is that our focus this year is on putting out research that is easier to understand to get at the information that's being used. The media uses the registration quite a bit but we're also getting academics and other Canadians looking at the system and asking for downloads of sources.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Very good.

I've noticed, and perhaps other members have been receiving this as well, that I'm now receiving from your office a confirmation list. Essentially it's a list of individuals or groups that have indicated that they've met with me and you're seeking to confirm that it is, in fact, accurate, that those are the groups that have met with me in my office or had scheduled meetings with me.

Is this something that's relatively new? Is this newer? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember seeing them before the last 12 months or so.

11:25 a.m.

Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying

Karen Shepherd

When the act came into force in 2008, I was given the ability to verify communications and we've been doing roughly 5% a month. So what we try to do, when there are a few communication entries, is to verify with the designated public office holders once. I think you got quite an extensive list of meetings.

So we've been doing it for a while.