House of Commons Hansard #15 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was lobbyists.

Topics

Lobbyists Registration Act
Government Orders

10 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria on behalf of the Minister of Industry

moved: That Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Lobbyists Registration Act, be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

Lobbyists Registration Act
Government Orders

10 a.m.

Beauharnois—Salaberry
Québec

Liberal

Serge Marcil Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, the purpose of the motion moved in the House today is to allow parliamentarians to discuss important proposals in Bill C-15 as soon as possible.

In fact, Bill C-15 reflects the excellent work accomplished by the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology as part of its study of the Lobbyists Registration Act, and found in its 2001 report.

Earlier this week, the government followed through on a promise made by the Prime Minister to increase the confidence of Canadians in our public institutions. The government presented three supplementary elements of its eight point action plan on government ethics. The bill to amend the Lobbyists Registration Act is one of these elements.

The bill provides a clearer definition of lobbying; provisions to strengthen the enforcement of the Lobbyists Registration Act; simplified requirements for the registration and strengthened requirements for revoking registration through a single registration process for both corporations and non-profit organizations.

I will begin the debate by giving an outline of the current legislation. I will review what has happened since we followed up on the commitment that we made during our first mandate. Members will see that we have set up an effective and transparent system. Then, I will describe the bill, its impact on the lobbyists registration system in Canada, and its importance in the context of the eight point action plan.

Allow me to describe this system. The Lobbyists Registration Act is based on four major principles.

First, freedom of access to crown institutions is in the public interest.

Second, lobbying public office holders is a legitimate activity.

Third, it is advisable to give public office holders and the public the opportunity to know who is trying to influence crown institutions.

Fourth, a registration system for hired lobbyists should not impede freedom of access to crown institutions.

The act currently defines three categories of lobbyists. I want to point out that, in all cases, these are people who are paid to perform lobbying activities. They are not volunteers or people whose civic duties lead them to get involved in issues that are important to them.

The first type is the consultant lobbyist. These people are paid to lobby for their clients.

Then, there is the in-house lobbyist of a corporation. This is an employee of a business for whom lobbying for his employer is an important part of his duties.

Finally, there is the in-house lobbyist of an organization. This is an employee in a non-profit organization in which at least one employee performs lobbying activities. The total time spent on lobbying must be a significant part of the employee's duties.

In its current wording, the act specifically targets any attempts to influence the making, development or modification of legislative proposals, bills, resolutions, regulations and policies or programs of the Government of Canada. It also deals with attempts to influence the granting of subsidies, contributions or other federal financial benefits.

The act applies to lobbying as it relates to “public office holders” of the Government of Canada. These include my colleagues in the House of Commons, our staff, our colleagues in the Senate and their staff. They also include officials and employees of federal departments and agencies, and members of the Canadian Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

A lobbyists' code of conduct was developed in support of the act. This code sets out the standards of conduct lobbyists must follow in dealing with federal public office holders. In addition, the act specifies the nature of the information lobbyists must provide concerning clients, businesses or organizations whom they represent, as well as their activities.

This system is based on a government online model. I can say this because 98 out of 100 lobbyists register online.

Also, Canadians can consult the information posted on the lobbyists registration website. If they want to know who is lobbying which department or agency, and on which subject-matter, this information is available on the Internet. Such a system is a real success story.

While this system is successful, our government thought it was important to review it regularly. We made a commitment in this respect in the 1995 legislation, which resulted in a review in 2001.

The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology looked at operation of the Lobbyists Registration Act and at how it could be improved. The committee heard testimonies and reached an important conclusion: the system is working well and has made lobbying activities at the federal level transparent.

Indeed, many of the committee's recommendations call for no changes to key aspects of the current system, and it made others that the government found to be quite thoughtful and constructive.

Like any amending bill, Bill C-15 contains a number of changes designed to update the wording of the enactment, and others to correct minor inconsistencies between the French and English texts.

This bill does, however, propose three major changes. The first one concerns the definition of what makes activities subject to registration under the act. My hon. colleagues will remember that, a moment ago, I mentioned that the existing legislation targets a specific type of action, namely an attempt to influence a public office holder. But what exactly does “attempting to influence” mean?

It may be difficult to define this concept and to enforce the legislation in that respect on the basis of experience to date. The thinking has always been that some individuals might not register as lobbyists because they do not see their lobbying activities as attempts to influence someone.

The standing committee recommended that the registrar of lobbyists, the office of the ethics counsellor and the justice department hold more extensive consultations on this matter. This was done, and the bill is proposing a major change.

Generally speaking, we are proposing that any communications between a public office holder and an individual who contacts this public office holder as part of his or her job be considered as lobbying. This individual is then required to register as a lobbyist.

We will not have to worry about possible hairsplitting on whether something was or was not an intent to influence. If it is a communication by a person paid to lobby with a public office holder, it is lobbying.

In order to avoid being too broad in scope, the bill clearly indicates that simple requests concerning facts or requests for information, such as those that any citizen may reasonably submit to his member of Parliament or to a federal employee, will not require registration.

For example, it will not be necessary to register if we phone Environment Canada to find out what the weather will be.

We are also proposing to implement a related change recommended by the standing committee. Under the existing act, if a public office holder initiates contact, the contacted person does not need to register. The committee saw this situation as a possible loophole that goes against the transparency that we are seeking. The government agrees and would like to eliminate this loophole.

So, regardless of who initiates contact, registration is mandatory.

Ultimately, these changes will make it less confusing for those who must register. They will ensure that the compliance rate of those who work under this legislation, and we believe this rate is already high, will be even higher. These changes will further increase transparency.

The second series of important changes relates to the registration process. One of these changes deals with the various systems that currently exist for people who lobby as in-house lobbyists for a corporation or as in-house lobbyists for a non-profit organization.

In the case of a corporation, if an employee spends at least 20% of his time lobbying, then that employee must register. In the case of a non-profit organization, only the senior officer must register if the time spent lobbying by any of his employees amounts to 20% of the work done by a single employee.

Some of the witnesses who appeared before the standing committee did not want to see a change to the system for businesses. They seemed to be concerned that businesses would face administrative burdens.

But another study was conducted later on. It involved counsel working for large corporations. It showed support for a change toward a more consistent approach with respect to all in-house lobbyists. We suggest that Parliament take that approach.

Whether the organization is for profit or not, if employees spend collectively at least 20% of their time lobbying, then this organization is required to register.

As far as we are concerned, what matters is that the chief executive officer or another officer registers on behalf of the organization. Yes, the names of those normally engaged in lobbying would be specified, but the chief executive officer would the one signing the registration and the one answerable before the law for compliance with the Lobbyists Registration Act.

This kind of accountability will undoubtedly help increase the transparency of the system.

The second of this series of changes concerns the rules governing how often registration information is to be updated.

Here, we are proposing a new registration system, which is once again in keeping with the recommendations of the standing committee.

At present, the various categories of lobbyists are subject to different requirements and timeframes. If Parliament agrees, and I think it will, a single system will apply.

All lobbyists will be required to renew and update their registration at least every six months; otherwise, it will be cancelled. They will also have to update their registration more frequently if their clients or the purpose of their lobbying activities changes. But in this way, the information will be updated more regularly.

The third major change that I want to mention is a new requirement for the ethics counsellor and for the counsellor's staff.

Bill C-15 contains a proposal for a new provision in the Lobbyists Registration Act. If the ethics counsellor investigates a possible offence under the lobbyists' code of conduct, and discovers a possible offence under another act, the counsellor would be required to inform the police of it, so that they may take action.

In closing, the purpose of these amendments is to take a system that works well right now and make it work even better in the future. Indeed, when Canadians want to find out who is lobbying which department about what issue, they will be able to find this information on-line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Our government is proud of how it has handled this issue. We said that we would take steps to shed light on lobbying in Ottawa, and that is what we have done. And we have done so in a manner that respects the legitimate role that lobbying plays, as well as the public interest in this activity. We have now taken another step in this regard.

Bill C-15 will give Canada a lobbying registration system that is clearer, more transparent and more enforceable. It will be one of the most rigorous systems in the world. It will make up one of the key elements of the eight-point action plan, which, as the Prime Minister mentioned, will help win the trust of Canadians.

I hope that the committee will be able to study the bill as soon as possible.

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10:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address Bill C-15, an act to amend the Lobbyists Registration Act. First, I would like to go through exactly what this bill would do. Second, I will offer some specific comments and then address some general issues with the ethics package as a whole.

What will this do? First, it would remove the expression “attempt to influence” from the Lobbyists Registration Act to make clear that all communications covered by the legislation constitute lobbying and therefore require registration. That seems very reasonable to us.

Second, it would clarify that registration is not required for simple inquiries or administrative requests for information, again a reasonable amendment.

Third, it would clarify that lobbying occurs when a public office-holder initiates contact with anyone who could be lobbying the public office-holder, or his or her organization. This applies to all forms of communication and is in response to a recommendation by the standing committee report of June 2001, again a sensible amendment.

Fourth, it would require the ethics counsellor to notify the appropriate police authorities if, in the conducting of an investigation into an alleged breach of the lobbyists code of conduct, he or she has reasonable grounds to believe that a criminal offence has been committed.

Here are some specific comments. Obviously the bill is in response to the standing committee report of June 2001 and is primarily administrative. It would remove the exception for communications made in response to requests by public office-holders, which we support. It would also provide that communications that are restricted to requests for information are not subject to the act. The enactment would require lobbyists to file a return for every six months and opposes new registration obligations on in-house lobbyists for corporations.

We should point out that the bill would make a number of minor improvements to the Lobbyists Registration Act based on a parliamentary study conducted in 2001. It would improve the communications between the lobbyists registration branch and those who are registered. We would highlight at this point that the bill will go to committee before second reading, which is certainly a positive sign. However at this point section 7, subparagraph (1)(a)(v) does not refer to the wording of government contracts directly and we would like the committee to look at that.

I have three points I want to make that relate not only to this bill but to the entire ethics package. In particular the bill is not and should not be presented as a part of a new ethics package. The reality is that the committee studied this and produced a report in June 2001. The government response was by former industry minister Tobin in November 2001. At that time he stated very clearly that he would amend the Lobbyists Registration Act to deal with the committee's recommendations.

This bill deals with those promised amendments and the government is being a little disingenuous by saying that this is part of its new ethics package. The fact is since former minister Tobin was considering this, I hardly see how the government can present this as part of a new ethics package.

My second point is that the bill does not deal with the main criticism of the laws and regulations concerning lobbyists; that is, that there is not an effective mechanism in place to enforce the code. We heard over and over again at committee that while we had all these regulations saying that they must register, there was no effective enforcement or any consequences of not registering. Therefore what is the motivation to register other than a person's good will?

We have some concerns. This shows that the legislation was drafted before because of the way it refers to the ethics counsellor in this piece of legislation specifically. The ethics counsellor, Howard Wilson, enforces the lobbyists code which requires that lobbyists follow the registration act. There were obvious questions, even from government members of that committee, about the effectiveness of Mr. Wilson's ability to enforce this code because of his perceived lack on independence from the Prime Minister, as was stated by many witnesses and many members before the committee at that time.

Lobbyists Registration Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

An hon. member

That's nonsense.

Lobbyists Registration Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Edmonton Southwest, AB

In June 2001, the unanimous second recommendation of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology was that:

--the Act be amended to create a new office, which shall have the exclusive responsibility of investigating and reporting to Parliament on alleged violations of the Lobbyists Code of Conduct

The member says it is nonsense that the ethics counsellor is perceived as not being independent. Then why did government members agree to that unanimous recommendation as well? Why is that not acted on in this piece of legislation.

I know some government members will say that the creation of the new independent ethics commissioner will address that. That remains to be seen. I will keep an open mind on that. However when I read through the bill itself I got the impression that it was referring very much to the old ethics counsellor and was not taking into account the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister proposed somewhat of a more independent ethics commissioner. At least the Liberals should look at making the legislation compare with each other.

My second main point is that we have all these regulations forcing lobbyists to register. That is fine. We have no problem with that, but we need to ensure that there is an effective mechanism in place. Democracy Watch is one group that points to many examples in which that effective mechanism is not in place, and we need to have that.

The final issue I want to raise is the fact that the bill should really be a separate bill dealing with lobbyist registration. It should not be part of the ethics package because the bill simply does not address the ethical issues and problems raised by the situations of the former solicitor general, the former defence minister and the two past public works ministers. If government members believe that this legislation will deal with those ethical situations, I would like them to explain it, because when I go through the bill, those situations do not seem to be addressed at all. It is incumbent upon the current government to address those current ethical problems. Beyond that, the bill and the entire ethics package does not address what I see as a systemic problem with ethics and with the government.

In a society in which politicians will determine who will succeed in business and who will fail, to me corruption is inevitable and endemic. There is just no way to escape that. We have to snip the tie there between government and corporations.

As long as governments are involved in all major economic decisions and active players in the management of the economy, there will be tremendous pressures upon legitimate businesses to curry favour with key players in the government. That is simply a reality to ensure their success or their survival.

I would like to finish up with a quote from someone whom I think has written very astutely on the ethics problems of the government in a very responsible way, Andrew Coyne. In an article in National Post , he said:

--the whole system is one big conflict of interest--a political conflict of interest. It is not necessary to show that any specific act of government was made in exchange for any specific political contribution. It is enough that a reasonable person might suspect the two were linked

He went on to say:

Hence the case for a...model of reform...that does not seek merely to police the relationship between government and private interests, but to disentangle them altogether--to “snip the wires” of money and influence that lead between them, in both directions.

Therefore we are obviously supportive of the government's intent to move this to committee before second reading, because we look forward to proposing a lot of substantive amendments there. We appreciate some of the amendments made and some of the responses to the committee, but we do want Canadians to know that we very much see this as incomplete. We very much see the ethics package as a whole as incomplete. We do not want this seen as part of a new ethics package. We want this seen as what it is. It is a response to the committee report of June 2001.

Most of all we want to ensure that we deal with the ethical situations that have been presented to us in the last year and a half. However we also want to see, particularly with regard to this legislation, an effective mechanism to deal with the registration of lobbyists. It is fine to have all sorts of regulations stipulating that lobbyists must register but we need to ensure that there is an effective mechanism in place to ensure compliance with the system.

Lobbyists Registration Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-15 and I am telling the House at the outset that my party will support its referral to committee. I am sure that my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques will see to it that the bill is improved through the many amendments and suggestions that the Bloc Quebecois has already proposed at the drafting stage but that were not included in the bill.

We applaud some of the improvements presented earlier by the parliamentary secretary, but they are only minor changes. What can be said about these changes to the Lobbyists Registration Act is that lobbyists are powerful in curbing more substantial reforms with regard to the laws and regulations that affect them.

In fact, what we want to know when we talk about improving control over lobbying activities on Parliament Hill and in the various departments is the intensity of such lobbying and anything related to this intensity, meaning the ability of lobbyists to influence decision makers, whether it be senior officials or ministers themselves.

Who are these lobbyists? What is the history behind each of these lobbyists? What ability does a lobbyist have to influence decisions that might be made, included in a bill and introduced in the House of Commons? This is the most important thing. What is the relationship between this lobbyist and the government, some members of the government, some members of Parliament, some ministers or some deputy ministers? This is what is important.

We agree with the broadening of this act. We agree with the removal of some ambiguities that existed and that will continue to exist before this bill on the registration of lobbyists is passed. We agree with the streamlining and harmonizing of the rules concerning for profit and not for profit businesses. That is not the question.

The question is to determine whether the legislation will really ensure that we reach the goals intended by the bill. The question is not only to have an independent ethics commissioner appointed by the House of Commons. It is also to have a commissioner who can enforce regulations that have real teeth.

Let me remind the House of some amendments that the Bloc Quebecois has already suggested to the Lobbyist Registration Act, to determine the intensity of lobbying and also to ensure that we know who we are dealing with when there are lobbying activities.

First, what we want in this new bill—and we will again be proposing this amendment—is for lobbyists to be required to disclose their meetings with ministers and senior officials, not just with the department concerned, but also with individuals, that is, senior officials, public servants, middle managers and the minister himself. Any lobbyist can go to a department, but if we do not know with whom he had dealings, it is impossible to know just how much lobbying went on, and to analyze the decisions made by this government as a result.

Second, for the new lobbyists registration bill to have teeth, consultant lobbyists as well as in-house lobbyists must be required to disclose their professional fees. We ought to know the price we pay for these lobbyists to attempt to influence the government.

Third, we would like to see in the new bill a provision explicitly prohibiting any sort of conditional fee, regardless of the activity performed. Such a provision is important so that we do not end up with earnings proportional to the amount of the subsidy a firm could get from the government and which, let us remember, is money which belongs not to the government but to taxpayers.

We would also like the new bill to include a provision whereby consultant lobbyists and in-house lobbyists would be required to disclose positions they have held and the employment period as it corresponds to a federal administration or political party. They should also have to disclose unpaid executive positions with political parties, the number of hours of volunteer work, in cases of more than 40 hours per year for a party, or leadership candidate for a party, or riding association.

We also want to know what kind of mandates these lobbyists received as elected representatives at the federal level as well as which election campaigns they took part in, including the unsuccessful ones, and last, how much the various candidates received from their political party.

In other words, as I mentioned at the beginning of this debate, we want to know who exactly these lobbyists are. Knowing exactly who they are enables us to have an idea of how influential they might be and better assess government decisions. That is what we want to know.

Sometime by a sheer fluke we find out there is a link between a decision made by the government and how much money was given to the Liberal Party of Canada. We often draw this kind of parallel. Major corporations were the beneficiaries of a particular government policy and later on we found out, in the report tabled by the chief electoral officer, that these corporations had supported the Liberal Party of Canada to the tune of several tens of thousands of dollars.

This kind of information is of public interest. In a democracy, this kind of information should be made public so that people can better assess decisions made by the government, often involving the money they contributed to the federal government as taxes. It is important to know that.

At the present time, under the current legislation on the financing of federal political parties, we only have a partial picture of the contributions made by firms engaged in lobbying since it is only during elections that we get a clear picture. Outside of electoral periods we can be told anything at all; there is no control over the funding of federal political parties.

The strengthening of the Lobbyists Registration Act should include changes, further reforms, both to improve the way federal political parties are funded so that the system is more transparent, more open with regard to the disclosure of contributions, and to know who exactly are the lobbyists who meet with the government, ministers and senior officials, and who might influence the government's decisions.

Those are only a few of the changes we will continue to push for in committee, but you can rest assured that we will not be satisfied with a few cosmetic changes such as these. We want to see a real reform to increase transparency and openness in the government, and to know who exactly are these people who lurk in the hallways day after day trying to influence the government. They meet with ministers without our knowing it in order to influence the direction of government policies.

We may on occasion be surprised at the actions taken by the government, but if we had information on the nature and identity of lobbyists, we would have a somewhat better understanding of why a government may choose directions that on occasion seem illogical to us, but are in fact extremely logical, given the meetings they have had with lobbyists the week or month before.

It is, I think, a matter of our desire to have a transparent legislative process, to be answerable to the public, and to be able to evaluate the actions of the government.

I would like to cite an example from this morning's newspapers. They report that a senior official of the Department of International Trade, who is also a negotiator for the Free Trade Area of the Americas has recommended that chapter 11 of NAFTA be extended, despite what the minister has said in the House. This chapter makes it possible for large corporations to sue the government for measures they see as having the potential for losses in the areas of the environment, education, health and so on. Why is the negotiator defending this position so vigorously? Since the minister knows only too well, why is he hiding it from us?

If we were aware of whom the minister, or the senior official, had met with in the past two years of the FTAA negotiation process, we might have a slightly better understanding that there could possibly be some big business interests behind all this.

There are, perhaps, interests involved which lead the government to go in a certain direction that is totally contrary to the public interest and totally contrary to the defence of the interests of the public it claims to represent. Perhaps what lies behind all this is a powerful lobby of transnational corporations.

We would like to have a clear picture of the situation, in this case and in many others besides.

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10:35 a.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today to speak to Bill C-15, an act to amend the Lobbyists Registration Act which is part of the long overdue ethics package.

On the one hand I welcome the first steps of these amendments. This city has a serious case of lobbying abuse. It is clear in so many ways that lobbyists and bureaucrats have more influence on the policies of the government than do parliamentarians or the public.

I welcome the following steps: First, the removal of the expression “attempt to influence” from the definition of lobbying. This removes an ambiguity in the legislation and makes it clear that any communication covered under the act constitutes lobbying and requires legislation.

Second, the clarification that lobbying can occur when the communication is initiated by a public officeholder. This is in response to a specific recommendation of the committee. As well, adding a requirement for the ethics counsellor to notify the appropriate police authorities if he or she has reasonable grounds to believe a criminal offence has been committed.

The NDP supports changing the registration process to require corporations and their employees to meet the same requirements as non-profit organizations and the requirement that corporate officers whose employees are engaged in lobbying activities register formally.

Those are small steps in the right direction but they are also inadequate considering the way power works in Ottawa. If the government were serious about bringing in legislation that would restore Canadians' faith in the process of governance it could, at a minimum, include in Bill C-15 the following recommendations from the standing committee.

The committee recommended that a new office be created with the exclusive responsibility to investigate and report directly to Parliament on alleged violations of the lobbyists code of conduct.

The committee also recommended that further study be given to the proposal that lobbyists be required to disclose the amount of moneys spent on lobbying campaigns. Such a requirement would go a long way toward providing the kind of transparency Canadians ought to expect.

I had the pleasure of being on the heritage committee as it studied Bill S-7, a bill that would give support to non-profit and community groups allowing them to be part of the policy making that occurs in the CRTC and to have a real impact on changes and to make their concerns known about broadcasting decisions being made. It is clear at this point that there is an uneven playing field for large media corporations versus small community groups that want to have a say in the kind of media they are experiencing in their communities.

I also had a meeting the other day with many of the civil society groups who went to Johannesburg for the world climate change conference. I heard over and over again that there was no level playing field for environmental groups or advocacy groups. They are unable to act in an advocacy role in Ottawa with parliamentarians. They are being silenced. By the kind of funding they are getting they are not able to come here and make the same kind of representations as are big corporations. There are major problems in that area that have to be addressed if Canadians are going to have confidence that all voices are being heard here on the Hill.

The committee also recommended that the role of private sector consultants in developing government policy be examined by Parliament with a view to promoting transparency and eliminating conflict of interest. At this point in time a private company, which today is employed to lobby government for certain legislative changes, could tomorrow be hired by the government to consult on the advisability of such changes. The potential for conflict of interest is obvious and yet it is not addressed in the legislation. It is quite incredible that we see that lapse not being addressed.

The NDP would view the bill in the overall context of the recently announced ethics packages from the Liberals. The Prime Minister announced a few small baby steps, such as amendments to the Parliament of Canada Act, to create a single ethics counsellor appointed by Parliament in the same way as the Auditor General. The post would be for a five year, non-renewable term responsible for the Prime Minister's code for cabinet ministers and parliamentarians. The commissioner would have the same power as the Auditor General.

The commissioner would be able to dismiss frivolous complaints but would be required to report them. This is a great improvement on the current long-standing ethics comedy starring Mr. Wilson. I welcome the announcement of a draft code of conduct for parliamentarians that requires disclosure of interests by MPs and senators but not spouses. The immediate family disclosure requirements for ministers and parliamentary secretaries remain.

The commissioner would be required to administer this code and to report to committees of the House and Senate. The exclusion of spouses is a serious flaw but it is not the only flaw. Let us look at the case of ministers.

The commissioner would report to the Prime Minister, the minister in question and the originator of the complaint. The commissioner would be required to report on all matters disposed to him or her annually in Parliament. In the end, the Prime Minister could overturn the findings of the commissioner. This means we would have a long, involved ethical process which would exist at the whim of a single politician. This is the situation we are trying to get rid of.

The Liberals have no credibility on the issue of ethics. Be it the Prime Minister or the former finance minister, we see constant abuses of government power in the government.

Today a Senate committee is making recommendations to increase funding to the private sector to deliver health care. The chair of this committee sits on the board of Extendicare, a private company which would greatly benefit if this recommendation is implemented. This is just one more example of the fact that the government has no moral credibility on the whole ethics file and that is the crux of the problem.

Ethics in government do not exist because we pass a law in this place. Ethics in government exist because people who are in public life strive to put the public interest ahead of their own interests and personal or political ambitions of the day. Ethics in government exist when we work to make government an instrument used to help the public, not used as part of an advantage.

Using this standard, the Liberals have failed and even when they change the Prime Minister they will continue to fail. Regardless of who is the leader, the Liberals continue to have the same crew in place and they have lost the moral authority because they continue to use their position of public trust to make their party or their faction look better.

It has been shameful to witness scandal after scandal by the government. It has been shameful to see the official opposition attempt to use these scandals as an excuse to further discredit the concept of government for the public good.

I have tried to be an advocate for the arts and for people with disabilities in this place. However, it has been painfully clear that the approach of the government to both issues has been to put its own agenda ahead of the needs of those vulnerable communities.

Artists are used by the government as a backdrop for ministers. People with disabilities are given great rhetoric but more often than not are used as a place to find savings for other government initiatives. For me, this is proof of the death of the unethical roots of the government opposite. When these cynical manipulations are done away with, the House will see me rise and give wholehearted support for an ethical package from the Prime Minister of the country, or from the member for LaSalle—Émard, or whomever is in place when that finally happens. However, I am not holding my breath at this point.

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10:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure today to speak to Bill C-15, an act to amend the Lobbyists Registration Act.

Let us recognize in fairness that lobbyists perform an important function. In a democratic society there is an information gathering activity and an educational responsibility where the participation of and the active role that lobbyists play can help us as legislators understand issues in a more fulsome and educated way.

On almost every serious or significant issue facing this House, we have interactions with lobbyists representing both sides or multiple sides on almost all those issues. I, for one, have found that role to be a constructive role for the most part and one that has helped, in my case as well as other members of my caucus, to present or develop and ultimately defend tenable positions. There is an important role there.

There are some transgressions in terms of lobbyist activities that have been questionable. For example, the activities of René Fugère and his involvement through the granting process or helping facilitate or lubricate the granting process for particular companies from HRDC and Industry Canada. His role in Shawinigate is well known. These types of egregious examples of an individual lobbyist's activities do not represent by and large the quality or the level of ethics that is practised by most of the lobbyists here in Ottawa or in any of the provincial governments in Canada.

We do not have the same amount of potential for abuse of power or unfettered power of lobbyists that exists in the U.S. Thank goodness we do not have the level of Political Action Committees (PACS) that exist with legislators in the U.S. That has created a system by which individual legislators, congressmen and senators gain significant levels of personal wealth through the use or their work with lobby activities and political fundraising. That is clearly unacceptable.

There are concerns in a leadership selection process within an individual party. For example, the degree to which fundraising can actually have an impact, particularly when the leadership selection process is to select a leader of a governing party, because that individual who is being chosen as the leader of that party may become Prime Minister immediately after that process.

The speculation now regarding the huge numbers of fundraising events that are occurring on the Liberal side in terms of the perspective leadership race does raise the question that there could be significant abuse of power. I am not saying that is the case but I have heard some numbers, I think $9 million, potentially having been raised for the member for LaSalle—Émard in his quest to be leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. That does raise some questions. He will be elected as not just leader of the Liberal Party but will be immediately Prime Minister and that does raise some question. When there is that huge amount of money being directed to one candidate above another, we have to question that a little bit. That does concern us.

The fact is that lobbyists have, by and large, not been the source of ethical woes. They have not provided the examples of breaches of ethical behaviour over the last several years in Ottawa. The rules that have been broken, by and large, have not come from the backbenchers or the Liberal Party members but by members of the cabinet. Every breach of ethical behaviour which has occurred has occurred within that cabinet.

The Prime Minister has lost a significant amount of his moral authority to enforce a reasonable code of ethics with his own personal activities, as his own lobbyist on behalf of a hotel in his riding which was adjacent to a golf course. Clearly in his lobbying efforts of the president of the BDC, the inordinate pressure placed on the president of the BDC and the subsequent firing of the president of the BDC, the Prime Minister lost the moral authority to enforce a code of ethics at his own cabinet table.

There have been other breaches of public trust from that cabinet, all of which emanated from the Prime Minister having lowered the bar and having set a bad example for ethical behaviour.

We agree with the elements of the Lobbyists Registration Act. They are appropriate and reasonable. However, they do not really deal with the transgressions that have occurred over the last several years which have occurred largely based on a Prime Minister who himself has not raised the bar, and in fact has lowered it, for ethical behaviour, and has not demonstrated the kind of intestinal fortitude to defend a strict moral code of his own or of his cabinet.

This Lobbyists Registration Act would not in a significant way improve the ethical behaviour of governments if in fact we have a Prime Minister like the current one who does not consistently set an example of ethical excellence.

The ethics package for MPs in general does not deal with the cabinet. It deals with backbenchers on the Liberal side and with members over here. However the backbenchers on the Liberal side and the opposition members over here have not been the problem. Due to the concentration of power in the Prime Minister's Office the opportunity for a Liberal backbencher or a member of the opposition to effect the kind of change which would attract the kind of money that some would speculate might come from lobbyists for that sort of activity would not make a great deal of difference.

The member for LaSalle—Émard referred the other day to the forces of darkness and evil in the Prime Minister's Office or something like that. If we play his tape backwards, it does say the forces of darkness and evil in the PMO.

That being the case neither these changes to the Lobbyists Registration Act or the new ethical code for parliamentarians address the core issue of the government and ethics, and that starts with the Prime Minister's own activities and the activities of his own cabinet.

While it is a good idea to have more stringent rules around lobbyists' behaviours or MPs' behaviours, it would not solve the problem of a cabinet and a Prime Minister not dedicated and devoted to upholding the strictest moral codes and behaviour on a day to day basis.

National Block Parent Week
Statement by Members

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Carole-Marie Allard Laval East, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is National Block Parent Week. This organization works to prevent crime in our country.

Through its distinctive red and white sign in the window of homes, Block Parent helps out hundreds of Canadians every year. Whether children, seniors or others who are lost, frightened, or in distress, everyone benefits from the services of the Block Parent program.

The commitment of some 50,000 volunteers enhances the security and compassion of Canada's communities. It is important to acknowledge their contribution and their importance.

I wish to pay tribute to the Block Parent volunteers. Knowing they are there is most reassuring.

Abortion
Statement by Members

10:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, on October 3 the health minister said in the Saint John Telegraph Journal , “Our view is that obviously abortion is a medically necessary service”. I have a letter from her department which says that it does not have any evidence showing that abortions are medically necessary. Maybe the minister would care to share the evidence she obviously now has with members of the House.

I also have letters from the federal government and 10 provincial and territorial ministers of health stating that they have not completed a risk benefit analysis on abortion. How can the minister claim that all abortions are medically necessary and how can she justify funding all abortions with public money if these analyses have not been done?

For many years we have asked the government for its list of medically necessary services. Is abortion the only service that is on the government's list?

Laurentian Leadership Centre
Statement by Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to draw the attention of the House to the newly opened Laurentian Leadership Centre. Located here in Ottawa on Metcalfe Street in the home of former lumber baron John R. Booth, the centre provides an environment for future leaders to learn about and interact with Canadian businesses, government and media leaders.

Established by Dr. Don Page, the centre is associated with Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. The centre houses up to 23 students and provides classrooms, housing and dining facilities for the students. The program consists of three classes taken at the centre and an afternoon internship at the offices of MPs and businesses throughout Ottawa.

Although the students come from a variety of backgrounds, they all share one common desire, to lead.

I therefore ask all members of Parliament to consider hosting an intern in their office to provide them with an inside look at the work of a member of Parliament and the Government of Canada.

National Youth Justice Policing Award
Statement by Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Erie—Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate Staff Sergeant Scott MacLean, one of the winners of the 2002 Minister of Justice National Youth Justice Policing Award.

Staff Sergeant MacLean is a 21-year police veteran who has shown a strong commitment to youth justice in the Niagara region. One of his major accomplishments was the creation of a youth justice committee for the communities of Port Colborne and Wainfleet. The committee's goal is to give youth who have committed minor, non-violent, first time offences a community based alternative to the formal court process. “It is nice to see good kids who have made some bad choices get that second chance”, Scott commented. That is an excellent philosophy indeed.

The committee has been so successful that he has been chosen to develop a youth justice committee system for the entire Niagara region.

Congratulations to Staff Sergeant MacLean on receiving the Minister of Justice National Youth Justice Policing Award 2002. I thank him for taking an interest in the future of Canada's youth.

Literacy
Statement by Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Sarmite Bulte Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the six national literacy organizations and their delegates from across Canada for a very successful Literacy Action Day held yesterday on Parliament Hill.

I, along with many of my parliamentary colleagues and senators, met with literacy representatives to discuss how literacy issues touch the lives of Canadians and how literacy can play a role in developing public policy, including its connection to our national productivity, employment, health, citizenship, justice and other issues.

We recognize that literacy is the foundation for further education, training and employment. We believe that the investment we make in literacy initiatives today will have economic and social benefits tomorrow.

Again I applaud the hard work of our national literacy organizations. I along with my colleagues look forward to working together to raise the level of literacy in Canada so all Canadians can benefit from our new economy.

Falun Gong Practitioners
Statement by Members

11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the House unanimously voted for the Prime Minister to raise the matter of 13 Falun Gong practitioners who have been jailed in China and in some cases very badly mistreated for nothing more than peacefully practising their spiritual beliefs.

Each of these 13 individuals has close personal ties to Canada. Lizhe He, imprisoned at the Seventh Labour Farm, New Qianjin Prison, is the husband of a Toronto resident. Mingli Lin, imprisoned at the Dafeng Labour Camp, has a brother in Montreal. Yueli Yang, imprisoned at Xinan Women's Labour Camp, is the mother of a Toronto resident. Jiangang Huang, imprisoned at Dafeng Labour Camp, is the brother of a Canadian citizen who lives in Victoria. All the others have husbands and wives, brothers and sisters here in Canada.

We ask the Prime Minister to do all that he can when he meets this weekend with the President of China to ensure that these peaceful individuals can be reunited with their loved ones on Canadian soil as soon as possible.

Access to Internet
Statement by Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval West, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to see that, once again, programs developed by the Government of Canada will directly benefit the residents of Laval West.

The people of Laval can now visit 69 centres throughout Laval and have access to computers for free to surf the web. This program has been made possible through an initiative by the Réseau Formatclé, a non-profit organization based in Laval, and Industry Canada's Community Access Program.

This will allow more Canadians to search and learn using this wonderful source of information: the Internet.