House of Commons Hansard #110 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Lobbyists Registration Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Beauharnois—Salaberry
Québec

Liberal

Serge Marcil Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to open the debate on the amended version of Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Lobbyists Registration Act. This version differs only slightly from that passed March 18.

The Senate made only one amendment to correct an inconsistency discovered in an amendment passed by the House at third reading.

The hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot moved the original amendment during debate at third reading. I understand that he supports without reservation the change recommended by the Senate.

Obviously, the Minister of Industry considers this amendment appropriate under the circumstances.

The Senate's amendment and the original amendment moved at third reading are fully within the meaning of Bill C-15, which is to create a lobbyists registration system that works well now and that will work even better in the future. It is about creating a more transparent lobbyists registration system that is easier to enforce and that continues to earn the trust of Canadians.

The House has every reason to approve the version amended by the Senate. Rapid adoption of the bill means it will be able to receive royal assent and be implemented.

Before addressing the substance of the amendment made by the Senate, allow me to take a moment to remind the hon. members of the context for today's debate.

As my hon. colleagues from all sides of this House will recall, the review that led to Bill C-15 was a lengthy and comprehensive one.

While the original lobbying legislation dates back to 1989, parliamentarians and the public were concerned that it might not go far enough to allow a thorough public scrutiny of lobbying. In response to these concerns, our party promised improvements to the lobbying regime during the 1993 election campaign.

We delivered on our promise. Our government introduced a bill to review the Lobbyists Registration Act, which Parliament passed, and a new act came into force in 1996. This act resulting in the development of the code of conduct for lobbyists and led us to work tirelessly to ensure the efficiency of the new system.

This work has met with success. Gone are the public concerns, which were commonplace ten years ago, about agreements entered into behind closed doors. Why? Because the Lobbyists Registration Act and the system supporting it have brought a high level of transparency to the situation.

A balance has been struck between four principles: first, free and open access to the government is an important matter of public policy; second, lobbying public office holders is a legitimate activity; third, concerning transparency, public office holders and the public must be able to know who is trying to influence the government; and fourth, with respect to efficiency, a registration system for paid lobbyists must not hinder free and open access to the government.

That having been said, enforcement of legislation normally reveals what improvements are necessary. That is what happened with the Lobbyists Registration Act.

In 2001, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology reviewed both the system and the act. It tabled its report, in which it recommended that the government make a number of changes and take a closer look at certain questions.

The government has followed up on these recommendations, consulted further and produced Bill C-15.

In addition to the usual housekeeping and technical amendments designed to correct minor drafting errors, the bill has three main components.

First, it contains a clearer definition of lobbying.

Second, it simplifies and standardizes registration requirements for all categories of lobbyists and strengthens the applicable cancellation requirements.

Third, it establishes more meaningful enforcement powers.

Neither the House or the Senate standing committees put forward amendments to the substantive elements of Bill C-15.

There were discussions and debates on specific points, but at the end of the day, parliamentarians from both Houses agreed that Bill C-15 would solve some key issues effectively.

Nonetheless, during debate at third reading, the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot put forward an amendment to increase the amount of information required from lobbyists. More specifically, it amended subsection 7(1) and added sub-paragraph 7(3)( h. 3). Under this sub-paragraph, lobbyists who are former public office holders would have to describe their former duties as part of the registration process.

As the hon. member himself later admitted, this amendment included an unintended loophole. It required information only from corporate lobbyists and lobbyists working for not-for-profit organizations. Consultant lobbyists, who provide lobbying services under contract to companies, organizations, or other clients, were not required to provide the same information.

It is clear that this amendment is inconsistent with the pervasive theme of Bill C-15, which is the equal and transparent application of registration requirements to all lobbyists. Having seen this loophole, the hon. member wrote to the Senate Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament to ask that this omission be corrected. The committee made the correction as requested and the Senate accepted the amendment, which is the only change that was made to the version passed by the House in March.

Essentially, what we have before us is a significant administrative correction we have every reason to accept. It makes absolutely no change in the major thrust of the law, but merely adds one additional detail in the interests of uniformity and greater transparency.

As a result, Bill C-15 as amended will enable us to take one more step toward being able to meet Canadians' growing expectations as far as ethical issues are concerned. It will be compatible with the other steps taken by our government, such as increasing the number of auditor general reports, departmental measures broadening the internal audit procedures, and the adoption of a more comprehensive code governing the conduct of holders of public office.

This bill constitutes one more means of keeping the promise made by the Prime Minister when he revealed his eight-point ethics plan last June. It falls in line with the measures aimed at introducing a guide for ministers of state and parliamentary secretaries in connection with ethical and other issues, as well as with the new rules governing interactions between ministers and crown agencies.

The Senate has asked us to make one minor change to a bill we have already passed once. It is a reasonable change, and one we should approve. We will thus be able to implement the improvements proposed in Bill C-15 to the Lobbyists Registration Act. We will be able to make a system that is working well now work still better in future.

Lobbyists Registration Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, I am honoured to stand and represent not only the people of my riding but, I believe, people across Canada when we address issues of such interest to the Canadian taxpayer and also to those who are looking for integrity in all the different aspects of the governing process.

Over the years I have been a member of Parliament, I have watched with interest things which have to do with the ethics counsellor, the registration of lobbyists and other related items. If the government can be accused of anything, it can be accused of making timid steps in the right direction but not really getting into the nitty-gritty of what is required.

When we are dealing with lobbyists, we are dealing with basically three kinds of people: those who come here and simply look for change in government policies, social policies, tax policies or whatever; those who come here as individuals representing organizations that are lobbying for change in legislation; and finally, individuals and businesses whose jobs are to lobby to get government contracts. I think the latter of these three groups probably present most Canadians with the largest concern.

When we look at things like buying helicopters for the armed forces or buying computers for all the different government departments, we are talking big bucks, large amounts of money. It is important that the process by which those contracts are let is very open and transparent.

I am in favour of the Lobbyists Registration Act per se. I believe it is a good thing that members, if they engage in these activities, are required to disclose that information and that it be made available. As a matter of fact, in the almost 10 years that I have been here, the accessibility to such lists has been improved vastly by the introduction of the Internet and the great amount of connectivity of Canadians in that mode of communication.

As we know, it is possible to click on an Internet site, the ethics counsellor's website for example, from anywhere in the world and find out who is registered as a lobbyist. Of course the Lobbyists Registration Act spells out who needs to be registered. It also spells out what information needs to be disclosed. Then when we click on the website and ask for that search, we can find out who is currently lobbying the government to get a contract, to sell it huge amounts of computers or whatever item is being bid on.

We spoke in previous readings of this bill, prior to sending it to committee and also in second reading, about the different problems inherent in the lobbyists registration. We must always remember a very important background, and that is disclosure has but one purpose and that purpose is to prevent behaviour which is unethical or illegal. Just the disclosure itself does not justify it. People cannot say that because they have disclosed they now have a licence to do anything they want. It still must be within the law and be within a very high level of ethics.

I compare this, for example, to a person who walks into a store and in plain sight of a clerk steals something off the shelf. That person cannot claim that because an employee of the store saw him or her do it, it is therefore not theft. It is theft regardless of whether it was seen. The same thing is true with registration. It provides disclosure but does not give a licence to engage in whatever behaviour is required to get the contract.

We must remember that the purpose and the principle of disclosure is to prevent behaviour which is unethical. In other words, hopefully people will know that what they do will be made public, that they will not get away with it and, therefore, they will not do it. I think that is the basis of the whole Lobbyists Registration Act and the public disclosure of the lists.

When this bill was finally completed earlier this year at third reading in the House, it was sent off to our unaccountable Senate. I know the rules of the House do not permit me in any way to speak disparagingly of the other place and I--

Lobbyists Registration Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I apologize to the hon. member for interrupting, but on a point of order the hon. member for St. John's West.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Madam Speaker, I apologize to my colleague for interrupting while he is in full flight but he will have lots of time. I will not take very long.

I wish to inform the Chair that there have been consultations among the parties and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That the membership of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be modified as follows:

Gerald Keddy for Rick Borotsik

And that Rick Borotsik and Gary Schellenberger be added to the list of associate members;

And that Gerald Keddy be removed from the list of associate members.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion in relation to the amendment made by the Senate to Bill C-15, an act to amend the Lobbyists Registration Act.

Lobbyists Registration Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, I do not mind that interruption at all because it helps the people in the party over at the other end of the House try to unscramble its egg.

I would like to proceed with my talk. The bill as passed was then sent over to the other place. I know a number of the senators over there and I have no need at all to question whether they are dedicated or hard-working. I know a number of them work probably much harder than some members of this House. Therefore that is not an issue.

However I really must take every opportunity where we get something back from the Senate, whether it is a bill that is initiated there or whether it is a bill that it has looked at and then sent back here with a revision. I always have to ask this, and continue to review with anybody who will listen. In today's modern age how can we, being a so-called democratic society, justify a whole House of legislators who control what happens in our country without them also being elected? This is an issue which I can never forget to talk about when we deal with something that comes back from the Senate.

I appreciate its work. I happen to agree with the amendment it has sent back on this occasion. It actually did some work which should have been done over here, recognized a shortcoming and sent back the bill with an amendment to fix up that shortcoming. That is great, but that is a specific issue. It was doing its job. It can also do its job and do it better if it had the legitimacy of elected office and accountability to the people that it purports to represent.

The Senate has sent back an amendment and I sincerely wish it would have come back from an elected Senate. However it came back from an hon. House over there trying to do its work and hopefully improving this legislation. I do not know whether the parliamentary secretary, when he gave his little speech, outlined this for whomever was listening, but the Senate amendment basically adds one line. It says that if the individual, who is acting as a lobbyist and who is registering, has been a former public office holder, then he must also disclose in the registration the offices that were held.

As an example, not very long ago I met a former Liberal member of Parliament. He happens to be a lobbyist now. He gets a very fine salary from a large corporation. His job is to come over here and talk to the Liberal cabinet ministers whom he knows intimately, and I mean that in the general sense of the term. He was a member of the Liberal Party and worked with it. Consequently he has the ear of the minister. When the corporation, which he represents, wants to get a government contract, he can walk into the minister's office and the minister will greet him with a “Hi” and use his first name. They are immediately on friendly terms because they have been colleagues.

I do not know about you, Madam Speaker, but I find something just a little offensive about that. Very frankly, whether the person who shows up in the minister's office knows him well or does not know him or her at all, should be irrelevant to who gets the contract. The contract should be based upon very rigid criteria that are written into the contract. Those are the terms to be met and those are the conditions. When the contract is let, companies should bid on it and it should be evaluated objectively as possible to see which contract gives taxpayers the best buy for the money. Whether it is computers or helicopters or vehicles for the government fleet or whatever, there should be a careful cost benefit analysis to see if we are getting the correct return for the money.

Lobbyists Registration Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

An hon. member

That is the case now.

Lobbyists Registration Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, a member across the way seems to have an ant under his shirt collar.

I hasten to add that it should have nothing to do with whether or not a person can somehow try to influence the minister toward a contract for a particular company. That is a given to me.

All the bill requires at this stage is that there be registration. The amendment from the Senate would require that the member of Parliament state in his registration that he has been a member of Parliament. I have not looked at the details. I think this would be due to regulation, but I wish the Senate would have explicitly said that especially if the lobbyist had been a member of the current government. If that were the case, then there would be a tighter relationship. It would warrant more rigid scrutiny by taxpayers and others accessing the website and the lists in terms of watching what the person did.

There is another disadvantage in this whole lobbyists registration thing. I cannot understand why the members of the government do not understand this. I would think it would be really wise of them not to accept interventions by lobbyists on these things.

Let us say that five bids were submitted and that the best bid was selected, the best value for the dollar on behalf of the taxpayer. Let us say also that it happened to be the company that was represented by the previous MP. Even though it may be legitimate, it would look suspicious and thereby would reduce the honour in which the whole process was held.

It would have been a lot better had there been no representation. It would have been an objective evaluation and the choices would have been made in order to get the taxpayer the best buy for the dollar. There would have been not even the appearance of interference on a friendly, person to person basis by having the best lobbyist.

This leads us to the next issue which is whether there is a process and a place for lobbyists? I hold that there is. I used to think not. Back when I was first elected, I thought there should be no lobbyists. I thought, who needs them? Members of Parliament should listen to their constituents and they should represent in the House what their constituents desire and that should be it.

I had my eyes opened when I became a member of Parliament and realized that we debate many bills and motions in the House, even some with respect to building laws and acts of Parliament in which there are many aspects. Communication is very important. It is valuable to members of Parliament to get a representation from some industrial group, perhaps on behalf of the forestry companies. If each company were to come here individually, we would never get our work done. For them to meet together and to boil it down to their five most important issues and then to visit the members of Parliament and communicate that, would be useful.

Not long ago the firefighters came to Ottawa for their lobbyist day, as they call it. I welcomed them. I like to hear from them and find out what the issues are in terms of the tax act, the Canada pension plan and other areas where we make rules that determine their livelihood and well-being after they retire, if they are not hurt or killed in action. We are making those rules. It is valuable for me to receive a representation from them as a group.

It is also totally useful that they should register as lobbyists. People would know that the firefighters association had a lobbyist. They would know who the person was who tries to bend the ears of legislators. I do not think there is anything wrong with that and it is useful to a degree.

It becomes very offensive when the government succumbs to pressure on a personal basis from an in-house lobbyist who used to be a member of the very department that the person is now lobbying. That happens. From time to time we hear of this. A high level employee, a person very high up in the hierarchy in--

Lobbyists Registration Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Madam Speaker, on a point of order, the member for Elk Island seems to be going on indefinitely. Is there no limit on the time he has to speak?

Lobbyists Registration Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

No, the hon. member has unlimited time to speak.

Lobbyists Registration Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, it is interesting to know that in this particular instance we are not limited to one minute, or 10, 20 or 40 minutes. I could speak for the rest of the day, if I so chose. If all goes well, I should be completed my speech before the end of the day which will give someone else an opportunity to speak.

Let me get back to the thread of my thoughts. Lobbyists have to register under the bill. The Senate has sent back an amendment which forces them to disclose one more additional piece of information and it is a very important disclosure. It is the area in which they served in a department.

I do not believe it is acceptable for a deputy minister, a previous minister or even a member of Parliament, but specifically a deputy minister of a department to retire from government and then get a job with a business firm that will be lobbying to get a contract in the very department in which he or she had served. Disclosure is one thing, but it is not acceptable and I would like the Lobbyists Registration Act to actually prohibit that activity. In other words, it is like the person in the store, it is not just whether or not we know what is happening, but to actually prohibit the activity per se.

I wish the Senate had done its job and brought in some important amendments of that nature instead of this little housekeeping one which increases the disclosure. However I think we are better off by a small degree in this area than we were 10 years ago with what has happened with lobbyists registration and the work our party is trying to accomplish. We are trying to get a truly independent ethics commissioner, not one that is appointed by the government but one that is truly independent as is the Auditor General for example. I would like to see that strengthened even more to the point where Canadians will once again be able to say “We trust our government. We know it is doing the best that it can and all is well in the House”.

Workplace Training
Statements By Members

June 3rd, 2003 / 1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Janko Peric Cambridge, ON

Madam Speaker, three companies in my riding of Cambridge representing the industrial manufacturing, service hospitality and small business sectors were recently recognized for their excellence in workplace training and development.

Canadian General Tower, Cambridge Memorial Hospital and McDonald-Green exemplify the very best in supporting and encouraging a highly skilled workforce. All three companies strive for career related and skill oriented programs guaranteeing the development of a highly adaptive workforce necessary in today's competitive economy.

I join all members in congratulating Canadian General Tower, Cambridge Memorial Hospital and McDonald-Green for their vision, leadership and resolve in producing a skilled workforce.

Child Pornography
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB

Madam Speaker, the Liberals have put Canada on the map again, this time as a haven for child pornography. ECPAT, the world's largest organization to prevent child sexual exploitation, says that Canada is an international embarrassment. Why?

The Liberals have refused to consider raising the age of consent to 16 and have refused to fund operation snowball, Canada's cross-country effort to arrest child pornographers. They appoint judges who consistently throw out verdicts against child pornographers. They stall a sexual offender registry until a tragedy suddenly motivates them. They write a new bill making it legal to have sex with children, as long as there is no position of trust, and legal to have child porn if there is a public good.

With all this evidence about the unwillingness of the Liberals to protect children from sexual exploitation, Canadians would be in their right to ask what is the government's real agenda? The only thing we know for sure, it is not protecting our children.

Batteries Électriques Gagnon
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Madam Speaker, on May 3, Batteries Électriques Gagnon, which has its head office in my riding of Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, held a gala evening to celebrate its 50th anniversary, and also to highlight the excellent work done by the many employees over the years who contributed so much to the success of this jewel of Quebec's car and truck after-sales sector. Fifty years in business would have been impossible were it not for the ever-present spirit of cooperation and understanding that exists within the company.

I would like to congratulate and pay tribute to the two company founders, André and Claude Gagnon, members of the great Gagnon family. I would also like to thank them for their involvement in my riding of Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel and wish them the best for the continued prosperity and success of their wonderful business.

International Coffee Organization
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Scott Fredericton, NB

Madam Speaker, the coffee industry is in crisis resulting in extreme hardship for coffee producers and workers in Africa, Latin America and Asia. In the hardest hit areas, people are starving to death as a result of the crisis. The root of the problem is overproduction fostered by World Bank policies and the marketing of low quality product.

Without a strong multilateral body such as the International Coffee Organization, producers have no protection. When supply exceeds demand, prices crash.

In 1992 the former prime minister decided to discontinue Canada's membership in the ICO, thus helping to reduce the effectiveness of the organization.

Canada's voice in the ICO would make a difference. We could be part of the solution to the crisis facing millions of African farmers. I urge the Minister of Foreign Affairs to have Canada rejoin the ICO.