House of Commons Hansard #112 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was report.

Topics

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I thank the government House leader for his intervention in this matter. Fortunately the Chair had done some research as a result of the question of privilege being raised and had discovered facts very similar to those alleged in the minister's statement. Accordingly, I find the question of privilege is not well taken and that is the end of the matter. I thank him for his assistance, as always. And the member for Edmonton North is always very helpful as well. All hon. members always strive to help the Chair.

We are resuming debate on Bill C-15.

The House resumed from June 4 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.

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June 5th, 2003 / 3:05 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-15, an act to amend the Lobbyists Registration Act.

We have dealt with the bill before in this place. It has been to the Senate and is back with an amendment. The amendment makes a slight improvement to the bill, but in our humble estimation, it does not go the distance required to ensure that we have before us a piece of legislation that does the task at hand and has provisions for the utmost transparency and the highest of ethical standards. Let us remember where the bill came from, why it is before us and what it was intended to do.

Members of the House will recall that back in the spring of 2001 the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology held hearings on this matter and heard evidence from a wide variety of sources. The committee made recommendations to the House for the development of appropriate legislation in its report entitled “Transparency in the Information Age: The Lobbyists Registration Act in the 21st Century”.

The question for us today is, does Bill C-15 actually do what the process intended to accomplish? Does it take us down the path of legislation that ensures absolute transparency in the work and dealings of lobbyists vis-à-vis government? Have we set the highest ethical standards in terms of this very important aspect of government? We all know how cynical people have become. Our constituents are suspicious of government because of their perception of undue influence by corporate entities, by big money interests, in our society today over the legislation and programming established by government.

This is a very important issue in terms of democracy and in terms of restoring faith in the democratic process. It is very important in terms of assuring the general population that we operate on the basis of the highest standards. I am afraid we cannot say that has been accomplished under the bill as amended by the Senate.

Certainly the bill accomplishes a number of important objectives. Bill C-15 proposes to close some loopholes in the lobbyist regulatory system under the federal Lobbyists Registration Act. Specifically the bill requires that lobbyists who are invited to lobby government will now be required to register. The bill also states that the registration requirements for in-house corporate lobbyists will require more detailed listings of employees who are lobbying. That is very good. The bill also states that because of an amendment made by the House of Commons, a lobbyist for a corporation or organization who had been a public servant, politician or other public officer holder, will have to disclose the past offices the lobbyist held.

Some important changes have been made. Certainly some are on the right path. We are going in the right direction. We are in the process of moving toward greater transparency and higher ethical standards in the whole area of government, but are we there yet?

By all accounts by those who observe this process very carefully and by those who are concerned about the future of democracy in Canada, we are not there yet. We missed the mark. The bill is not perfect and it should be perfect because, goodness knows, we are dealing with a fundamental aspect of parliamentary process and democratic faith in our system.

Let us be clear. Some very key loopholes still remain in Bill C-15. Those loopholes allow many lobbyists to escape registration, to hide key details about the extent and nature of lobbying activities. They allow lobbyists to have inside access and undue influence and weaken enforcement of the Lobbyists Registration Act and the lobbyists code of conduct.

These are significant loopholes and must be closed. Our caucus, all members of the NDP in the House have been saying that time and again. Our critic, the member for Windsor West, has been very diligent and persistent about ensuring that the bill is amended to reflect those very concerns.

Our member for Windsor West told the House time and again that the act fails to address the issue of compulsory disclosure. He has said, and we agree with him, that the act should include a requirement that anyone covered by a federal code of conduct, including ministers, political appointees, civil servants and lobbyists, disclose any wrongdoing of which they have knowledge. It is very important to point out that it has not been addressed by the government.

There is another matter on which the member for Windsor West and also the member for Winnipeg Centre have been very outspoken. It has to do with the matter of whistle-blower protection. The member for Winnipeg Centre has had legislation before the House. He has tried to convince this place of the need to have such provisions entrenched in law so that we have a way to give protection to those in our civil service who know of wrongdoing, who want to report that wrongdoing, but fear for their jobs and repercussions in their working lives.

The member for Winnipeg Centre, reinforced by the member for Windsor West and others, has said very clearly that there must be whistle-blower protection in the legislation. Of course it needs to be in this legislation. We are talking about lobbying. We are talking about those who can exert undue influence on government. We are talking about loyal members of our civil service who observe, know and learn about wrongdoing and who want to report that wrongdoing for the public good, to serve the public interest.

What is holding the government back from ensuring whistle-blower protection in the legislation? As my colleague for Windsor—St. Clair has said, what are they afraid of? What are the Liberals afraid of? Why is this absolute bottom-line requirement, this fundamental position for whistle-blower protection, not in Bill C-15?

Is it because the government is afraid of the results, the outcome of the possibilities that their civil servants, those who work in the departments, know too much, see too much and can do too much damage to the politicians in this place, to members and ministers in the government? Is that a possibility? Perhaps it is because when we get down to it and analyze what has been happening lately with the government and the whole area of public policy decision making, there seems to be an awful lot of undue influence by corporate and monied interests in our society today over the direction of the government's legislative initiatives and over serious propositions that would serve the public good.

I have seen it time and time again in the last little while that I have been here in this place, particularly during the time when I was serving as the health critic and had a chance to observe what happened to important policies and initiatives in Health Canada and how the Minister of Health refused to act on important initiatives. I want to provide a few examples because they are very important to this debate.

I want to begin with an area that should touch the hearts of every member in this place and comes very close to home, and that is the matter dealing with fetal alcohol syndrome. I say it touches this place because members in the House voted on a motion that I presented and almost all members supported it. The motion said that Health Canada and the Government of Canada should require labels on all alcohol beverage containers to warn women not to drink while pregnant because of the danger of causing fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effects.

It was an important initiative and I was so delighted to receive the support of members from all political parties and to see the work that was begun by the member for Mississauga South who worked so long and hard on the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome was paying off, that we were making headway in this place and making good public policy.

That was two years ago when the House passed this motion almost unanimously. We expected, perhaps naively, that motion would form the basis for government action. Perhaps it would not be overnight. Perhaps it would take a few weeks, a few months, maybe even a year, but who would have dreamed that it would take a whole two years with still no government response or action? How could this happen? What could come in the way of a very progressive initiative that makes the difference in terms of our battle against fetal alcohol syndrome?

No one in this place, certainly not me or anyone in my caucus, left the impression that this measure was the be all and the end all in terms of fetal alcohol syndrome, but that it was one small step, one measure as part of a bigger package, to help us deal with a very serious problem, a problem that costs our society dearly in terms of financial expenses and personal consequences. It costs millions of dollars over the life of every individual suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome for all society. It costs us dearly in human terms and in financial terms, so every bit we can do makes a difference.

The proposal is to have labels on alcohol beverage containers, which, as we know, is done in the United States. It is required for Canadian beer brewers, wine producers and alcohol producers to put those labels warning of fetal alcohol syndrome on bottles we export to the United States, so it would not take too much to do it here in Canada. Yet the government has refused. The Minister of Health has said that she must study the matter before she can decide, even though this matter has been studied to death over the years. The evidence is in and it is clear that, as a measure which is part of a whole package of initiatives focusing on fetal alcohol syndrome, it is important and it matters.

The question for us today in the context of Bill C-15 is, what undue influence happened over the government and the Minister of Health to cause this important initiative to be put on hold and shelved? I think we can say with some certainty that there was influence from the alcohol industry on the government. There was pressure from the beer companies on that minister. How else can one explain something this important being put on the sidelines? I think there is lots of evidence to suggest that.

The member for Mississauga South a number of years ago worked hard to have this matter dealt with before the health committee, and he proposed Bill C-22.

In a book he produced after that period in our parliamentary history entitled Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: The Real Brain Drain , he said:

There is no doubt that the alcohol industry killed the bill. They reportedly spent over $100,000 on lobby efforts... The Brewers Association announced that if the bill went through, they would withdraw their $10 million annual contribution to prevention programs that they jointly funded with Health Canada.

That sounds like blackmail to me.

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3:20 p.m.

An hon. member

And disgusting.

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3:20 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North Centre, MB

It is a disgusting period in our history if that is the case. It is disgusting if that is still the basis upon which the Minister of Health is making decisions and the government is responding to parliamentary directions. How in the world can something as important as measures that will help reduce fetal alcohol syndrome, be iced, be put on hold, because the Brewers Association threatens to withdraw all money it now puts into public education and fetal alcohol syndrome?

My goodness, surely this is the purpose of Bill C-15. Surely, we are here today to ensure that that kind of undue influence does not happen. Surely, we have to do everything in our power to prevent big corporate interests from determining what is good for the public and what is good for the common good. Surely, that is the purpose of Parliament and the purpose of legislation.

That is why we have to stop the bill today and send it back to committee to get some teeth put into it so we will have an absolutely transparent process to hold high to the people of Canada and tell them we have checks and balances in place to prevent corporations and money interests from influencing the government in the direction of public policy.

We do not have to look much further to see other problems in Health Canada and the government when it comes to big corporate interests. Let us look at the influence of big pharmaceutical brand name drug companies. How else can we understand the refusal of the government to allow the generic drug industry into the marketplace? How else can we explain the refusal of the government to simply rid the country of the notice of compulsory compliance? What else can explain the fact that the government will not give absolute guarantees that it will stop the automatic injunction process which allows big brand name drug companies to drag out the legal process thus preventing generics on the market for years after the 20 year patent protection provision?

Maybe we have to look at the money that goes into the Liberal Party from drug companies. Maybe we have to look at the influence that exists by drug companies, alcohol companies and cigarette companies on the government preventing it from taking decisive action.

In 2000 Biochem Pharma Inc. gave the Liberal Party of Canada $64,742. In 2000 Glaxo Wellcome Inc. gave the Liberal Party of Canada $39,333. In 2000 Canada's research-based pharmaceutical companies gave the Liberal Party of Canada $18,500. Perhaps now we can understand why the government refuses to do what is in the public interest and why it refuses to initiate legislative proposals that make sense from the point of view of the common good, the public good and the public need over private interest.

When I was discussing fetal alcohol syndrome, I failed to mention the kind of contributions the Liberal government has received from alcohol companies. Given the minute I have left, I would like to remind members in the House that in 2000 the Liberal Party of Canada received a total of $134,441 from beer companies and brewing companies. For example, the government received $50,000 from Molson Inc.; $30,000 from Labatt Breweries of Canada; $15,000 from La Compagnie Seagram Ltee.; $12,000 plus from Pacific Western Breweries Co. Ltd., and the list goes on.

There is a lot of money going to the Liberal Party which appears to be exercising some influence over the decisions of the government if one looks at basic policy initiatives like fetal alcohol syndrome and generic drugs on the market.

I go could on. I could talk about tobacco. I could talk about the influence of tobacco companies over the government's lack of determination to deal with the banning of light cigarettes and the fact that the advisory committee on tobacco has basically resigned because of the government's inaction.

I could talk about many things that point to the need for this bill, Bill C-15, to be enhanced and strengthened to ensure we have a transparent process and that we operate at the highest of ethical standards.

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3:30 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I just want to say to my colleague from Winnipeg that the comments she made at the beginning with regard to the Senate are ones that I share and I share the ongoing concern that we are involved in any way with legislation that is being held up or in other ways affected by that unelected, not responsible House and also very expensive House.

In this situation it sent back an amendment that might arguably be an improvement. Is it worth having it when occasionally it does something that is worthwhile?

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3:30 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Windsor—St. Clair raises an important question in the context of this bill. We are dealing with a piece of legislation that was initiated in the House of Commons, went through the process here, was sent to the Senate for approval, where that other place made a small amendment and sent it back to us for our consideration.

Notwithstanding the fact that this amendment makes a slight improvement to the bill, there are serious questions to be raised about the appropriateness of the Senate, with all its difficulties, problems and questionable activities in terms of the legislative process.

Members know that we in this party have long pressed for the abolishment of the Senate. We believe it is a place of patronage and convenience for the government in terms of appointments and it is a place that is costly and does not enhance our democratic process.

That fact is made even more strongly when we look at some of the conflicts of interest that senators find themselves in, in the pursuit of legislative amendments or in the development of public policy. I think specifically of the recent Kirby report and its attempt to outdo the Roy Romanow commission by presenting the blueprint with such speed and haste so the government would feel compelled to lump the Romanow commission and the Kirby report together as one and say that it had all these wonderful recommendations and that it would act on some of them. Of course it leaves the option for the government to do nothing.

In the case of the Kirby report we all have serious questions about Senator Kirby's ties to a personal care home and his interests in private health care. In fact in the end he did not take a firm, strong position against privatization of health care. We could clearly see the results of an aspect to our legislative process where there are no standards, in terms of transparency with respect to lobbying and there are real questions around ethical standards.

We have not only our initial reservations about the role of the Senate in the legislative process but we also now have real concerns about conflicts of interest and ties to corporate interests that do not enhance the legislative process. For those reasons, our case to do away with the Senate is made even stronger, and I would certainly support that today.

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3:30 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Madam Speaker, with regard to the legislation specifically, my colleague for Windsor West pushed very strongly at the committee stage when the bill was going through for full disclosure. My colleague from Winnipeg raised that in her address to the House today. She pointed to specific donations that were made to the Liberal Party.

I wonder if she could comment on whether the disclosure provisions that should be in that legislation should include disclosure provisions of donations made to leadership candidates given that we have at this point minimal disclosure from the leadership candidate for the Liberal Party, the member for LaSalle—Émard, and whether this might be a way of having those donations made public, if there were full disclosure under this particular legislation.

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3:35 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, my colleague, the member for Windsor—St. Claire and the environment critic for the NDP caucus, has raised an important aspect to Bill C-15, the issue of full disclosure.

With respect to the general disclosure provisions, we have identified serious weaknesses and have proposed amendments. We believe the legislation needs to be changed and enhanced to require lobbyists to disclose their relationship with those they are lobbying, and that the act should include provisions that would require past or current work with government, political parties or candidates for public office.

Obviously we are concerned about politicians being lobbied by their former campaign managers. We see this as a conflict of interest for which there currently is no requirement for disclosure. It is a very important issue now.

Applying that to the present situation in terms of leadership candidates who are also members of the government and cabinet ministers, I would say to my colleague that it is absolutely imperative for this legislation to be comprehensive and to cover all circumstances.

We absolutely do want to see donations to leadership campaigns covered in some way or another with respect to this kind of legislation.

Whether we are talking about the member for LaSalle—Émard and the whole issue of policies that would enhance the steamship company, or whether we are talking about the Minister of Finance and raising serious questions about the fact that he appears to have received significant contributions from brand name pharmaceutical companies, they are legitimate concerns. They have to do with public policy. We would have to question whether, for example, the Minister of Finance is in a position to review regulations pertaining to the drug industry.

It would appear, based on what we know in terms of donations to his campaign, that he is not in a position to do that. He is in a conflict of interest position but he refuses to accept that difficult position. His supporters and his staff refuse to acknowledge that dilemma.

It is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to raise the issues in the context of this bill and to make changes to Bill C-15 which will reflect that kind of scenario. We also need to draw to the attention of all parliamentarians the very serious possibility for conflict of interest happening as a result of leadership candidates receiving big money, huge donations from corporations, from pharmaceutical corporations, from energy corporations, from oil and gas companies, from banks, from big entities that have so much influence over the government and even more influence now because of candidates who are on the front bench of the government making important decisions.

That is a serious issue and it must be dealt with. I hope it is in the bill.

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3:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to make comments on Bill C-15 with respect to lobbyists.

We have heard it mentioned by many people how important it is that lobbyists not be in a position to disrupt the parliamentary process or to exert undue influence on parliamentarians. However I have to observe that lobbyists are not the only ones who do this. Many people exert undue influence on Parliament and disrupt the parliamentary process.

At the beginning of this Parliament, opposition members encountered tremendous difficulty with respect to Bill C-7 amendments due to the draconian measures brought in by the government House leader, and the government's dismissive view of the decisions of the House, ignoring such things as the motion for Taiwan's bid for observer status at the World Health Organization, and the motion respecting the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece from Britain.

Just yesterday the Solicitor General disrespected the sub judice convention, and today the Minister of Transport indicated that he would override the decision of the Standing Committee on Transport and reinstate $9 million to VIA Rail. All of these things disrupt the parliamentary process.

One of the members who spoke recently said that we should do everything in our power to ensure that we stop the exertion of undue influence and disruption in the House. In keeping with that, I move:

That this House do now adjourn.

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3:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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3:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.