House of Commons Hansard #39 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was lobbying.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Lobbying Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Yukon for his question.

Ever since this Conservative government has been in power, we have seen a culture of secrecy develop and that is unacceptable. The latest example came out in the Jaffer affair. When I refer to Mr. Jaffer I also mean his wife, who was removed from the Conservative caucus. The last time a government removed a member from its caucus was under the Mulroney government. The allegations made against that person were disclosed.

In closing, since this is a matter of allegations, I would add that this government has a double standard. It says that it removed the former minister for the status of women because of the allegations. However, when we ask about the allegations of torture in Afghanistan, we are told there cannot be an investigation into mere allegations. What is more, they say the minister was removed for matters that do not affect the government, but they are not investigating a matter that does affect the government, namely, torture in Afghanistan. This is just another example of this Conservative government's inconsistency.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot for agreeing to share her time with me. I congratulate her for the excellent speech and the many examples she gave concerning the culture of secrecy that has taken over Parliament, especially since the arrival of the Conservatives in 2006. The sponsorship scandal unfortunately showed us that it is possible for a government in power to fall into the murky waters of the culture of secrecy and favouritism, as shown by the examples that have been given since the motion was moved.

The Bloc Québécois supports the motion moved by the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl, which reads as follows:

That, given the apparent loophole in the Lobbying Act which excludes Parliamentary Secretaries from the list of “designated public office holders”, the House calls on the government to take all necessary steps to immediately close this loophole and thus require Parliamentary Secretaries to comply fully with the Lobbying Act, in the same manner as Ministers are currently required to do.

It seems entirely logical to me. I have not been a member for many years but I am nevertheless surprised that this was not done before. Had I been told that parliamentary secretaries were on the same list as ministers I would not have been surprised.

We now realize that there are loopholes in the law. Parliamentary secretaries, who have a great deal more power than an ordinary government backbencher, are not subject to the law. That problem can be remedied by this motion, if the majority of Parliament supports it. I believe that will be the case.

However, given the comments I heard today, I do not believe that the Conservatives will vote in favour of this motion. It is completely inconceivable that the party in power, which presented itself in 2006 as the champion of transparency and proclaimed its desire to make ethics a priority, would vote against such a motion.

I said earlier that both the Liberals and the Conservatives, when in power, frequently promised to clean up politics in Ottawa. Neither one kept their promises.

Over the years, the Bloc Québécois has made considerable progress on the ethics and transparency front, in particular by putting an end to corporate funding of election campaigns. Quebec prohibited businesses from contributing to election campaigns in 1977, under the René Lévesque government. At the federal level, parties were able to receive donations up until very recently.

Here are other achievements of the Bloc Québécois: tighter control over lobbying activities and the appointment of returning officers on the basis of merit by an independent organization, Elections Canada. That seems obvious, but that was not the case before. The government directly appointed returning officers. That is no longer the case, and the Bloc Québécois played a big role in that.

Although foundations have not been abolished, we have succeeded in making them subject to review by the Auditor General. That is a step in the right direction. Our many questions also helped put an end to the Canadian unity fund, which dated back to the Mulroney era. This reserve, with close to $800 million, was kept secret and helped fund various propaganda activities.

The Bloc Québécois has always maintained that the problem in Ottawa is not the lack of rules—although some issues could be fixed individually by filling in some holes in the legislation—it is the lack of political will to respect the existing rules.

We are in favour of this motion. During the 2006 election campaign, the Conservatives made themselves out to be the knights of transparency and ethics. This was after the Gomery commission was created by the previous government. With all the scandals that came to light, it was easy for the Conservatives to present themselves to Canadians as a different and transparent government. They claimed they would put ethics and accountability first. They ran their campaign under that banner. I know, because I ran in that election. I was running for my second term.

The Conservatives have completely failed in passing themselves off as the white knights of transparency and ethics.

The fact is that the Conservatives have not honoured their commitments to the public and democracy. Instead of strengthening ethics in government and promoting transparency, they have strengthened the culture of secrecy and cronyism. Earlier, a Liberal member referred to the early days of this government. It was clear from the start that the media no longer had access to ministers when they came out of a caucus meeting. Ministers no longer held scrums, which was something totally new for the media covering federal politics on Parliament Hill, because they had always had access to ministers. When a minister ran from the media, he made the news.

The new government had just taken power, and secrecy was already the order of the day. All the examples mentioned in previous speeches and all the examples we have heard about and seen in the media are now out in the open and show that this government has no intention of making good on the election promises it made four or five years ago.

The Bloc Québécois calls on the Conservatives to keep their election promises on ethics and specifically on lobbying. There are other loopholes in the law, including one that allows individuals to lobby without being registered if they spend less than 20% of their time lobbying or if they are just gathering information. An NDP member raised the same point earlier and said that the Lobbying Act should be strengthened. While I do not want to take a stand on behalf of my Bloc Québécois colleagues who are leading our charge on this issue, I think that the NDP member is right. The law must be strengthened, not broadened so that anyone can do anything.

Lobbying politicians is a very delicate thing to do. It is not illegal, but it has to be done by the book. Special interest groups naturally want to tell the government that they have certain concerns and that they would like to see an issue handled in a certain way for the people they represent. There is nothing wrong with that, but the rules have to be very strict and everything has to be very well regulated so that things do not get out of control.

We were all a bit dismayed when the recent example of Rahim Jaffer hit us, once all the information was made public. No matter how much he denied it in committee, and no matter how we look at the situation, Mr. Jaffer was a lobbyist. He did not register, yet he still lobbied his former colleagues on numerous occasions. He received a warm welcome from staff and from the Prime Minister's Office, no doubt. At least, that is what he has always claimed. He still had the Conservative Party logo on his website. I will not repeat everything that we already know, but, one thing is certain, this gentleman created quite a stir when certain information was made public.

There is also the matter of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, who is responsible—the parliamentary secretary, himself, not the minister—for a program with a budget of about $1 billion; not $1 million, but $1 billion. That is significant. He is an obvious target for lobbyists, which is why more stringent rules for this type of role are not only justified, but also necessary.

As I said, we would have expected parliamentary secretaries to have already been included. It is a stark and prime example of how important it is to apply strict rules to lobbying. The parliamentary secretary, who has significant responsibility, opened his door to Mr. Jaffer. He is not an ordinary backbencher.

That is why we must support this Liberal opposition day motion.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the fact that the Bloc will be supporting this important motion to close a gaping loophole in the Lobbying Act.

The member mentioned that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities has access to the $1 billion green fund. I am quite concerned about other parliamentary secretaries. We have not heard, for example, from the parliamentary secretaries or the Minister of Natural Resources.

Does the member share the concern that while we may be closing this loophole, it may be a little late, and that the government should be very forthcoming on what it already may know?

Opposition Motion--Lobbying Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I completely agree with the hon. member. This specific example shows us that something fishy is going on and there is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately. I do not understand how the current government can disagree with such a measure since a parliamentary secretary is not an ordinary MP. I do not mean “ordinary” in any derogatory way. A parliamentary secretary has an additional responsibility. He replaces the minister in committee; he listens and speaks for the minister. In the House, when the minister is not here to answer the opposition's questions, it is always the parliamentary secretary who rises. He becomes responsible for what happens in the department. He even makes announcements on behalf of the minister.

Given that a parliamentary secretary may have significant funds to manage, it is clear he could encounter problems with regard to a certain form of lobbying.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would ask the member to comment on the fact that there is no requirement for lobbyists to disclose the amount of money spent on specific campaigns, no requirement for financial disclosure and no spending limits for lobbying campaigns, especially in light of the air passengers' bill of rights and the lobbyists' efforts to kill that bill where they spent enormous amounts of money on advertising, on receptions and on visiting members.

Does the member think that members of Parliament should have a right to know how much money lobbyists are spending on their campaigns?

Opposition Motion--Lobbying Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, we have to support any measure that makes our profession more transparent. I am not aware of the specific example that the member gave. Earlier, I heard him say that we need tougher lobbying rules. I think that it would be appropriate for people in general, not just parliamentarians, to know exactly how much all of these lobbying firms are spending and what they are spending the money on.

As I said, it is not illegal. It is easy to point fingers at lobbyists and firms that are hired to lobby the government and MPs and make presentations to them. If we have a proper framework and strict rules in place for this kind of work and if, as the member said, there is greater transparency in disclosing the amounts spent on certain campaigns, the people will be well served and interest groups that need these lobbyists to advance their causes will improve their image.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Provencher
Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, what I am very concerned about is that this motion does not go far enough.

I am very concerned about the Liberal, Bloc and New Democrat MPs who lobby me on behalf of individuals who they do not identify. I am wondering why it is that they can carry out secret instructions from various organizations that they do not then disclose. I do not know who I am dealing with other than the Liberal MP who comes to me and says that he or she has a proposal. On whose behalf are they doing this and how does this particular motion address that very significant problem? I am wondering what the opposition members have to hide.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, if the minister and his party vote against this motion, they are the ones with something to hide. It worries me to hear an elected member of the House cast aspersions on the work of other members who have a legitimate mandate by calling them lobbyists. We were democratically elected to the House to represent people, and it is our job to talk to ministers about various issues in our ridings. If the minister does not represent his constituents well, he is not doing his job. What we do is nothing like what lobbyists do.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and speak today to our opposition day motion put forward by the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl. I congratulate her for bringing this motion forward.

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Brossard—La Prairie.

I have had the opportunity to look at the Lobbying Act through my work on the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, and I look forward to a review of the act in the fall.

The omission of parliamentary secretaries from the list of designated public office holders is either a deliberately concocted loophole or a glaring omission that the government should be falling over itself to rectify.

I fully support the motion to call on the government to immediately close this loophole and require parliamentary secretaries to comply fully with the Lobbying Act in the same manner as ministers are currently required to do so.

I would think that the Conservative government would embrace the opportunity to fulfill its 2006 platform promise to require ministers and senior government officials, including parliamentary secretaries, to proactively record and report their contact with lobbyists.

The Lobbying Act's definition of a designated public office holder is extensive, including ministers, ministers of state and their staff, deputy heads and assistant deputy ministers, and those of comparable rank. It is a long list of people who have considerable influence on the decisions of the Conservative government.

It is a mystery as to why that list does not include parliamentary secretaries. There is no doubt that parliamentary secretaries have privileged access. They serve the ministers' role in question period, in meetings with stakeholders, in relations with the departments, and perhaps most importantly they have the ear of the ministers. They too have influence on the decisions made by the government. I would argue that influence is considerably greater than that of members of the House.

The Lobbying Act defines activities that when carried out for compensation are considered to be lobbying. Generally speaking, they include communicating with public office holders with respect to changing federal laws, regulations, policies or programs, obtaining a financial benefit such as a grant or contribution, and in certain cases obtaining a government contract or arranging a meeting between a public office holder and another person.

When a lobbyist meets with a ministers seeking support for a project, there are two fundamental requirements of that lobbyist, that he or she is a registered lobbyist and that he or she provides a monthly communication report.

Canadians have on-line access on the registry of lobbyists, to the lobbyist's name and business, as well as details of the subject the lobbyist is to discuss with the minister, and also the name of the department and/or other governmental institution in which any public office holder with whom the individual communicates or expects to communicate. Therefore, it is wide ranging.

Let us say the minister, for example, was detained and unavailable to meet with the lobbyist, so the parliamentary secretary is called upon to fill in, in that particular meeting. The same lobbyist sits down with the minister's parliamentary secretary and pitches the very same project and all the paperwork disappears.

Lobbyists need to be registered. Nothing more is asked of them through the Lobbying Act. The parliamentary secretary meets up with the minister later that day, gives him or her a briefing, an update on the proposal, and offers a full endorsement of the project.

What do Canadians know about this meeting that took place? Absolutely nothing.

There is no reason that these two meetings should be treated so differently by the Lobbying Act. If the government is truly committed to transparency, it needs to ensure that all lobbyists and decision-makers are obliged to follow the same rules.

The rules of the Lobbying Act were put in place to meet the goal of increasing accountability. Any lobbyist who communicates with a designated public office holder must file a monthly report, including all arranged communications, telephone calls, meetings or any other communications arranged in advance.

The report must disclose for each communication that took place in a given month, the date of the communication with the designated public office holder, the name and title of all designated public office holders who were the object of the communication, and the subject of the communication.

Simple, straightforward information that should be readily available to Canadians, especially when we are talking about access to taxpayers' dollars.

We know that each minister and parliamentary secretary have unique arrangements in terms of the level of authority and departmental access that is provided to the parliamentary secretary, and it varies from department to department. We acknowledge that. However, we cannot dispute the fact that the opportunity exists for a minister to delegate a significant amount of decision-making authority to the parliamentary secretary should the minister choose to do so.

The Lobbying Act, as it stands today, creates an environment where lobbyists can meet extensively with the Conservative government's key decision makers without anyone ever knowing it happened. It is troublesome that government members will stand here today and boast about the government's record on accountability and transparency while we only have to look at a newspaper over the last couple of months to see it has taken advantage of the loophole to get around the law as outlined in the Lobbying Act.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order. The hon. member will have four minutes left to conclude her remarks, but now we will move on to statements by members.

The hon. member for Ottawa—Orléans.

Mental Health Week
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, this week is a time when we turn our attention inward to ensure that we live balanced, focused lives, and help those around us to do the same.

The Canadian Mental Health Association supports the resilience and recovery of people experiencing mental illness and this year it launched the 59th annual Mental Health Week.

Across the country, the Canadian Mental Health Association is encouraging Canadians to cultivate harmonious relationships with their colleagues and neighbours, as well as their family and friends.

Forging harmonious relationships helps us develop the resilience needed to deal with the stresses and demands of everyday life.

Important to the House is the fact that Canada loses some $51 billion a year on lost productivity due to mental health problems. Studies continue to reveal that one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness some time during his or her lifetime.

I would like to congratulate the CMHA and wish it every success this week and all year long.

Maternal and Child Health
Statements By Members

May 4th, 2010 / 2 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, May 9 is Mother's Day. In honour of mothers and caregivers everywhere, bold leadership is required to stop the preventable deaths of women and children around the world. This year, an estimated 8.8 million children under the age of five will die from largely preventable causes and over 300,000 women will die because of pregnancy or childbirth-related complications.

Canada and other G8 leaders must lead the way through bold and urgent steps to catalyze global efforts and save the lives of these women and children. In order to be truly effective, this effort must include full access to safe reproductive care and not influenced by ideology.

During this week leading up to Mother's Day, CARE, the Canadian Association of Midwives, Plan Canada, Results Canada, Save the Children Canada, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, UNICEF, and World Vision are joining forces in Ottawa to get the attention of government.

This Mother's Day the greatest gifts we can give mothers around the world are the tools that they need, so they can access the health care they need close to home, where it is most effective.

Lanaudière 2010 Desjardins Tourism Awards
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the recipients of the Lanaudière 2010 Desjardins tourism awards. Most of the winners come from my riding.

Arbraska Rawdon won in the outdoor and leisure category, and Bergerie des Neiges took top place for farm tourism and regional products. The award for tourist attractions with less than 100,000 visitors went to the Musée d’art de Joliette. Winners in the various “Accommodation” categories included Auberge du Vieux Moulin, Bergerie des Neiges, Pourvoirie Domaine Bazinet, and Les Chalets du Lac Grenier. The human resources tourism leaders of tomorrow award went to Benjamin Vallée from Auberge du Lac Taureau and the human resources tourism supervisor award went to Josée Beauregard from that same establishment. Finally, La Source bains nordiques took home the sustainable tourism award and Mario Boisvert received the Réjean-Gadoury personality of the year award.

Congratulations to the winners, who are a testament to the vitality and quality of tourism in the Lanaudière region. Looking forward to seeing them this summer.

Police Funding
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, in 2006 the Conservative government promised funding for 2,500 new police officers. Municipalities like New Westminster, Coquitlam and Port Moody were counting on this money for their police forces. Coquitlam, for example, has one of the lowest police to population ratios in the country, at one member for every 939 people.

Last month, I met with members of the Canadian Association of Police Boards, who were in Ottawa for the fourth year in a row asking the government to live up to its promise of adding 2,500 new police officers to Canadian streets and provide long-term, stable funding to continue to fight crime.

The CAPB represents more than 75 municipal police boards, employing in excess of 33,000 police personnel, and has repeatedly called on the government to provide dedicated funding for policing.

Police officers put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe. It is time for the Conservative government to deliver on its promise and give municipalities stable, long-term funding.

Multiple Sclerosis
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, as MS Awareness Month begins, I would like to recognize this cause that is so important to many of my constituents and many Canadians across the country.

The Sherwood Park MS Community Group is the largest MS group in the country. It works tirelessly to educate the community and raise awareness about multiple sclerosis. This group holds many events throughout the community, and actively provides information and support to the families and friends of those with MS.

I am pleased to say that funding by the Government of Canada for MS research is making a real difference. These investments are building our overall understanding of multiple sclerosis toward more effective treatment and, ultimately, a cure.

MS is an unpredictable and often disabling disease. I am proud to have such a large group of strong individuals in my riding that are fighting the disease and who live by the motto that MS is not the end but the beginning of a new journey.