Evidence of meeting #22 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was register.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Stéphanie Yates  Professor, Department of Social and Public Communication, Université du Québec à Montréal
John Chenier  Editor and Publisher, ARC Publications
Duff Conacher  Board Member, Chairperson, Government Ethics Coalition, Democracy Watch

11:55 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Mr. Chenier.

11:55 a.m.

Editor and Publisher, ARC Publications

John Chenier

I just want to add that it's not only “who”, but what they're doing, so it goes beyond just having their name on the registry. That's essentially what we had in 1989: a name on the registry. It's also who they're seeing, what they're doing, and why they're doing it, which is the important part of the transparency as well. How much information do you require from the lobbyist in terms of their activities and who they're seeing?

I must say that the last modification of the act took a giant step in forcing the disclosure of who they're seeing. Now, you still don't know who all was at the meeting, and you don't know what they were really talking about, so in terms of transparency we still have a way to go. But it's the activity, as well as the people, that is very important in any legislation.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Conservative Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Is there ethical lobbying and unethical lobbying? For instance, healthy lobbying.... When you're sitting as mayor and getting reports from staff on issues and making decisions from those reports, that's kind of lobbying you as an elected official.

Then you have people who today can access you through the Internet and send you reports on their position, so you're being lobbied again. But I value that. I can look at these issues, balance them out, and understand both sides of the issue on any given subject.

Is it not more important to discern the unethical lobbying, where they're saying, okay, if you do this for me, or if you implement this, you're going to see support politically or financially, or some sort of benefit...? How do you discern that, especially with the technology today and the access they have to the public office holder?

Noon

Board Member, Chairperson, Government Ethics Coalition, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

The difficulty, though, is that—

Noon

Conservative

Colin Mayes Conservative Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

I'd like to hear from Madam Yates first, if you don't mind, as she hasn't had an opportunity.

Noon

Professor, Department of Social and Public Communication, Université du Québec à Montréal

Prof. Stéphanie Yates

Before I answer the question, I'd like to go back to the first one, which was whether there are inspiring examples elsewhere in the world.

I agree that no legislation is necessarily perfect. But to come back to the American example, I think the definition of lobbying adopted by the American legislator seems quite relevant. It includes preparation, strategic advice and calls that aren't strictly lobbying within the meaning of our act, but that fall under this idea of influence.

In fact, people are very cynical when they see a former minister leaving his duties, and becoming a strategic advisor, and not a lobbyist, with a consulting firm the next day. While I'm not saying that the American model is the model to use, when it comes to the definition of lobbying, I think there's something very interesting in that model.

To come back to the question about ethical lobbying compared with non-ethical lobbying, I think there's a significant risk of deviation. I think the Canadian legislation needs to build on transparency. We will get to that stage when we are truly transparent, especially when it comes to ethical and non-ethical activities. In that respect, saying that certain activities from charity or community organizations don't need to be registered because they're obviously ethical may result in some deviation. I think transparency must prevail.

Noon

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

We're well out of time on that question. I will allow a very brief response from Mr. Chenier and Mr. Conacher.

Mr. Chenier.

Noon

Editor and Publisher, ARC Publications

John Chenier

I have just two points. One, it's easier in the U.S. to define lobbying because lobbying is not tax deductible. Their national customs and revenue has defined what is lobbying and what is lobbying activity, and therefore expenses are not tax deductible.

The other thing is that it's not a question of ethical or unethical; it's a question of people having the choice of whether they want to register the activity or not. It still remains that people can make that choice. They can skirt the law. They can decide, “I'm going to go this way so that I don't have to register or be visible in the process”.

Noon

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Thank you, Mr. Chenier.

Mr. Conacher, just briefly, please.

Noon

Board Member, Chairperson, Government Ethics Coalition, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

If you don't have full transparency, if you leave a loophole open, then it will be exploited by unethical lobbyists. So get the full transparency, close all the loopholes, and then the public will decide and be able to track whether unethical lobbying is happening.

Noon

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Thank you, Mr. Conacher.

Monsieur Dusseault, cinq minutes.

Noon

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I'd first like to ask Mrs. Yates a question.

You spoke about preparation activities for use with lobbying contacts, which is everything done before the lobbyist as such has gone to see a public office holder. This reminds me a bit of the Stockwell Day story. I think you touched on it briefly, without mentioning it directly. He was the minister and then moved to the private sector to do preparation or consultation work and tried to show the lobbyists how to do the job.

Do you think this should be regulated? I have the impression that these people can open a lot of doors and that they can have a lot of influence, without lobbying themselves, by telling others how to do it and who to go and see.

Noon

Professor, Department of Social and Public Communication, Université du Québec à Montréal

Prof. Stéphanie Yates

That's right.

I didn't mention that specific example in the brief, but I mentioned a recent example from Quebec. When we talk about the cynicism and suspicion of the population toward politics, it's those type of situations that make sure that people become very cynical toward politics.

I think that by broadening the definition of the word "lobbying", we could include these types of preparation or strategic activities in what constitutes a lobbying activity. Therefore, as someone said, these people should be subject to the same post-mandate rules of five years and, so, could not occupy their job as they are now. This would contribute greatly to revitalizing our political system and restore the public's confidence in all things political.

Noon

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

How would it be disclosed? Would the lobbyist say that the preparation was done by a consultant?

12:05 p.m.

Professor, Department of Social and Public Communication, Université du Québec à Montréal

Prof. Stéphanie Yates

As for the methods of disclosure, the legislator would have to look into the matter a little more. But it would be possible to arrive at that. In fact, the five-year rule would say that it couldn't be done because it would constitute lobbying. So there would be no disclosure because the person would simply not do it.

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

My next question is for Mr. Conacher.

I haven't yet heard you speak about meetings of a somewhat social nature or meetings that were not necessarily planned. For example, I'm thinking about the Albany Club, where Conservatives and ministers meet fairly often. They say that it's for social meetings and that they don't discuss matters as such.

The Albany Club is only one example, but don't you think that this type of meeting should be registered and much more documented?

12:05 p.m.

Board Member, Chairperson, Government Ethics Coalition, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Thank you. I'll answer in English. My French is rusty.

Yes, all communications that are decisions have to be disclosed. That's the rule that should be in place. It's very important. Again, if the promise had been kept in 2006.... The promise by the Conservatives was that ministers and senior public officials would be required to disclose their contacts with lobbyists—meaning all communications—and instead, only oral and pre-arranged communications are required to be disclosed. Not everyone who is at the meeting has to be disclosed. The commissioners talked about that, and others.

And yes, for any conversation, any type of communication that's about decisions, that has to be the rule; it has to be disclosed on the registry in the communication reports. Again, you're not going to stop it all. You're not going to stop the conversations on the back nine of the golf course—no one is ever going to be able to stop those—but make it illegal, at least, to not register and disclose those conversations.

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Thank you.

My next question is for Mr. Chenier.

It concerns the RCMP and its follow-up on the files that the commissioner submits to it. There was no follow-up in any of the cases. Do you think the commissioner should instead be given some authority of investigation and that the commissioner have those files in hand, rather than always entrusting them to the RCMP?

12:05 p.m.

Editor and Publisher, ARC Publications

John Chenier

Yes, on all counts. All the cases that have been referred to the RCMP in the past, including the first one we referred way back in 1992 or 1993, have been dropped for one reason or another, for one technicality or another. Either it was unpaid lobbying or it was beyond the terms. The first one was a six-month rule; it was beyond six months. Then it was beyond two years, which is why we have the ten-year rule now, that you can investigate and lay charges on breaches to the act. Many of these are not what you would call serious enough to the RCMP, at any rate, to warrant a lot of resources.

I concur with what Mr. Conacher said about being proactive. Actually going out and doing audits in terms of whether the activities and the registrations match, with more powers to investigate and have administrative penalties, I think would do wonders for the act.

12:05 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Thank you, Mr. Chenier.

Your time is up, Monsieur Dusseault.

Mr. Dreeshen, for five minutes.

February 9th, 2012 / 12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer, AB

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

I have a couple of points. First of all, there was a comment made by my colleague about Stockwell Day and the work he was doing. I suggest that when you have someone who is trying to show people how they should be following the rules so that they aren't being accused of being secret and unethical lobbyists.... I know he would understand what that situation is. When we just throw that out as an example of something that's bad, I think this is actually an example that would enhance the types of things that you are talking about. If there are changes that come, one would assume that this would also be part of what someone in his position would perhaps talk about.

The other part that I wanted to mention goes back to your comments about backbenchers and whether or not they are on committees. If they are, there should be a four- or five-year, or whatever, timeframe before they or their 20-year-old staffers who come with them to the committees.... I don't think people should be led to believe that it is an occasion that happens once in a while. All backbenchers are on at least one committee—most of us are on two committees—so you can recognize the gravity of what you are saying. It isn't just an occasional thing that backbenchers do.

I guess the other aspect is this. Madam Yates, you spoke about groups where contributions over a certain sum of money.... You felt it was important that that be emphasized, and that there could be updates in case there are dollars coming in from different groups and organizations. That's another issue that I wouldn't mind getting a little bit more information on.

Mr. Conacher had a comment first, if you want to start.

12:10 p.m.

Board Member, Chairperson, Government Ethics Coalition, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Sure.

When this committee looks at the Conflict of Interest Act, which I imagine will be on your agenda soon, because the five-year review deadline is coming up, you will have this issue. You will be looking at this rule that says that former public office holders covered by that act are never allowed to give advice to any client, ever, using information they learned on the job that is not accessible to the public.

That's the question to ask about what people like Stockwell Day are doing. Are they giving advice without using any of the information they learned while cabinet ministers that is not accessible to the public? What is being done to enforce that rule? The Ethics Commissioner is not doing any audits. And former public office holders don't even have to inform her when they leave office. She doesn't even know where they've gone and what they're doing, in many cases.

It's actually a Conflict of Interest Act rule. That's why I urge you to make changes not just to the Lobbying Act. Make relevant and related changes to the other laws. These two laws very much work together, and there are some conflicts between them now and lots of questions about enforcement, on both sides.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer, AB

Madame Yates.

12:10 p.m.

Professor, Department of Social and Public Communication, Université du Québec à Montréal

Prof. Stéphanie Yates

We're talking about the distrust and cynicism of the public toward politics. But if these groups had to disclose their sources of funding, there would be much more transparency. We've recently heard in the media about Friends of Science, which presented itself as a group that questions the role of human activity on climate change. The group is made up of scientists and researchers from the University of Calgary. Finally, it came out that the group was funded in part by a company in the energy sector, Talisman Energy.

I think this type of situation contributes to building the distrust of the public toward politics. We should simply add a field to the registry and require groups that engage in lobbying to reveal their major sources of funding so we can know which backer has an influence on their lobbying activities. It's a simple change that could help reduce the public's distrust.

12:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Mr. Dreeshen, you have 20 seconds.