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Evidence of meeting #26 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 consider.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Roger Scott-Douglas  Assistant Secretary, Priorities and Planning, Treasury Board Secretariat
Janice Young  Senior Advisor, Strategic Policy, Treasury Board Secretariat
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Chad Mariage

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Chair, I can tell you that I do not have the reason. I can just tell you that I was asked to do it, and I was happy to accept, and that's why I'm here today.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

I have no further questions for the witness today.

11:20 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Thank you, Mr. Andrews.

Mrs. Davidson for seven minutes.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thanks very much, Madam Chair, and thanks to our parliamentary secretary and to the officials for being here with us today.

As my colleague, Mr. Del Mastro, has stated, I also think that we've had a very fulsome review of this legislation. I think we've heard from some very excellent sources. We've heard from those who are involved in lobbying. We've heard from those who have perhaps had some concerns about the way the existing legislation is written. I think at the end of the day what we really need to do as a committee is make recommendations that are going to clarify and are going to make things more crystal clear for those who have to abide by this legislation.

One of the things that did come up during the consultation process was the confusion between the Conflict of Interest Act and the Lobbying Act. They definitely are two distinct pieces of legislation, but there's often confusion among those who have to abide by the acts. Could the officials—I expect it would probably be the officials—explain the purpose of each of these acts and why there are two separate pieces of legislation?

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

I can just begin by saying that there are two acts because they affect two different bodies of people. The Lobbying Act affects lobbyists, whereas the Conflict of Interest Act affects public office holders. However, there is an overlap, and the overlap exists in the post-employment rules. Under the Lobbying Act it's a five-year ban on lobbying, and under the Conflict of Interest Act it's two years for ministers and one year for non-ministers, other public office holders. So there definitely is a conflict.

I'm glad you brought this up because I think it is very important that the committee look at this very seriously and come up with a potential recommendation. The committee may consider, for example, putting the post-employment rules of the Lobbying Act under the Conflict of Interest Act when it refers to public office holders.

To expand on that, I'll ask Roger or Janice to add to that.

11:20 a.m.

Janice Young Senior Advisor, Strategic Policy, Treasury Board Secretariat

Certainly. To add to what the parliamentary secretary has indicated, I think that's a good overview. There are two different pieces of legislation oriented towards two different individuals. As I understand the workings of the two pieces of legislation, there are a couple of areas that witnesses may have brought forward. One is the post-employment provisions under those two pieces of legislation. Because they're orientated towards different groups, they would probably have a different emphasis and different requirements.

The other area is certainly definitional considerations and how conflict of interest itself is treated.

As I understand it, you're looking at the Conflict of Interest Act vis-à-vis the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct when you're talking about conflict of interest issues. Post-employment would be within the two different pieces of legislation themselves.

As a non-lawyer, I think that's probably it as far as I can see.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

So there is some opportunity, then, to try to align some of the issues that appear in both pieces of legislation. Is that what I'm hearing?

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

I would say yes, there is definitely an opportunity for the committee to make recommendations in that regard.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thank you.

11:20 a.m.

Assistant Secretary, Priorities and Planning, Treasury Board Secretariat

Roger Scott-Douglas

If I might just elaborate a little bit on the point the parliamentary secretary and Janice made clear about having different orientations, for the most part, the Lobbying Act orients itself towards lobbyists. The Conflict of Interest Act, however, orients itself towards public office holders.

The specific area you've identified is one of the very small areas of the Lobbying Act in which the focus is on public office holders, and designated public office holders in particular. Following along your line, it might be worth considering aligning within one act all that has to do with public office holders. That might be where clarity could be brought. Issues around conflict of interest that have been discussed could be brought into more alignment, if the committee felt there was something to align, and the public office holders' conflict of interest provisions could perhaps be integrated in one act, the Conflict of Interest Act.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

You would deal with lobbyists strictly under the Lobbying Act and you'd deal with the public office holders under the Conflict of Interest Act. Is that correct?

11:25 a.m.

Assistant Secretary, Priorities and Planning, Treasury Board Secretariat

Roger Scott-Douglas

I'm saying that it's certainly something I think the committee would wish to consider.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Okay.

One of the other things we heard, and I believe it was from some of the different lobby groups, was that monthly communication reports could sometimes pose some problems, whether they were to do with some of their business dealings or some of their proprietary information. The suggestion was made that perhaps the monthly reports could be removed or could be made less frequent. Do you have any comments on that?

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

My only comment is that I understand that hundreds of monthly reports are filed on a timely basis. So I think the vast majority of lobbyists don't have a problem with that. Whether there is consideration to make them less frequent, again, that is something the committee should consider. You've heard from a lot of witnesses, who I'm sure have had various opinions on that suggestion, especially lobbyists themselves. I encourage you to consider that recommendation when you make your report.

11:25 a.m.

Assistant Secretary, Priorities and Planning, Treasury Board Secretariat

Roger Scott-Douglas

I might just add, Mr. Saxton, that one of the principal features of the Lobbying Act is the degree to which it achieves an appropriate balance between ensuring that, as was said earlier, the legitimate activity of lobbying is enabled and ensuring that the necessary degree of transparency is there so that Canadians know who is speaking with designated public office holders within the government.

Any effort to change the mechanisms that ensure that transparency, such as the reporting schedule and so forth, the committee would need to very carefully balance to ensure that all the rights the parliamentary secretary spoke about in his introduction were kept in balance and were properly respected. The fact that so many lobbyists are able to meet the deadlines without incident and without, thanks to a very sophisticated website, a great deal of administrative burden on their part I think would be an important thing to take into account.

11:25 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Thank you, Mrs. Davidson.

Mr. Morin, you have five minutes.

March 1st, 2012 / 11:25 a.m.

NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I would first like to say that I agree with my Liberal colleague, Mr. Andrews: I am also disappointed that the President of the Treasury Board did not find the time to attend our committee's meeting, unlike other ministers. Just this morning, at the Standing Committee on Health, we learned that the Minister of Health would be pleased to appear before the committee before long. I find it regrettable that the President of the Treasury Board is too busy to deign to attend a meeting of the committee that deals with the same issues as he does. That said, I am pleased that Mr. Saxton is here to replace him.

My colleague, Pierre-Luc Dusseault, asked you what you thought of the fact that the committee, at least this part of the committee, wished to have representatives of the RCMP appear before the committee and give some explanations. Many witnesses have expressed the same desire. As you know, the Ethics Commissioner has been submitting a large number of complaints to the RCMP, but they all seem to disappear into a black hole. So we would like to have representatives from the RCMP come before the committee. In response to my colleague's question, you said that the choice of witnesses was up to the committee, but might I remind you that your mission at Treasury Board is to ensure that government resources are properly managed?

I would therefore ask you the same question, Mr. Saxton: given your mandate to ensure that government resources are managed properly, do you think it would be a good idea for the RCMP to come before the committee and explain why none of the complaints submitted by the Ethics Commissioner have led to a conviction?

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Again, Madam Chair, the commissioner has tools available to her. One of those tools is to refer breaches of the act to the RCMP, and I respect that the RCMP does their job with respect to those referrals. She also has the tool of referring breaches of the code to Parliament. She has on a number of occasions also written reports to Parliament. So those tools are being used by the commissioner on a regular basis. I have no comment as to whether or not they are working. It's up to the committee to decide whether or not those tools are adequate.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Once again, you are not answering the question. The commissioner herself told us that she had submitted complaints to the RCMP, but that no charges were laid. She does not know what is going on and has recommended that the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics call on the RCMP to appear and give explanations. Since your mandate, as I have said, is to ensure that government resources are managed properly, do you think that it would be a good idea to do that?

Need I remind you that the Conservative government—

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

On a point of order, Madam Chair, I'm not aware of the committee suggesting that they wanted the RCMP to appear.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

In that case, I withdraw my words.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Jean Crowder

Monsieur Dusseault, I think any of that discussion was not on the public record.

Monsieur Morin.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

In that case, I withdraw my words. On this side, the NDP would really like to have RCMP representatives appear before the committee. My colleague's motion demonstrates that as well.

So, given that your mandate includes ensuring that government resources are managed properly, would it be a good idea to have RCMP officials come and explain themselves before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, yes or no?

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

As I mentioned, Madam Chair, the committee is the master of its own destiny. It's up to the committee to decide who it requests to come before it. I'm not here to discuss witness lists.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

In that case, I will move to another question.

There is some confusion about who is a public office holder. The definition has been broadened by your government to include all members of Parliament and employees of the Office of the Leader of the Opposition. Right now, no employees in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition are exempted.

Can you clarify exactly which employees of the Office of the Leader of the Opposition are designated public office holders and which are not? There is a certain amount of confusion right now regarding this matter and I would really like to hear your clarifications.