Evidence of meeting #11 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was rules.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Duff Conacher  Co-Founder, Democracy Watch
Chris MacDonald  Associate Professor, Ryerson University
Robert Czerny  Former President

3:10 p.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

The Access to Information Act enforcement has been strengthened by making the Information Commissioner able to order the release of documents, but the Liberals in 2015 did not promise any changes to strengthen ethics rules, lobbying rules or whistle-blower protection and have ignored recommendations from committees since then on this.

That's about it. That's why I say there's a failing grade on both the ethics file and the open government file for this government.

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you, Mr. Conacher.

Mr. Dong, you have five minutes.

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Thank you, Chair.

I want to thank you, Mr. Conacher, for coming here and for your presentation. I listened quite carefully. I have just a couple of things.

First, what's your opinion on the current commissioner, Commissioner Dion? Do you think he's doing a good job right now?

3:10 p.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Commissioner Dion has been hit-and-miss. His ruling on SNC-Lavalin, as I mentioned, was good in that he reversed a very bad decision made by Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, very early in her mandate, that private interests in the Conflict of Interest Act did not include political, social or any interests other than financial interests. She just created a huge loophole that essentially gutted the law even more than it was gutted before. It already didn't apply to 99% of decisions, and now it didn't apply to 99% of interests. It really should be called the “almost impossible to be in a conflict of interest act”. He closed one of those loopholes with his reinterpretation.

But, in that ruling, he let eight other people off the hook who did exactly the same thing that the Prime Minister did, which was pressure the Attorney General to stop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. He said they can't be found guilty because they're not the Prime Minister and they can't influence the Attorney General. That was a very bad ruling that Democracy Watch is currently challenging in the Federal Court of Appeal.

August 10th, 2020 / 3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Sorry, I didn't mean to cut you off.

I like that substance. You also made a comment that he was appointed by the current administration; therefore, it may be perceived that process is biased. I just want to make sure that I understand where you're coming from.

Another thing you mentioned in your presentation is that all members should be under review or perhaps audited by the commissioner to take a look at where they're getting their donations or people who are helping out on their campaigns. I just want to understand a bit more. Right now, no corporate donations are allowed. They are all coming from individuals. In my case, in my riding, if a community group likes my policy, likes what I've done or likes my focus locally and its members decide to support me when it comes to an election campaign, in your view would that be seen as a conflict of interest? Or perhaps they help me or they're influencing my policy or vice versa. What do you think about that?

3:15 p.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Just briefly, on the Ethics Commissioner selection process, and the Commissioner of Lobbying as well, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the Trudeau cabinet was biased when it chose those two commissioners, but the bias is allowed under the Supreme Court of Canada ruling, unfortunately. Five provinces use a more independent system for choosing their watchdogs, and the federal level should do it as well, whether it's an all-party committee or an independent commission that comes together to—

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Yes, I just want to bring it back. The reason I asked my last question is that if we implement everything that you suggested today, I wonder how practical it is for individuals or community activists to step forward to join an election and hopefully be elected.

3:15 p.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

It's entirely practical, but if they'd helped you in a significant way, they would not be allowed to lobby you. The other way to go is, if they had those ties and they were lobbying you, you would have to recuse yourself because of the favours they did before.

That threshold is already in the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct. If you've helped someone significantly, you cannot lobby him or her for four years.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

I've got limited time, but thank you for clarifying that.

What's your opinion on a parliamentary committee of partisan MPs effectively summoning the financial records of private citizens or a private entity? Do you think that purpose would be better served by the commissioner who's doing the investigation?

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

You have 30 seconds.

3:15 p.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Again, Parliament has the right to ask for information from government and from private citizens. There's an old saying, “follow the money”. So there's a money trail in this situation and it has to be followed because it tells part of the tale. The whole communication record has to be out there and the whole money record has to be out there before we can really get close to the truth of what happened in this situation.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Thank you.

I have a last question.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Dong.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

I just want to return the favour. What's your rating on Prime Minister Harper's government?

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Dong, that is your time. Thank you.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Would you allow an answer, Chair?

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

I'm happy to allow an answer.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Okay, I'm done. Thank you.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

You have five seconds.

3:15 p.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Democracy Watch's final report card on the Conservatives, issued in 2014, rated them an F for their government accountability and democratization record, essentially failing to keep more than half of their promises made in 2006 in the Federal Accountability Act, and also taking some huge steps backwards by gutting the ethics rules in a few key ways.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you, Mr. Conacher.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

It turns out “better” isn't possible.

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Moving on then to our final round, we have both the Bloc and the NDP, who will each get a 2.5-minute question, starting off with Mr. Fortin.

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Mr. Conacher, clearly, the processes that characterize good governance weren't rigorously followed in this case, and the consequences are significant. So far, what we've seen in terms of propriety, if I can call it that, is Mr. Morneau and Mr. Trudeau apologizing for their involvement in the decision-making process.

Do you think their apologies are enough to put the awarding of an untendered contract and the decision made by Mr. Morneau and Mr. Trudeau behind us? Keep in mind, their families were closely involved with WE Charity.