Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
I am pleased to be here today to participate in your study of Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing).
I am accompanied by Bruce Bergen, senior counsel.
As Commissioner of Lobbying, my role is to administer the Lobbying Act, which makes lobbying activities transparent, and to develop and enforce the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct, which sets out standards of behaviour for lobbyists. Together, the act and the code ensure that Canadians have confidence in the integrity of decisions taken by their government.
Lobbying is a legitimate activity.
Having been involved in the making of public policy for many years, I know that exposure to a range of viewpoints is essential to effective policy-making and better decision-making by governments. However, it is important that when lobbyists communicate with public office holders, they do so transparently and with high ethical standards.
My mandate, as outlined in the act, is threefold: maintain the Registry of Lobbyists, which contains and makes public the information disclosed by lobbyists; develop and implement educational programs to foster public awareness of the requirements of the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct; and ensure compliance with the act and the code.
The Lobbyists' Code of Conduct complements the Lobbying Act in enhancing public confidence in government decision-making.
Following a two-year consultation process, a new Lobbyists' Code of Conduct came into force in December 2015. The new code addresses the issue of conflict of interest in more detail to reflect a 2009 Federal Court of Appeal decision that included the concept of apparent conflicts of interest. These new and simplified rules help lobbyists avoid placing public office holders in a real or apparent conflict of interest, specifically when they share close relationships with public office holders whom they have engaged in political activities, and when it comes to the provision of gifts to public office holders.
Given the committee's current study, I would like to discuss rule 9 of the code that deals with political activities.
Some political activities could create a sense of obligation. While we live in a democratic country where both political activities and lobbying are legitimate, lobbyists must ensure that no real or apparent conflict of interest is created when these two activities intersect.
The code explicitly prohibits lobbyists from lobbying members of Parliament and ministers when they have carried out political activities that could reasonably be seen to create a sense of obligation. These activities include organizing a fundraising campaign or event, writing speeches, preparing candidates for debates, and serving on the executive of an electoral district association. The rule extends to a prohibition on lobbying public office holders who work in a minister's or MP's office. By contrast, political activities such as making contributions under the Canada Elections Act, putting a sign on a lawn, being a member of an electoral district association, or attending fundraising events do not create the sense of obligation that would result in the appearance of a conflict of interest.
When the code was published, I released guidance to help lobbyists understand how I intend to apply the rules relating to conflict of interest. My guidance encourages lobbyists to ask themselves the following question when considering political activities: would a reasonable person look at my political activities and consider that they created a sense of obligation on the part of any individual seeking or holding a public office? If the answer is “yes”', then any related lobbying activities risk creating a conflict of interest for that individual and should not be undertaken.
In summary, while I do not regulate political activities, I believe that legislation such as the Lobbying Act, the Canada Elections Act, the Conflict of Interest Act, and the codes which exist for lobbyists and members of Parliament contribute to the confidence Canadians can have in the integrity of the government's decisions.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my remarks. I am now pleased to answer any questions you or the committee members may have.