Evidence of meeting #73 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was ontario.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Eric Montigny  Professor, Department of Political Science, Université Laval, As an Individual
Leslie Seidle  Research Director, Institute for Research on Public Policy, As an Individual
Mary Dawson  Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner
Karen Shepherd  Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying
Greg Essensa  Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Ontario

12:20 p.m.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner

Mary Dawson

No. You're right, that's why I've gone so far on occasion as to say you might want to put a rule that says ministers and parliamentary secretaries per se should not solicit funds.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Nicola Di Iorio Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Again, I would have thought the opposite, because this is democracy in play, and our model of democracy is one in which individuals get up and decide to go into public service. They decide to set aside their careers, to ask their families to make sacrifices, to not see their friends, and to say, I will devote myself to the public service of my country, but I need resources because I need to be known, and I'm competing with other individuals who also want to be known and want to attract attention, and I need to raise funds.

12:20 p.m.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Nicola Di Iorio Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Where is any attention paid to that basic function of democracy?

12:20 p.m.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner

Mary Dawson

That's the converse argument, and it's a matter of finding a balance there. I don't advocate that they not be allowed to fund; I just say that's one way one could go. The fact of the matter is the old system that used to exist was that parties were funded to some extent. That doesn't exist any more, so there is a greater need for fundraising, and I hear your point.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Nicola Di Iorio Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

You would agree with me that approaching an individual, a fellow citizen, and asking them whether they believe in the cause and the principles that I want to defend in the institution that represents our democracy, and, do whether they believe it so strongly that they're willing to materially support me in that, because I'm going to need material resources—

12:20 p.m.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner

Mary Dawson

Yes, well, the only problem is that if there's some kind of a thing that.... As I said in my introductory remarks, the problem under my act and my regime arises after the fact, usually. If you've gone somewhere and received funding directly from somebody, and they come to your office two months later and say, “Listen, I need a grant”, for something or other, that's where the problems arise. They happen with my act after the fact, but there's nothing inherently evil about soliciting funds for your political party.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Nicola Di Iorio Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

You agree with me, but you have individuals who come in and say that they're going to be preaching on Sunday, and they are going to mention your name and say that you're the holiest person in this country and then a thousand persons will be convinced to vote for you. That's not reported, and then they come and ask for a grant the next week.

12:25 p.m.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner

Mary Dawson

Well, it's a matter of degree, but that's not covered in my act at the moment, so I haven't had to worry about it.

12:25 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Nicola Di Iorio Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

My point is this. By adding all of these ad hoc requests, such as those that you've outlined, aren't we suffocating the access for everybody, for every regular citizen? Now we have staff and we can deal with these complex reports, but if we can't deal with this.... If somebody wants to run as an independent, what are his chances?

12:25 p.m.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner

Mary Dawson

Well, I don't know what his chances are. Really, I'm not an expert in politics, frankly, and—

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Nicola Di Iorio Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

I'm frankly surprised to hear that. Your boss is Parliament.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Okay.

The time is up for this round. We'll now go to Mr. Richards.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

I appreciate both of you taking the time to be here today. I have a couple of different questions. I'll start, though, with this. When we look at this legislation, how we arrived here, and why we're here, it all boils down to this: we have a Prime Minister who essentially was attending these events for which there was a cash-for-access type of set-up.

You mentioned, in your opening remarks, I believe, Ms. Dawson, that you've had a number of complaints about those fundraisers, so maybe I'll start this way: do you know how many complaints you've had about those activities?

12:25 p.m.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner

Mary Dawson

Oh, gosh, I don't know. It's not a number in the thousands or anything, but I do get letters from people from time to time, or calls.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

It's not in the thousands, but has it been dozens or...?

12:25 p.m.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner

Mary Dawson

Over the last five or 10 years, you mean?

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

I'm saying in the last couple of years.

October 17th, 2017 / 12:25 p.m.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner

Mary Dawson

In the last couple of years? Oh, I don't know...maybe 20.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

About 20 different complaints or in that neighbourhood? Okay. That gives us a pretty good idea.

Obviously the reason you would have received so many complaints is that this is something that I think has been pretty prevalent. This Prime Minister has put himself in these positions.

My sense is that had he followed the provisions that he has in his own “Open and Accountable Government” document, we probably wouldn't have been in a position where we would see those kinds of situations; you wouldn't have received the number of complaints you've received, and therefore, maybe, for this legislation, which is their way of trying to put themselves out of the heat they got into over that, we wouldn't even be having this conversation today.

I want to quote from that “Open and Accountable Government” document. It says:

Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must avoid conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest and situations that have the potential to involve conflicts of interest.

It also says: Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government.

There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.

There should be no singling out, or appearance of singling out, of individuals or organizations as targets of political fundraising because they have official dealings with Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, or their staff or departments.

I don't think the bill we have before us really does anything to prevent these types of cash-for-access fundraisers by either the Prime Minister or his cabinet ministers, but had the Prime Minister and his ministers followed the advice in their own document, “Open and Accountable Government”, would you say that we probably wouldn't be in the position where this legislation would be brought forward today, and you probably wouldn't have received the number of complaints you received? Would you say that's a fair statement?

12:25 p.m.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner

Mary Dawson

I'm not here to cast stones at anybody. What I am concerned about is applying my own act.

I have certainly made the suggestion that there are some aspects of the accountability guide that could go into my act, and then it would be enforced by my office. But I do not comment on other people's enforcement.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Fair enough, but from the comments you've made, obviously you're indicating that you feel that if you were able to enforce it, that would prevent some of these kinds of situations. I guess that gives us the answer to that question: that had they followed those guidelines, that would probably have prevented those kinds of things.

I'd like to ask another question that's been raised a number of times at this committee. I don't know whether or not you follow this at all, but originally my colleague Mr. Nater raised it. It's this idea of the five-day notice period. Essentially what we have now is a situation in which, with this legislation, it would be possible for the Prime Minister to decide, let's say 12 hours or a few hours before the event, that he's going to attend, even though it has been advertised otherwise. Would you say that is something that might be a kind of wink-wink situation in which everyone knows he's attending but it's not actually advertised, so therefore it limits the ability for him to be accountable? Would you say it would be best that after that notice period it's not possible for the Prime Minister or a minister or any other public office holder who is under this to just suddenly show up at the event? Should that be prevented? What are your thoughts on that?

Maybe you both have thoughts on that; I don't know.

12:30 p.m.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner

Mary Dawson

Frankly, I can't comment on the policy of this proposed legislation. I think this proposed legislation is going a long way to cover some of the issues. I'm a great believer in transparency and in making things public.

Really, with respect to the details of exactly what ought to be in here, I don't think I'm here to comment on that, per se.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Okay. I thought that's what we were discussing.

Do you have any comments, Ms. Shepherd, or thoughts on that?