moved that Bill C-43, an act to amend the Lobbyists Registration Act and to make related amendments to other acts, be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today at the third reading stage of Bill C-43, an act to amend the Lobbyists Registration Act. As the House knows, the government made this bill an important part of its broader strategy aimed at restoring confidence in its integrity.
Bill C-43 was one of the measures proposed by the Prime Minister last June so we could keep our red book promises. Hon. members will remember that, on the very day this bill was read the first time, the Prime Minister announced in the House the appointment of the first ethics counsellor in Canada, whose mandate is to administer a revised, more comprehensive conflict of interest code.
The Prime Minister also announced that he wanted someone he could consult on conflicts of interest and ethics. The ethics counsellor deals with ethics issues within the government. Bill C-43 proposes that the ethics counsellor be entrusted with more responsibilities. He would be responsible, among other things, for developing a lobbyists' code of conduct and would be given considerable powers to investigate alleged breaches. In other words, this code would provide for outside supervision of lobbyists' activities.
As the Prime Minister stated, by combining these functions, the ethics counsellor would be better able to monitor the situation, because he would have real powers allowing him to conduct in-depth investigations.
Another measure introduced last June dealt with federal contracting policy. This was modified to prohibit the use of contingency fees for lobbying on all government contracts, grants and contributions.
The Prime Minister told the House that a code of conduct for members of Parliament and senators would be created. It is the intention of the government to soon strike a special joint committee to begin this important work. As recently indicated by the House leader, a motion to establish a special joint committee will be presented within the next several days.
These steps are in keeping with the promises the Liberal Party made to Canadians in the general election of 1993. We told Canadians that we would restore trust and confidence in the decision making process. What is more, we promised in the red book that a Liberal government would give members of Parliament a greater role in drafting legislation through House of Commons committees.
That is why I am doubly proud of the legislation before us today. It represents a fulfilment of our promise to Canadians not only with respect to the content of the bill but also to the process by which these amendments to the Lobbyists Registration Act were brought about. I would particularly like to congratulate the hon. member for Fundy-Royal for the leadership he demonstrated as chairman of the industry subcommittee that dealt with the bill.
The bill before us provides Canada with the most far reaching lobbyist registration laws in the world. For example, the U.S. federal law on lobbying disclosure dates from 1946 and covers only senators and members of the House of Representatives. Congress unsuccessfully attempted last year to bring the legislation up to date, to include the executive branch and congressional staff.
No legislative provisions for lobbying disclosure exist in the U.K. or in the European Parliament. There is only a listing of association representatives who lobby the German government.
The legislation was referred to the subcommittee before second reading, before the House voted to approve the bill in principle. Therefore, the hon. member for Fundy-Royal and his colleagues had a very real say in amending the bill. They enjoyed a flexibility that I believe will become a hallmark of many committees studying legislation in the years to come.
All in all, committee members made 13 improvements. I want to congratulate them on the great precedent they created by working under the new system. Their work has resulted in a much better bill and a committee report which is a first, just like the parliamentary process it stemmed from.
This report describes the process that led to the amendments being made. It also contains minority reports stating dissenting opinions on certain issues.
I am very pleased to announce that under Standing Order 109 of the House of Commons, the government will be tabling today its comprehensive response to the committee's report "Rebuilding Trust". The government was pleased to be able to accept all of the amendments proposed by the committee as well as its recommendations. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the committee and its members on the excellent work they have done.
The committee made important improvements to all parts of the bill: the disclosure requirements, the lobbyists code of conduct, the ethics counsellor's reports, the registration system and enforcement. Let me provide the House with a few examples from each category.
With respect to the first broad area, namely information to be disclosed in returns, the committee considered thoroughly and at length the issue of grassroots lobbying campaigns, where a large number of members of the public may be persuaded to send letters or make telephone calls.
Such campaigns are sometimes organized by lobbyists. Under Bill C-43 as amended, lobbyists will be required to indicate if they used or expect to use grassroots communication in an attempt to influence the government.
As I mentioned a few moments ago, under changes made to federal procurement rules last spring, lobbyists are not permitted to charge contingency fees when lobbying for federal government contracts, grants and and contributions. Under Bill C-43 amendments, consultant lobbyists will have to indicate if they are paid on a contingency fee basis for all other types of lobbying. As well, any organization that lobbies the government will have to reveal the sources and amounts of funding from any government.
Two further amendments proposed by the Reform Party were made to the bill at report stage. The hon. member for Elk Island moved that government funding of clients of consultant lobbyists as well as corporations also be disclosed. I am personally very pleased to see these additional improvements to the bill.
The second broad area of amendments made by the committee involves the lobbyists' code of conduct. Bill C-43 mandates the ethics counsellor to develop a code for those who deal with the government. Under the amended bill, the code of conduct will be reviewed by a committee of the House before it becomes effective.
As well, it will now be mandatory for lobbyists to comply with the code. The ethics counsellor will be required, rather than just empowered, to investigate breaches of the code. He will act independently in deciding whether to investigate and his report will be tabled in Parliament.
The ethics counsellor's reports are the third broad area where improvements have been made to the bill. In the report of an investigation into a breach of the code of conduct the ethics counsellor will have the power to disclose information on fees and disbursements associated with any lobbying activity, not just government contracts.
A further amendment requires that the ethics counsellor's report of an investigation include his findings, conclusions and reasons.
The ethics counsellor will submit to the House a separate annual report on his or her activities regarding lobbying.
I would like to take a moment to clear up what appears to be some confusion about the ethics counsellor's reports. The ethics counsellor must report on every investigation and must also make an annual report. These reports must be submitted to the registrar general. Then the registrar general must, and I quote from the bill, cause a copy to be laid before each House of Parliament on any of the first 15 sitting days after it is received. There is no discretion in the tabling of the report whatsoever. All of the ethics counsellor's reports will be submitted in their entirety to both Houses of Parliament and those concerning investigations must provide details on the findings, conclusions and reasons.
The fourth broad area involves improvements to the registration process. Bill C-43 recognizes the importance of maintaining an active exchange and dialogue between Canadians and their government. Formal government initiated consultations will be exempted from the activities triggering the need to register as a lobbyist. This exemption responds to many associations' concerns that if they had to register each time they were consulted by government they would spend all their time on paperwork. The committee was aware that the exemption should
not be so wide that it defeats the very purpose of the Lobbyists Registration Act.
I have heard some fairly ridiculous comments from the opposition on this point. What needs to be understood is that we need to strike the appropriate balance. The notion proposed by some members opposite that this meant a phone call returned by a public official was not lobbying is ridiculous and simply is not sustainable by the wording of the bill. The exemption applies to those consultations frequently initiated by government to ensure that in proceeding on legislation it has received the views of stakeholders from all parts of Canadian society, a practice which is not only normal but which should be welcomed by members of Parliament, opposition and government alike.
Its report says the registrar should issue an interpretation bulletin to precisely define these circumstances. As well, the registrar will have the authority to issue interpretation bulletins to clear up any other questions as they arise. Therefore the more extreme examples proposed by the opposition, which might lead to the act not being applied as it was intended, can be taken care of through the simple administrative exercise of issuing interpretation bulletins to cover the cases in point.
The 30-day updating requirement has been changed to six-month filings for associations. This will reduce the paperwork for these organizations, given their lobbying goals do not change much over the course of a year. Furthermore, electronic filing will be available and will improve the efficiency of the registration process both for lobbyists and the registrar.
Finally, changes have been made to improve the enforcement of the act. The registrar will have the authority to conduct random checks of the information in the registry, and the limitation of proceedings under the act has been extended from six months to two years.
I am sure that all the hon. members will agree with the Prime Minister and myself that we need to restore public confidence in our institution.
This confidence is essential, if we want our efforts to redirect and redesign the role of government to be successful.
In all of these matters what I think Canadians and parliamentarians need to preoccupy themselves with is the existence of due process and rule of law.
If we are truly concerned about the maintenance of respect for our institutions, parliamentary, judicial or otherwise, what we need to ensure is that the processes pursued respecting them are at once transparent and subject to due process.
It is the easiest thing in the world to stand in the House of Commons, protected against the laws of defamation, and impugn the integrity of other individuals, whether members of Parliament, public officials or otherwise. It is impossible to ever remove the doubt that aspersions cast impose on the integrity of an individual.
I say to members opposite that when they tread on the grounds of issues of ethics they look to the questions of process, to the rule of law, because anyone of us at any time may stand accused wrongly. To stand in the House, as we have seen members do in the last few days, and make accusations without foundation, without fact, based on innuendo and circumstance, is to at once impugn the integrity of the people involved as well as to impugn the integrity of these institutions.
Process, rule of law, these are the things that have made this country one in which we are all pleased to live, safe from abuse. This is a case surely we ought to be able to debate. I refer directly here to the issue of satellite broadcasting and the DTH panel report. We surely ought to be able to debate in the House the substance of an issue.
Over the last few days I have seen members opposite try to make this into a case of ethics. Why? For nothing but sheer political expediency without a single fact, without a single issue being raised of any substance whatsoever; shameless casting of aspersions. That is the old politics and that is the way it is has been practised in the House by the Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois in the last few days.
I want to refer exactly to this case. It is a demonstration of why process is so important. In the case of DTH satellite broadcasting the government was put in the position that many interested parties were looking for a review of an exemption order issued by the CRTC on August 30 of last year.
Let it be understood the initiation of the review of the policy was a response to clearly articulated interests quite outside those of parties that may or may not benefit. It was made clear to the government by many parties, and events since then have borne that out, that the effect of the August 30 order was the creation of an effective monopoly in this service in Canada.
What was the government to do about that? Within days we announced the policy was subject to review. The order was issued August 30. By September 12 that had been made clear publicly. Major policy is made by government. That is the reason people elect governments, to make policy decisions. It is the responsibility of government to make policy decisions. We would have abrogated our responsibility if we had refused to act, so we did act.
We established a transparent process. We chose three former deputy ministers, non-partisan appointments but truly people whose opinions we would respect; whose capabilities, honesty and integrity had never been questioned. However, members in the House were free to stand and impugn the integrity of persons who were providing a service to the government and to the people of Canada. Without fact and without any information they could stand up and say these people, because they were named to the panel, there is something wrong with them. That should not happen in a democratic society. If it can happen to those three individuals it can happen to me, to you, Mr. Speaker, and to members opposite without facts.
They made a report and nobody on the opposite side of the House has yet offered me a single substantive criticism of the recommendations made. On the contrary, ACTRA, the Canadian conference of the arts, the Canadian Consumers' Association, the Globe and Mail, the Ottawa Citizen , the Toronto Star have all said to adopt the recommendations of the report.