Madam Speaker, just now, my hon. colleague from Elk Island was saying that an entire year went by before he could finish his speech. I probably hold the record for having my speech interrupted five or ten minutes by a fire alarm. That is always fun.
I do not know if my subject was too hot, but I was explaining the importance of the various levels of government and talking about the power of the media. I do not think that lobbyists will convince journalists because, given their ethics and their code of conduct, they cannot do this.
The role of these famous lobbyists is known, but some facts are needed to understand how they proceed. The fact that Bill C-15 has come back to the House with amendments from the Senate shows that it took some effort. However, over the years, these people have wielded undeniable power. Clearly, those earning $300,000 or $400,000 per year to lobby must provide results and their employers must ensure that they benefit from this.
This has somewhat distorted the democratic process in the House of Commons. This happens elsewhere too, probably in other Parliaments around the world.
Now, we could talk about lobbyists forever, but also about political party financing, which is also a major problem. Those who contribute the most to federal parties' campaign funds are probably the ones best able to hire the most competent and most expensive lobbyists. That is where the problem lies.
For example, it is not surprising to see, when it comes to bills that interest the ten biggest contributors to the Liberal Party, a certain number of lobbyists are involved, trying to win the government over. If the bill seeks a reform that goes against the interests of these donors, the lobbyists try to convince the government to change its approach and protect the company for which they work.
Naturally, this creates a number of distortions. I think that the average citizen does not have the same power as the President of Bell Canada or the lobbyist hired by Bell Canada. This, to some extent, circumvents the democratic workings of Parliament, both with regard to the executive branch, where the ministers and the Prime Minister can be subject to pressure or have meetings with lobbyists, and with regard to backbenchers like us. Obviously, we are sometimes solicited by lobbyists.
Sometimes people talk about getting together for a meal but nothing ever comes of it. However, lobbyists often take it one step further and say, “When you organize a cocktail party, would you like us to help?” One thing leads to another and if they are not careful, people get caught in situations that are not democratic in our society and they empower lobbyists.
We were disappointed by this bill. We will support the bill, as amended by the Senate, but our problem is that Bill C-15, as a whole, does not suit us.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, we put forward many amendments that were defeated. Among other things, there is the obligation to disclose meetings with officials and ministers. There are officials such as deputy ministers or senior officials, who can become victims of lobbyists. When I say victim, I mean they can become influenced by these individuals and become convinced that such and such a bill or policy could be detrimental.
If they were required to disclose the names of ministers they meet with or the fact that they met with the Prime Minister, this would give us a primary indication of the people who rub shoulders with ministers, the Prime Minister or senior officials in a department. This could alert us to what is going on and allow us to better control the situation. The amendments we put forward to address this were defeated.
As far as disclosing the amounts devoted to lobbying, everyone listening will understand that a $4,000 lobby campaign is not the same as a $400,000 one. The latter will be far more intensive. Moreover, in the bill this is referred to as the intensity of the lobby—that is what we called it.
It is certain that, if a lobbyist is paid $400,000 a year and has a $4 million budget at his disposal for a campaign—and this is a plausible figure because there are some among the top 10 contributors to the Liberal Party who can afford that—understandably, the lobbying can be intense.
The higher the figure, the more the lobbyist is paid, the more it is felt that there will be pressures on the government, departmental officials, ministers, the Prime Minister or MPs, in order to sell their idea, block a reform, or change it in such as way that it will not affect the organization for which he works.
This is, therefore, an important point for us, and the reason we introduced our amendments.
As far as disclosure of the amounts is concerned, this too was turned down. Another point that could be addressed—and which I touched upon here—is lobbyists' fees. There are often differences. Lobbyists can be consultants or paid lobbyists. Some have an annual salary. Understandably, if one person earns $40,000 and another $400,000, this affects the intensity of the promotion campaign or lobbying that is carried out. Once again, this has been dropped from the bill. It is not there.
Then there are the fees with strings attached, about which there have been scandals. We had the sponsorship scandal in which certain companies could get back a percentage of what was going to be charged to the government. This too was turned down. It is not in the bill.
As for the disclosure by lobbyists of their positions, it is also important to know which person on a list of lobbyists has held a high-level position in the federal administration. These are, unfortunately, all things that were left out of the bill. Today we find ourselves dealing with a totally wishy-washy bill that does not provide what is needed to protect society. This is most unfortunate.
I had examples, like the sponsorship scandal I just mentioned. There is also another aspect. I am the defence critic for my party, and hon. members should see all the lobbying going on for the replacement of the Sea Kings. There are many lobbyists representing various companies. Four big consortiums have submitted proposals to the government. Members should see what these lobbyists are focusing on. Even if I am only a backbencher, I often meet with these people, and they tell me, “You know, our approach is the best. Our proposal is the best overall”. All these people are moving in our circles and the ministers' circles.
Another example is strategic air transport. The government indicated it needs aircraft to transport troops to any theatre of operations around the world. So, the number of aircraft required is being considered. All major strategic air transport companies are consulting together and hiring people to meet with us, sometimes to appear before us and to convince us that Boeing or Airbus, for example, is the best option.
Lobbying causes a great deal of distortion. As I said earlier, it is unfortunate that the amendments we proposed were all defeated. Certainly, the amendment coming back from the Senate fosters a bit more transparency. It will ensure that people who have held senior management positions in government are required to provide some background. This will give a better idea of where they are coming from and probably where they are going as well. This is the kind of thing we would have liked to see expanded on in the bill. Unfortunately, it was not.
There are even lobbyists being hired by the Prime Minister now.
Earlier I mentioned the Sea King example. The Prime Minister's office hired a lobbyist to advise him on the matter. It was a lobbyist from Eurocopter, which provoked a great deal of mistrust among government officials because the individual was working in the Prime Minister's office. I do not know if he is still there because this goes back about two years ago now. This person worked for Eurocopter, one of the consortiums bidding on the Sea King contract two years ago, and he was brought into the Prime Minister's office.
Therefore, it is easy to understand all of the mystery surrounding lobbyists. How many are there? What do they do? How much are they paid? Whom do they meet? None of this is taken into account in the bill, and all of the amendments were rejected.
We do not take issue with the amending act from the Senate. It will add transparency; however, we would definitely have liked to see much more transparency.
I am pleased to have had this opportunity to express my views. I know I was interrupted by an alarm, but I feel that, like my colleague, the member for Elk Island, I was able to summarize my thoughts. I am now ready to answer questions from my colleagues.