Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-15, an act to amend the Lobbyists Registration Act.
We have dealt with the bill before in this place. It has been to the Senate and is back with an amendment. The amendment makes a slight improvement to the bill, but in our humble estimation, it does not go the distance required to ensure that we have before us a piece of legislation that does the task at hand and has provisions for the utmost transparency and the highest of ethical standards. Let us remember where the bill came from, why it is before us and what it was intended to do.
Members of the House will recall that back in the spring of 2001 the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology held hearings on this matter and heard evidence from a wide variety of sources. The committee made recommendations to the House for the development of appropriate legislation in its report entitled “Transparency in the Information Age: The Lobbyists Registration Act in the 21st Century”.
The question for us today is, does Bill C-15 actually do what the process intended to accomplish? Does it take us down the path of legislation that ensures absolute transparency in the work and dealings of lobbyists vis-à-vis government? Have we set the highest ethical standards in terms of this very important aspect of government? We all know how cynical people have become. Our constituents are suspicious of government because of their perception of undue influence by corporate entities, by big money interests, in our society today over the legislation and programming established by government.
This is a very important issue in terms of democracy and in terms of restoring faith in the democratic process. It is very important in terms of assuring the general population that we operate on the basis of the highest standards. I am afraid we cannot say that has been accomplished under the bill as amended by the Senate.
Certainly the bill accomplishes a number of important objectives. Bill C-15 proposes to close some loopholes in the lobbyist regulatory system under the federal Lobbyists Registration Act. Specifically the bill requires that lobbyists who are invited to lobby government will now be required to register. The bill also states that the registration requirements for in-house corporate lobbyists will require more detailed listings of employees who are lobbying. That is very good. The bill also states that because of an amendment made by the House of Commons, a lobbyist for a corporation or organization who had been a public servant, politician or other public officer holder, will have to disclose the past offices the lobbyist held.
Some important changes have been made. Certainly some are on the right path. We are going in the right direction. We are in the process of moving toward greater transparency and higher ethical standards in the whole area of government, but are we there yet?
By all accounts by those who observe this process very carefully and by those who are concerned about the future of democracy in Canada, we are not there yet. We missed the mark. The bill is not perfect and it should be perfect because, goodness knows, we are dealing with a fundamental aspect of parliamentary process and democratic faith in our system.
Let us be clear. Some very key loopholes still remain in Bill C-15. Those loopholes allow many lobbyists to escape registration, to hide key details about the extent and nature of lobbying activities. They allow lobbyists to have inside access and undue influence and weaken enforcement of the Lobbyists Registration Act and the lobbyists code of conduct.
These are significant loopholes and must be closed. Our caucus, all members of the NDP in the House have been saying that time and again. Our critic, the member for Windsor West, has been very diligent and persistent about ensuring that the bill is amended to reflect those very concerns.
Our member for Windsor West told the House time and again that the act fails to address the issue of compulsory disclosure. He has said, and we agree with him, that the act should include a requirement that anyone covered by a federal code of conduct, including ministers, political appointees, civil servants and lobbyists, disclose any wrongdoing of which they have knowledge. It is very important to point out that it has not been addressed by the government.
There is another matter on which the member for Windsor West and also the member for Winnipeg Centre have been very outspoken. It has to do with the matter of whistle-blower protection. The member for Winnipeg Centre has had legislation before the House. He has tried to convince this place of the need to have such provisions entrenched in law so that we have a way to give protection to those in our civil service who know of wrongdoing, who want to report that wrongdoing, but fear for their jobs and repercussions in their working lives.
The member for Winnipeg Centre, reinforced by the member for Windsor West and others, has said very clearly that there must be whistle-blower protection in the legislation. Of course it needs to be in this legislation. We are talking about lobbying. We are talking about those who can exert undue influence on government. We are talking about loyal members of our civil service who observe, know and learn about wrongdoing and who want to report that wrongdoing for the public good, to serve the public interest.
What is holding the government back from ensuring whistle-blower protection in the legislation? As my colleague for Windsor—St. Clair has said, what are they afraid of? What are the Liberals afraid of? Why is this absolute bottom-line requirement, this fundamental position for whistle-blower protection, not in Bill C-15?
Is it because the government is afraid of the results, the outcome of the possibilities that their civil servants, those who work in the departments, know too much, see too much and can do too much damage to the politicians in this place, to members and ministers in the government? Is that a possibility? Perhaps it is because when we get down to it and analyze what has been happening lately with the government and the whole area of public policy decision making, there seems to be an awful lot of undue influence by corporate and monied interests in our society today over the direction of the government's legislative initiatives and over serious propositions that would serve the public good.
I have seen it time and time again in the last little while that I have been here in this place, particularly during the time when I was serving as the health critic and had a chance to observe what happened to important policies and initiatives in Health Canada and how the Minister of Health refused to act on important initiatives. I want to provide a few examples because they are very important to this debate.
I want to begin with an area that should touch the hearts of every member in this place and comes very close to home, and that is the matter dealing with fetal alcohol syndrome. I say it touches this place because members in the House voted on a motion that I presented and almost all members supported it. The motion said that Health Canada and the Government of Canada should require labels on all alcohol beverage containers to warn women not to drink while pregnant because of the danger of causing fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effects.
It was an important initiative and I was so delighted to receive the support of members from all political parties and to see the work that was begun by the member for Mississauga South who worked so long and hard on the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome was paying off, that we were making headway in this place and making good public policy.
That was two years ago when the House passed this motion almost unanimously. We expected, perhaps naively, that motion would form the basis for government action. Perhaps it would not be overnight. Perhaps it would take a few weeks, a few months, maybe even a year, but who would have dreamed that it would take a whole two years with still no government response or action? How could this happen? What could come in the way of a very progressive initiative that makes the difference in terms of our battle against fetal alcohol syndrome?
No one in this place, certainly not me or anyone in my caucus, left the impression that this measure was the be all and the end all in terms of fetal alcohol syndrome, but that it was one small step, one measure as part of a bigger package, to help us deal with a very serious problem, a problem that costs our society dearly in terms of financial expenses and personal consequences. It costs millions of dollars over the life of every individual suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome for all society. It costs us dearly in human terms and in financial terms, so every bit we can do makes a difference.
The proposal is to have labels on alcohol beverage containers, which, as we know, is done in the United States. It is required for Canadian beer brewers, wine producers and alcohol producers to put those labels warning of fetal alcohol syndrome on bottles we export to the United States, so it would not take too much to do it here in Canada. Yet the government has refused. The Minister of Health has said that she must study the matter before she can decide, even though this matter has been studied to death over the years. The evidence is in and it is clear that, as a measure which is part of a whole package of initiatives focusing on fetal alcohol syndrome, it is important and it matters.
The question for us today in the context of Bill C-15 is, what undue influence happened over the government and the Minister of Health to cause this important initiative to be put on hold and shelved? I think we can say with some certainty that there was influence from the alcohol industry on the government. There was pressure from the beer companies on that minister. How else can one explain something this important being put on the sidelines? I think there is lots of evidence to suggest that.
The member for Mississauga South a number of years ago worked hard to have this matter dealt with before the health committee, and he proposed Bill C-22.
In a book he produced after that period in our parliamentary history entitled Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: The Real Brain Drain , he said:
There is no doubt that the alcohol industry killed the bill. They reportedly spent over $100,000 on lobby efforts... The Brewers Association announced that if the bill went through, they would withdraw their $10 million annual contribution to prevention programs that they jointly funded with Health Canada.
That sounds like blackmail to me.