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House of Commons Hansard #39 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was lobbying.

Topics

Presence in GalleryOral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Presence in GalleryOral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

To commemorate the Centennial of the Canadian Navy, I would also like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of Vice-Admiral Dean McFadden, Chief of Canadian Maritime Staff and Commander of the Canadian Navy.

Presence in GalleryOral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Allergy Awareness MonthOral Questions

May 4th, 2010 / 3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions among the parties, and if you were to seek it, I believe you would find unanimous consent of the House for the following motion. I move:

That in the opinion of the House, the month of May be recognized as food allergy awareness month.

Allergy Awareness MonthOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Does the hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Allergy Awareness MonthOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Allergy Awareness MonthOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Allergy Awareness MonthOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Allergy Awareness MonthOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.

Opposition Motion—Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When the motion was last before the House, the hon. member for Random—Burin—St. George's had the floor. There are four minutes remaining in the time allotted for her remarks.

The hon. member for Random—Burin—St. George's.

Opposition Motion—Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, as I said when I was addressing the House, it is troublesome that the government will stand today and boast about its record on accountability and transparency. One only has to look at the newspapers of the past couple of months to see that it has been taking advantage of this loophole to get around the rules outlined in the Lobbying Act. That loophole is that the parliamentary secretaries are not included in the act. It is simply unacceptable that the government is tolerating, even touting, a system that enables those people who know the right people to bypass the requirements of federal legislation.

Canadians are rightfully outraged by the recent media reports, which indicate that former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer had access to the Conservative government above and beyond that which would have been granted to someone who did not have connections to the Conservative Party. Former MP Jaffer was once the chair of the Conservative caucus.

Time and time again, particularly with the distribution of stimulus funding, we have seen that the government has no problem favouring its own ridings. The Conservative government has consistently demonstrated its preference for using the back door on legislative issues. We should not be surprised that it would use that same back door to bypass the Federal Accountability Act and enable lobbyists to meet with parliamentary secretaries outside of the light of public scrutiny. This should not be tolerated and the government should move on this, as is suggested in the motion by the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl.

No wonder Canadians are apathetic to politics when they see the government in action. We have a situation where there are two sets of rules, one being who someone knows determining the rule book he or she follows. The transport minister put his parliamentary secretary in charge of the lucrative $1 billion green infrastructure fund. That is a tremendous responsibility for a parliamentary secretary. Just imagine the clout this carried when someone who knew him or who knew a parliamentary secretary made advances to him about accessing that fund.

Due to the loophole in the Lobbying Act, lobbyists who had the appropriate connections, including unregistered lobbyist, Rahim Jaffer, can meet with the parliamentary secretary regarding the fund without having to publicly disclose it. This is simply not right and it has to be fixed.

This is the Conservative government's own Federal Accountability Act. The government would have Canadians believe that this legislation is a looking glass that enables them to see everything there is to know about the workings of government.

If the government were sincere about its commitment to transparency, if it were truly accountable to the people of Canada, as it claims to be because that is the platform on which it was elected, it would support the Liberal motion before us today and close the loophole by including parliamentary secretaries in the definition of designated public office holder under the act.

The solution exists, but does the will? Does the will exist in the government to in fact close that loophole, to make right what is wrong today, to ensure that we never again have this situation Canadians face today. They really do not know whether the government is being accountable and transparent?

It would appear from this loophole that it is not. The government is on record as being transparent and accountable to the Canadian taxpayers. When we have a situation, such as we have seen and that has been reported on in the media, clearly the will must exist to change it.

We call on the Conservative government to make the amendments.

Opposition Motion—Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the hon. member would inform the House if she would be willing to amend the law in order to make it a requirement that any lobbyist that contacts her about an issue would have to register that contact.

Opposition Motion—Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, it would appear that the member opposite does not realize that he is part of the government and this is, in fact, the government's opportunity to change this loophole that exists. The government has the responsibility to act and if it wants to include anyone, it can. What we are asking today, which would be a step in the right direction, is to include parliamentary secretaries.

Opposition Motion—Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, clearly, the Conservatives are not taking this motion seriously. They are trying to create all kinds of diversions and smokescreens all day. They have been wanting to talk about the gun registry. They want to amend the Liberal motion when it is very simple. If they are concerned about including MPs in the definition of people who have to be registered under this legislation, then it is incumbent upon them to introduce the legislation. I ask the government, where is it? Introduce it and we will deal with it at that time.

Rahim Jaffer was an unregistered lobbyist. In spite of all the rules that were set up, he was an unregistered lobbyist. He was running amok in the government. We do not know if he is the only person in that category, so I would like to ask the member, does she think that Rahim Jaffer is the only unregistered lobbyist running amok in the Conservative government trying to obtain contracts for himself and his friends?

Opposition Motion—Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, we have all heard of the saying, “where there's smoke there's fire”. I would think that if Rahim Jaffer had access to ministers and access to parliamentary secretaries, why would others not have access to the same ministers and parliamentary secretaries?

The onus is on the government to acknowledge what has gone on here, to come clean with Canadians, and to respond to the motion in a way that will show that it is clearly determined to close this loophole and ensure that parliamentary secretaries are included under the Lobbying Act.

Opposition Motion—Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I was on the legislative committee for Bill C-2 studying the Federal Accountability Act along with the member for Nepean—Carleton and others. I really do think that we overlooked the idea of parliamentary secretaries because I have now reviewed transcripts and the material, and it does not seem that we discussed it. We did discuss a hierarchy of government office holders, public office holders, which really means government officials with anything to do with files that the government is working on.

Every Friday parliamentary secretaries answer questions. The Conservatives started putting parliamentary secretaries back on committees. We forget that, but parliamentary secretaries, and I do not want any more swelled heads over there, are really more important in the government than they had been in the past, so why should they not be included in this if they have a circle of influence with the government?

To deny this motion is to admit to all the parliamentary secretaries that, including the member for Nepean—Carleton, whose head quite clearly is as large as this chamber, they are of no importance. I might agree with that, but I agree with the amendment too.

Opposition Motion—Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is clear to anyone who has followed what has happened with the Conservative government that parliamentary secretaries do indeed have much more authority and they are now turning up on committees. It is foolhardy for us to even think that they do not carry that responsibility.

When people want to lobby, when people are insisting on lobbying, and they have not registered as lobbyists, the onus is on the parliamentary secretary to ask the question, “Have you in fact registered before you come to me to talk about any kind of project, or expenditure, or access to government money”?

Opposition Motion—Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order. That will conclude the time for questions and comments.

Message from the SenateGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing the House that the Senate has passed the following public bill to which the concurrence of the House is desired: Bill S-3, An Act to implement conventions and protocols concluded between Canada and Colombia, Greece and Turkey for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition motion—Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I join with my colleague from St. John's South—Mount Pearl to close what seems to be a serious loophole in the Federal Accountability Act. Over the past four years, we have seen that the Conservatives are great at talking but are completely ineffective when it comes to implementing real solutions.

Whether it is on the issue of transparency—where we have the example of departments constantly refusing to agree to access to information requests—or their fiscal abilities—the fact that, for six months, they denied that a recession was imminent and the evidence that it posed a threat to the Canadian economy—or their shameless partisanship in infrastructure funding and advertising contracts to announce a government plan, and we are not talking about a partisan plan, but a government plan that did not need to be announced, this government continues to prove to Canadians that its definition of accountability is completely void of meaning. It has proven, once again, that it is easy enough to talk, but it is much harder to handle the responsibility and transparency that comes with being the government.

The government took advantage of this loophole in the Lobbyist Registration Act as a way around the rules in the act. This is proof that they, most likely, knowingly left this gaping loophole so that parliamentary secretaries could continue this pattern with lobbyists.

At the moment, parliamentary secretaries to ministers are not considered public office holders under the act. This loophole means that lobbyists can meet with parliamentary secretaries, and as we all know, parliamentary secretaries are, to an extent, the ministers' eyes and ears. The fact that these unregistered lobbyists have access to parliamentary secretaries means that nobody knows what goes on in those meetings and there is no paper trail.

That is why we are asking the government to close the loophole, to fix the problem by including parliamentary secretaries in the act's definition of designated public office holder. We hope that this will prevent future secret meetings between lobbyists and Conservatives.

The recent scandal involving Mr. Jaffer and the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities is proof positive that we have to close this loophole right away. If he had followed the rules and registered as a lobbyist, Mr. Jaffer would have been required to report his meeting with the minister. Moreover, if parliamentary secretaries were included in the definition, Mr. Jaffer would have been required to disclose the fact that he met with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. Everyone agrees that what we are talking about here is a billion-dollar green infrastructure fund.

This situation shows that ministers delegate certain powers, but not the responsibilities that go with those powers. We absolutely have to ensure that when powers are delegated, the responsibility and accountability requirements that go along with those powers are too.

The Conservatives only started making promises about accountability after they got caught in the act. However, it seems clear that if they cared about responsibility and accountability at all, they would have kept their 2006 election promise to make ministers responsible for reporting their meetings with lobbyists. Why has it taken four years?

The Conservatives promised that ministers and senior public office holders would be required to report all contact with lobbyists. Today we are asking the government to finally honour that promise, which should also apply to parliamentary secretaries. This rule should cover all parliamentary secretaries so that the Conservatives can no longer use them to avoid accountability, as they do now.

In fact, whether or not grants were given in the case that triggered this whole controversy has very little to do with the essence of the legal loophole we are addressing today.

The letter of the law is absolutely meaningless if its spirit is not respected. Ministerial accountability does not apply only when public funds are being granted. It is crucial in any situation that could eventually lead to that outcome.

On one hand, we have Mr. Jaffer and Mr. Glémaud who claim that they did not register as lobbyists because they were only putting out feelers. On the other hand, ministers have said they did not need to report anything because no funds were granted.

In reality, that has nothing to do with the core of the issue. It is the approach and the attempts that are of concern here. We must not allow lobbyists to approach any government entities, whether ministers or parliamentary secretaries, unless they are duly registered and the outcome of those meetings can be made public in a completely transparent manner.

This is what we are addressing and what we are trying to fix with this motion. I hope all of my colleagues in the House will agree to co-operate with us and plug this loophole once and for all.

Opposition motion—Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member. Could she inform the House whether she herself would be willing to amend the law in order to require lobbyists to register contacts and interactions they had with her?

Opposition motion—Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, even in French, my answer will be the same as my colleague's. The government has the opportunity to introduce these kinds of bills. If it wants to do so, it should introduce one in the House and we will take a look.

Opposition motion—Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, New Democrats have done a lot of work on the issue of lobbying for many years through the work of Ed Broadbent, but one of the things that concerns us about what the Tory government is doing is the shifting of some of the decision-making down to the parliamentary secretaries.

A parliamentary secretary could be given a billion-dollar fund without the public being told. The parliamentary secretary may meet with some of his or her buddies, say ex-Conservative MPs, and walk away with all kinds of deals because it is not under the Lobbying Act.

We have to ask ourselves, was it some kind of accident that Mr. Jaffer had access to the parliamentary secretary and was working under the radar while talking to many of his colleagues? Does the hon. member think that this was part of a larger plan? Were the Conservatives really trying to find a way to get around the Lobbying Act by allowing their buddies to hook up and meet with people without having to report it?