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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

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 4th, 2010 / 10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

moved:

That, given the apparent loophole in the Lobbying Act which excludes Parliamentary Secretaries from the list of “designated public office holders”, the House calls on the government to take all necessary steps to immediately close this loophole and thus require Parliamentary Secretaries to comply fully with the Lobbying Act, in the same manner as Ministers are currently required to do.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Beauséjour.

I will begin this morning with a quote:

Some people feel that there is a privileged access to government that is reserved only for a chosen few. That is something this government intends to deal with head on when we introduce the federal accountability act next week.

Who said that? It was the current Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in April of 2006, when speaking of the Federal Accountability Act, which includes provisions for the Lobbying Act. I wanted to begin my remarks this morning by reminding colleagues of the commitments by the government.

I am pleased to speak today to this motion that would close a loophole in the Lobbying Act, which presently excludes parliamentary secretaries from the list of designated public office holders. The need to close this loophole has become quite apparent in recent weeks as we learn more about lobbying activities surrounding the renewable energy project funding.

This renewable energy project funding has some $2 billion from the economic stimulus plan: $1 billion for the green infrastructure fund, which supports sustainable energy, generation and transmission, along with municipal waste water and solid waste management infrastructure; and a further $1 billion in clean energy funds that invest in research, development and demonstration projects to advance Canadian leadership in clean energy technologies.

Responsibility for these funds rests with the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities as well as with the Minister of Natural Resources. Lobbying activities in these funds, now known as the Jaffer affair, have illustrated how the Lobbying Act does not extend responsibility under designated public office holders to parliamentary secretaries.

In at least one department, and perhaps in others, the parliamentary secretary has been delegated the responsibility for those funds, which circumvents the requirements under the Lobbying Act.

I began today with a quote from the current Minister of Transport. He also said at the time:

--we can ensure that the public business is done in the public interest and not for private gain.

That was then and this is now.

Back in 2006, Mr. Jaffer was a Conservative caucus chair and now, some four years later, he is at the centre of some serious challenges to accountability and to the Lobbying Act. Some seven ministers and departments, that we know of to this point, have given him privileged access. With the revelations of the privileged access, the robustness of the Lobbying Act has been called into question.

Although the Conservatives have toughened the rules governing lobbyists, a gaping loophole has become obvious. Lobbyists are required to submit monthly reports on their meetings with “designated office holders”, which include ministers and their staff, deputy ministers and associate deputy ministers; however, parliamentary secretaries are not included in this list. This means that lobbyists can meet with parliamentary secretaries without any public scrutiny.

A good example of this is with the Jaffer affair. In June of 2009, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities met with Mr. Jaffer and Mr. Glémaud. Within a month, the parliamentary secretary received three proposals from Green Power Generation Corporation. Two of these proposals were, in turn, submitted to the department for consideration under the green infrastructure fund. These proposals were then studied by the federal government to see whether they might be eligible for funding. These were submitted by the parliamentary secretary.

The parliamentary secretary's office continued to follow up with the public servants for updates on whether the projects were being considered. The parliamentary secretary and his office had regular interaction with the proponents throughout the fall, getting more details, and asking very specific questions for project-related funding. He was helping to determine whether projects fit under any of the criteria for funding.

In this entire situation, lack of public disclosure has caused challenges in the confidence that Canadians have that their government will be open and transparent. Rather than privileging their own, the Conservatives need to be more forthright in what was occurring. Adding parliamentary secretaries under the designated public office holder list would mean public disclosure would be required by lobbyists.

In this particular Jaffer affair, Mr. Jaffer felt he did not meet the criteria as a lobbyist, as no compensation was paid for his services. This matter is under investigation, as well other matters under investigation by the Commissioner of Lobbying.

I do point out, however, that in testimony at committee, it was clear that there was an intent for finder's fees as compensation. This was discussed in testimony as well as in contract evidence. Therefore, while we await the Lobbying Commissioner's decision, it does appear that compensation was considered, and therefore public disclosure should have been made.

The Lobbying Act defines activities that when carried out for compensation, are considered to be lobbying. Generally speaking, they include communicating with public office holders with respect to changing federal laws, regulations, policies or programs; obtaining a financial benefit, such as a grant or a contribution; and in certain cases, obtaining a government contract or arranging a meeting between public office holders and another person.

The act requires that individuals register themselves as lobbyists when they engage in lobbying for compensation. This involves providing certain details about themselves and their business, where applicable, the subject matter of what they are discussing and the name of any department and/or other governmental institution in which any public office holder with whom the individual communicates or expects to communicate. This information is made public on the registry of lobbyists.

The act provides exemptions for certain types of communications such as simple requests for information. Under the Conservative government, the Lobbying Act, formerly the Lobbyist Registration Act, was made more stringent. A new class of public office holder was defined, the “designated public office holder” as described.

One of the new rules aimed at increasing accountability was that any lobbyist who had oral or arranged communications with the designated public office holder must file a monthly report. Oral and arranged communications included telephone calls, meetings or any other communications that were arranged in advance.

The report must disclose, for each communication that took place in a given month, the date of the communication with a designated public office holder, the name and title of all designated public office holders who were the object of the communication, and the subject of the communication. The return must be submitted to the Commissioner of Lobbying no later than the 15th day of the end of the month covered by the report. This information is then made public on the registry.

No such report is required for meetings with parliamentary secretaries. This is from the government's own website. It states:

--the Lobbying Act creates a new statutory category of “designated public office holder” to refer to officials responsible for high-level decision-making in government. This term is defined in the Act to include ministers, ministers of state, and ministerial staff, as well as deputy ministers and chief executives of departments and agencies and officials in those organizations at the ranks of associate deputy minister and assistant deputy minister.

For the purposes of the act, departments include those federal departments and agencies listed in the Financial Administration Act. The Lobbying Act further defines any person identified by the Prime Minister as having the task of providing advice and support to him during transition.

An additional 11 positions or classes of positions have been designated by way of regulation, including a list from National Defence and any positions of senior adviser to the Privy Council Office to which the office holder is appointed by the governor in council. Currently, parliamentary secretaries to ministers do not fall within the definition of a designated public office holder within the act.

The loophole has allowed meetings between Conservative lobbyists and parliamentary secretaries, who are essentially the eyes and ears of cabinet ministers, to take place without anyone's knowledge or any record of the nature of these meetings.

We are calling on the government to close this loophole by including parliamentary secretaries in the definition of designated public office holder under the act. Clearly, ministers are delegating authority, but not the accountability that goes with it.

There may be other changes that are required and needed to meet not only the intent of the law but also the spirit of the law.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for her motion today and her presentation on the motion. I noticed that she talked about how the motion deals with parliamentary secretaries and how they are not included within the purview of the act.

I think this is a very good motion and one that we will be supporting. However, I am just wondering whether, in her opinion, she thinks the government members know that this is a way around the rules and that they would deliberately, in that vein, give this responsibility to parliamentary secretaries as a convenient way around the rules so that the suspicion would not fall on ministers. Or, is this simply an omission from the rules that she is trying to deal with and fix now?

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague made a very important point. Whether or not it is a deliberate omission, the Conservatives created the law and they spoke to the law. The minister who delegated the responsibility was the proponent of this particular change to the act in 2006. One has to question whether it was deliberate or simply without knowledge. However, at this point in time, we should close the loophole so that this situation neither continues nor happens again.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, does the hon. member figure she is going far enough in only including parliamentary secretaries? If she wants to do a thorough job, would she be open to something a little more expansive, possibly including that lobbyists have to note the fact when they are meeting with any members of Parliament?

An observation I have made while sitting in this seat over 13 years now is that members of the opposition parties will often come and talk to ministers here right before me. They may be coming on behalf of somebody else. Who really knows?

Would the member be open to having it so that any lobbying of a member of Parliament by an individual has to be reported?

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, speaking to the change to the act in 2006, the Prime Minister thought there should be proactive disclosure on behalf of ministers and public office holders at the time. I certainly support proactive disclosure. The government is the one that has the handle on the purse strings of the government.

It is very important to have proactive disclosure. Whether or not we need to extend it to all members of Parliament is something that should be studied, but absolutely there should be proactive disclosure. That would be critical to ensure public trust when we are talking about these large sums of money.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from St. John's South—Mount Pearl on her speech and her motion. She has discussed extensively a very appropriate suggestion to change the Lobbying Act to close a clearly designed loophole from the government.

In a related matter, because it all came out in the Jaffer affair, I am wondering if she has a view with respect to the Conflict of Interest Act, which requires public office holders to report contacts with their friends or benefits given to their friends. Again, in the Jaffer affair, it seemed to have been very absent. I am wondering if she finds that as worrisome as the loophole in the Lobbying Act.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, yes I do. I am very troubled that this conflict of interest exists. I think that we should recuse ourselves when we have those conflicts of interest. It is quite normal in regular business and in the House of Commons to do that.

The fact that it was not done when dealing with an associate, a friend that one was having dinner with and a friend one was having ongoing discussions and meetings with on a social basis is quite a challenge to that act as well.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl again for bringing up an issue in the House of Commons today that is very troubling. As you know, for several weeks now, the scandal surrounding the dismissal of the former status of women minister and the allegations regarding the activities of her husband, Rahim Jaffer, have made many Canadians, and especially the House of Commons, wonder about whether the government was serious in its last election campaign or even the previous 2005-06 campaign, when it claimed to want to strengthen legislation to prevent such ethics violations, and also to make significant improvements to transparency in the lobbying process.

Within the government, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities is one of the ones who fiercely maintains that the government has always taken measures to strengthen the Lobbying Act. He often talks about the Accountability Act, but he always fails to answer a very simple question my colleague has put to him many times. Several other members, as well as myself, have asked the government that same question. Why did they forget to include parliamentary secretaries in the definition of a public office holder? That is the basis of the motion that is before the House today.

Because it is so important, I am going to remind the members and you, Mr. Speaker, that there is an apparent loophole in the Lobbying Act that excludes parliamentary secretaries from the list of designated public office holders. This loophole likely exists for a very simple reason: because the government wanted to find a way for its friends, the Conservative lobbyists—even unregistered lobbyists like the former Conservative caucus chair, Mr. Jaffer—to have access to the government without coming under the Lobbying Act. So the government deliberately left parliamentary secretaries off the list.

It is a bit strange for a young assistant fresh out of university who is working in a minister's office. I know something about what it is like, because when I finished law school, I had the opportunity to work in the prime minister's office as a political staffer for former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. As a young assistant in the PMO, I had to comply with the Conflict of Interest Act. I had been designated by Mr. Chrétien to comply with the Ethics Act and the Conflict of Interest Act, the same measures that apply now with the Lobbying Act.

Now, suddenly, the government has decided to exclude parliamentary secretaries, who are members of Parliament. As we have seen, they often have authority delegated by their minister to make decisions, evaluate projects and make recommendations to senior departmental officials, who themselves may be subject to the Lobbying Act. We can see how this system has become corrupted. The parliamentary secretary who meets with lobbyists is not on the list of public office holders and therefore is not subject to the Lobbying Act. But the deputy minister to whom the parliamentary secretary will refer requests for grants or contributions, as in Mr. Jaffer's case, is subject to the act.

These people are subject to the code, unlike the parliamentary secretary the Prime Minister appoints by order in council to assist the minister. Moreover, as I said, the minister sometimes formally delegates authority to the parliamentary secretary, which is what happened to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport in the case of the famous green infrastructure fund.

The motion is designed to correct a very deliberate loophole that the Conservatives put in place allowing them to have a very secretive point of access into the government for Conservative lobbyists without being obliged to report as they would be under the Lobbying Act.

Otherwise, it is inexplicable that the government pretends to want to submit itself to greater transparency, pretends to want to strengthen measures like the Lobbying Act, pretends that its Federal Accountability Act was this great moment for accountability in government. There is no other plausible explanation as to why it would exclude people who receive delegated authority from their ministers, who meet on many occasions with lobbyists seeking either contributions from the government, grants from the government, access to government programs, or to change policies, decisions, regulations or statutes.

The member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl is asking this House of Commons to say to the government that this loophole, deliberately designed and allowing such worrisome behaviour as we have seen with Mr. Jaffer, needs to be plugged. The Prime Minister actually has to walk the walk and not simply talk the talk, as he did four years ago with respect to accountability.

Another aspect which is worrisome around this question of secretive lobbying of parliamentary secretaries is the whole defence the government offers, that it is okay because no money changed hands. That argument makes no sense at all.

The member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl comes from the great province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and she will know a lot about the fishing industry. I am sure she will agree with me that unfortunately some people who are issued fishing licenses by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans are unsuccessful in actually catching fish. I know the idea that a professional fisher would go out fishing and not be able to catch fish would appear appalling, but we have seen examples of massive overfishing, for example, in the crab industry and the government's mismanagement of that. Certainly in my part of New Brunswick we have seen the effects of that.

When those people go out fishing, they are required to have a licence. The fact that they were bad fishermen, the fact that they were unsuccessful does not excuse them from the legal obligation of having a licence. The same minister who would issue fishing licences would also prosecute unsuccessful fishermen who were fishing without a licence.

Just because someone is a bad lobbyist and failed does not mean that he or she should not be subject to the lobbying legislation.

The other issue which really disturbs us is the lack of proactive disclosure. The government also says that ministers are not responsible, that all the obligation is in the hands of lobbyists. We need to go further. The government needs to actually respect the commitment it made in its election campaign platform to have those who are being lobbied proactively disclose in a public way those who are lobbying the public office holders. That would have eliminated a lot of Mr. Jaffer's ability to waltz around the government without anybody noticing or feeling an obligation to report.

I support the motion brought forward by my colleague, but I want to propose an amendment. I move:

That the motion be amended by adding the following:

And further calls on the government to immediately implement the 2006 Conservative Platform promise to require ministers and senior government officials, including parliamentary secretaries, to proactively record and report their contacts with lobbyists.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I presume the original mover is in agreement with the amendment.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

With pleasure, Mr. Speaker.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The amendment is in order.

Questions and comments, the hon. government House leader.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Prince George—Peace River B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, that was an interesting speech by my colleague from the Liberal Party. I noticed during his remarks that he alluded to secretive lobbying of parliamentary secretaries and about the lack of proactive exposure.

First, I will start by stating the obvious. I have been in the House almost 17 years and have been privileged to represent the good people of Prince George—Peace River for that length of time. One of the observations I have made, both when I was in opposition and since becoming a member of the government, is that there seems to be a lot of lobbying of ministers by opposition members of Parliament and yet we do not hear--

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Oh, now the heckling starts. I sat and listened to the hon. member's speech.

--any proactive exposure of who it is they are representing when they come across after question period, sit down beside a minister and actively lobby for a business in their riding.

I wonder if my hon. colleague, in the interest of having proactive exposure and secretive lobbying, would consider that opposition MPs and senators, all parliamentarians, should be encompassed in this same sense of being proactive and transparent.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, my friend, the government House leader, has been in this House for 17 years. He served as a member of the opposition and is now a senior minister of the government. I am surprised that he would equate an opposition MP or even a government member of Parliament talking to a minister about an issue of importance to his or her constituency or riding with a private benefit derived from a lobbyist who is not elected and paid by the consolidated revenue fund to work for his or her constituents but who is paid by a private client.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

When the minister was asking his question he reacted negatively about some heckling and now he is actually heckling the answer to his own question, which is a bit worrisome.

The minister knows very well that a private lobbyist, in some cases working for a contingency fee, which may be illegal, talking to a parliamentary secretary or a minister has absolutely nothing to do with a member of Parliament representing his or her constituents in the House and talking to ministers. We on this side of the House will never apologize for talking to ministers, who all too often are not interested in helping our constituents, and for doing our jobs.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his amendment.

In reality, the government, although it probably does not realize it at this point, has been saved from itself because who knows how long this affair would have gone on had Mr. Jaffer not been stopped that night for drunk driving. The government should be thankful that it did not approve any of the projects. However, that is only what we know at this point.

We do not know that there are not other situations out there where there are more violations. I think that is what the member making the motion is trying to deal with. We are trying to get on top of this right now. When the Conservative member talked about including all MPs in the rules, I do not think that would be a big problem because if we are lobbying on behalf of our constituents we do not mind who knows and we are quite willing that people should know.

Following up on what the Conservative member asked earlier, would the member agree that MPs generally could be included in this?

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Elmwood—Transcona is absolutely right. There has been a total lack of transparency from the Conservatives. In fact, any proactive reporting of this only took place when they were caught. As the member for Elmwood--Transcona noted, before Mr. Jaffer was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine and impaired driving and attention was turned to his activities in Ottawa, the government had not reported anything.

The government is seeking to muddy the waters. To pretend that opposition members of Parliament or government members of Parliament are the same as public office holders appointed by order in council and designated by the Prime Minister to undertake executive authority in the government is to completely blur the line. The minister knows that it makes no sense to equate a member of Parliament doing his or her job in the House for his or her constituents with a parliament secretary with authority over a designated fund meeting secretly with Conservative hacks and friends.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day ConservativePresident of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to address this initiative that has been brought to us today by the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl.

I will put this in context. A wise person once told me that context is very important. If we take something in isolation it can be misinterpreted.

The first part of the context would have to do with where this all came from in terms of things we have put in place as a government over the last few years. I know what it is like to sit on that side of the House as an opposition member. It is a very honourable role being in opposition but I dearly hope I never have to sit on that side of the House again. Of course, that is always left up to the voters to decide and we respect the voters' decision on that. However, I know what it is to sit on that side and to watch the results, not of partisan bickering but of inquiries into the whole area of scandals in government when, at the risk of sounding partisan, the federal Liberals were in government.

We were surprised to see time after time scandal after scandal. We expected that we would see some level of scandal discovered but we were shocked. In all sincerity, I really believe that some Liberal members were also surprised at what was going on. Some of them told me that and I take that at face value.

Therefore, we came through a period where for an extended period of time the public was exposed to official inquiries that showed, beyond lobbying, the discussions, the decisions that would be made in high priced restaurants over $400 bottles of wine and the results being bags of cash being handed out. These were things that were reported not by us but by independent officers doing the research. Quite rightly, I think people were losing some confidence in the system.

We made some commitments to rectify some of that. We brought a number of things into play right away. We brought in whistleblower legislation to protect hard-working public servants who knew things were not right and wanted to report it but they were worried about losing their jobs.

We brought in the Office of the Ethics Commissioner, a separate agent of Parliament, where the broad subject of ethics would go from being something that would be just discussed in kind of a nebulas way to being an actual reality that certain elements and principles of ethics would have to be maintained.

We put an end to secret donations to political parties. That was something that was shocking to people and people did not want to see that go on. I think most people understand that political parties need finances and we should be able to appeal in a voluntary way to the public and people should be able to donate. We put an end to donations by big business and by big labour. We said that if individual Canadians wanted to step forward, that would be fine, but no more donations from big business and big labour. That does not even happen at the municipal level. We have really set the trend in that particular area.

We also brought in new guidelines for access to information and we gave the Access to Information Office more money which, incidentally, was resisted by the Liberals.

The Prime Minister was not entirely happy with the results of the last report from the Access to Information Officer in terms of speed of getting information out there. I am not particularly happy with it, as President of the Treasury Board. The office receives about 40,000 requests a year. A majority of those do get answered within 30 days but there is about 12% of that 40,000 that take over 120 days to get the information out to people who are asking for it. Some of that falls under security clearance issues but we want to see an improvement on that. In a lot of cases that is just too long. We have already sent instructions to ministers and deputy ministers that we want to see that process speeded up.

As to the actual issue being discussed today, lobbying, we have made some very significant changes in that area. A lobby registrar was in place before but that registrar had very little mandate, was not independent and did not even have the resources to do the work in terms of follow-up or possible investigations that should be expected from a lobby registrar. That little office was very much under the thumb of the federal Liberals at the time. Therefore, since the registrar did not have the freedom to move that was necessary, we changed that in a very real way.

The act of lobbying, unfortunately, has kind of a negative taint to it.

I door-knocked when I was in provincial government and have door-knocked for years at the federal level. I door-knock year round and the demand for lobbying registration has never come up at one door in all my years of door-knocking. I am not saying that it is not an important issue. It is important. However, in terms of what is on the minds of Canadians, this has never come up. It is fascinating how these things do evolve. However, I am not diminishing the importance of this.

However, Canadians do want to know that their taxpayer dollars are being well spent and that they are not being ripped off by politicians or anybody in the process.

I do not see lobbying as a negative thing. When my constituents ask me what is being debated in Parliament these days, I say that the lobbying thing is coming up again. I tell my constituents that they are lobbyists because anybody who comes to an elected representative is lobbying. That is an appropriate and right thing to do in a democratic setting. How else do constituents make their views known or bring their interests forward if they do not talk to an elected representative?

However, we were looking at the problem of a weak lobbying registrar that was operated by the federal Liberals so we changed all that. We now have an independent Office of the Lobbying Commissioner. We finally gave that office the resources, $4.6 million this year, to do the work, the mandate to pursue these issues and the ability to investigate. Actually, $1 million of that $4.6 million is just for investigations. The Liberals did not give the independence to that office, a clear mandate to the office nor the resources it needed to do the investigations. We have done all that.

We have even put certain elements in place where, if one does not follow those items as a lobbyist, then the lobbyist could wind up not just paying a fine but could wind up going to jail. We have made it a criminal offence not to follow the lobbying rules and regulations. Before that, there was virtually no or a very low level of compliance under the federal Liberals. Now there is a high level of not only compliance but lobbyists must register as lobbyists, they are told the repercussions of not following the act and registered lobbyists must give a monthly report of their activities.

Let us try to strip away some of the partisan nature of the debate and at least agree, whether it is working perfectly or not, that we have put in a far more aggressive lobbying procedure than the Liberals ever had in place. I think, at a minimum, we can agree on that. I think there were federal Liberals who wanted to see this increased, and why their leadership did not do it is another question, but it is passed and I do not even want to get into it. However, our changes are very different and far more aggressive. Let that be a matter of record.

We are open to looking at improvements to it. We are saying that we can look at how that can be improved.

A suggestion came up today and the amendment needs to be addressed. Right now, under the definition the onus is on the lobbyists to register and they must register. We did that and we have made that very clear. However, what is being suggested now is that every time we are approached by a lobbyist, as a minister or a parliamentary secretary, the one being approached needs to do the registering. We have talked about that in the past and have looked at it in terms of some unanticipated consequences.

If that is going to be the approach, we need an answer to this question: What prevents a minister or a parliamentary secretary from being set up? We go to receptions and are out in public all the time.

Not that any opposition member would ever do this, but picture this: Someone who is registered as a lobbyist, and it could be in the hundreds or thousands of people, approaches a minister or parliamentary secretary, if that is the case, and says, “Hi, how are you? How is business? How are things going in the world of environmental improvements? It is great to see you. Bye, now”. A minister or parliamentary secretary has just been approached and spoken to by a registered lobbyist but has no idea of that.

However, the opposition member who talked to the lobbyist beforehand had said, “Go have a little chit-chat at the football game or the concert. Just go have a little chit-chat with that particular minister about the environment. Just say hello and don't mention anything too specific”. Then two weeks later, in a mischievous way, that MP stands up in the House of Commons and says, “This minister spoke to that lobbyist on that day and didn't report it”.

I would ask how we prevent that kind of mischief-making. Far be it from me to say it would ever filter into the mind of an opposition member to do that, but just in case, how do we have the reassurance to deal with that particular problem? It is a fair question to be addressed.

This motion, in its original form, is asking that parliamentary secretaries also be considered in the same light as ministers under the Lobbying Act, so if somebody lobbies them they have to register that. That is an interesting initiative.

The Prime Minister has rightly reflected, and we are asking why that would be limited to parliamentary secretaries. Why not all MPs, including opposition MPs? Why should opposition leaders not be subject to the same provisions? I am not saying this in a pejorative sense, but there was a case when an opposition member came to me representing a business in his or her constituency asking, “Could you adapt this or that” or “Could this be done to make life easier for this particular business?”

Inherently, I do not think there is anything wrong with that. There would be something wrong if that member were getting a fee to do that or being paid by that business. That would be wrong. However, in the cases I can think of, and there are many, where opposition members have come to me with bona fide concerns about things in their constituencies, I take them at face value. I think they are just doing good work. In fact, however, those cases are falling under some of the things they are suggesting should be under a revised Lobbying Act. Therefore, we need to think about these things.

I take them at good face value. I do not think they are receiving anything from a particular business or organization. I think they were just lobbying in good faith. However, these are the types of minefields we can start to wander into.

We are interested in opposition members' response to that. Why would this apply just to ministers and parliamentary secretaries? How about all MPs? How about senators? People in business talk with them all the time. They deal with legislation and things that affect our way of life. They deal with tax codes and everything else. Of course, why not leaders of the opposition? We are in a minority Parliament. These things become very pertinent questions.

This item that the Prime Minister has rightly raised as a sincere question, how about that? We have not seen a rush to the ramparts of excitement about that from opposition members, but what about the act applying to all MPs, senators and leaders of the opposition?

We thank the members opposite for their interest in this. I am taking it as genuine. I would ask everyone to reflect on the fact that the Lobbying Act has changed significantly under this Prime Minister. It has real attributes that it never had before under the Liberals. Taxpayers appreciate that. We look forward to the ongoing discussion.

Opposition Motion--Lobbying ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to my hon. colleague's response. I could question him on a number of things, but time is limited. I think he understands that it is his government that carries the decision-making authority, so we are looking to ensure that it lives up to the decision-making authority.

It is a failed defence when he talks about it being administratively awkward for him and his government to record and proactively report people who lobby him on a regular basis on projects. As we know with the Jaffer affair, as I said in my opening remarks, it was not a casual comment. It was repeated, repeated discussions.

I am going to ask my hon. colleague this. Why would he not live up to his campaign promise of 2006 and proactively record and report any dealings with lobbyists?