Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe.
I welcome this opportunity to rise in the House to discuss this motion.
The motion, at its heart, speaks to issues of integrity and accountability. I think we can all agree that engagement with Canadians is a key part of the democratic process. The unfortunate reality is that under the previous government, Canadians were not engaged, their concerns were not heard, and that is why Canadians chose a new government to represent them.
In short, as much as my opposition colleagues would like us all to believe, fundraising is not a dirty word. Fundraising is one component of every party's engagement in outreach work. I am proud to say that Canadians have a government that is not only following the rules, but believes in hearing the concerns of all Canadians from all walks of life and making their concerns a major priority.
All parties fundraise. It is a way citizens can express their views in a free and fair democracy. That said, we need to ensure we preserve the level playing field that is the foundation of our democratic culture.
Fundraising and election spending need to be regulated, and they are. The federal fundraising rules are some of the strictest in the country, and donations and contributions are made open and transparent. For instance, in some provinces, individuals can donate in the tens of thousands of dollars, and others do not have any limits on contributions whatsoever. Additionally, it is important to note that some provinces accept donations from unions, trade associations, and corporations. This is not the case in the federal system
While members on that side of the House are trying to create a narrative that our government is not being open and transparent, I can say with full confidence that this is not the case here. Canadians know that, federally, we have some of the strictest rules governing political fundraising, and our members follow these rules in every case. Canadians have trust in our system, because they know we have measures in place to ensure our public institutions operate in a transparent fashion and that decision makers are held to account for their actions.
One of the central pillars of our integrity regime is the Conflict of Interest Act. It is important that members of the House understand how the extremely rigorous regime set out by the statute works.
First, the act has broad coverage. When it talks about public office-holders, the net is cast widely to include ministers, parliamentary secretaries, Governor in Council appointees, and even exempt staff. Compliance with the Conflict of Interest Act is not something that is taken lightly. It is not a suggestion. It is a term and condition of appointment for all public office-holders.
At its core, the act requires public office-holders to avoid conflict between private interests and their official duties. This means that ministers, staffers, and others may not take part in any decision making that could further their own private interests or that of their friends or relatives.
We all know that this is not a universal principle embraced around the world. There are countries where people seek high office as a means to obtain wealth and prosperity. Fortunately, in Canada, we view things differently. Public service is exactly that: serving the public and not oneself.
The rules are some of the strictest in the country regarding donations, and contributions must be made openly and transparently. Some provinces allow individuals to make donations of tens of thousands of dollars, while others have no limits on donations, and some of them also allow donations from unions, business associations and corporations. None of that is permitted under the federal regime, which requires donations of more than $200 to be reported online. That being said, there is no question that the current government is obeying the rules and the laws on political fundraising campaigns in Canada.
I will now turn to a few concrete examples of activities and practices that are not permitted under our current regime. Federal public office holders are not permitted to participate in making decisions that will affect the value of their children’s business or would increase the value of their own stock portfolios. They may not issue a permit that would increase the value of their property holdings. They are not permitted to accept extravagant gifts, either.
The definition of these gifts includes a wide variety of items. It can include a gift bag from a business, a low-interest mortgage or anything in between. The law also contains provisions concerning the post-employment period. For example, federal public office holders cannot resign and immediately use the confidential information to which they had access for their own purposes. They cannot suddenly resign and join the other side in a transaction or negotiation with the government.
Overseeing this regime is the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. She interprets and administers the act. This includes providing public office-holders with confidential advice, investigating and reporting on alleged breaches, and levying penalties for public office-holders who have failed to report as required. It is tough.
I know that everyone in the House can agree that the current commissioner is doing an admirable job and has earned our collective respect and appreciation. When I say it is a tough job, I mean it. Things are rarely entirely black and white. Context matters and perception matters. That is why there are mechanisms to ensure public reporting and mechanisms to allow ministers, staffers, and others covered by the act to check in with the commissioner when questions arise.
Canadians expect governments and ministers to act to the highest ethical standards. That is exactly what every minister of this government has done, and continues to do. The commissioner is the authoritative source for interpreting the act. She has issued a number of guidelines and information notices to assist public office-holders, which are available on her website. In short, when in doubt, she is the font of wisdom.
Another pillar of the federal ethics regime is the Lobbying Act. This act is based on the principle that it is legitimate and necessary for the government to communicate with interest groups. Canadians have the right to know who is involved in paid lobbying for the purpose of influencing the government’s decisions.
Under the act, all paid lobbyists are required to register with the Lobbying Commissioner before they can communicate with ministers, exempt staff, government officers and parliamentarians. That includes consultants working for law firms and lobbying companies, as well as employees of corporations, unions, industrial associations and interest groups.
Lobbyists are required to enter information about their clients, their lobbying activities and the departments and officers with whom they meet in a public data bank. They also have to make public the details of any meetings or telephone calls with government decision-makers, which includes ministers, exempt staff and even senior public servants. Any member of the public may consult the data bank online to obtain that information.
In addition, all lobbyists must respect the lobbyists' code of conduct issued by the Commissioner of Lobbying. Like the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying is an independent officer who reports directly to Parliament, not the government. Under their code of conduct, lobbyists must act honestly and with integrity, and they must not do anything that places a designated public office holder in a conflict of interest.
The Ethics Commissioner has the power to investigate any alleged breaches of both the Lobbying Act and the lobbyists’ code of conduct. The commissioner must also report all violations to Parliament. If the commissioner believes that a violation has occurred, he can also refer the matter to the RCMP for criminal investigation and, where appropriate, prosecution.
The Lobbying Act ensures that senior government officials cannot leave their position and immediately begin lobbying their former government colleagues. It is prohibited for ministers, exempt staff, and senior officials to be a paid lobbyist of the federal government for a period of five years after they leave their position.
Taken together, the Conflict of Interest Act and the Lobbying Act represent one of the most rigorous statutory transparency and ethics regimes in the world. I am proud that our government has set the bar so high. Providing open and accountable government for Canadians is all about that.