moved that Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Lobbying Act (reporting obligations), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour on behalf of the hard-working people of the great riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke to rise in my place and lead off the debate on legislation I have proposed before the House, Bill C-278.
Bill C-278, which would amend the Lobbying Act, would require lobbyists to disclose whether they are funded by a foreign national, a non-resident corporation or a non-resident organization, and whether they use or expect to use grassroots communication to seek to persuade organizations or members of the public to take measures to obstruct, delay or otherwise negatively affect any process that requires the Government of Canada to consult with the public before embarking on a specific course of action in an attempt to place pressure on a public office holder to endorse a particular option.
I was encouraged to propose this legislation by my concern to protect the jobs of my constituents in the working forest. The forestry industry is a significant employer in my riding, as it is in many other parts of Canada.
It was brought to my attention that certain organizations were disseminating false information about the forestry industry in Canada. While some of the organizations operate under the pretext of having their anti-forestry activities financially supported by Canadians, careful research that was only possible by examining filings in countries outside Canada confirmed these organizations were being funded by non-Canadians, foreign actors with a hidden agenda.
As it has been noted by Canadian author Robert Lyman in “Dark Green Money: A Glimpse Inside the Big Green Funding Machine”:
Canadians should not have to find out about the funding by foreign foundations of political interest groups in this country as a result of a various citizens researching tax filings to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service....
This problem is not confined to the anti-forestry lobby or those individuals who lobby to support or oppose the building of pipelines, to use a different example, and this challenge to Canadian democracy is not confined to any one country. This challenge, which my legislation would seek to address by requiring funding transparency, cuts across all levels of Canadian activity.
This past weekend in one of Canada's leading national newspapers, the National Post, in a full page article, the following question was asked, “'The long arm of influence of China in Canada': Is a shadowy agency shaping opinion here?” The shadowy agency in question is the United Front Work Department, a so-called shadowy offshoot of the Chinese Communist Party. That article proceeded to give specific examples of foreign funding, such as the Confucius Institute, described as a propaganda or espionage arm of the Chinese state, and how it is now operating at three school boards and on nine university and college campuses across Canada.
I quote political scientist Charles Burton from that story about a cultural association he was familiar with:
An organization that once had another purpose has gradually been taken over to serve China’s national interest. Where United Front work becomes problematic is when it’s engaging persons of Chinese origin who have Canadian citizenship...to serve the interests of the motherland, when in fact the motherland should be Canada.
This is a concern in the Chinese Canadian community. I quote Cheuk Kwan, head of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China:
A lot of people don't think of the long arm of influence of China in Canada, because they're under the influence, to put it mildly.... Outsiders like me, who is a Hong Kong immigrant...we see very clearly that this is a United Front effort, a very subtle, soft-power kind of advance into Canadian society.
While China may be in the news because of Meng Wanzhou and Chinese infotech giant Huawei in the ongoing Canada-China diplomacy crisis, let us not be too smug in Canada to dismiss the Russian meddling controversy playing out south of the border.
The Macdonald-Laurier Institute has prepared a paper entitled “Stemming the Virus: Understanding and responding to the threat of Russian disinformation”.
This document gives examples of Canada being a victim of Russian disinformation, including planted stories about the Minister of National Defence and in the case of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, focusing on her Ukrainian heritage. The stories about the Minister of Foreign Affairs were planted in order to discredit Canada's position on the illegal occupation of Crimea by Russia.
Another example cited by the article is the Russian foreign policy priority to use misinformation to put pressure on our Parliament to repeal the Magnitsky legislation, which targets human rights abusers with targeted sanctions.
In addition to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, my colleague on the national defence committee, the member for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, has been targeted by Russian propaganda for his Ukrainian heritage and his championing of international Magnitsky legislation. I also understand the member for Scarborough—Guildwood received a letter attacking his support for the Canadian Magnitsky legislation.
Another Russian foreign policy priority, which I am personally aware of as a veteran member of the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association, is the targeting of NATO. NATO has been a pillar of peace and stability since the end of World War II. It is one of the most important world organizations for peace and security, and perhaps the most important one.
While not in the media lately as prominently as China and Russia, another country that is mentioned as being active in Canada is Iran.
When it comes to foreign disinformation, there is one thing in common: Canadian democracy is under attack. The purpose of using the Chinese and Russian examples was not intended in any way to single out members of those communities, the majority of whom are model Canadian citizens. It is as Cheuk Kwan stated: The problem is that many Canadians do not even realize they are under the influence of a disinformation campaign. While Parliament has focused on lobbying once the writ drops, many Canadians have already been influenced by a subtle misinformation campaign paid with foreign money that has been ongoing for years, so it is not good enough to look only at measures to combat election interference; Parliament needs to deal with foreign interference between elections also, which is the intent of Bill C-278, the bill we are debating today.
When members of the public think of lobbying, they think of the so-called public relations companies and the advertising firms that go along with those organizations. It goes far deeper than that. The announcement this week that five environmental non-profit groups are lobbying the Senate environment committee not to consult directly with the Canadian public is an attack on democracy.
While it was reported that one of the environmental groups has received significant taxpayer funding from the federal government, what was not reported were the millions of dollars the other environmental organizations received from foreign sources.
Let us start with the non-governmental organization Ecojustice, formally known as the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, which is the name of its American parent. According to the Canada Revenue Agency, this particular NGO, in the 2000 to 2017 time period, had gross revenues of $115,319,392.
That is a lot of money.
Where did it get all its millions? Ecojustice received eight direct grants from the controversial U.S. Tides Foundation, totalling $545,380. The U.S. Tides Foundation flows money to its Canadian subsidiary, Tides Canada. CRA records show that Tides Canada gave 10 grants, totalling $903,845. They even tell us what Tides U.S.A. expected Ecojustice to use the money for: The money was used to attack the Canadian oil sands and the thousands of jobs that go with the oil sands.
The next question that needs to be answered is, who is donating millions of dollars to Tides U.S.A., and what do they expect to get for their money?
Could it be American pipeline interests? Could it be American oil and gas interests? Could it be the owners of American rail who financially benefit when oil is shipped by rail rather than by pipeline? Canadians have a right to the answers to these questions. Bill C-278 would provide those answers. In an era when foreign interests can launch a million emails with the push of a button, we need those answers now more than ever.
In a democracy, a free and independent press is counted on to provide unbiased information and informed opinions that aid public debate, expose corruption and highlight major social issues to enable an informed public to make participatory decisions. Today's reality is far from that ideal. In Canada, media is looking at an almost $600 million government bailout that their corporate owners claim they need to operate. This creates more opportunities for foreign entities with deep pockets to buy public acceptance for policies that promote their interests.
The role played by foreign governments as well as foreign foundations and campaigns to influence public policy in Canada should be of interest to all concerned about the independence and integrity of Canadian political and governmental processes.
The increasing globalization of corporate, institutional and geopolitical interests would seem to require that Canadian democratic institutions be more vigilant about these possible intrusions. This, in turn, demands that reports on the activities of foundations, other non-profits and charities seeking to influence policy be made more transparent to the public and more useful to parliamentarians who wish to exercise oversight.
Greater transparency afforded in two areas that would benefit greatly from a more open system of reporting and increased oversight are the lobbyist registry and the reporting requirements to the CRA by non-profit and charitable organizations. In addition to the concerns expressed previously about the role of foreign and corporate actors, the transparency of disclosing by lobbyists and charities is being increasingly obscured by the efforts of various interests to mask self-dealing and self-vested interests.
Within the United States, there is a large body of academic studies examining the strategies and practices used by private foundations to influence public policy. Many of these foundations have enormous financial resources, including billions of dollars in assets and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenues. Increasingly, U.S. studies have addressed the strategies used by private foundations and the many other groups they fund, most of which have charity status, which is non-taxable, in influencing policy.
The strategies include broad communication and education programs to influence public perceptions of policy issues and to garner public support for specific actions, the lobbying of governments at all levels, infiltration of the media and concerted, coordinated action to achieve specific objectives.
While there is less information and academic analysis available in Canada, some private researchers have made efforts to follow the money in terms of how foundation and charity funding is used. These efforts are impeded by superficial reporting requirements and the lack of publicly available information from organizations like Canada Revenue Agency, which administers provisions of the Income Tax Act related to charities, and the lobbying registry compiled by the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada.
Researchers such as Vivian Krause, who have endeavoured to find out more about the use of domestic and foreign foundation funding for anti-oil and anti-pipeline campaigns, have learned that they must often rely on the U.S. Internal Revenue Service records, since the information they seek is not available from Canadian sources.
In the United States, a donor-advised fund, DAF, is a charitable giving vehicle administered by a public charity created to manage charitable donations on behalf of organizations, families or individuals. Although DAFs are more developed in the United States, they are increasingly being used in Canada.
To participate in a DAF, a donating individual or organization opens an account in the fund and deposits the cash, securities or other financial instruments. The donor surrenders the ownership of anything put in the fund, but retains advisory privileges over how the account is invested and how it distributes its money to charities. In the charity sector, the increased use of DAFs makes it increasingly difficult to determine the ultimate source and purpose of funding.