Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to rise in the House to speak to the opposition motion moved by my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona. I would like to approach this issue from a slightly different angle. I will begin by reading the preamble to the motion:
That, in the opinion of the House, corporate executives and their lobbyists have had too much access to and influence over the Government of Canada, setting working Canadians and their families back...
The preamble is crucial. The rest of the motion lists examples of how that influence is exerted, but the fact that there is undue and excessive influence on the part of corporate executives and their lobbyists is a growing problem here in Canada.
This is interesting because we started the day off with a debate on my colleague from New Westminster—Burnaby's Bill C-331, which is about giving Canadian courts the power to hold Canadian mining companies responsible for things they do in other countries. That makes perfect sense to me because they are Canadian companies. How interesting that the government was besieged by lobbyists representing the Mining Association of Canada and its members, who did not want the new ombudsperson for responsible enterprise to have more power over them. Although we still do not know exactly what the ombudsperson's duties are, we do know the position is vital to holding mining companies accountable, which explains why, even before the mandate was defined, there was a barrage of lobbying aimed at neutralizing the position.
There are many more examples. We have heard a lot about SNC-Lavalin, so I will not spend much time on that. Instead, let me talk about the web giants, also known as GAFA. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, while we were talking about them being given unfair advantages in Canada compared to Canadian companies, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Netflix were unrelentingly lobbying the Liberal government.
Amazon lobbyists and executives had 99 meetings with the Canadian government in 2016-17. Google had 337 registered contacts. Microsoft, for its part, had 35 registered contacts. Netflix had 16. While all this was going on, we were debating whether companies like Google, Netflix, Facebook and Twitter should collect sales tax on their products and advertisements and pay income tax on their revenues. I did not include Amazon in this list, because Amazon Canada collects sales taxes.
This goes beyond lobbying. These companies have had privileged access to members of the government. For example, Google hired former Liberal chief of staff John Brodhead to run a program. Leslie Church, who worked as director of communications at Google, became the chief of staff to the then heritage minister.
As for Microsoft, its national director of corporate affairs used to be the director of operations and outreach for the then Liberal leader, who is now the Prime Minister. There are really a lot of ties between these people. Ultimately, the upshot of all this is that the status quo continues for telecommunications companies and American web giants. Nothing changes. Why? Because this lobbying is highly effective, and these companies can afford it.
My Conservative friends should not feel too smug, because they have some questions to answer about their own history with lobbying. The examples of Arthur Porter and KPMG have been raised in the House.
While CPA Canada, the organization that represents Canadian accounting firms, was seeking to intercede on behalf of its KPMG members, it signed a deal with the federal government to have a say in potential changes to CRA programs and services. This happened under the Conservative government.
Does anyone believe for one second that the whole SNC-Lavalin affair would not have happened under a Conservative government? We know that SNC-Lavalin secured a meeting with the Leader of the Opposition and several other MPs. That meeting was specifically about issues related to law and order and the administration of justice. It was clearly about the situation that has been making headlines for the past few months.
In 2012, I stumbled upon a CBC article published online under the following headline:
“Enbridge lobbying of Harper government a 'success story'.”
At that time, everyone was talking about the northern gateway pipeline. Apparently, there were dozens of meetings between the government and Enbridge lobbyists. In fact, in 2011-12 alone, meetings were held with 12 different lobbyists. In 2006 and in 2010, 27 different lobbyists lobbied the Conservative government to try to make northern gateway a done deal.
I find that interesting, because one of the groups that lobbied the government is called the Clean Air Renewable Energy Coalition, made up of groups as diverse as Enbridge, Shell and ConocoPhillips Canada.
I am not trying to blame anyone in particular, but rather point out the undue influence of the corporate sector in Canada. It is undue influence because it is not transparent and because these companies usually get whatever they want. If we really want to ensure transparency, we need to go further than just the registry of lobbyists. It is estimated that Canadian companies spend about $300 million a year on lobbying activities. Since this is considered to be part of their business activities, they are given tax credits worth about $100 million. This means that we are paying companies so that they can engage in lobbying in the hopes of influencing the government.
Perhaps that does not seem like a lot of money. Every year in the United States, roughly $2.6 billion are spent on lobbying. I want to illustrate just how much that is. That is more money spent on lobbying than is spent on funding the United States House of Representatives and Senate combined. American companies spend more money to appeal to and influence U.S. Congress than U.S. Congress budgets for its own operations. That shows just how powerful a force lobbying is in North America. That is true in the United States and it is true in Canada. Yes, we have the lobbyist registry, but no one knows exactly how much is spent. No one knows exactly how much money has been invested.
Our saving grace is probably the fact that we have a limit on contributions. Companies and corporations cannot contribute directly to campaigns, which makes our system different from the U.S. However, our lobbying system is not better than the U.S. There is more accountability and more transparency with respect to the lobbying that is done in the U.S. than there is in this country.
I will be voting in favour of the motion and I invite other members of the House to do likewise. The reason is simple. We need to be able to examine for ourselves the impact that lobbying has on the life of Parliament and the impact it has on the balance of forces in Canadian society. We do not talk about this enough, and we take for granted that the current reality cannot be changed. It is our responsibility to change that reality, to restore the balance that no longer exists, and to ensure that Parliament, the House of Commons, represents what it is supposed to represent, namely all of the ridings across Canada, not just the economic interests of corporations that are only looking out for number one.