Mr. Speaker, it is an honour today to rise in this place and contribute to the debate on Bill C-278, an act to amend the Lobbying Act, regarding reporting obligations, proposed by my colleague from Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke. The goal of Bill C-278 is to expand the lobbying registry, to make public the sources of funding for all lobbying conducted here in Canada.
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, and that is important to understand. Many of these foundations have enormous financial resources, including billions of dollars in assets and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenues, and they are influencing federal governments. Maybe that is fine, but the legislation would help us make sure there is transparency and that the public understands it.
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 in influencing public policy. The strategies include broad communications 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, the infiltration of the media, and concerted, coordinated action to achieve specific objectives.
While there is less information and academic analysis available here in Canada, some private researchers have made efforts to “follow the money” in terms of how foundation and charity funding is spent. These efforts are impeded by superficial reporting requirements and the lack of publicly available information from organizations like the Canada Revenue Agency, which administers the 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 has endeavoured to find out more about the use of domestic and foreign foundation funding for the anti-oil and anti-pipeline campaigns, have found that they must often rely on United States Internal Revenue Service records, as the information they seek here in Canada is not available from Canadian sources. That is a shame.
ln my riding, we have seen the first-hand influence these new strategies and practices can have on Canadian industries and jobs.
Vivian Krause has been interviewed throughout Canada, certainly by Global. I saw an interview done by her where she showed how monies went to charities and then went directly to campaigns against Alberta's goal of seeing more pipelines to tidewater and of seeing more of our energy go to new markets around the world. We see people from the United States, as Vivian Krause has pointed out, doing all they can to prevent that goal of Albertans seeing their energy sold around the world, while the world needs new access to our energy. This is very much an issue for my province of Alberta but it certainly is an issue for all of Canada.
ln recent years, we have witnessed a real change in how Canadians participate in our democracy. The rise of social media and the ubiquity of mobile devices has dramatically empowered individual Canadians. Many children in junior high have iPads or mobile phones. Each one of us has the ability to access any type of information we want but we also have access to influence a certain issue.
While many, if not most Canadians, might not appreciate the extent of their personal political powers, members of Parliament never forget it, and they better not forget it or they will become former members of Parliament. However, if most Canadians are unaware of the influence they can have over their elected officials, foreign actors have been quick to realize it.
Twenty years ago launching a grassroots movement to affect some policy change required considerable manpower and massive amounts of resources. Today, these campaigns can be launched for the cost of a domain name. In the past, one would have to spend millions of dollars on advertising and direct mail just to reach out and persuade a few thousand people on whatever issue or whatever topic they wanted.
Now, for a few hundred or a few thousand dollars, one can launch a Facebook ad campaign with the potential to reach literally millions of people. It can be targeted to certain areas specifically, but broadly, it can go around the world. This is more and more becoming an issue Canadians are attuned to. They know that a foreign actor can launch a million emails with just the push of one button.
Social media and mobile technology are enabling Canadians to participate more meaningfully in our political and policy debates. If that is true for Canadians, it is also true for non-Canadians. It is true for non-Canadians that most people, when they see their ad, might actually believe that they are Canadians. Foreign actors have access to the same tools and can have the same impact.
Just when Canadians are awakening to the opportunities to influence their own laws, they could find those efforts swamped by foreign interests without even realizing where this attack or this campaign was coming from. The role played by foreign governments as well as foreign foundations in campaigns to influence public policy in Canada should be of interest to all concerned about the independence and integrity of the Canadian political and government processes.
The increased 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 and charities seeking to influence policy be made more transparent to the public and more useful to the parliamentarians who wish to exercise oversight.
While the foreign lobbyist transparency act would not block foreign actors from launching fake grassroots campaigns, requiring disclosure of their funding of Canadian organizations to do so would give additional tools to public officeholders in understanding where the latest round of form emails may really be coming from or where they originated. A transparent registry of foreign lobbyists and their campaigns would provide journalists and researchers with a new way to follow the dollar.
I would also add here that when we give to charities in this country, we expect a certain return. We expect that they abide by certain rules. However, many charities in other countries may well not apply those same restrictions and rules, and they may indeed be the ones that start some of these campaigns. Rather than taking an approach that attempts to restrict or regulate the speech of foreign actors, restrictions that would inevitably hamper Canadians' own rights and freedoms, Bill C-278 would simply require disclosure. Foreign entities would need to report when they were funding campaigns to influence federal officeholders and officials.
Truth and transparency are always our best defences in preserving an open and democratic Canada. It is my genuine hope that these are changes that all members of Parliament can support.
One can say that there are Conservative organizations that may be doing it, there are Liberal organizations, there are socialist organizations, and there are Green-backed organizations that may well be doing this. Some of that may be all right, but let Canadians know who they are. Too often, questions about foreign funding of different sides of a policy debate are dismissed as being partisan by one side or the other. We can all play that game. The foreign lobbyist transparency act would cut through the partisan divide by applying equally to all foreign actors, whether they were supporting a cause we hold dear or opposing a policy we would prefer.
This bill would not limit Canadians' ability to solicit foreign financial support for an issue they were pursuing. It would simply require them to disclose to their fellow citizens the ultimate source of those funds. Individual Canadians could then assess for themselves whether the source of funding was material to the issue.
The digital transformation of our democracy is still in its infancy. Who knows what the next year or the next five years will hold for the digital world? It presents an opportunity to meaningfully increase Canadians' participation in our laws, but only if we have faith in it. By ensuring greater transparency for foreign funding of lobbying and public relations campaigns, we can restore a measure of trust in our democracy. I know we all want to do that.