Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to join in the debate on Bill C-15. I want to thank other members for their contributions to the debate today. I found them helpful and I learned a great deal.
I want to thank my colleague from Churchill for her energetic and enthusiastic intervention. She touched on a great number of concerns that ordinary Canadians have about lobbyists particularly about having undue influence in our Canadian political system. That is the way I could summarize the apprehensions many Canadians feel.
Canadians feel that there could be a trend and a tendency for lobbyists to have such influence in our Canadian political structure so as to undermine democracy. Many people look at the United States in a critical light and recognize that lobbyists play an incredibly important role on Capital Hill. Most Canadians do not have an appetite to see us going in that direction.
In the American political structure with more independent free votes, more effort is made to ensure that congressmen and senators vote in a certain way because they more or less have to earn the votes one by one instead of along party lines. Many people believe Washington is driven by lobbyists and feel they play an incredibly influential role in how it operates. In that country, a lobbyist is the highest on the pecking order in the sphere of political strength. Canadians do not want to see us going down that road, and that is why they welcome a firm and clear regulatory regime within which lobbyists may operate.
We all recognize the fact that lobbyists play a legitimate role in bringing specific issues to the attention of members of Parliament. The only lobbyists I welcome into my office as a rule are those from the non-profit sector. However, lobbyists do come to Parliament Hill with the legitimate purpose of trying to make members of Parliament more aware of issues of their concern. I think of the effective and legitimate annual lobby of firefighters. There is no self-interest involved in that lobby. It is a matter of health and safety issues et cetera. Many non-profit organizations do knock on our doors on a regular basis.
The lobbyists we need to regulate are those representing personal gain, self-interest, profit et cetera. We do not want our decision-makers influenced in an undue way by the overwhelming influence of these people.
I would like to quote from Democracy Watch, an organization that has been very diligent in following these matters. The coordinator of Democracy Watch, Duff Conacher, commented on the recent Senate committee on rules and procedures as it dealt with the Lobbyists Registration Act. He said:
The federal Liberals proposed lobbying law changes are not enough to end secret lobbying or unethical ties between lobbyists and politicians.
Mr. Conacher was speaking for many Canadians when he said that they do not see enough in Bill C-15 to satisfy them that the regulations are tight enough to put an end to the secret lobbying that we know takes place. We are not being inflammatory or saying anything outlandish when we say that we have reason to believe that secret lobbying takes place without being fully reported. We have reason to believe that there has been and may still be unethical ties between lobbyists and politicians, or as was pointed out by the member for Churchill, even more commonality between lobbyists and senior bureaucrats. It is not necessary that they reach the actual cabinet minister.
It is probably very rare that lobbyists gets through all the various shielding that goes on around cabinet ministers and get to the individual cabinet minister, but certainly they get to visit and see senior bureaucrats with no record and no obligation to make public or to make known those meetings that may take place.
We are not satisfied with the current amendments to the Lobbyists Registration Act. Speaking on behalf of many Canadians, the amendments are not rigid or stringent enough to safely say that we can put an end to secret lobbying or unethical ties.
Some of the key loopholes in Bill C-15 that still need to be closed and that still exist are loopholes that some commentators have said are big enough to drive a truck through in terms of the opportunities that are there for abuse and misuse. I will not go into specific industries, but people have mentioned some industries that concentrate a great deal on lobbying on the Hill such as the drug industry, the oil industry, et cetera. We believe that there is not full transparency in the activities of the paid lobbyists on behalf of some of those key industries.
A key loophole that still remains in Bill C-15, even after the Senate committee has had a go at it, is the fact that ministers and other senior public officials should be required to disclose, on a searchable Internet site, who is lobbying them and ensure that all lobbying is exposed. That is not automatically available. We should know who is trying to influence what minister or what senior bureaucrat at any given time.
Those of us who have the research capabilities could dig back. After a piece of legislation has been introduced some of us who may be curious to know just what motivated the government to introduce that legislation may do some research, track backwards and find which lobbyists have been aggressively pushing for this, but it is not easy and it is not readily available. It certainly is not readily available on any Internet site, as is being proposed by Democracy Watch, so that ordinary Canadians, anybody who could operate an Internet site better than I, would be able to find out who is lobbying who at any given time.
I think it would be very revealing, looking at major capital expenditures such as military investments, specifically the helicopter deal, to see how much lobbying is going on by the various helicopter manufacturers that are trying to sell products to the Canadian government. It is not readily available and it would be very interesting to most Canadians.
We also believe that Bill C-15 leaves loopholes in that hired lobbyists should also be required to disclose past offices that they may have held, if they were a public servant or a politician at one time, or held any other public office. Corporate and organization lobbyists would be required to do so, but we believe that all other individual lobbyists should be required to disclose fully their past c.v. and their track record. Some are obvious. We have paid lobbyists in Ottawa, on the Hill, who are former members of Parliament. I suppose that is a matter of public record. It is fairly self-evident to anybody who follows these things, but we should know if they were at any time senior public servants who may have had dealings with that industry in their capacity representing the federal government.
If those same individuals are now registered lobbyists, we should know because it is too close a connection, it is too tight, and they may be using privileged information or information that they gleaned while they were in the employ and the trust of the federal government. That information could be advantageous to them in their new capacity as lobbyists. Again, we have the right to know that.
We are also concerned about a very specific point. The exemption of section 3(2) in Bill C-15, which amends section 4(2)(c) of the Lobbyists Registration Act, should be removed from the bill because it would allow lobbyists who are only requesting information to avoid registration.
That surely opens the door for abuse. Some lobbyists will be excluded from the obligation to be registered if they say that they are only lobbying for the purpose of getting information from the government. It is a rare thing that an organization or a private interest would hire someone to go to the government just to obtain information. If a person stated that was the purpose for lobbying on the Hill, that person would go under the radar. No one would have to register at all. Who knows what lobbying really goes on once the door is closed and once there is access to the people involved. We believe that specific point should be addressed.
I know it is the purpose of this debate tonight to deal with the specifics of Bill C-15. Therefore the exemption in subclause 3(2) of Bill C-15, which amends subsection 4(2)(c) of the Lobbyists Registration Act, should be removed from the bill. That is the strong view of the NDP caucus.
Also lobbyists should be required by law to disclose how much they spend on a lobbying campaign. That information again is not readily available. If that information were readily available, I think journalists or any interested party, including ordinary Canadians, may be interested to know. Certainly a red flag should go up if there is a huge amount of money being dedicated to a specific campaign, and that is cause for concern. We should be aware that this private interest is so motivated that it feels compelled to spend $.5 million or $1 million on a lobbying effort. The country should know that.
We would want to question the people who have a serious interest in this issue and ask what the motivation is and the opportunity for gain. Perhaps it warrants more scrutiny by parliamentarians and by the general public. I am surprised that is not law already. I learned a great deal just by reviewing the details surrounding the Lobbyists Registration Act, and I think a lot of Canadians believe this is already the case. In fact I think they would be disappointed to learn that we do not already have these safeguards and measures in place to plug any opportunity where there is room for abuse.
Lobbyists as well should be prohibited by law from working in senior campaign positions for any politician or candidate for public office. That raises an interesting point. What about Earnscliffe? Did Earnscliffe not play an active role just recently in a fairly high profile leadership campaign race? Does it not have paid lobbyists? Is that not what it does on Parliament Hill? That is a graphic illustration of an example that we would want to see disclosed. We are aware of that now anyway, so I suppose that particular example does not pose any problem. However in other examples it is not self-evident, with a less high profile situation perhaps.
We believe lobbyists should be prohibited by law from working in senior campaign positions for any politician or candidate for public office. I think one precludes the other. They cannot have it both ways, I do not believe. We are trying to avoid this kind of incestuous relationship.
Also, lobbyists should be prohibited from working for the government or having business ties to anyone who works for the government, such as if a lobbyist's spouse is working for the government. We know there are examples of that as well. The connection is just simply too close. We would speak strongly for making that change to ensure that lobbyists are prohibited by law from working in senior campaign positions or from working for the government or having business ties to anyone who works for the government, business ties or personal ties I would add.
The prohibition on lobbying the government for ex-ministers and ex-senior public officials should be increased to five years, not the current situation. It is too brief. We believe five years would be long enough to span one term of office, one session of Parliament, possibly even one government. The government may change within a five year period. It is too fresh to simply leave such a senior position, like an ex-minister, an ex-senior public official or a deputy minister, for instance, and then 12 months and one day later become a lobbyist.
This is what we found with Chuck Guité, the deputy minister in the Groupaction scandal. He left his job, a senior position, with all the scandals associated with Groupaction. One year and one day later he was registered as a lobbyist for the public relations firm's associations. I do not have the names. He was working on the Hill 366 days after leaving that senior position in public works where he was the one who awarded those very contracts to those very people he now represents. That is too close. There is too much opportunity and room for abuse. That is a good example of a name that should certainly raise the alarm with anyone.
Another point raised by Mr. Conacher with Democracy Watch, and I would argue on behalf of ordinary Canadians, is that he believes the proposed new ethics commissioner to be created under Bill C-34 should also enforce the lobbyists code of conduct rather than the registrar of lobbyists as proposed in Bill C-34. We believe that would prevent any conflict in ruling. That could be a role. If we had an independent ethics commissioner, or even the ethics commissioner to be created under Bill C-34, that person should enforce the lobbyist code of conduct, instead of the registrar of lobbyists, to put more distance and have more objectivity.
I am pleased that a number of presenters raised this connection. I suppose it is not a coincidence that we are dealing with Bill C-15 and Bill C-34 simultaneously in the same week in the House of Commons. I believe there is a direct connection between the campaign finance bill, the elections financing act, and the Registration of Lobbyists Act. Surely people can see that we want to take big money out of politics.
We do not believe anybody should be able to buy an election in this country. We have seen what happens in the United States where big money, soft money and all the terms they use down there has far too much influence, undermines and even bastardizes democracy in that sense. These two are inexorably linked, because one of the biggest promises a lobbyist can bring to a government to buy influence is the opportunity to make campaign contributions.
I see an opportunity in both of these bills to make Canada more democratic, but I also see shortcomings. Bill C-24 does not go far enough and it still allows far too much business contributions. It strips away trade union contributions but still allows individual franchises of the same company to donate $1,000 each, whereas a national union with 100 locals can only donate $1,000. That is my criticism of Bill C-24.
Just to wrap it up then, I believe there is a direct correlation. Bill C-15 does not go far enough in the ways that I have outlined, the seven different points that I have raised. Bill C-24 does not go far enough in that it treats trade union contributions more strictly than it does business campaign contributions. The connection is lobbyists will no longer be able to say that if one favours their client, their client will likely make a large campaign contribution to one's political party. That is a legitimately a good thing. We believe that only a registered voter should be able to make a political campaign contribution. That is what we have done in the province of Manitoba. There is not even any provincial government money to offset the lack of union and business donations. The rule is clean, pure and simple that only a registered voter can make a political campaign contribution, and that is the way it should be.
Subtopic: Lobbyists Registration Act