The House of Commons ethics committee will launch a review of federal conflict-of-interest and lobbying laws, including a look at the concerns that arise when lobbyists and political parties mix.
The all-party committee made the decision Thursday during a closed meeting to decide on its fall agenda. The simultaneous review of the Lobbying Act and the Conflict of Interest Act is expected to begin later this year.
The decision to proceed with the review comes on the heels of a Globe and Mail analysis of Liberal Party fundraising records, which found more than 200 instances of lobbyists attending Liberal fundraisers since early 2017, when the party said it would be imposing tight restrictions on the attendance of lobbyists.
The committee had been considering a review of the two laws and Conservative MP and committee member Peter Kent said The Globe’s findings added a sense of urgency to schedule the work.
“It emphasized the need to do the study and to get the study done sooner rather than later,” said Mr. Kent, who has cited The Globe’s findings several times this week during Question Period in the House of Commons. “It provided some hard numbers to back up what many of us in the Opposition believed was happening, despite the Prime Minister’s promise for strict new rules after the original stories revealed the cash-for-access unacceptable practices.”
The Liberal Party launched new fundraising policies in early 2017 and the Liberal government passed new fundraising legislation that will take effect in December following a series of Globe and Mail reports in 2016 detailing private Liberal fundraisers with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and senior ministers that were criticized as “cash-for-access” events.
As of early 2017, the Liberal Party became the first and only major federal party to disclose attendance lists for fundraisers and to impose a ban on attendance by lobbyists if they are registered to lobby the guest speaker and attending the event requires a defined donation, such as a $200-a-plate dinner. However, The Globe’s report highlighted the fact that the party is choosing to waive this ban on lobbyists if the fundraiser is a “donor-appreciation event,” which is typically restricted to members of the Laurier Club who have donated at least $1,500 to the party that year. That amount is just shy of the $1,575 maximum annual contribution allowed by federal legislation.
Of the 72 fundraisers reviewed by The Globe, 32 were Laurier Club events, meaning 44 per cent of those fundraisers were exempt from the Liberal Party’s restrictions on the attendance of lobbyists. About 60 per cent of Laurier Club events had at least one lobbyist in attendance.
Opposition MPs said the statistics revealed by The Globe show that the Liberal Party continues to hold “cash-for-access” events and is using the Laurier Club as a loophole to get around its own policies.
The Liberal Party has said its practices set a higher standard than the other parties and comply with all federal laws.
The committee’s short-term priority is to wrap up a study related to privacy and political parties that was prompted by the Cambridge Analytica scandal involving the unauthorized use of personal data obtained from 87 million Facebook users, including 600,000 Canadians.
The committee is planning to call officials from the major political parties to answer questions about the protection of personal data. Political parties are currently exempt from the federal privacy laws aimed at protecting citizens from the unauthorized use of their personal information. The federal Privacy Commissioner has called for that exemption to end.
The government has not shown an interest in making that change. Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, a vice-chair of the ethics committee, said he and his colleagues will continue to focus on the issue.
“It’s out of our hands what the government does,” he said. “When you have privacy commissioners across the country calling for this action, I think it’s still something that this committee ought to take seriously.”