Members of the Commons ethics committee will meet this week to consider a review of Canada’s conflict of interest and lobbying laws after a Globe and Mail report found lobbyists are regularly attending Liberal fundraisers.
The Lobbying Act is overdue for a mandatory five-year review by a House of Commons committee. A review of the Conflict of Interest Act was completed in 2014, and another study is not legally required. During that review, then-conflict of interest commissioner Mary Dawson called for stronger legislation related to political fundraising and asked MPs to consider banning lobbyists from fundraisers and banning cabinet ministers from fundraising.
Those recommendations were never adopted.
A Globe analysis of fundraising and lobbying records revealed this week that lobbyists are frequently attending Liberal Party fundraisers, even though the party promised restrictions in this area.
“It does suggest that maybe there’s more to do to get money out of politics,” said Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who is vice-chair of the Commons access to information, privacy and ethics committee, in reference to The Globe’s report.
“It would be useful in that context to do a joint study of the Conflict of Interest Act and the Lobbying Act to see if we can further tighten the rules to ensure that money doesn’t play a significant role in Canadian politics.”
Mr. Erskine-Smith noted that Canada’s existing ban on corporate and union donations is much stricter than similar restrictions in other countries, but further action could be warranted.
Conservative and NDP MPs on the ethics committee also expressed interest in such a review. A decision will be made Thursday when the committee meets to plan its fall agenda.
“I don’t think people who are in the lobbying business should be attending fundraisers. That would be a simple, clear rule,” said NDP MP Charlie Angus, who is also a vice-chair of the ethics committee.
Mario Dion, who became Ethics Commissioner in January, is supporting his predecessor’s call for the government to strengthen the Conflict of Interest Act when it comes to lobbyists and conflicts of interest.
In a March 7 letter to the ethics committee, he said guidelines produced by his office advise ministers and parliamentary secretaries who engage in political fundraising not to “solicit or accept funds from a person or organization who has lobbied or is likely to lobby the public office holder or their office [or] department.”
However, guidelines produced by the Commissioner of Lobbying state that the attendance of lobbyists at a political fundraiser does not create a conflict of interest.
“Purchasing a ticket to attend a political fundraiser would not carry the risk of creating a conflict of interest for the public office holder, as long as the cost of the ticket is within the amount allowed by Elections Canada,” said Manon Dion, a spokesperson for Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger.
Liberal Party spokesperson Braeden Caley told The Globe that the Lobbying Commissioner’s guidelines are evidence the party is complying with federal ethics and lobbying laws. He also noted that Ms. Dawson, the former ethics commissioner, decided in 2017 not to launch an investigation after receiving complaints from opposition MPs about two fundraisers attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“For well over a full year now, the Liberal Party has been the first and only party to move forward with the strongest standards in federal politics for open and transparent political fundraising events, including facilitating media coverage, advance posting, hosting in publicly accessible spaces, and timely reporting of event details and guest lists,” he said in an e-mail. “In contrast, both the Conservatives and NDP have continued to keep the details of their fundraising events a secret – barring journalists and hiding details from Canadians about who is attending their closed-door events.”