Facebook’s top representative in Canada told MPs he provided personal support to Bill Morneau in helping the Finance Minister promote his federal budget on the social media platform, but said none of his interactions meet the threshold required to register as a lobbyist.
Kevin Chan, a former Liberal staffer who now works as head of public policy at Facebook Canada, told a parliamentary committee on Thursday that he met last year with Mr. Morneau to help him use the social-media platform.
“His office reached out to Facebook, he wanted some advice on how to do Facebook live for his budget speech,” Mr. Chan told the committee.
In response to questioning from NDP MP Charlie Angus, Mr. Chan, an ex-policy director for former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, said Facebook doesn’t need to register lobbyists because it doesn’t meet the 20-per-cent threshold under the Lobbying Act.
“This question does go to the heart of the company’s integrity. And, quite frankly, my integrity, personally,” Mr. Chan said. “At no time has Facebook come close to meeting the threshold for registration as a lobbyist.”
Under current rules, in-house corporations only need to register when the cumulative lobbying activities of all employees adds up to a “significant part of duties,” a threshold that is equivalent to 20 per cent or more of the working hours of one full-time employee, over a period of one month.
Mr. Angus – who referenced Mr. Chan’s other meetings with Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett – questioned why the social-media executive doesn’t view what he does as lobbying.
“You are registered as the company’s leading public-policy maker in Canada,” Mr. Angus said.
“My light bulb breaks, I don’t call the head of General Electric to come and fix it. And yet, you show up to help him figure out how to get more ‘likes.’ Isn’t that a waste of your time?”
Mr. Chan replied: “That is what I spend my time doing, sir. I’m proud of it.”
Mr. Morneau’s spokeswoman, Chloé Luciani-Girouard, said the minister and his staff met with Mr. Chan “to discuss digital outreach and best practices, including the Facebook Live feature when it first became available to the public.”
“This meeting included members of the communications team, and policy matters were not discussed,” Ms. Luciani-Girouard said in an e-mail.
In a photo with Mr. Morneau posted on Mr. Chan’s Facebook page on June 28, 2017, Mr. Chan wrote, “It is always a pleasure and honour spending time with him and his team thinking through his digital engagement strategy!”
In 2012, then-lobbying commissioner Karen Shepherd recommended that the “significant part of duties” threshold for registration be removed, as it can be confusing and difficult to enforce. A spokeswoman for Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger said this continues to be the position of the office.
Mr. Chan and his California-based colleague, Facebook deputy chief privacy officer Rob Sherman, were grilled by MPs on the House of Commons access to information, privacy and ethics committee on Thursday, which is studying the international controversy over Facebook‘s protection of its users’ personal information.
Mr. Chan’s appearance comes after revelations that 87 million people across the globe, including 622,000 Canadians, may have had their personal information improperly shared with Britain-based political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.
“What is alleged to have occurred is a huge breach of trust to our users and for that we are very sorry,” Mr. Chan said in his opening address.
Much of the testimony focused on transparency and winning back trust from Facebook’s 23 million Canadian users, although Mr. Chan refused to answer any questions from reporters as he left the meeting.
Speaking by video link in California, Mr. Sherman said it’s possible a “small amount” of users’ private messages may have also been inappropriately shared as part of the breach, without their consent. He said the company is still investigating.
During a news conference in London on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government will consider adopting strict privacy-protection laws that are set to come into force across the European Union next month.
“We will of course continue to take seriously the responsibility to protect Canadians in every way and we’ll certainly be informed by measures taken by our friends and allies around the world,” Mr. Trudeau said.
The General Data Protection Regulation takes effect on May 25 and it sets strict regulations on all companies that process the personal data of anyone living in the EU.
With files from Paul Waldie in London and Bill Curry in Ottawa