Statement made on 22 June 2009 by Senator Joseph Day
Ms. Shepherd, you mentioned three different pieces of legislation. My recollection is that before the Lobbying Act came along as part of the Federal Accountability Act, there was another piece of lobbyist legislation that was in existence but had not been proclaimed. You were in the department in 2004-08. Were you part of coming up with the new initiatives that appear in the Lobbying Act that we now have before us as legislation?
Ms. Shepherd: The responsibility for the act was with Treasury Board, but our office was consulted on some of the experiences we had with the legislation, which I believe contributed to where the government ultimately came out.
Senator Day: Thank you. I am trying to get background. Senator Joyal and I were both involved in the Accountability Act, and you are the first commissioner without any adjectives attached to that word under the Accountability Act, or you will be, assuming that you are confirmed in this position.
Ms. Shepherd: Yes, I will be the first commissioner.
Senator Day: Thank you.
With respect to the monthly reporting of communications or that scheme, I am interested in the verification by the designated public office-holder. What criteria do you have to determine when and if you will ask for verification?
Ms. Shepherd: That is one of the processes of verifying the monthly reporting. I believe that when the act came into force on July 2 to the end of March, we verified roughly 6 per cent of the entries. We found the majority of those were over-reporting. More than 90 per cent were over-reporting. Lobbyists are very much using the monthly report.
In terms of the designated public office-holders verifying the entries, we have tried to make life simple for them when sending the letters and verification. We are actually attaching the entry for them to come back to us.
The criteria now is trying to do a certain number each month and watching for particular trends or so on. One thing we did in the last round was to go after assistant deputy minister levels, so trying to figure out different techniques in terms of verifying the information. If we noticed there was a specific maybe potentially hotter issue, then we would try to verify more of those entries.
In terms of us going out to designated public office-holders and asking them to verify, we are actually getting letters or phone calls from designated public office-holders saying there is a mistake in the entry because the name is spelled incorrectly or there is a wrong date or they are noticing that perhaps a meeting did not occur but it was a letter. Again, that gets back to our education mandate of letting lobbyists know that only oral and arranged meetings have to be reported in those monthly communication entries.
Senator Day: You have a group of people within your department who looks for hot public policy items and then designates those particular office-holders for verification.
Ms. Shepherd: That is one of the tools being used and, yes, we have one dedicated person. One thing she has taken on quite seriously is going through and literally printing out all the communication entries in a month and flipping through to see patterns or things that she notices.
The other thing we are conscious of doing in terms of going out to designated public office-holders is trying to minimize the number of times we are going out and asking someone to verify in terms of the issues or frequency of meetings.
Senator Day: Are you providing guidelines to the designated public office-holders as to what information they should maintain in order to verify when you ask for verification?
Ms. Shepherd: Nothing under the act gives me the mandate to do so in terms of them needing to keep it.
However, perhaps indirectly, we are doing the education and outreach with certain departments, explaining the rationale and requirements of the act and showing them exactly what the lobbyist is required to do and report on. Then, if I was to come to them, it would be to indicate what is on the monthly report that they must maintain.
I am aware that there are departments looking at putting their own best practices into effect in terms of how to best maintain that information so they can verify it when we come knocking on the door, so to speak. One of the powers the requirements in the Lobbying Act gave me, aside from the ability to verify in the event I was to find that someone was not getting back to me, was the ability to put forward their names via a report to Parliament.
Senator Day: You also indicated that the designated public office-holders will sometimes voluntarily come to you. Does that suggest they are looking at all monthly returns by lobbyists and seeing where they are named, even if you have not asked them to verify that?
Ms. Shepherd: With the awareness of the act, yes, some are looking. I could not say how actively they are looking or how they are searching. From letters I have received or via phone calls the registration unit is receiving, I know about them saying there is an error.
Senator Day: My final question is in respect to the five-year prohibition on lobbying. I know how designated public office-holders are determined, either statutorily or through regulation. We have had a discussion on that and you are talking about the acting people in positions and increasing the number of designated public office-holders.
There is another category of individuals called "designated members of the Prime Minister's transition team." Do you recall that? First, I would like to know if the designation is done the same way. Do you play an active role in that designation, or is it done statutorily or through regulation? Who does the designation, and do you maintain a list of those designated members of the Prime Minister's transition team who have a five-year prohibition?
Ms. Shepherd: In order to become subject to the act, the Prime Minister must decide to designate the individuals on the transition team. I would need to become aware that the Prime Minister has actually designated them in terms of keeping a list in house.
Therefore, I do not play a role in the designation process; I need to be informed that the Prime Minister has decided to designate individuals.
Senator Day: Are you aware of any guidelines, and do we have a list now? Can I find a list somewhere of who has been designated by the Prime Minister?
Ms. Shepherd: It is up to the Prime Minister in terms of who has been designated.
I would have to check privacy rules as to whether such a list exists and is accessible.
Senator Day: You are enforcing the act.
Ms. Shepherd: Yes.
Senator Day: If anyone is lobbying who should not be lobbying, you should know who they are.
Ms. Shepherd: Yes.
Senator Day: The only way you would know that is by following a list of people who are prohibited from lobbying for five years.
Ms. Shepherd: Yes. I am currently aware of those who have been designated because I have been so informed. However, you raise a good point as to how, in the future, I could go about ensuring I am informed if that occurs.
Senator Day: That is something you will follow up on, is it not?
Ms. Shepherd: For future administrations, yes.
Senator Day: Thank you.