Public Works Minister Scott Brison says he has filed a complaint with the federal registrar of lobbyists to investigate Conservative Leader Stephen Harper for what Brison says is a failure to register as a lobbyist during his time as head of the National Citizens Coalition.
Brison's request comes on the same day Harper unveiled an integrity package in a speech to his MPs on Parliament Hill.
Harper called for "real teeth and real penalties to enforce violations of the Lobbyists Registration Act."
"The National Citizens Coalition is a lobbyist organization," Brison said. "Mr. Harper was a lobbyist but he did not register as a lobbyist."
Scott Reid, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Paul Martin, told Canadian Press that lobbying is defined as trying to influence public policy, which is what Harper did while at the NCC.
"If Mr. Harper wants to play sheriff, he can start by slapping handcuffs on himself," he told CP.
Harper left Parliament in 1997 to become vice president and shortly after that president of the National Citizens' Coalition, before he returned to politics in 2002.
The National Citizens Coalition is a conservative advocacy group that often engages in high-profile campaigns for smaller government, stronger defence and against unions.
Let's take Scott Reid's broad definition of a lobbyist and see how it compares with the provisions of the Lobbyists Registration Act:
5. (1) Every individual who, for payment, on behalf of any person or organization (in this section referred to as the "client"), undertakes to
(a) communicate with a public office holder in an attempt to influence
(i) the development of any legislative proposal by the Government of Canada or by a member of the Senate or the House of Commons,
(ii) the introduction of any Bill or resolution in either House of Parliament or the passage, defeat or amendment of any Bill or resolution that is before either House of Parliament,
(iii) the making or amendment of any regulation as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Statutory Instruments Act,
(iv) the development or amendment of any policy or program of the Government of Canada,
(v) the awarding of any grant, contribution or other financial benefit by or on behalf of Her Majesty in right of Canada, or
(vi) the awarding of any contract by or on behalf of Her Majesty in right of Canada, or
(b) arrange a meeting between a public office holder and any other person,
shall, not later than ten days after entering into that undertaking, file with the registrar, in the prescribed form and manner, a return setting out the information referred to in subsection (2).
By this rather broad definition, any group employing anyone who might, at any time, talk to anyone in government about anything affecting them might be deemed a lobbyist, so long as money changes hands somewhere in the process.
Scott Reid's definition of lobbying covers everybody who's ever written to their MP, a letter to the editor, or even just shot their mouth off about the government in a bull session. Including this blog and this blogger.
Perhaps Reid would like the wider definition to apply, so as to be able to control all political discussion and dissent. If so, it would be another sign that the Liberals have conflated the government with the party, in the manner of one-party dictatorships the world over.
The damage that irresponsible commentary has caused to the Liberal Party and government clearly underscores the need for a federal pundit registry, don't you think?
Wouldn't you feel safer knowing that you, your loved ones, and the government that takes care of you all, would be safe from attack by unregistered pundits firing off loaded comments?
Source: Politics Watch
UPDATE: Scott Brison has retracted and apologized for his claims that the National Citizens' Coalition has violated the Lobbyists Registration Act.
The speed with which this apology was issued, let alone that it was issued at all, shows just how badly the Liberals are reeling.