Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Perpetually adversarial

The Conservatives, feeling the heat from the Jaffer scandal, are lashing out at the opposition parties: "Tories vow to tighten lobbying rules." This aggressive response is probably meant to send a signal right now.

So what is this all about? In the course of the unfolding Jaffer lobbying allegations, a significant loophole in lobbying legislation has been identified. Namely, that those lobbying can meet with ministerial parliamentary secretaries without having to report that contact on the lobbying register. It is suspected that in the case of Rahim Jaffer and his partner Patrick Glemaud's meeting with John Baird's parliamentary secretary, Brian Jean, that this meeting, and perhaps others we don't know of in connection with the Green Infrastructure Fund, may have been delegated to Jean as parliamentary secretary given that lobbyists would not have to report their contacts with him. So, loophole identified.

So what has been proposed? A Liberal motion has been brought to have lobbyists report in the lobbying registry such meetings with parliamentary secretaries. A common sense, proportional proposal which remedies the identified deficiency.

So what do the Conservatives do in response? Launch return fire which smacks of one of those visceral moves we've seen from this PMO:
...the Harper government is pledging a major crackdown on lobbying that would require public disclosure of efforts to influence opposition MPs, backbenchers and Senators – not just cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats.

The promised reforms would also make it harder for a larger portion of Ottawa’s political class to profit from government connections upon leaving the Hill.

The overhaul, as described by Treasury Board president Stockwell Day Tuesday, would restrict MPs, Senators, Leaders of the Opposition and a broader number of political staffers from lobbying for five years after leaving politics.
The proposed changes are so restrictive that it’s likely they may be challenged in court if passed into law. Opposition MPs and affected political staff could argue that they don’t actually have power over government decisions and it’s a restriction of basic rights to prevent them from interacting with government after leaving office.
Whether any of this proposal (we'll see what in fact they bring) is a substantiated need, that would be a first question to ask before agreeing to it in principle, holus bolus, like Layton and Duceppe appear to have done. At least look at it boys.

What we can say is that the government's return volley here does not have the stuff of serious governance. Where has the government been, talking an accountability game yet opening the door wide to Mr. Jaffer? It's been years without a peep about extending lobbying controls. Now out of the blue they're wanting to clamp down on opposition MPs who don't have any decision making power. Is there a rational connection between the new parties to be covered and lobbying offences? Let's find that out.

It's also fair to say that the reach into the opposition ranks seems diversionary and retributive. Diversionary, as in, look away from the Jaffer tentacles into our government. When there's no issue that's been raised about impropriety on the opposition's side of the aisle.

And it's retributive, as in, you're going to tag us with lobbying taint? Then watch out opposition, we've got a kitchen sink and more to throw right back at you if you keep coming at us. A legislative example of the culture of intimidation for you.

None of it surprising from this government, but let's at least try to keep it real.