POLICY OPTIONS: Mr. Baird, thanks for coming in and doing this. Let’s start with the five-year cooling- off period for former officials before they can lobby government. A lot of people think it is excessive. It may well be unconstitutional, and you may even have legal advice to that effect. Why five years?
JOHN BAIRD: When Stephen Harper unveiled this policy on November 4, I was there. I think that was the thing that really woke people up and showed that he was serious about changing the way the government oper- ated in Ottawa. There has been a grow- ing perception in recent years that there is a revolving door between government and lobbying firms. Let me say, there is nothing wrong with lobbying if it is done in an ethical, transparent way, but I don’t think the current one-year cooling-off period is enough. I think the five years sends a strong message, and people who come into work in govern- ment at a senior level are doing so at the public interest, and they are not trying to set themselves up for a lucrative career after the fact.
PO: But under article 2 of the Charter, as you know, a very strong case can be made that this is an unreasonable limitation on freedom of association.
BAIRD: Well, all these folks signed on for their job knowing this was all part of it. Right from the get-go this was one of the employment terms and conditions of their employment in the two ethics and accountability docu- ments that the prime minister gave to his cabinet, and to our staffers. So it is not something that is a surprise, or changing the terms or conditions after the fact.
PO: But is there an obsession with keeping the promise to the detriment of a more practical out- come, such as, say, a two-year post- employment ban?
BAIRD: I can honestly tell you, that has not been part of our thinking. PO: Do you have any advice from the Department of Justice about whether this is constitutional? BAIRD: When I was minister of social services in Ontario, the first thing they told me was they couldn’t do something because it would be against the Charter, and I will tell you we won a lot more than we lost, and I think that will be the case with this one.
PO: Is there anything about this package that you are uncomfortable with?
BAIRD: No. There are some I am more enthusiastic about than others, there are some I think are more impor- tant than others. I feel strongly about protecting whistle-blowers. I represent a constituency in the capital with a lot of public servants and we want to change the culture there, and I think this is probably the most meaningful way to do it. But by doing this, and setting up a truly independent process to protect someone who is brave and stands up and reports wrongdoing. Hopefully we will change the dynam- ics, both in terms of people coming forward and then we are hoping there won’t be reprisals, because we are sending a pretty strong message. The reprisals are serious business, and they will be treated very seriously.
PO: You are also making it more difficult for political staff to join the public service. What kind of merit test do you have in mind, just a public service exam?
BAIRD: How about the same one that every public servant and all the other officials had to take? I came out of a minister’s office. There is a lot of skill, a lot of talent there, and I think that is a good thing. It does breed a bit of resent- ment among others in the public service, that there is a privileged access. People bring a lot of good experience and a lot of good knowledge, but they will have to go in through the front door.
PO: Let’s move on to the cam- paign finance reform. First of all, has the Liberal leadership race been grand- fathered out?
BAIRD: The Bill comes into force when it is proclaimed.
PO: So the moment the governor general signs the Bill it…
BAIRD: It is law.
PO: In the way I read this, lower- ing the ceiling of donations from $5,000 to $1,000 for the party, and/or $1,000 to the individual candidate. Can people donate $1,000 to the party and $1,000 to the candidate?
PO: So the limit is $2,000? BAIRD: $1,000 for the candidate, and $1,000 to a party.
PO: The Liberals, as you know, are historically the party of the $5,000-a- table dinner, and you are the party of the church plate and the internet- based donations and direct mail. Is this potentially something that could bankrupt the Liberals?
BAIRD: You know what? I didn’t question Mr. Chrétien’s motives in bringing in Bill C-24, and I hope they won’t question ours.
PO: What about government pro- curement and public opinion research, which in some sense is at the heart of the sponsorship issues, on government advertising, and polls?
BAIRD: As part of our action plan we have committed to appoint an independent reviewer to look at sec- tion 5 of the auditor general’s report, something that the previous Liberal government, despite calls from all three opposition parties, would not accommodate. I think that will be a good first step, and much more than happened in the past, and also looking at how we go forward in the future. And there is a huge amount of concern in the area of public opinion research, and some of the requests for proposals have incredibly odd requirements. So the independent reviewer, which we will announce in short order, hopeful- ly will look at the past, and then give us some advice on the future.
PO: On access to information, all the Crown corporations for the first time will be subject to…including the CBC, which means, in my reading of it, they will no longer be able to invoke journalistic privilege on their expenses.
BAIRD: The journalistic part of our act protects journalistic sources and investigations, and counsel…And they can black out who they took for lunch, and who they took there for dinner, and I don’t think anyone who spent the taxpayers’ money wisely and well will have anything to fear from the access to information.
PO: What about reprofiling the position of the ethics commissioner? Some commentators are saying this is an elegant way of firing Bernard Shapiro.
BAIRD: I don’t know Bernard Shapiro, I have never met him. I was the one who pushed this type of model based on my experience in Ontario, where the practice is, the qualification is that you have to have a judicial or quasi-judicial back- ground, and I think that is a good idea. I think when you have someone who will stand in judgment, in a quasi-judicial capacity, I think a legal training or judicial training, or quasi- judicial training, is a good thing. I think the office of the Integrity Commissioner in Ontario has good standing, in large part because ”œMr. Justice the Honourable” precedes the name of the commissioner.
PO: What about this creation within the Library of Parliament of a parliamentary budgetary office? Is this kind of the equivalent of the General Accounting Office in the US?
BAIRD: Or Congressional Budget Office. The CBO is gigantic. I think we need something more modest, to be able to support parliamentarians in their capacity to hold the government to account, to both require the Department of Finance to give four reports ”” updates, fiscal updates a year, and then allow them to give a more thorough examination of the books the government would present. We have on an ongoing basis, $5- and $10- billion surpluses year after year after year. I think an element of prudence is good. If I look at some of the decisions that are made at the end of the fiscal year, like setting up foundations with billion-dollar endowments that are arm’s length…The minute that the cheque is cashed, the public accounta- bility disappears. It is one thing to have a trust set up for provincial health care that is going to the ten provinces and three territories. It is another when it is going to a body where there is no accountability. If they want to wind up these foundations, it is hardly clear that they would have to return the money to the taxpayer. I think that something like the Parliamentary Budget Authority would better equip the parliamentarians to do more scruti- ny, and it would also be able to cost a proposal. If I have a private member’s bill that I think is such a good idea, and there is a disagreement whether it is going to be of marginal cost, or signifi- cant cost, they will be able to tell us.
PO: To come back to a couple of previous points on access to informa- tion. You are subjecting for the first time some of these outside foundations such as the Millennium Scholarships to access to information, if I am reading that correctly. What about a one-time funding operation such as the Trudeau Foundation, which has $125 million of public money and there is no account- ability there?
BAIRD: One of the initiatives we have undertaken is our discussion paper in a draft Bill from the minister of justice tabled in the House, and that will go before the Access to Information Committee to get their counsel and review. This is exactly the type of questions we want to look at…My general rule is that more trans- parency is a good thing.
PO: On the ethics commissioner once again. You are proposing a single officer of Parliament, as opposed to an officer of the House of Commons. Will the Senate have something to say about that? They refer to you as ”œthe other place.”
BAIRD: I think our measure is fair and reasonable. Most of our offices of the Privacy Commission, the Information Commission and the Official Languages Commission serve both houses. If the bill arrives on their desks passed by the House of Commons, by the democrati- cally elected House of Commons, I hope they will also weigh that in their deci- sion-making. I think it is a good measure.
PO: I wanted to ask you about hospitality guidelines, kind of another aspect of the entire public confidence in government. They sometimes turn into drive-by shoot- ings in the media.
BAIRD: I agree with that.
PO: As an Ottawa member you live in a city that is significantly impacted by this.
BAIRD: Politicians can’t win on this…I think we need to bring in a degree of reasonableness to the process, and I think it has been absent. I think it was absent frankly in some recent disclosures that are on minis- ters’ Web sites.
PO: Right. For example, the Clerk of the Privy Council had a discussion with the Continuing Committee of Deputy Ministers at their weekly meet- ing about whether they could go to the Public Policy Forum dinner in Toronto.
BAIRD: I think we have got to develop some fair and reasonable stan- dards. I mean there was a case where one deputy minister went to an event at the National Arts Centre, which is a fed- eral government agency, and he was seated with one of his suppliers. So I think there is an element of the drive- by shooting, a drive-by smear. So I think we need to establish a regime that is fair and reasonable. This is not some- thing that is part of our Federal Accountability Act. I am certainly pre- pared to look at fair and reasonable guidelines and if you are invited as a public official to charity functions, a reception for the Cancer Society, and so forth. I think those are reasonable…But when you are invited to go to Cirque du Soleil, just as when a company is buy- ing tickets, I think perhaps that is a fair- er place to draw the line.
PO: I know people who can’t give away their tickets to the Senators, because people are afraid to accept them. Eventually this is going to impact on the viability of the franchise in Ottawa.
BAIRD: The Ottawa Senators have come to me on that issue.
PO: I am sure they have. But I mean, questions about the prime min- ister taking his son to the hockey game.
BAIRD: There has got to be a fair and reasonable balance. Two of my staff were invited by a company to go to a concert, and they went, but they paid for their own tickets. So there is a difference between going to a rock concert in a box owned by a big company, and a difference between going to the Public Policy Forum dinners as the guest of someone who has bought a table, or a luncheon for the Canadian Cancer Society, or an award ceremony.
PO: You have a restaurant indus- try in your town that is in crisis.
BAIRD: Well, the federal govern- ment doesn’t exist to support the hospi- tality industry. The federal government exists to serve the taxpayers. So we are not going to make decisions on hospi- tality based on what’s good for the restaurant industry, with great respect to the many restaurateurs in Ottawa. There is a concept ”” it is quite radical ”” it is paying for your own meal. I have also got to find a fair balance in that process. Practices that are fair and reasonable are just that. When you see dinners of $1,400, the taxpayers have a problem with that. Middle-class families have a problem with that. The abuse that we saw in the Radwanski affair, the abuse that we saw in other well-known scan- dals, caused great concern to the tax- payers. There is a fine line between if you are the head of the Royal Canadian Mint, and you are wining and dining the governor of the central bank of a country and you are trying to get their business through their coins, that is one thing. Taking your friends out and going on the taxpayers, that is quite another.
PO: To come back to the recording requirements of lobbyists and ministers and ministerial staff, and ministers and so forth. Do you have any concern about creating a second gun registry, a bureaucratic nightmare?
BAIRD: No. It could be done on a Web-based method.
PO: And you don’t find any of these reporting requirements are going to be time-consuming for either bureaucrats or lobbyists?
BAIRD: If you run into someone at the grocery store, I suppose it will be hard to deal with things of that nature. Or if you have a reception on Parliament Hill and bump into some- one, I suppose it is difficult, but if it is a planned meeting or a planned tele- phone call the lobbyists will simply be required to record it and then submit it, perhaps on-line.
PO: What if a principal is acting on his own behalf, let’s say the CEO of a major corporation takes a cabinet min- ister to dinner, should it be reported?
BAIRD: If it is deemed register- able, or if it is by a registered lobbyist having a contact with a public office holder, yes.
PO: But what if it is a principal, not a lobbyist, acting on his own behalf?
BAIRD: The previous government broadened the definition of lobbying, and we haven’t changed it for this purpose.
PO: Finally, in this minority House, to what extent are you open to amendments at the committee stage?
BAIRD: We are in a minority par- liament, we are a minority govern- ment.
PO: So you are open to amend- ments?
BAIRD: We are a minority parlia- ment, we are humbled because we have to be, and should be. Listen, we have had some good conversations with both Pat Martin and Paul Dewar from the New Democratic Party, and a good discussion with BenoÌ‚it Sauvageau, the Bloc critic. I did meet with Joe Volpe, the Liberal critic, but I didn’t get many signals from him as far as Liberal Party support. The public comments and the private conversations I have had with the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois have tended to be positive toward many of the elements in the Bill. It will go through second reading and if we get the green light, we will have a dialogue at the commit- tee stage. We know what we want to do. People who have got better ways to do it, or want clarification, we are all ears.
PO: But this is an omnibus Bill, right, there is no breaking it up, it is one package?
BAIRD: It is a package.
PO: It is all or nothing?
BAIRD: It is an omnibus Bill, and we won’t be splitting it up into seven Bills. I am not going to speculate on what they may or may not say, but I have heard some concerns of things we never said we would put in this, aren’t in this, but I haven’t yet heard any opposition from at least the Bloc, or the NDP on specific provisions. If they have got some tweaking they would like to do, we are all ears to listen, and we will put them on. We have got a direction we want to go in, we are a minority par- liament and will be a responsible minor- ity parliament.