The House of Commons has voted unanimously in favour of a Liberal motion to toughen lobbying rules in the wake of the Rahim Jaffer affair, but the Conservative government is vowing to go a step further.
The motion calls for the extension of the federal Lobbying Act to add parliamentary secretaries to the list of designated public office holders, and requires ministers and other senior government officials to proactively record and report their contacts with lobbyists.
It comes after last week's revelations that former Conservative MP Jaffer and his business partner met with Brian Jean, the parliamentary secretary to Transport and Infrastructure Minister John Baird, over access to federal funding for alternative-energy projects.
But Treasury Board president Stockwell Day upped the ante by saying the motion should be amended to include all members of Parliament, including opposition MPs and senators and accusing Michael Ignatieff's Liberals of "backing up" on their push to tighten restrictions on lobbyists.
The current rule only requires lobbyists to file monthly reports on all pre-arranged communications with designated public office holders, not the public office holders themselves.
Jaffer, Guergis to testify together on June 9
Rahim Jaffer and his wife, former Conservative cabinet minister Helena Guergis, will appear before a parliamentary committee together on June 9.
Jaffer faced a grilling from MPs on the government operations committee last month when he denied allegations of unregistered lobbying. MPs on the committee decided to call him back for more questioning after Toronto businessman Nazim Gillani's testimony appeared to contradict Jaffer's claim that he had no contract to lobby on behalf of Gillani's company.
Guergis resigned from cabinet and was kicked out of the Conservative caucus last month after Prime Minister Stephen Harper learned of "serious and credible" allegations about her conduct. She has denied any wrongdoing and says she will co-operate with any investigation.
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Day said it was hypocritical for the Liberals to say they want the act extended, but not to cover themselves.
"The leaders of the opposition, they're lobbied every day," he said. "Mr. Ignatieff is backing up and saying he doesn't want the lobbying law to apply to him, just to other people. We don't think that's right."
The opposition parties, in turn, have accused the Conservatives of failing to act on a 2006 campaign pledge to tighten lobbying rules, citing the "loophole" that allows lobbyists to meet with parliamentary secretaries to ministers without being required to file monthly reports about their activities.
Tories 'in a jam': Ignatieff
The Liberals have said such a move could create an unnecessarily cumbersome system and a paper jam at the lobbying commissioner's office.
Ignatieff said he would look at whatever legislation the government might put forward, but added the only reason the issue was being raised was because the conduct of government members — not the opposition — is being questioned.
"They're the ones accused of breaking their own rules," Ignatieff told reporters on Wednesday. "They're trying to change the channel because they're in the spotlight. …They're in a jam and they want to jam us back."
Jaffer, who turned to entrepreneurship after he lost his Edmonton seat in 2008 but never registered as a lobbyist, has consistently denied that his or his business partner Patrick Glémaud's activities constituted lobbying.
The Lobbying Act defines a lobbyist as someone who, acting on behalf of a person or organization "for payment," undertakes to communicate with a holder of public office with the intent of obtaining a grant, government contract or some form of regulatory or policy change.
Jaffer has said his firm never received remuneration for his meetings and conversations with ministers and officials.
In another development on Wednesday, Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis and Labour Minister Lisa Raitt declined an invitation to appear before a parliamentary committee looking into Jaffer's dealings in Ottawa. Raitt said in a letter to the government operations committee that they would be "reluctant to do anything that would affect or compromise any potential ongoing investigation."
Raitt said she has checked her office for evidence of contact with Jaffer and Glémaud, and found none.