Parliament Video: Jenny Kwan speaks out on corporate influence over the government

Jenny rose to speak to an Opposition Day motion moved by my colleague, NDP MP Daniel Blaikie, on Monday, April 29th, 2019:

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

"Mr. Speaker, I thank our leader for his comments earlier today. He raised exactly the points that Canadians want answers to from the government, and frankly from the Conservatives as well.

I would like to take a moment to thank my colleague, the member for Elmwood—Transcona, for bringing forward the motion we are debating today.

As we know, the previous Conservative government and the current Liberal government have shown Canadians that they are no different when it comes to access for big corporations and the well-connected. The level of access to the corridors of powers for corporate executives and lobbyists is deeply disturbing.

As we know, SNC launched a multi-year lobbying effort to convince the Liberal government to change the Criminal Code so that when big corporations are charged with white-collar crimes, they can access plea deals. For SNC, that would mean it would escape criminal prosecution and the threat of a 10-year ban on government contracts. This lobbying began as far back as February 2016, and it has continued since. Top officials, senior ministerial staff, ministers themselves and even the Prime Minister's Office were on the hit list. By the end of 2016, its lobbying effort reached the Privy Council Office, Export Development Canada, Public Services and Procurement Canada and Public Safety. Then, in 2017, it expanded to include the Treasury Board, Natural Resources, Environment and Heritage. Twenty-one months later, 51 meetings had occurred. The end result, hidden in the 500-page omnibus budget bill in 2018, was the provision that SNC wanted: access to a get out of jail free card. Effectively, big corporations charged with bribery, fraud, insider trading and other offences could all have their charges dropped.

What followed after that was exposed by the former attorney general. It was plain as day that SNC had tremendous access to the PMO and was succeeding in convincing the PMO to do its bidding. Had the former attorney general caved to the pressure from the PMO, we might never have known about the depth and reach of big corporations like SNC. This episode has confirmed for us what we knew in our hearts but could never quite put a finger on, which is that big corporations have incredible access, influence and power over the Canadian government.

The power that corporations wield showed us that the people the Prime Minister once valued as a part of his elite team were at the end of the day expendable. The former attorney general, gone. The president of the treasury board, gone. The former clerk of the Privy Council, gone. The Prime Minister's former principal secretary, gone.

We also know that it is not just SNC. As it happened, the year that the Liberals launched the advisory council on the implementation of national pharmacare, big pharma stepped right up and lobbied the government 104 times. Would we not know that the Liberals are dragging their feet and failing to implement a national, universal, public pharmacare program for all Canadians. It does not matter that Canada is the only country with a publicly funded health care system that does not have a national pharmacare plan. It does not matter that at least 640 Canadians die every year due to financial barriers that prevent access to medication. In fact, just this past weekend, I met a senior who told me that she is taking her medication every other day because she cannot afford it.

By the way, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that a universal program would result in $4.2 billion in savings each year. However, the government drags its feet, failing to implement a national pharmacare plan. Why? It is because big pharma stands to lose. Its wealthy, well-connected lobbyist friends tell them it would hurt their profit margin and reduce their executive bonuses and stock dividend payouts. That is why.

Worth noting is the fact that during this period of intense lobbying, drug costs and profit margins for the top 25 pharma companies in Canada continued to grow.

Why stop at big pharma? Let us turn to big oil for a minute. We also know, despite the government repeating a million times a day that the environment and the economy go hand in hand, the only hand-in-hand relationship that it cares about is with big oil. It kept the Harper climate targets and bought a pipeline. What did the money go toward? Millions of dollars in executive bonuses. The wealthy and well connected always have the ear of the government. Let us be real. Climate leaders do not buy a 65-year-old leaky pipeline.

As a result of listening to big oil lobbyists for four years, our emissions are not going down. In fact, they are going up. There was a 12 million tonne increase in CO2 emissions last year. Under current trends, we will only reach our weak Paris agreement reduction targets in 2230. That is 200 years behind schedule.

Meanwhile, from coast to coast to coast, Canadians are reeling from the impacts of inaction on climate change: extreme weather conditions, forest fires, floods, droughts, rising sea levels, ocean acidification and species at risk. In fact, the IPCC has said that a 1.5°C average rise may put 20% to 30% of species at risk at risk of extinction.

Young people are demanding action. They are saying, “We care. Why don't you?” Instead of being a climate leader, we have a government that buys a pipeline. The Prime Minister promised to stop subsidizing fossil fuels in 2025. We actually saw the Liberals locking in some fossil fuel subsidies for another 20 years instead. The International Institute for Sustainable Development estimates that there are $3.3 billion in subsidies given to oil and gas producers each year.

We also have a government that has provided $12 million to a multi-million dollar corporation, which is owned by one of the wealthiest families in the country, so it can buy new refrigerators. Then the Liberals tell Canadians this is what climate leadership looks like. Are they serious? This is the same multi-billion dollar corporation that recently came clean and admitted it participated in a bread price-fixing arrangement, ripping off Canadians on a loaf of bread for 15 years. This is the same multi-billion dollar corporation that last year went to tax court to fight the Canada Revenue Agency over allegations it had been hoarding cash in an aggressive tax-avoidance scheme in Barbados, potentially hiding $400 million in taxes that should have been paid in Canada.

Meanwhile, the chairman and CEO of Loblaws is estimated to have received over $6 million in total compensation in 2017 alone. After ripping off Canadians on bread for a decade, hiding hundreds of millions in taxes that could have gone toward Canadian public services and fighting the government when it was caught doing it, it still gets to show up for a photo op with the Minister of Environment to receive a $12 million cheque to buy new refrigerators. That is unbelievable. This has to stop.

I proudly stand today to support the motion before us. The very least the government can do is recoup the $12 million in Canadian tax dollars.

The Conservatives are no different from the Liberals. We have seen this play over and over again. It is time for us to turn the channel and vote for change. That could happen in October."

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HANSARD: Foreign Interference and Alleged Reputational Harm to Members of Parliament

Outside this chamber, just yesterday, there were individuals shouting, questioning and jeering about who the traitors may be. Members of Parliament had to walk past these individuals on the members' way to the House to do their work. I believe we must find a way to disclose which MPs are knowingly, intentionally, wittingly or semi-wittingly engaging with foreign states or their proxies to undermine Canada's democratic processes and institutions. I believe this can be done in a way that does not compromise national security.

If there are no consequences for MPs who knowingly help foreign governments act against Canadian interests, we will continue to be an easy target. This will further erode the trust and faith Canadians have in our democratic processes. If allowed to continue, it will further impugn the integrity of the House. Revealing any member of Parliament, former or present, who is a willing participant in foreign interference activities would have the effect of deterring this kind of behaviour. Moreover, it would send a clear message to those foreign states that this cannot continue and that they will not be able to continue to use parliamentarians in this way. This will further reassure the public of the integrity of the House.

I strongly believe that the House should refer the matter to the procedure and House affairs committee. A possible way to deal with the issue would be for committee members to undergo the necessary security screening to examine the unredacted report and look into the allegations about parliamentarians who were “‘witting or semi-witting’ participants in the efforts of foreign states to interfere in our politics.” We could allow the named parliamentarians to be informed and to come before the committee as witnesses; we could then explore options on how to disclose the named parliamentarians without compromising national security or police investigations of the matter.

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