[Democracy Watch Logo] [Op-ed]

Lobbyists Have Nothing to Complain About, and Federal Conservatives' Changes Will Not End Secret, Unethical Lobbying

Set out below is a letter-to-the-editor by Democracy Watch Coordinator Duff Conacher which was published in the October 4, 2010 issue of the Hill Times

As usual, lobbyists are complaining about new federal regulations that require them to operate more in the open (New lobby rules could have chill effect on GR, say stakeholders - Sept. 27).

Their claims that public office holders may now not want to meet with lobbyists because the meeting would be disclosed are ridiculous -- the effect of the new disclosure rules will much more likely be that MPs and senators will meet with lobbyists from all sides of an issue (instead of just lobbyists they favour) so that they are viewed as fair decision-makers.  That will help, not hurt, the policy-making process as they hear all perspectives before making up their minds.

Some of the lobbyists' quoted claim that the new rules will not stop anyone from violating the rules.  By this ridiculous "logic", all laws should be repealed because none of them stop everyone from violating them.

Rules are put in place to prohibit bad actions -- and secret lobbying is a bad action because it is a recipe for corruption, waste and abuse of the public interest.

Of course, as lobbyist Tim Powers proposes, more effective enforcement is needed of the federal Lobbying Act to improve compliance and catch violators.  The sham enforcement of the Act over the past 22 years is a disgrace that merits a full public inquiry.

Loopholes in the Act that continue to allow secret, unethical lobbying must also be closed through the parliamentary review of the Act this fall.

Your article inaccurately states that the new rules mean that a larger number of public office holders are now "not allowed to lobby the federal government for five years after leaving office."

In fact, the five-year ban is only on being a registered lobbyist.  So any public office holder can leave office and legally lobby the federal government the next day, as long as they lobby in ways that are not required to be registered (namely, not be paid for their lobbying, lobby as an employee of a for-profit corporation less than 20 percent of their work time, or lobby about the enforcement of a law (however, if they are a former Cabinet minister, senior Cabinet staffperson, or senior government official, they also have to be careful whom they lobby for, whom they lobby, and on what issue they lobby because of separate rules in the federal Conflict of Interest Act) -- (NOTE: Rahim Jaffer's actions are still being investigated by the federal Commissioner of Lobbying, along with an investigation by the Ethics Commissioner of the actions of Helena Guergis, former Conservative MP and Parliamentary Secretary, and other Conservative Cabinet ministers and staff).

As well, because of other loopholes any registered lobbyist can communicate in secret because only pre-arranged oral communications initiated by registered lobbyists (or, in the case of a financing decision, initiated by anyone) are required to be disclosed (except for financial decisions) -- secret emails, letters, and secret informal phone calls and meetings are still legal even with these people.

To end secret lobbying, all politicians, political staff and decision-making public servants must be required to disclose on the existing Internet registry all direct and indirect communications by anyone connected to an organized effort aimed at affecting their decisions (except for informal, casual communications from voters).

To ensure an actual ban on lobbying after leaving office, anyone doing such communicating aimed at affecting decisions must be defined as a lobbyist.  The ban should be on a sliding scale from 1-5 years depending on the power of the politician, staff or official.

These changes, and many other changes proposed by Democracy Watch (some of which have also been recommended by the Oliphant Commission) must be made when the federal Lobbying Act is reviewed this fall or secret, unethical lobbying of those involved in federal politics and government will continue to be legal.

Similar changes must be made to provincial, territorial and municipal laws across Canada to make secret, unethical lobbying of those governments illegal.

Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd's weak enforcement record

Democracy Watch's opinion is that Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd has not been enforcing the Lobbying Act (Act) and the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct (Lobbyists' Code) effectively, as follows:

  • Commissioner Shepherd does not randomly audit anyone's activities, including former public office holder's activities, to ensure they are complying with the rules she enforces that: require anyone paid to lobby to register and disclose details about their lobbying (sections 5, 7 and 7.1 of the Act); prohibit any registered lobbyist from being paid a contingency (success) fee (section 10.1 of the Act); prohibit former public office holders from being a registered lobbyist for five years after they leave office (section 10.11 of the Act), and; prohibit lobbyists from proposing or doing anything that puts a public office holder in a conflict of interest (Rule 8 of the Lobbyists' Code); 
  • Commissioner Shepherd has set up the Registry of Lobbyists in a way that does not require lobbyists to disclose the details of the subject matter of their lobbying in their monthly communication returns -- even though the Lobbying Act  requires disclosure of details about the subject (in clauses 5(3)(a)(iii) and 7(4)(a)(iii));
  • Commissioner Shepherd has taken almost one year to rule on complaints that included all the key facts about fundraising events held last September by Conservative Cabinet minister Lisa Raitt and Conservative Parliamentary Secretary Rick Dykstra, and;
  • Commissioner Shepherd has taken more than two years to rule on five past complaints filed by Democracy Watch concerning favours lobbyists have done for past public office holders, and has not even contacted Democracy Watch about the complaints.

For more details, go to Democracy Watch's Government Ethics Campaign page