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House Committee must recommend that federal Lobbying Act and enforcement system be changed in 10 key ways to finally end secret, unethical lobbying of the federal government

Act is so full of loopholes, should be called "Some Lobbying by Some Lobbyists Act"

Thursday, February 9, 2012

OTTAWA - Today, in testimony before the House Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee, Democracy Watch and the national Government Ethics Coalition called on the Committee to strongly recommend changing the federal Lobbying Act and enforcement system in 10 key ways to finally end secret, unethical lobbying of the federal government.

The Committee is holding hearings as part of the mandatory five-year review of the Act.  The Act is so full of loopholes, it should be called the "Some Lobbying by Some Lobbyists Act".  The Conservatives have committed to joining the international Open Government Partnership which requires, among other key changes, strengthening laws like the Lobbying Act.

To end secret lobbying, the Committee must recommend:

  • closing the loopholes in the Act that do not require registration if the lobbyist is not paid, lobbies less than 20 percent of their work time for a for-profit corporation, or lobbies about the enforcement or administration of a law, regulation, code, guideline, policy, tax, subsidy or government program;
  • closing the loopholes in the Act's regulations that only require disclosure of oral, pre-arranged communications -- all communications must be required to be disclosed, and;
  • closing the loopholes that only require disclosure in communication reports of the identity of the senior officer of an organization (the identity of everyone involved in every communication must be required to be disclosed).

More simply, the Committee could recommend that every politician, political staff person, appointee and decision-making public servant be required to disclose the identity of anyone who communicates with them in any way about their decisions, and the details of the communication (as the Conservatives promised to require in their 2006 election platform).

The Committee must also recommend requiring disclosure by corporations, unions and other organizations of the estimated amounts spent on each lobbying effort, and must strengthen the Lobbyists' Code by making it part of the Lobbying Act

The Committee must not recommend changing the Lobbyists' Code as suggested by the Government Relations Institute of Canada (GRIC) because that will fatally undermine the conflict of interest rule in the Code and make unethical lobbying legal.  GRIC has recommended a couple of other minor disclosure changes that would do little to end secret lobbying.

The Committee must also not reduce the five-year limitation on being a registered lobbyist after leaving office to one year, as recommended by the Public Affairs Association of Canada (PAAC).  Instead, the Committee must recommend that the limitation be extended to the staff of all politicians, and to all Cabinet appointees and public servants (including corporate executives who participate in the employment exchange program), on a sliding scale of one to five years depending on the decision-making power of the politician, political staff person, appointee or public servant.

"Secret, unethical lobbying of the federal government is still legal, even by Cabinet ministers the day after they leave office, and so the lobbying law must changed to close loopholes and strengthen enforcement to finally stop this dangerously undemocratic secret lobbying by powerful lobbyists," said Duff Conacher, Board member of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the 31-member group, nation-wide Government Ethics Coalition (To see the Coalition's 10-page submission, click here (PDF) and see summary list of much-needed changes below).

To strengthen enforcement and end the negligent enforcement of the Lobbying Act since 1988 and Lobbyists' Code since 1997, the Committee must also strongly recommend that the Lobbying Act be changed:

  • to require the Commissioner to conduct random, regular audits of all government institutions to determine who has been lobbying the institution;
  • to require the Commissioner to investigate and rule publicly on every complaint and/or situation in which there are questions about whether the Lobbying Act or Lobbyists' Code was violated;
  • to give the power to the Commissioner, and require the Commissioner, to penalize anyone who violates the Act or Code with significant fines (as recommended at Tuesday's hearing by the commissioners from Ontario, B.C., Alberta and Québec), and;
  • to require the Commissioner to disclose publicly at least twice each year the number of cases she has on file, the status of each case investigation, and the ruling in each case (including complaints she rejects) -- this ongoing disclosure is needed to ensure the Commissioner is enforcing the law and Code.

"To end the negligent pattern of enforcement of the federal lobbying law and code, the Commissioner of Lobbying must be required to conduct regular, random audits, and to investigate and rule publicly whenever there are questions about violations, and the Commissioner must be given the power, and required, to fine anyone who violates the law or code," said Conacher.  "Also, the Commissioner should not be eligible for a second term in office because that creates an incentive to please the Prime Minister and Cabinet by covering up secret, unethical lobbying."

- 30 -

Duff Conacher, Board member of Democracy Watch
Chairperson of the Government Ethics Coalition
Tel: (613) 241-5179  

Democracy Watch's Government Ethics Campaign

Democracy Watch's Money in Politics Campaign

Democracy Watch homepage

Changes needed to ensure transparent and ethical federal government lobbying and to ensure the Commissioner of Lobbying enforces rules effectively
(NOTE: Democracy Watch urged the Oliphant Commission to recommend all of the following changes in its May 2010 report)
  • close the loophole that currently allows corporations to hide the number of people involved in lobbying activities (employees of corporations who lobby less than 20% of their work time are not required to be listed in the corporation's lobbying registration);
  • require lobbyists to disclose their past work with any Canadian or foreign government, political party or candidate;
  • require lobbyists to disclose all their government relations activities (whether paid or volunteer and on no matter what issue (NOTE: currently unpaid lobbyists are not required to disclose, nor lobbyists who lobby about the enforcement of laws or administration of programs) involving gathering inside information or trying to influence policy-makers (as in the U.S.) -- or require all government decision-makers to disclose all their contacts with anyone trying to influence them (as the Conservatives promised they would in the 2006 federal election);
  • require lobbyists to disclose the amount they spend on lobbying campaigns (as in 33 U.S. states);
  • the search page for Lobbyist Registry must be changed to allow for searches by any data field in the registry (currently, the database can only be searched by the name and client(s) or organization of the lobbyist, the department being lobbied and the subject matter, and the lobbying time period);
  • prohibit lobbyists from working for government departments or serving in senior positions for political parties or candidates for public office (as in New Mexico and Maryland), and from having business connections with anyone who does;
  • close the loophole MPs added to their MPs Code in May 2009 that allows lobbyists to provide unlimited volunteer services of any kind in secret to any MP without any conflict of interest being created, and make the MPs Code a law;
  • ban all senior politicians, staff, appointees and senior government officials from lobbying (paid or unpaid) for five years for anyone they had dealings with during their last five years in office (currently former senior politicians and only full-time government officials only have to sit out for one to two years), and ban all junior politicians, staff appointees and officials from doing the same for one to three years depending on their decision-making power;
  • anyone participating in the "employment exchange program" (who are mainly people from large corporations) must be covered by the five-year ban on senior public office holders becoming lobbyists;
  • ban lobbyists from becoming members of Cabinet for at least four years after they are elected as a federal politician;
  • the Commissioner of Lobbying must be required to conduct random audits of everyone covered by the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct;
  • prohibit the Commissioner from giving secret advice;
  • ensure that the Commissioner must investigate and rule publicly on all complaints (including anonymous complaints) and empower the Commissioner to investigate and rule on complaints even if the police are investigating the lobbyist for a violation of another law at the same time;
  • require the Commissioner to disclose the identity of rule-breakers (although Democracy Watch's position is that she is legally required to disclose this information in her annual report), and empower the Commissioner to penalize rule-breakers, even for violations of the Lobbyists' Code with significant fines;
  • ensure all Commissioner decisions can be reviewed by the courts;
  • give opposition party leaders a veto over the appointment of the Commissioner of Lobbying;
  • the Commissioner of Lobbying must be required to submit public, bi-annual reports to a parliamentary committee that include details about the wrongdoing alleged in each complaint; the date each complaint is received; when each investigation began and finished; when the Commissioner received the investigation report; when the Commissioner/courts ruled and ruling details; how many people formally trained/informed by the Commissioner's Office; number of information requests received by subject and other core operational information;
  • have Parliament (as opposed to Cabinet) approve the Commissioner's annual budget (as is currently the process for the Ethics Commissioner);
  • as with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner position, any person nominated and chosen to be the Commissioner of Lobbying must be required to have legal experience enforcing ethics rules or laws to ensure proper enforcement of the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct, and;
  • make the Lobbyists' Code a law.


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