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14 groups with 1 million+ supporters call on federal Lobbying Commissioner to stop gutting ethical lobbying rules

Commissioner’s proposed new Code would allow lobbyists to fundraise and campaign for politicians, and then lobby them soon after

Current lobbying cooling-off period is 5 years (which is still too short)

Thursday, June 23, 2022

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch and 13 other citizen organizations, and also David Suzuki and Alan Broadbent, called in a joint public letter on federal Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger to stop trying to gut the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct by changing key rules in ways that will allow corrupt favour-trading in federal politics that has been illegal since 1997.

The letter is co-signed by DWatch and the following 13 groups with supporters totalling more than one million Canadians: B.C. Civil Liberties Association; Canadian Institute for Information and Privacy Studies; Centre for Free Expression; Climate Action Network; Dogwood; Ecology Action Centre; Leadnow; MakeWay; OpenMedia; Prevent Cancer Now; Sierra Club B.C.; and; Unlock Democracy Canada.

A total of more than 17,000 voters have also signed on to Democracy Watch’s petition on or its letter-writing campaign calling on the Commissioner to stop gutting the Code, and also for key changes to stop all secret, unethical lobbying.

Democracy Watch has also filed separately its third submission in the Commissioner’s consultation process that addresses all of the Commissioner’s proposed changes to the Code. In addition to calling for all the changes in the joint letter, DWatch’s third submission also calls for an anti-avoidance rule to be put in the Code, and for a stronger honesty requirement to prevent all misinformation in lobbying, and a stronger rule to prevent multiple gifts and wining and dining of politicians by many lobbyists working at the same firm or on the same lobbying effort.

“Groups with more than one million supporters are jointly calling on the federal Commissioner of Lobbying to do the right thing and stop gutting key lobbying ethics rules in ways that will allow for corrupt favour-trading in federal politics that has been illegal since 1997,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The Lobbying Commissioner is contradicting herself by proposing new rules to ban lobbyists from giving gifts and hospitality worth more than $30 annually, while gutting other rules to allow lobbyists to raise thousands of dollars and campaign for politicians and then lobby the politicians for return favours soon afterwards.”

Since 1997 when the Lobbyists’ Code became federal law, it has been illegal for a registered lobbyist to do anything for, or give anything to, a federal politician, political staff person, government official or employee that would create even the appearance of a conflict of interest, including fundraising or campaigning for a politician or party and then lobbying them soon afterwards. Huge loopholes in the federal Lobbying Act unfortunately allow for secret, unregistered lobbying that is not covered by the Code’s rules.

Former Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd, forced by a unanimous Federal Court of Appeal ruling won by Democracy Watch in 2009, set a five-year cooling-off period under the Code that prohibited lobbying after fundraising or campaigning for a politician or party (Click here to see archive doc re: the Commissioner’s five-year rule, in “The risk diminishes with time” subsection).

Five years is still much too short, as the appearance of a conflict of interest continues for much longer, but it at least prohibits registered lobbyists from lobbying politicians they had helped until after the next election. The Lobbying Act also prohibits former office holders from being a registered lobbyist for five years after they leave office (Click here to see the five-year rule in section 10.11 of the Act).

Now, in her proposed new Code made public a few weeks ago, Commissioner Bélanger is gutting that rule and proposing new rules that will allow lobbyists to lobby politicians and parties soon after they fundraise or campaign for them – right after or one or two years later, depending on how much they fundraise or help the politician or party, and possibly an even shorter cooling-off period if the Commissioner grants a reduction. Click here to see the Commissioner’s proposed new Code Rule 6 and, in the Appendix, the “Political Work” section which sets out specific rules related to Rule 6’s no time, and one- and two-year prohibitions.

Commissioner Bélanger’s proposed new Rule 6 blatantly contradicts the proposed new Objectives and Expectations sections, and proposed Rules 5, 7.1 and 7.2, in the new Code, all of which strictly prohibit lobbying when there is even an appearance of a conflict of interest. New Rule 6 also blatantly contradicts proposed new Rules 3 and 4 that prohibit lobbyists giving gifts or hospitality worth more than $30 annually.

Proposed new Rule 6 also blatantly contradicts the 5-year prohibition in the Lobbying Act on lobbying by ministers, their staff and MPs after they leave their position. By legalizing lobbyists lobbying politicians they have fundraised or campaigned for, proposed new Rule 6 will also make it legal under federal ethics rules for Cabinet ministers and MPs to make decisions that return the favours that lobbyists have done for them.

The joint letter from Democracy Watch and the 13 organizations calls on the Commissioner to do the right thing by:

  1. keeping in the Code the current rule that prohibits lobbying anytime there is an appearance of a conflict of interest;
  2. increasing the cooling-off period from 5 years up to 10 years during which a lobbyist is prohibited from lobbying after significant fundraising or campaigning for a politician or party (instead of lowering it to 1-2 years as the Commissioner proposes);
  3. creating a new category of lower-level political activity with a 5-year cooling-off period;
  4. allowing lobbying right away only if the lobbyist only canvasses or volunteers no more than a couple of times during a campaign, and;
  5. not allowing any reductions of the cooling-off periods.

See Backgrounder for more details.

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Stop Secret, Unethical Lobbying Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign