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25+ groups with more than 1.5 million supporters oppose Lobbying Commissioner’s gutting of key ethical lobbying rules – House Ethics Committee should also reject proposed changes

Commissioner’s proposed new Code would allow lobbyists to secretly fundraise and campaign for politicians while lobbying them

New Code will also allow secret support similar to secret funding allegedly given by China-sponsored organizations to candidates in 2019 election

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

OTTAWA – This afternoon, Democracy Watch will testify on behalf of more than 25 citizen groups with a total membership of 1.5 million Canadians at a hearing of the House Ethics Committee, and will call on the Committee to reject key changes to the federal Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct proposed by Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger because the changes will gut ethical lobbying rules in ways that will allow secret, corrupt favour-trading between lobbyists and federal politicians.

Commissioner Bélanger appeared before the Committee on February 3rd about her proposed new Lobbyists’ Code. DWatch sent the Committee members 10 key questions to ask the Commissioner in advance, and afterwards sent the Committee a response to misleading, very questionable statements the Commissioner made when testifying to the Committee (Click here to see the response in English; Cliquez ici pour voir la soumission en français).

As well, Commissioner Bélanger misleadingly claimed on her website that she received only 206 letters from voters opposing her proposed Code changes – in fact, more than 20,000 voters signed on to Democracy Watch’s petition on or its letter-writing campaign and sent emails to the Commissioner calling on her to stop gutting the Code, and also calling on federal party leaders and the House Ethics Committee to reject the Commissioner’s proposed Code changes, and to make other key changes to stop all secret, unethical lobbying.

Commissioner Bélanger is proposing to gut the federal Lobbyists’ Code and allow corrupt favour-trading by changing key ethics rules in ways that will allow lobbyists:

  1. To secretly campaign for and fundraise for politicians and parties up to nearly full-time while lobbying them (currently if a lobbyist campaigned or fundraised for a politician or party up to nearly full-time, they would be prohibited from lobbying them for 4 years);
  2. To secretly be a second-level, full-time campaign staff person for a politician and/or party and then only be prohibited from lobbying them for 1 year (the current lobbying prohibition time period is 4 years);
  3. To secretly be a top-level, full-time campaign staff person for a politician and/or party and then only be prohibited from lobbying them for 2 years (the current prohibition time period is 4 years);
  4. and not only can all of this campaigning and fundraising be done in secret, but also the Commissioner is proposing to give herself the power to secretly reduce a lobbyist’s 1-2 year lobbying prohibition down to an even shorter time period.

See Backgrounder for details.

In complete contrast, the Commissioner’s new Code proposes to limit lobbyists to giving (directly or indirectly) no more than $80 annually in gifts or hospitality to politicians, political staff or government officials they are lobbying.

If a lobbyist giving gifts or hospitality to a politician worth more than $80 annually is unethical, so is a lobbyist raising thousands of dollars, campaigning or doing other valuable favours for a politician or their political party.

The Commissioner has also made the very questionable claim that the current 4-year cooling-off period violates the Charter right to freedom of expression, based on one opinion that the Commissioner paid law firm Goldblatt Partners for in a sole-source contract that was extended twice, increasing from $11,300 to $45,200 and then up to $90,400. Given several Supreme Court of Canada and other court rulings have clearly stated that Charter rights must be restricted to protect government integrity, Democracy Watch is asking the Committee to force the Commissioner to make the Goldblatt opinion public.

The Commissioner posted her proposed new unethical Code on her website on a Friday afternoon in November without issuing a news release about it, and tried to shove it into force by January. Thankfully, the Ethics Committee stopped the Commissioner from doing that in early December.

“Groups supported by more than one-and-a-half million Canadians oppose the Commissioner of Lobbying’s attempt to gut key lobbying ethics rules in ways that will allow for secret, corrupt favour-trading between lobbyists and Cabinet ministers and MPs, and the House Ethics Committee should join in loudly and clearly rejecting the Commissioner’s unethical proposals,” 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 $80 a year, while gutting other rules to allow lobbyists to secretly campaign and raise unlimited amounts of money for politicians and parties while lobbying them.”

“The Commissioner of Lobbying’s proposed changes to the Lobbyists’ Code are perverse and deeply unethical and will allow lobbyists to give secret campaign and fundraising support to politicians they are lobbying, including support similar to the secret funding allegedly given by China-sponsored organizations to candidates in the 2019 federal election,” said Conacher.

Democracy Watch and the other citizen groups call for the following reasonable Code changes that the House Ethics Committee should order the Commissioner to make, changes that will prevent unethical lobbying while allowing for low-level political activity by lobbyists:

  1. Keep in the Code the current loophole-free Rule 6 that prohibits lobbying anytime there is an appearance of a conflict of interest;
  2. Increase the cooling-off period under proposed new Rule 6 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);
  3. Create a new category of lower-level political activity (including doing any fundraising) with a 5-year cooling-off period prohibition on lobbying;
  4. Allow lobbying right away after political activity only if the lobbyist only canvasses or volunteers no more than a couple of times during a campaign, and;
  5. Don’t allow reductions of any of the cooling-off periods.

In total, 25+ citizen groups with supporters totaling more than 1.5 million Canadians oppose the Commissioner’s proposed changes. Democracy Watch and 20 other citizen organizations, and also David Suzuki and Alan Broadbent, call jointly on the House Ethics Committee to stop Commissioner Bélanger from gutting the Lobbyists’ Code and instead to make reasonable changes that prevent unethical lobbying. Another 5 organizations essentially joined the call by withdrawing their support for the Commissioner’s proposed changes last July. Click here to see the list of the 25+ groups and other 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