Commissioner’s proposed new Lobbyists’ Code would allow lobbyists to lobby politicians while secretly fundraising or campaigning for them
26 groups with 1.5 million+ supporters also oppose the Commissioner’s proposed gutting of the rules, as do 20,000+ petition signers
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, March 6, 2023
OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the open letter signed by 32 lawyers and law and political science professors from across Canada calling on the House of Commons Ethics Committee to reject some of Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger’s proposed changes to the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct because the changes will gut key ethical lobbying rules in ways that will allow lobbyists to do significant campaigning for, and fundraise unlimited amounts of money for, politicians and their parties and lobby them at the same time or soon afterwards. (Click here to see the letter in English; Cliquez ici pour voir la lettre en français).
The Ethics Committee is meeting in secret Tuesday, March 7 in the afternoon to decide what position it is going to take on the Commissioner’s proposed changes.
The open letter is signed by 11 lawyers from 4 law firms (and also lawyers in private practice or other roles), and 21 law and political science professors from 14 universities in 8 provinces.
A total of 26 citizen groups with a total membership of 1.5 million Canadians also 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. Click here to see the list of the 26 groups and other details.
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 Change.org 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.
“More than 30 lawyers and professors from across Canada, and 26 citizen groups supported by more than one-and-a-half million Canadians, oppose the Commissioner of Lobbying’s attempt to gut key ethical lobbying rules in ways that will allow lobbyists to lobby Cabinet ministers and MPs while campaigning or fundraising for them or soon afterwards, 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 Commissioner’s proposed unethical changes are based on one secret opinion that she commissioned from one law firm through a sole-source contract, an opinion she refuses to make public, which makes her proposed changes even more questionable.”
In the current Code, Rules 6 and 9 and a guideline Commissioner Bélanger has issued for Rule 9 prohibit lobbying for 4 years (a “full election cycle” i.e. until after the next election) after a person does any significant campaigning or event organizing, or any fundraising, for a politician or party.
Commissioner Bélanger is proposing to gut these rules in the Code and allow lobbyists under a proposed new Rule 6:
- To secretly campaign up to near-full-time, and fundraise unlimited amounts of money, for politicians and parties while lobbying them;
- To secretly be a second-level, full-time campaign staff person or fundraiser for a politician and/or party and then only be prohibited from lobbying them for 1 year (i.e. before the next election – the current lobbying prohibition time period is 4 years);
- To secretly be a top-level, full-time campaign staff person or fundraiser for a politician and/or party and then only be prohibited from lobbying them for 2 years (i.e. also before the next election – the current lobbying prohibition time period is 4 years);
and not only can all of this campaigning and fundraising be done in secret by lobbyists, 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.
Commissioner Bélanger has made the very questionable claim that the current 4-year cooling-off period violates the Charter rights to freedom of expression and assembly, based on one secret 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. Democracy Watch is asking the Ethics Committee to force the Commissioner to make the Goldblatt opinion public.
Given several Supreme Court of Canada and other court rulings have clearly stated that Charter rights must be restricted to protect government integrity, the lawyers and professors state in the open letter that a minimum 4-year prohibition on lobbying after significant political activities, or any fundraising, is a reasonable limit that is clearly compliant with the Charter, and is necessary to protect integrity in government and policy-making. The letter also calls for a rule that prohibits reducing that cooling-off period.
Under the current Code and Rule 9 guideline, and under the proposal the lawyers and professors set out in the open letter, if a person only makes a donation, volunteers a bit on a campaign, attends a fundraising event or puts an election sign on their lawn, they are not, and should not be, prohibited from lobbying for any time period, because many voters engage in these same low-level political activities.
Very unfortunately, several stakeholders have made inaccurate claims that the Commissioner’s proposed changes to the Code would mean people who do this low-level campaigning or volunteering for a candidate or political party would be prohibited from lobbying for one year afterwards. In fact, only people who campaign for 30 hours or more a week, or who have frequent, in-depth interaction with the candidate or party officials, will be prohibited from lobbying for one year afterwards (Click here and see Key Facts #20-24; Cliquez ici pour voir Principaux faits #20-24).
As detailed above, the actual undemocratic danger of the Commissioner’s proposed changes are that they will allow lobbyists to do significant campaigning for, and fundraise unlimited amounts of money for, politicians and their parties and lobby them at the same time or soon afterwards (Click here and see Key Facts #25-33; Cliquez ici pour voir Principaux faits #25-33).
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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Email: [email protected]
Democracy Watch’s Stop Secret, Unethical Lobbying Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign and Money in Politics Campaign