The Globe and Mail and 26 groups with 1.5 million+ supporters also oppose the Commissioner’s proposed gutting of the rules, as do 20,000+ petition signers
Commissioner’s proposed new Lobbyists’ Code would allow lobbyists to lobby politicians while secretly fundraising or campaigning for them
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, April 6, 2023
OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the open letter signed by 41 lawyers and law, politics and ethics professors from across Canada calling on the Liberal, Conservative and Bloc MPs on the House of Commons Ethics Committee to reverse their position and instead reject some of Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger’s proposed changes to the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct because the changes will gut key federal 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 letter also calls on all MPs on the Committee to reverse their position and accept other rules proposed by Commissioner Bélanger that, unlike the fundraising and campaigning rules, will effectively make it illegal for lobbyists to use gifts, hospitality and “sponsored travel” as unethical ways of influencing MPs.
“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,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “More than 40 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 soon after campaigning or fundraising for them, and the House Ethics Committee should reverse its position and loudly and clearly reject the Commissioner’s unethical proposals.”
“It’s shocking that MPs on the Ethics Committee would call for loopholes to allow lobbyists to buy them off, essentially bribe them, with fundraising, favours, trips, gifts and wining and dining worth thousands of dollars each year,” said Conacher. “The changes that the Ethics Committee wants are deeply unethical and will allow for corrupt favour-trading between lobbyists and politicians.”
The letter is signed by 15 lawyers from 7 law firms (and also lawyers in private practice or other roles), and 26 law, politics and ethics professors from 15 universities in 9 provinces.
In the current Lobbyists’ 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 proposes a new Rule 6 that, depending on the level of campaigning or fundraising the lobbyist does, allows lobbying right afterwards or only 1-2 years later. The Commissioner also proposes to give herself the power to secretly reduce those prohibition periods. Click here to see the Backgrounder.
The Commissioner’s proposed changes are based on a very questionable, secret opinion that the Commissioner refuses to make public. The Commissioner paid law firm Goldblatt Partners for the opinion in a sole-source contract that was extended twice, increasing from $11,300 to $45,200 and then up to $90,400.
The Commissioner also sent a March 3rd letter that misled the Committee about the effects of the changes, and big business and big union lobbyists also misled the Committee when they testified about the changes.
Several Supreme Court of Canada and other court rulings have clearly stated that Charter rights can 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.
After meeting in secret three times (Feb. 17, Mar. 7 and 21), the Ethics Committee approved the Commissioner’s proposed changes (other than the NDP opposing the reduction of the lobbying prohibition after campaigning/fundraising) in a letter sent to the Commissioner.
In the Committee’s letter, MPs from all parties also call on the Commissioner to create a loophole in the proposed gift and hospitality rules (Rules 3-4) to allow lobbyists to continue to give the unethical gift of “sponsored travel” to MPs and their families, and also to increase the proposed annual limit on gifts from lobbyists to $200 and on hospitality also to $200.
The letter from the 41 lawyers and professors, many of them leading experts in government ethics, also calls on the Committee to reverse their position on these proposed changes. If MPs want to take these trips that usually cost thousands of dollars, then they can pay for them out of their office budget or Parliament’s funds, and they can also pay for their own meals, drinks, receptions and other events from their office expense accounts.
As well, the Globe and Mail editorial board, and a total of 26 citizen groups with a total membership of 1.5 million Canadians also call on the Committee to reject the changes because they 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.
In addition, 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 Ethics Committee to reject the Commissioner’s proposed Code changes, and to make other key changes to stop all secret, unethical lobbying.
Commissioner Bélanger and the Liberal, Conservative and Bloc MPs on the Ethics Committee are proposing to gut key ethical rules in the Lobbyists’ 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 and then lobby them essentially right afterwards (as long as the campaigning/fundraising is done without frequent, extensive interaction with a candidate or party official – the current lobbying prohibition time period after these activities is at least 4 years);
- 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.
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.
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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