Commissioner’s proposed new Code would allow lobbyists to lobby politicians while secretly fundraising or campaigning for them
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
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, February 21, 2023
OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released Key Facts (en français) about federal Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger’s proposed changes to the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct to counter the false claims that big business and big union lobbyists have made before the House Ethics Committee about the changes at hearings last Tuesday and Friday.
These lobbyists have claimed that the proposed Lobbyists’ Code changes will mean anyone who does low-level campaigning or volunteering for a candidate or political party will 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).
In other words, under the proposed changes, no one who does low-level campaigning or volunteering would ever be prohibited from lobbying for one year afterwards. They would all be allowed to lobby right after their campaigning or volunteering.
The actual key, unethical dangers of the Commissioner’s proposed changes to the federal Lobbyists’ Code are that they will allow lobbyists:
- To secretly campaign for and fundraise unlimited amounts of money for politicians and parties 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);
- 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.
“Everyone should be concerned when high-powered lobbyists who represent wealthy interests mislead MPs, especially when they make false claims in order to win changes that gut ethical lobbying rules in ways that will allow lobbyists to fundraise, campaign and do other favours for Cabinet ministers and other politicians they are lobbying,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.
The big business and big union lobbyists also made the false claim that they would not be able to make representations to MPs if Commissioner Bélanger’s proposed limits of $40 per MP for each gift or hospitality, and $80 annually, were made. In fact, in Ottawa and across Canada (except in some remote areas), catered receptions and meal events cost only $17-$40 per person on average, and coffee meetings only $10.
As well, MP salaries are in the top 5% in Canada, and they are given expense accounts to cover the cost of almost all their hospitality expenses, so they can simply pay themselves to go to receptions and other events held by lobbyists (Click here and see Key Facts #5-9; Cliquez ici pour voir Principaux faits #5-9).
More than 25 citizen groups with a total membership of 1.5 million Canadians 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 25+ 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.
“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.
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.
Democracy Watch and the other citizen groups call on the House Ethics Committee to order the Commissioner to make the following reasonable changes to the Code that will prevent unethical lobbying while allowing for low-level political activity by lobbyists:
- Keep in the Code the current loophole-free Rule 6 that prohibits lobbying anytime there is an appearance of a conflict of interest;
- 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);
- Create a new category of lower-level political activity (including doing any fundraising) with a 5-year cooling-off period prohibition on lobbying;
- 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;
- Don’t allow reductions of any of the cooling-off periods.
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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Email: [email protected]