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, and 32 lawyers and professors, oppose the proposed gutting of the rules, as do 20,000+ petition signers
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, March 21, 2023
OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it sent to the House of Commons Ethics Committee responding to the letter that Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger sent for the Committee’s ongoing secret meetings on Commissioner’s proposed changes to the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct that 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 Commissioner’s letter in English; Cliquez ici pour voir la lettre en français).
Democracy Watch’s letter is about very questionable claims made in the Commissioner’s letter, key dangerous effects of the Commissioner’s proposed changes to the Code that the Committee has not really considered so far, and false claims made by big business and big union lobbyists when they testified before the Committee about the proposed changes (Click here to see Democracy Watch’s letter in English; Cliquez ici pour voir la lettre en français).
The Ethics Committee is holding its third meeting in secret this afternoon to decide what position it is going to take on the Commissioner’s proposed changes. Last week, the Globe and Mail called for the Commissioner’s proposals to be rejected.
“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.”
“MPs on the Ethics Committee should not allow themselves to be misled by the Commissioner or by the false claims that big business and big union lobbyists have made about the proposed changes that will gut key ethical lobbying rules,” said Conacher.
The Commissioner’s letter makes it clear that the Committee was misled by big business and big union lobbyists when they testified, as they made the false claim that the proposed changes would prohibit “everyone” including low-level campaign volunteers, from lobbying for one year. (Click here and see Key Facts #20-24; Cliquez ici pour voir Principaux faits #20-24).
In fact, current Code Rules 6 and 9 and a guideline Commissioner Bélanger has issued for Rule 9 cover many more people than the proposed new rules. Those current rules prohibit lobbying for at least 4 years (a “full election cycle” i.e. until after the next election) after anyone does any top-level or second-level campaigning or event organizing, or any fundraising, for a politician or party as a paid campaign staff person or as a volunteer, with no exceptions based on the time they spend doing these activities or their level of interaction with candidates or party officials while doing the activities.
Commissioner Bélanger is proposing to gut current Code Rules 6 and 9 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 (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 at least 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 at least 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. (Click here and see Key Facts #25-33; Cliquez ici pour voir Principaux faits #25-33).
Democracy Watch and 25 other 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 26 groups and other details.
As well, in an open letter sent to the Ethics Committee, 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 joined in calling on the Committee to reject the Commissioner’s proposed changes, and also to reject the Commissioner’s claim that the current 4-year lobbying prohibition violates the Charter. (Click here to see the letter in English; Cliquez ici pour voir la lettre en français). Several Supreme Court of Canada and other court rulings have clearly stated that Charter rights can be restricted to protect government integrity.
The Commissioner’s claim that the current 4-year lobbying prohibition violating the Charter is based on only one secret opinion (which the Commissioner refuses to make public) 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.
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.
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.
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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Email: [email protected]