Law prohibits doing anything that makes it improper for Premier to participate in decisions that affect the lobbyists’ clients
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, June 13, 2019
OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it has sent to Ontario Integrity Commissioner David Wake calling on him to issue a public ruling on three lobbyists who helped organize, and sold tickets for, Premier Ford’s February “2019 Toronto Leader’s Dinner” fundraising event. The lobbyists, Chris Benedetti, Paul Pellegrini and Matthew Gibson of Sussex Strategy Group, were revealed to be on the organizing committee for the event in an email from Mr. Benedetti that was cited in articles in the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail.
According to the articles, several other lobbyists were pressured by the Progressive Conservative Party to sell tickets to the event, with some saying that they were told their access to the government would be restricted if they did not sell tickets. However, these lobbyists were not identified in the articles – although Democracy Watch’s position is that the Integrity Commissioner should conduct a broad investigation to find all the lobbyists involved in ticket selling.
It has been illegal under Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act) since June 2014 for an Ontario lobbyist to do anything for a politician or government official that caused them to be in a conflict of interest or make it improper for them to further the interests of the lobbyist or their clients or organization.
Incredibly, as Democracy Watch’s letter summarizes (pp. 6-7), the Integrity Commissioner has not issued any guideline or interpretation bulletin in the past five years concerning what the rules in the LR Act mean.
Based on what the LR Act (section 3.4) and the Members’ Integrity Act (sections 2, 3, 4 and 6(1)) say, and the unanimous Federal Court of Appeal ruling Democracy Watch won in 2009 (paras. 52-53), and past rulings concerning what are improper actions are by politicians (see pages 12-15 of Democracy Watch’s letter), Democracy Watch’s position is that it is a violation of section 3.4 of the LR Act for a lobbyist to do anything significant for, or give anything significant to, a politician they are registered to lobby, as it creates a potential conflict of interest that makes it improper for the politician to participate in any decision, or try to influence any decision that affects the interests of the lobbyist or their clients or organization.
According to Democracy Watch’s analysis of the provincial lobbying registry, set out in the letter (pages 2-4), Mr. Benedetti was registered to lobby Premier Ford for at least 28 client businesses at the time he would have been helping organize the event, while Mr. Gibson was registered for 7 clients, and Mr. Pellegrini for one client (although, as President of Sussex Strategy Group, Mr. Pellegrini is connected and benefits from the activities of all of the firm’s lobbyists and the revenue they generate).
Integrity Commissioner Wake is not required to investigate or issue a public ruling, but Democracy Watch’s position is that it would be simply negligent for him to fail to do both given the ruling will be the first time he has publicly enforced section 3.4 of the LR Act and, therefore, the ruling will make it finally clear what actions by lobbyists that section prohibits.
“The Integrity Commissioner has been negligent in not issuing a ruling the past five years setting out what actions by lobbyists are prohibited by the conflict of interest rule in the lobbying law,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Given the clear evidence set out in Democracy Watch’s complaint, hopefully Integrity Commissioner Wake will do the right thing and issue a public ruling very soon finding that lobbyists who helped organize Premier Ford’s fundraising dinner violated the conflict of interest rule in the lobbying law.”
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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179 Cell: 416-546-3443