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Democracy Watch files complaint about Facebook lobbying and favours for politicians with federal Lobbying Commissioner

Questions raised about Facebook/Instagram employees not registering as lobbyists, and doing favours for federal Finance Minister, and federal politicians, and limited activities registered by consultant lobbyists

New Lobbying Commissioner should not rule on situations involving Liberals because of bias – handpicked in secret by PMO and Cabinet

Thursday, April 26, 2018

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it sent yesterday to new federal Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger requesting an investigation of Facebook Canada’s lobbying activities and favours for federal politicians to determine whether Facebook has violated the Lobbying Act or the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct (“Lobbyists’ Code”). Democracy Watch’s complaint also covers lobbying for Instagram which is a separate online service but not a separate company from Facebook.

“The actions of Facebook’s employee and its consultant lobbyists, including favours provided to federal Cabinet ministers and politicians, raise serious questions and an investigation is needed to determine if they have violated the federal lobbying law and lobbyists’ code,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Adjunct Professor of Law, and Political Studies at the University of Ottawa.

As Maclean’s magazine first reported recently, Facebook has not been registered as a company in the Registry of Lobbyists to lobby the federal government from 2010 on, until it announced recently it would register (while still maintaining that it is not required to register). Facebook also has several consultant lobbyists on contract but they have reported only one communication with federal government politicians and officials since 2014.

In contrast, other social media companies such as Google have several employees and consultant lobbyists registered, and many monthly communications reports.

The Professionalism principle in the Lobbyists’ Code requires that lobbyists follow the spirit of the registration requirements of the Lobbying Act, and the Act requires registration for paid communications “in respect of” various policy, program, financial or contract matters, and for consultant lobbyists also arranging meetings with government officials and MPs. Some communications are also required to be disclosed in monthly reports.

The key question to be investigated for Facebook/Instagram employees is whether they have spent more than 20% of their collective time lobbying and should be registered in the Registry as required by the Act. The key question for their consultant contract lobbyists is whether their registrations in the Registry are complete and accurate, as it is a violation of the Act to file a false or misleading registration.

As well, Facebook is providing cyber-threat training and services for free to federal politicians, and Facebook Canada’s head of public policy Kevin Chan provided advice for free to Finance Minister Morneau about how to do a Facebook Live event for his budget speech.

The Lobbyists’ Code rules 6 and 10 prohibit lobbyists from doing anything for anyone they are lobbying that could create even the appearance of a conflict of interest, including providing benefits to or doing favours for them. Rule 8 of the Code prohibits lobbying that person after providing the benefit or doing the favour for them.

In the letter, Democracy Watch also requests, as it has in a letter sent on April 20th, and in a letter sent on January 25th, that Commissioner Bélanger not make any decisions concerning investigations of situations involving the Trudeau Cabinet or Liberals because the Cabinet created a conflict of interest for her by handpicking her through a secretive, PMO-controlled process. As well, the Cabinet failed to consult with opposition party leaders before making her appointment as required by the Lobbying Act.

On January 15th, Democracy Watch filed an application in Federal Court challenging the appointment of the new Lobbying Commissioner.

To allow the investigations into Democracy Watch’s complaints to continue, Democracy Watch proposes that Commissioner Bélanger delegate the situations to a provincial commissioner who is independent of her, the Trudeau Cabinet, and all federal political parties. This process has been used at the provincial level by ethics commissioners. For example, in 2016 Marguerite Trussler, Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner, recused herself from investigating and ruling on a complaint because she was friends with two people involved in the matter.

“The Trudeau Cabinet put the new Lobbying Commissioner in a conflict of interest by handpicking her through a secretive, PMO-controlled process, and as a result the Commissioner is tainted by bias and must not rule on any situations involving the Trudeau Cabinet or Liberals,” said Conacher.

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
and Chairperson of the Government Ethics Coalition
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
[email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign and Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign