Since 2018, Commissioner has made 1,036 secret rulings, let an unknown number of lobbyists violate the law, and failed to penalize 85% of the lobbyists he found violated the law
Even a Ford PC Party MPP is concerned about whether Ford is giving these lobbyists policy gifts as they cash in on their so-called “public service”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, November 8, 2021
OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that it has filed six more applications in Ontario’s Divisional Court challenging five more rulings by Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake that allowed three lobbyists who worked on campaigns for Ontario politicians, or gave them gifts, to lobby the politicians soon afterwards, and failed to penalize one of those three lobbyists, and two other lobbyists, even though he ruled that they violated the law.
The six cases add to the nine other court cases Democracy Watch filed last December and mean that, in total, Democracy Watch is challenging 14 of the Integrity Commissioner’s unknown total number of decisions that have let dozens of people (and maybe more) unethically lobby Doug Ford and his Cabinet ministers soon after they campaigned, fundraised or worked for Ford and/or Ontario’s PC Party in the 2018 leadership race and election, and/or worked for Ford or one or more of his ministers since the election. A Divisional Court judge is currently considering whether to allow the first nine cases to proceed, which will determine whether the six new cases will be allowed to proceed.
Many of these lobbyists are still advising Ford and/or in senior PC Party positions while they continue to lobby Ford’s Cabinet on long-term care, property development, highway development, COVID-19 relief, mining, and other big issues. A Toronto Star report published in July documented how these Ford/PC Party-connected lobbyists had won many favours from the Ford government since the COVID crisis began in spring 2020.
“Big box retailers should not be permitted to enrich themselves on the backs of small businesses simply because they can afford to hire well-connected lobbyists like Melissa Lantsman to get them preferential treatment.” (link in original)
The new cases challenge rulings #1 and 3 on page 52 of the Commissioner’s 2020-2021 Annual Report and rulings #5, 6 and 8 on pages 53-54 of the Report. The cases are Division Court file numbers 587/21 to 592/21. Nick Papageorge of Ross McBride LLP is currently representing Democracy Watch for the cases. Click here to see the Notice of Application challenging ruling #6 (the other five applications are very similar).
Section 3.4 was added to the Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act) on July 1, 2016, and it prohibits lobbying any politician or other public office holder if it will create a real or potential conflict of interest or make it improper for them to further the interests of the lobbyist or their clients. Commissioner Wake’s rulings are based on a very weak Interpretation Bulletin he finally issued in June 2020 that claims when a lobbyist assists a politician with fundraising or campaigning or gives them a gift, the conflict of interest created by the assistance or gift disappears soon afterwards, so the lobbyist can then lobby the politician and their staff.
The 14 cases also ask the courts to rule that Commissioner Wake was biased when he issued the three rulings, given he knew that he would need the unanimous approval of Ford’s Cabinet and all MPPs to be re-appointed for a second five-year term, which happened last December 1st (although many MPPs were not present for that snap vote).
“Dozens of people who have helped or worked for Doug Ford or his Cabinet ministers or the PC Party have set themselves up in lobbying firms and, even though many of them have never lobbied before, big businesses are hiring them because they know it will get them inside access to Ford and his ministers,” Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Democracy Watch is challenging all the very weak decisions that Ontario’s so-called Integrity Commissioner has made public that have allowed lobbyists corrupt Ontario government policy-making as they cash in on their so-called public service.”
“Hopefully the courts will issue rulings that stop this unethical lobbying of Ford’s Cabinet and require the Commissioner to start enforcing the lobbying ethics rules strictly and strongly,” said Conacher. “Democracy Watch will continue challenging the Integrity Commissioner’s rulings in court, and his excessive secrecy including more than 1,000 secret decisions since 2018, as long as the Commissioner continues letting lobbyists lobby politicians unethically and violate the lobbying law in other ways, and continues to fail to penalize every violator.”
From April 2018 to March 2021, Commissioner Wake issued 281 secret Advisory Opinions, closed 197 secret compliance reviews at the initial stage, and resolved 558 cases informally in secret. At least some of those 1,036 secret decisions by Commissioner Wake have allowed dozens of other lobbyists to fundraise or campaign or give significant gifts to Ford’s Cabinet and then lobby them soon afterwards.
The Commissioner also only issued 81 public rulings out of 1,125 situation he investigated, and he let off without any penalty 28 of the 33 lobbyists he found guilty of violating the law. (Click here to see Backgrounder on Integrity Commissioner’s Rulings 2018-2021).
All other commissioners in Canada have ruled that the conflict of interest created by assisting a politician in any significant way lasts for several years. For example, the federal Commissioner of Lobbying’s ruling says the conflict lasts four years. The federal lobbying law also prohibits Cabinet staff from lobbying for five years after leaving their position (s. 10.11 – though it has loopholes). (Click here to see Backgrounder on Conflict of Interest Rule in Ontario’s Lobbying Law).
As well, huge loopholes in the LR Act allow countless other lobbyists to lobby in secret and unethically. None of the following lobbying activities are required to be disclosed: unpaid lobbying, business lobbying or non-profit organization lobbying of less than 50 hours a year, lobbying about the enforcement of a law, or in response to a request for feedback from a Minister, official or MPP. As a result, anyone lobbying in these ways is also allowed to give gifts to and campaign, fundraise and do favours for Ontario Ministers, MPPs, political staff and government officials they are lobbying.
“Until huge loopholes are closed in the lobbying law, public officials are banned from lobbying for years after they leave their position, and the Integrity Commissioner enforces the law more strictly and strongly, secret, unethical lobbying will continue to corrupt Ontario government policy-making,” said Conacher.
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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 Government Ethics Campaign