Nine court cases challenge Commissioner’s first three public rulings on lobbying ethics rule since July 2016, and failure to penalize six lobbyists who violated law
Seven other cases DWatch has filed challenging Commissioner’s rulings in 2021 and 2022 on hold while courts decide the first nine cases
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, August 15, 2022
OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch is appealing a November 2021 ruling by an Ontario Divisional Court judge that unjustifiably blocked nine court cases Democracy Watch filed in December 2020 challenging nine rulings by Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake that let lobbyists off even though they clearly violated Ontario’s lobbying law. DWatch is asking the court to allow it to appeal the ruling that unjustifiably blocked the nine cases. Nick Papageorge and Wade Poziomka of Ross McBride LLP are representing DWatch for the cases.
See below, and in the attached Backgrounder, details about the nine cases, and about an additional seven cases DWatch filed in 2021 and 2022 challenging seven other Commissioner rulings that let lobbyists off even though they clearly violated the law.
To register to watch the appeal hearing on Zoom at 12:30 today, email the Divisional Court registry office at: [email protected].
Three of the nine cases challenge the first three public rulings of the Integrity Commissioner’s unknown number of decisions in the past few years that have let dozens of people (and maybe more) violate enforcing section 3.4 of Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act) by lobbying 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.
Section 3.4 was added to the 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.
Many of these people 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, COVID-19 relief, mining, and other big issues. Click here to see a fairly complete list of lobbyists who are lobbying unethically, and click here to see Toronto Star articles about even more lobbyists lobbying the Ford Cabinet unethically.
Even one of Ford’s MPPs has expressed concern, as Thornhill MPP Gila Martow issued a statement via Twitter and a docs webpage in December 2020 that said in part:
“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)
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.
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.
The other six cases challenge Commissioner Wake’s arbitrary failure to penalize six lobbyists who violated Ontario’s lobbying law in serious ways, mainly by failing to register and disclose their lobbying for a year or more. The Commissioner has failed to penalize 23 of 27 lobbyists (85%) who have violated the law since 2018.
During the 2019-2020 fiscal year, Commissioner Wake only penalized one lobbyist, Lawrence Gold, for violating LR Act by failing to register and disclose his lobbying for a long period of time. The Commissioner only imposed the minimum penalty of naming Mr. Gold publicly. Four of the other six lobbyists who were not penalized by the Commissioner did exactly the same thing as Mr. Gold. The other two lobbyists violated the law by lobbying politicians after campaigning for them or giving them gifts, in violation of section 3.4 of the LR Act.
All nine cases also ask the courts to rule that Commissioner Wake was biased when he issued the six 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 on December 1st (although many MPPs were not present for that snap vote).
Democracy Watch also filed an additional six cases in 2021 challenging six rulings by the Integrity Commissioner published in his 2020-2021 annual report in which he also let off lobbyists for clear violations. And in July, Democracy Watch filed another case challenging one of the rulings by the Integrity Commissioner published in his 2021-2022 annual report – again he let the lobbyist off even though the lobbyist violated the law in several ways. These seven cases are hold until the rulings are issued in the nine cases filed in 2020. In total, Democracy Watch is challenging 15 rulings made by the Integrity Commissioner over the past three years.
“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 the first three very weak decisions that Ontario’s so-called Integrity Commissioner has made public that have allowed lobbyists to corrupt Ontario government policy-making as they cash in on their so-called public service. Hopefully the courts will stop this unethical lobbying of Ford’s Cabinet.”
“Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner has also failed to penalize almost all the lobbyists he has found in violation of the lobbying law since 2018, and so Democracy Watch is taking the commissioner to court to challenge the worst of his many bad rulings,” said Conacher. “Hopefully the courts will issue rulings that require the Commissioner to start enforcing the lobbying rules strictly by penalizing all lobbyists who violate the law.”
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 lobby unethically.
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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Email: [email protected]