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Democracy Watch sues Integrity Commissioner for letting Ford/PC Party-connected lobbyists lobby Ford Cabinet unethically

Court cases challenge Commissioner’s first three public rulings on lobbying ethics rule enacted in July 2016 – he has made 763 secret decisions since 2018

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”

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that it has filed three applications in Ontario’s Divisional Court challenging rulings by Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake that allowed lobbyists who worked on campaigns for Ontario politicians, or gave them gifts, to lobby the politicians soon afterwards.

The cases challenge the first three public rulings of the Integrity Commissioner’s unknown number of decisions that have let dozens of people (and maybe more) 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.

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.

The cases challenge rulings #6 and 7 on page 52 of the Commissioner’s 2019-2020 Annual Report, and ruling #10 on page 53 of the Report. These are the first three rulings that the Integrity Commissioner has made public enforcing section 3.4 of Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act). The cases are Division Court file numbers 632/20, 633/20 and 634/20. Nick Papageorge of Ross McBride LLP is representing Democracy Watch for the cases. Click here to see the Notice of Application challenging ruling #6 (the other two applications are very similar).

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. 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 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 on 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 the first three 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 763 secret decisions since 2018, as long as the Commissioner continues letting lobbyists lobby politicians unethically, and violate the lobbying law in other ways.”

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 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)

Since April 2018, Commissioner Wake has issued 192 secret Advisory Opinions, closed 135 secret compliance reviews at the initial stage, and resolved 436 cases informally in secret (Click here to see Backgrounder on Integrity Commissioner’s Rulings 2018-2020). At least some of those 763 secret decisions by Commissioner Wake have allowed dozens of other lobbyists (see list in next paragraph) to fundraise or campaign or give significant gifts to Ford’s Cabinet and then lobby them soon afterwards.

In addition to Melissa Lantsman of Enterprise Canada, the Commissioner has been letting the following lobbyists who have campaigned or worked for Ford or his Cabinet ministers lobby the Ford government unethically: Chris Froggatt of Loyalist Public Affairs; Kory Teneycke of Rubicon Strategy; Michael Diamond of Upstream Strategy Group; Alex Simakov of Sussex Strategy Group; Brayden Akers of Navigator Ltd.; Andrew Brander of Crestview Strategies; Carly Luis of StrategyCorp (until she re-joined as Ford Cabinet staff in September 2020); Melanie Paradis of McMillan Vantage (until she started working for Erin O’Toole in Sept. 2020) – and many others at their lobbying firms. Click here to see the full list.

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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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]

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