Join the “Government Ethics Coalition” to help push for stronger lobbying and ethics rules and ethics enforcement in Canada
Any citizens group dealing with the federal government understands all too well the power that wealthy lobby groups (usually large corporations) wield in Ottawa. And in the past decade, the lobbying industry has greatly expanded in size and influence.
Moneyed interests play by different rules than the rest of us. When they don’t like how the world is treating them, they invest large sums of money in well-connected lobbyists and revolving-door incentives — whereby those serving in public office carry on their duties with an eye to securing lucrative private-sector posts — to ensure that both elected officials and bureaucrats remain friendly and compliant.
The line between the lobbying industry and government is so unclear that government now relies on lobbyists for virtually every aspect of governance. For example, when the government needed guidelines for information technology, the person they hired to facilitate development of the rules was a lobbyist who represents information technology companies. Between 1993 and 2003, the main communications consultants for the Department of Finance worked at a government relations firm that also lobbied Finance on behalf of many large business clients. These people had top-level security clearance, were among Paul Martin’s closest advisors, and were getting paid millions of taxpayer dollars for the advice they gave.
And it gets worse. There are very weak conflict of interest rules for Senators and MPs, so they can assist lobbyists in their efforts to influence government without violating any rules or facing any penalties. Lobbyists also run the election campaigns of some of our most powerful political leaders, likely to gain access for their clients. Once these leaders are elected, lobbyists shape the words that come out of their mouths. And when the leaders are tossed out of office by voters, they often land softly in the lobbying industry, where a former leader can trade on his or her image, experience and contacts. All the while, these lobbyists are pitching the very same offices they once served — or still serve — for contracts, policy changes and regulatory relief on behalf of clients.
In 1994, the Liberals introduced amendments to the Lobbyists Registration Act that Prime Minister Chretien said would “put an end to backroom deals,” and bring lobbyists “from the shadows out into the open.” The Harper Conservatives changed the name of the law to the Lobbying Act and strengthened lobbying disclosure enforcement in a couple of ways including by creating the Commissioner of Lobbying position, but secret, unethical lobbying is still legal and easy to do because enforcement is still very weak. Despite many lobbying and ethics scandals, the Trudeau Liberals have done nothing to strengthen either the rules or enforcement. Since then, in stark contrast to these bold predictions, lobbying has become an incredible growth industry in Ottawa. At a conservatively estimated $300 million in annual revenues, the industry has increased in size 10 times in the past decade. When you take into consideration the revolving door between government and lobby firms, public service is now seen by many as a mere stepping stone to more lucrative private-sector postings. It is only a slight understatement to say that lobbyists run our government.
In addition, the costs of corporate lobbying can be written off as a business expense. So taxpayers actually subsidize this distortion of the democratic process, to the tune of an estimated over $100 million a year.
Finally, none of the current ethics rules for public officials or lobbyists are effectively enforced for four main reasons:
- The Ethics Commissioner for Cabinet ministers and MPs does not have enough legal requirements and powers to ensure the Commissioner strictly and strongly enforces the rules;
- The Commissioner of Lobbying also does not have enough legal requirements and powers to ensure the Commissioner strictly and strongly enforces the rules;
- Both commissioners are handpicked by Cabinet ministers who can easily choose a person who will act like s lapdog instead of a watchdog. See details here; and
- Whistleblowers who report wrongdoing by politicians, their staff, government officials and lobbyists are not effectively protected from retaliation, nor are whistleblowers who report wrong doing by big businesses and other organizations that receive contracts, subsidies, tax breaks or other support from the government. See more details here.
Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Coalition has been formed to campaign for changes to Canada’s electoral finance laws to reduce the influence of wealthy interests in Canadian politics. Becoming a member group of the coalition is very easy. Just sign on to our 19 Recommendations to Clean Up Canada’s Lobbying and Ethics Rules Enforcement System, set out below and send us a note stating that your group wants to join the coalition.
Thirty-one citizen groups, including 11 national groups and 20 groups from six provinces and the Northwest Territories representing over two million Canadians, have signed on in support of the recommendations, as follows:
Alternatives North, Association de protection des épargnants et investisseurs du Québec (APEIQ), B.C. Civil Liberties Association, B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), Canadian Friends of Burma, Canadian Labour Congress, Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA), Citizens for Public Justice, Democracy Watch, Earth Action, End Legislated Poverty, Greenpeace Canada, The Green Campus Society, Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform (FAIR Canada), International Fund for Animal Welfare, Low Income Families Together (LIFT), MiningWatch Canada, National Action Committee on the Status of Women, Ontario Public Interest Research Group-Carleton, Ontario Public Interest Research Group-Guelph, Ontario Public Interest Research Group-Ottawa, Saskatchewan Action Committee on the Status of Women, People Against Nuclear Energy (PANE), Saskatchewan Environmental Society, Sierra Club of Canada, Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group, Social Change Associates, Sussex Society of Public Interest, Sustainability Project, World Federalists of Canada.
The Gomery Commission Inquiry into the sponsorship scandal, among many other scandals involving unethical activities by politicians and lobbyists, has opened a window of opportunity over the next few years to strengthen government lobbying and ethics rules, including in the area of whistleblower protection.
Also, the upcoming federal election means now is a good time to let all federal political parties know that Canadians want democratic reforms to lobbying and ethics rules and the rules enforcement system, and to push them to promise such reforms in their election campaign platforms.
Democracy Watch feels a common approach is essential on this issue. Every member of Parliament, even those in opposition, reached their position using the system that is currently in place. Most have an interest in keeping the loopholes in place, and it will take a large, broad-based coalition to convince the federal political parties that the system should be made more accountable and transparent.
While these changes may appear difficult to attain, the victories Democracy Watch has won by organizing the Canadian Community Reinvestment Coalition — including our success in defeating the proposed bank mergers in 1998 — and the changes the Government Ethics Coalition has already won, have taught us that broad-based coalitions can overcome even the wealthiest special interests.
We look forward to hearing from you.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Democracy Wach at Tel: (613) 241-5179.
We can also be reached by fax at (613) 241-4758, and by email at
19 Recommendations to Clean Up Canada’s Lobbying and Ethics Rules Enforcement System
I. TO ENSURE ALL ACTIVITIES OF LOBBYISTS THAT RELATE TO THEIR ABILITY TO INFLUENCE GOVERNMENT DECISION-MAKERS ARE TRACKED AND ANY MEANS BY WHICH THEY MAY EXERT UNDUE INFLUENCE RESTRICTED, THE FEDERAL LOBBYISTS REGISTRATION ACT SHOULD BE AMENDED AS FOLLOWS:
1) Ministers and senior public officials should be required to disclose their meetings and other communications with lobbyists to ensure that all lobbying efforts are tracked and publicly disclosed.
2) Whether or not Ministers and public officials are required to disclose their meetings and communications with lobbyists, the current system under which paid lobbyists are required to register their lobbying efforts with federal government departments and agencies should still be maintained, and loopholes in that system closed by also requiring lobbyists to register if they spend a period of time lobbying that exceeds a prescribed threshold. (NOTE: Lobbyists are required to register if they undertake or exceed a time threshold in various U.S. jurisdictions)
3) Lobbyists should be required to disclose how much they and their clients are spending on their campaigns (as is required in 33 U.S. states).
4) Lobbyists should be required to disclose past or current work with governments, political parties, or candidates for federal public office (they are currently only required to disclose past work with the federal government).
5) Lobbyists should be prohibited from serving in senior positions on campaigns of political parties or candidates (as is prohibited in Maryland and New Mexico).
6) Lobbyists should be prohibited from doing work with government departments they are lobbying, and from having business connections with anyone who does such work.
7) The business tax deduction for lobbying expenses should be eliminated.
8) Contingency fees, whereby lobbyists are only paid based on whether they succeed in their lobbying effort, should be banned.
II. FEDERAL LOBBYING AND ETHICS RULES SHOULD ALSO BE MADE STRONGER THROUGH THE FOLLOWING MEASURES:
9) In order to close the revolving door through which public officials sell their expertise and inside knowledge when they leave public office, the post-government employment restriction for Ministers, their staff and senior public officials should be increased from two to five years, and for other politicians, their staff and junior public officials from between one to four years (depending on their decision-making power).
10) The government should put in place an open, arms-length and merit-based process for government appointments and awarding of contracts.
11) Parliament should strenthen the ethics codes for MPs and Senators to require disclosure of, and in some cases divest from, investments and interests that they, their spouses, and their dependents hold.
12) All ethics rules should contain stringent restrictions on gift-giving to public officials and employees, especially by lobbyists.
III. FEDERAL LOBBYING AND ETHICS RULES SHOULD BE EFFECTIVELY ENFORCED THROUGH THE FOLLOWING MEASURES:
13) The current Ethics Commissioner should be given stronger powers to investigate government officials and lobbyists and, if a violation of a lobbying or ethics rule is confirmed, to issue a public report and penalize violators. (PLEASE NOTE: Every Canadian province and territory already has an independent ethics enforcement system with strong investigative powers and public reporting, and most have penalties. Only the federal system lacks these key characteristics.)
14) Lobbying and ethics rules should include a general anti-avoidance provision to prevent people from exploiting any loopholes. (PLEASE NOTE: Such a provision is currently in place in the Canadian Income Tax Act.)
15) Anyone covered by a federal government code of conduct (e.g. Ministers and other appointees, civil servants, lobbyists) should be required to report any lobbying or ethics rules violations they have evidence of to the Ethics Commission.
16) The identity of any person who reports a violation of lobbying or ethics rules to the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner (so-called “whistleblowers”) should not be made public without their consent, and they should be protected from retaliation or disciplinary measures of any sort during the investigation and if the violation is found to be true, especially if the person is a civil servant or political staff.
17) If a person reports a violation of lobbying or ethics rules to the Ethics Commission, and the Commission does not investigate the violation with a specific time period (e.g. 60 days), the person should have the right to go to court to obtain an order forcing the Ethics Commission to investigate.
18) An appeal to the Federal Court should be allowed for all Ethics Commission rulings.
IV. IN ORDER TO ENSURE THAT CITIZENS HAVE BETTER ACCESS TO GOVERNMENT DECISION MAKING, AND THE POWER OF LOBBYISTS IS DECREASED:
19) All government consultation processes should provide meaningful opportunities for citizen participation, especially concerning decisions that affect the lives of all Canadians.
For the details behind the above recommendations, please return to the Government Ethics Campaign page and view the various documents produced since the campaign was launched in spring 1994, or contact Democracy Watch