9 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
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
OTTAWA – Today, the Ontario Divisional Court is holding the first hearings on nine court cases Democracy Watch filed last December challenging nine rulings by Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake. Commissioner Wake is trying to stop all the cases, claiming his rulings can’t be challenged in court. DWatch is asking the court to allow the cases to proceed, and to order the Commissioner to disclose details about all his rulings that the Commissioner wants to keep secret. Nick Papageorge of Ross McBride LLP is representing Democracy Watch for the cases. See details about the nine cases below.
To register to watch the hearing on Zoom at 10 am Tuesday, 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 last 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)
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).
“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]
Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign and Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign
Backgrounder on Democracy Watch’s 9 cases challenging Ontario Integrity Commissioner rulings on lobbyists in 2019-2020
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 to lobby unethically.
The first three 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 public Commissioner rulings enforcing section 3.4 of the LR Act. The cases are Division Court file numbers 632/20, 633/20 and 634/20. Click here to see the Notice of Application challenging ruling #6 (the other two applications are very similar).
The other six cases challenge rulings #s 5, 14, 17 and 23 (the four lobbyists who also failed to register) and rulings #s 13 and 20 (the two lobbyists who violated the lobbying ethics rule) in the Commissioner’s 2019-2020 Annual Report. The six cases are Division Court file numbers 644/20, 645/20, 646/20, 647/20, 648/20 and 669/20.
To register to watch the hearing on Zoom at 10 am Tuesday, July 20, 2021, or to access the court files, email the Divisional Court registry office at: [email protected]