I am calling on governments across Canada to end secret, unethical lobbying by implementing the following measures which are supported by the Government Ethics Coalition, made up of 32 citizen groups from across Canada representing over 3 million Canadians:
- Pass a law requiring that all government institutions consult with the public before making any significant decision, including providing at least 60 days for the public to make a submission to the government, consulting with experts, and undertaking study circles or citizen assembly processes, with results of all consultations reported publicly, so that the influence of lobbyists is decreased;
Specific measures needed to prevent, as the federal Commissioner of Lobbying is proposing, changes to the federal Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct that will allow for even more unethical lobbying (if the Commissioner does not make these changes, the House of Commons Ethics Committee must make these changes when it reviews the Commissioner’s proposed Code and, to make secret, secretly bankrolled, unethical and dishonest lobbying finally illegal, the Committee must also recommend all the other changes listed below when it reviews the federal Lobbying Act this year (as it is required to do by the Act))”
- Do not delete existing Rule 5 from the Code (which the Commissioner is proposing to do) because a rule is needed to prohibit lobbyists from using or disclosing documents that are leaked to them.
- Add at the end of the Commissioner’s proposed new Rule 2 the words “or in any public communications or advertising related to a lobby effort or lobbying an official” to ensure that all lobbyists are prohibited from communicating misinformation in any way.
- Add at end of the Commissioner’s new proposed Rule 3 (Gifts) and Rule 4 (Hospitality) a sentence that makes it clear that only one thing of low value is permitted to be given to any office holder and their staff during any 12-month period by all lobbyists at a lobbying firm combined, or by everyone involved in any lobbying effort combined.” Or, even better, simply ban all gifts and hospitality from lobbyists to any public office holder.
- Add at the end of the definition of “lobby or lobbying” in the Appendix a note specifying that the definition includes “arranging a meeting between a public office holder and any other person, including a meeting by phone, email, Internet or any other communication method.”
- To stop the Commissioner from gutting the existing Rule 6 that prohibits lobbying anyone when there is any type of appearance of a conflict of interest, change the Commissioner’s proposed new Rule 7 to read: “Never lobby an official when actions or decisions you have taken or propose to take create a real or apparent conflict of interest for the official.” Even better, reject proposed new Rule 7 and just keep existing Rule 6 in the Code.
- Add to existing Rule 7 in the Code, and to the Commissioner’s proposed Rules 3, 4, 5 and 7, a second sentence that says: “The words “an official” in this rule mean the official and any associate, employee or person who reports to the official when the lobbying is about any decision or action for which the official has decision-making authority, unless the official has recused themselves and delegated their authority entirely to someone who is fully independent of them and not under their control in any way, directly or indirectly.
- Reject the Commissioner’s proposal to shorten (in the definition of “Political Work” in the Appendix) the “cooling-off” periods during which a lobbyist is prohibited from lobbying someone they have fundraised for, volunteered for or done other any other favours for because the conflict of interest caused by those actions lasts in many cases for the rest of the politician’s or public official’s career, and at least lasts for 5 years (and 10 years for significant political activities — much longer that 1-2 years that the Commissioner proposes). And remove the proposal that would allow the Commissioner to reduce the cooling-off period.
- In the Commissioner’s proposed definition of “political work” move “performing strictly administrative tasks…” and all five actions listed under “other political work” into the category “significant political work” because all six of these actions are significant favours that make a candidate or politician owe the person who is doing the favour for them at least for 5 years, if not longer.
Ensure lobbying activities are tracked and the undue influence of lobbyists is restricted by ensuring that the lobbying law:
- Requires Ministers, their staff, and everyone working in a party caucus office or party office who passes on information or suggestions to politicians concerning their decisions, Cabinet appointees and other senior government officials, members of the legislature and senators and all their staff, and everyone working in a party caucus office or party office who passes on information or suggestions to politicians concerning their decisions, to disclose all their contacts in an online, searchable database with anyone who communicates with them in any way about their decisions;
- After each election, require disclosure to the Commissioner of Lobbying by political parties and MPs of the list of people who worked or volunteered for them in their election campaign, and also require parties to disclose their staff, advisors, consultants and volunteers, and MPs to disclose who works or volunteers for their riding association, and Senators to disclose anyone who volunteers for them (with volunteering defined as helping out for a more than a few hours during the campaign or in between elections, given this amounts to a donation or favour to the politician or party that many voters cannot afford to make).
- Require MPs and government officials to put into the lobbying registry monthly the total number of emails, phone calls, texts, faxes and letters they receive from voters concerning any policy-making decision, categorized by information that identifies the policy subject (the bill number, subject of the bill, tax, subsidy or government program) and how many voters were for or against the proposed decision.
- If politicians and public officials are not required to disclose who communicates with them in any way about their decisions, then anyone who communicates with them must be required to register and disclose all their communications, not matter how much time the communications take, and whether or not they are paid or volunteer (the only exception should be that a voter sending a mass letter or email as part of an organization’s lobbying effort should not be required to register, instead the organization should be required to register);
- Requires lobbyists to disclose how much they and their clients are spending on each campaign (as required in 33 U.S. states);
- Requires lobbyists and lobby groups to disclose to the lobbying commissioner a list of who funds them, including funding from any government, and funding or donations from anyone or any organization of any kind from anywhere in the world that has given them more than $200 in funding in the past two years, and requires them to disclose in the lobbying registry the percentage of their total funding received from individuals, foundations, businesses, other organizations and government for each other country from which they receive funding, in order to reveal who is bankrolling any lobbying effort;
- Requires lobbyists and lobby groups to disclose the identity of any individual or group they are working with in any way on each lobbying effort, especially leading up to elections, in order to reveal whether lobbying groups are colluding to avoid disclosing their lobbying or to exceed spending limits;
- Requires lobbyists to disclose past work with political parties, election candidates and governments and government institutions;
- Prohibits lobbyists from knowingly misrepresenting facts, omitting important details or presenting information that is misleading or false when they lobby officials, or in grassroots lobbying appeals to the public, or in any public communications or advertising related to a lobby effort or lobbying an official;
- Prohibits lobbyists putting any politician or public official in even an appearance of a conflict of interest (as prohibited by the federal Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct), including by fundraising or doing any other favours;
- Prohibits lobbyists from giving any gift to any politician or public official because independent psychological tests worldwide have shown that even small gifts have influence over decisions;
- Prohibits everyone, especially lobbyists, from donating more than an average voter can afford (which, generally across Canada, is no more than $75 annually);
- Requires anyone, whether or not they are lobbying, and whether or not they are paid, to register in the lobbying registry if they are representing in any way a foreign government or political organization, or any entity owned or controlled (directly or indirectly) by a foreign government or political organization, including through involvement in public relations or communications or political activities, and what the objectives of the government or entity are in Canada.
- Prohibits lobbyists from doing work for government departments (such as providing advice on communications) and from having any business connections with anyone who does such work, and;
- Eliminate the corporate tax deduction for lobbying expenses.
And ensure lobbying laws/codes/rules are effectively enforced by:
- Ensuring a “whistleblower” protection law exists that gives anyone the right to reports a violation of any law, policy, code, guideline etc. to a fully independent integrity commissioner who has the power and resources to fully investigate complaints, and to protect all whistleblowers from retaliation and to compensate them fully if they suffer retaliation;
- As Quebec has for appointing provincial court judges, create an independent commission to conduct open, merit-based searches for Cabinet appointments, and to require the Cabinet to choose from a short list of candidates the commission proposes, and require approval from opposition party leaders of the appointment of all commissioners that enforce lobbying laws;
- Appoint all lobbying commissioners for fixed, multi-year, non-renewable terms with full independence and investigative powers;
- Requiring all lobbying commissioners to conduct regular, unannounced audits of the activities of the people who are covered by the law they enforce, to ensure everyone is complying with the rules;
- Requiring all lobbying commissioners to review complaints filed by the public, and rule publicly on every complaint;
- Requiring all lobbying commissioners to issue a ruling every time they give advice to anyone on how the law/code rules apply to specific situations;
- Allowing complainants to go to court if the lobbying commissioner delays an investigation an unreasonable length of time, or makes any legal or factual error in a ruling; and
- Increase the maximum penalties for violations of any lobbying law or code to at least match the current penalties for violating the federal Lobbying Act (ie. $50,000 to $200,000 fines and jail terms of 6 months to 2 years), and preferably make them even stronger given how much lobbyists are paid, including loss of any severance payment, and a partial clawback of any pension payments, and require the enforcement agency/commissioner to impose a mandatory minimum fine of at least $10,000 for every violation, to ensure that any lobbyist who violates a rule is penalized.
Please let me know what you will do to ensure that these changes are made as soon as possible. I will be deciding which political party to vote for in the next election based on the responses I receive from representatives in each party. I look forward to hearing from you.