Democracy Watch sends another letter to Commissioner asking for public rulings on its 8-month old, evidence-filled complaints very soon
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, February 25, 2020
OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the third letter it has sent to Ontario Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake asking for public rulings as soon as his investigations are completed on lobbyists who worked in senior roles on Doug Ford’s and the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario’s (PC Party) election campaign and/or fundraised for or advised Ford and the PCs since the election, and are now lobbying Ford and/or his Cabinet ministers.
Democracy Watch filed a complaint last June with Integrity Commissioner Wake about lobbyists Chris Benedetti, Paul Pellegrini and Matthew Gibson of Sussex Strategy Group violating the rule by being on the organizing committee for Premier Ford’s February “2019 Toronto Leader’s Dinner” fundraising event. And Democracy Watch also filed a complaint last July about lobbyist Melissa Lantsman, who is lobbying the Ford government after advising Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservative Party (PC Party) during the spring 2018 provincial election campaign, serving on Ford’s transition team, and serving currently as Regional Vice President for Toronto for the PC Party.
Democracy Watch sent a second letter on January 22nd to Integrity Commissioner Wake requesting rulings its two complaints, assuming the investigations have been completed or will be completed soon.
Commissioner Wake responded in a letter sent on January 27th that he will only issue public summaries of his rulings in his annual report which will be made public in June 2020 and will cover the government’s fiscal year period from April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020.
This means if Integrity Commissioner Wake completes an investigation of either or both of Democracy Watch’s complaints after April 1st this year, he will not issue any information or a public ruling on that investigation until his annual report is issued in June 2021, unless he decides to penalize the lobbyist.
“There is nothing in the lobbying law that prohibits Integrity Commissioner Wake from issuing a public ruling on a lobbyist’s alleged violations of the law as soon as he completes his investigation, and it is absurdly negligent for him to claim that the law allows him to wait a year or more to issue a public ruling,” said Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch.
“Given the clear evidence set out in Democracy Watch’s complaints last summer, and given Integrity Commissioner Wake has not issued a public ruling since the rule that clearly prohibits lobbyists from assisting a politician and then lobbying them came into force in July 2016, he should do the right thing and finally issue his first public ruling as soon as possible,” said Conacher. “That ruling should find everyone who worked for Doug Ford or PC Party headquarters during the spring 2018 election campaign or continues to serve the party or Premier Ford as an adviser, fundraiser or representative, is violating this key lobbying ethics rule.”
It has been illegal under Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act) since July 1, 2016 (when a new rule was enacted, section 3.4) for an Ontario lobbyist to do anything for a politician or government official that caused them to be in a real or potential conflict of interest or would make it improper for them to further the interests of the lobbyist or their clients.
Integrity Commissioner Wake has not issued a public ruling on the LR Act rule since it came into force in July 2016, and his Guidance for Lobbyists on Political Activity document published in 2018 is very vague, especially concerning the time period lobbyists must stop lobbying after assisting an election candidate or politician.
In contrast, the federal Commissioner of Lobbying’s Guidance document on lobbyist political activities states clearly that if a lobbyist does anything significant for a politician then they can’t lobby for four years – a “full election cycle.”
The Integrity Commissioner claimed in his 2018-2019 Annual Report (p. 47) that the advisory opinions he gives to lobbyists under section 15 of the LR Act are confidential, but there is nothing in that section or any other section of the LR Act that requires them to be kept secret. They are actually rulings by the Integrity Commissioner, and the public has a right to know how the Commissioner has ruled on lobbyists’ actions. The 2018-2019 Annual Report states that the Commissioner issued 16 advisory opinions to lobbyists who had been politically active before the election (see p. 46).
Based on what the LR Act (section 3.4) and the Members’ Integrity Act (sections 2, 3, 4 and 6(1)) say, and the unanimous Federal Court of Appeal ruling Democracy Watch won in 2009 (paras. 52-53), and a similar federal lobbying rule, and past rulings concerning what are improper actions are by politicians, Democracy Watch’s position is that the conflict of interest created by playing a senior role in a politician’s or party’s election campaign or serving as an advisor afterwards does not magically disappear after one year – it lasts at least four years after the lobbyist has helped the politician or party, past the next election if the politician remains in power.
If the politician is the Premier, Democracy Watch’s position is that the conflict of interest lasts even longer because it is a very significant favour to help someone become Premier with all the power, pay and perks that position entails. Democracy Watch’s position is also that assisting a party leader with their election campaign, or providing ongoing assistance after the election, creates a conflict of interest that applies to the entire Cabinet, as the Premier chooses each Cabinet minister and they all serve at the pleasure of the Premier, so they all share the Premier’s conflict of interest.
As a result, Democracy Watch’s position is that anyone who worked on the PC Party campaign, or is serving in a senior position or advising the Premier or the PC Party now, is prohibited by the rule in the LR Act from lobbying the Premier and any of his Cabinet ministers.
The only clue to Integrity Commissioner Wake’s standard for a cooling-off period for a lobbyist who assists a politician are that Chris Froggatt, who was vice-chair of Ford’s and the PC Party’s election campaign, told the Globe last July that he was advised by the Integrity Commissioner to refrain from lobbying for one year after the Ford government took power. And in that same Globe article Kory Teneycke, who also played a senior role in the PC’s election campaign, was paraphrased as saying the Integrity Commissioner had advised him not to lobby the Premier, his office or the Cabinet office. Both Froggatt and Teneycke also continue to serve as senior advisers to Premier Ford and the PC Party.
Democracy Watch also plans to file complaints with the Integrity Commissioner about Chris Froggatt and Kory Teneycke and the lobbyists they employ at their firms.
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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Democracy Watch’s Government Ethics Campaign