763 rulings remain secret — negligently weak enforcement means MPPs made a big mistake re-appointing Commissioner Wake for a second 5-year term
Huge loopholes in law also need to be closed to stop secret, unethical lobbying
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Tuesday, December 8, 2020
OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released its report on the rulings on lobbyists published in Ontario Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake’s 2018-2109 and 2019-2020 Annual Reports. From April 2018 to March 2020, Integrity Commissioner Wake let off 23 out of 27 (85%) of the lobbyists he found violating Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act (LR Act) in serious ways, including failing to register their lobbying for a year or more. He only penalized four of the lobbyists who violated the LR Act, and only by publicizing their names.
As well, Commissioner Wake only fully investigated and issued public rulings on 63 of the 634 allegations of lobbying violations he reviewed (only 10%), and he issued 192 secret Advisory Opinions to lobbyists. Given his weak public enforcement record, he likely let off dozens more lobbyists in the 763 secret rulings and opinions he issued.
Commissioner Wake’s weak enforcement record shows he is a lapdog who should not have been appointed to a second term. Opposition MPs should have forced a committee vote on this (ss. 23(2)) but they all approved it on December 1st.
When the Integrity Commissioner lets a lobbyist off for a violation of the law, the lobbyist’s identity is kept secret, as are the details of their lobbying. The Commissioner can penalize a lobbyist for a violation of the LR Act by naming them publicly and/or banning them from lobbying for up to two years (section 17.9).
As well, from April 2018 to March 2020 the Commissioner let off at least 13 lobbyists, and likely dozens more, for secret or unethical lobbying because of huge loopholes in the LR Act. None of the following communications are required to be disclosed as lobbying: 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.
Among the dozens of lobbyists Commissioner Wake has let off are people who worked in senior roles on Doug Ford’s or the Ontario PC Party’s election campaign and/or for Ford’s ministers and, one year later, started lobbying Ford’s Cabinet. These lobbyists include Chris Froggatt of Loyalist Public Affairs, Kory Teneycke of Rubicon Strategy and Michael Diamond of Upstream Strategy Group (and several others at their lobbying firms), Melissa Lantsman of Enterprise Canada and Melanie Paradis (until she stopped in Sept. 2020). See details in subsection B(ii) of Backgrounder on rulings.
Click here to see Backgrounder on Integrity Commissioner’s Rulings 2018-2020.
Commissioner Wake let these and many other lobbyists off based on a negligently bad Interpretation Bulletin he issued in June 2020 saying that 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 magically disappears after one year, so the lobbyist can lobby the politician and their staff after that year.
A rule was added July 1, 2016 to the LR Act (section 3.4) that 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. But Commissioner Wake negligently took until June 2020 to issue his Bulletin about the new rule (Click here to see Backgrounder on Conflict of Interest Rule).
As a result of this negligently bad Interpretation Bulletin, from 2018-2020 Commissioner Wake has let off an unknown number of other lobbyists for unethically illegal lobbying. 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. Likely dozens of those 763 secret decisions by Commissioner Wake allowed lobbyists to fundraise or campaign or give significant gifts to politicians and then lobby them only one year later, or to violate the law in other ways.
Commissioner Wake’s Bulletin is ridiculous. Doug Ford and all his Cabinet ministers and their staff, and all Progressive Conservative MPPs, owe all of the people who helped them win power (or have fundraised for them) at least until the next election, and arguably for the rest of their political careers. No other commissioner in Canada has set such a short “cooling-off” time period for lobbyists – all have said the conflict of interest created by assisting a politician lasts for several years. See, for example, the federal Commissioner of Lobbying’s ruling that the conflict of interest lasts at least four years.
“Doug Ford’s former campaigners who set themselves up in lobbying firms after he won the 2018 election are all violating Ontario’s lobbying law that prohibits lobbying politicians you have assisted with fundraising or campaigning, but unfortunately the Integrity Commissioner has issued negligently bad rulings protecting them and failing to stop their unethical lobbying,” Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch.
Commissioner Wake’s ethics rulings on Ministers, MPPs and other government officials are just as bad. He let Premier Ford off even though he attended the final Cabinet meeting approving the appointment of his old friend Ron Taverner as OPP Commissioner, and let his staff try to rig the process in favour of Taverner (and he also let Ford’s staff off). He also let Premier Ford off even though he offered Taverner an executive job at the Ontario Cannabis Store. He also let a top government official off who was fundraising for a political party (See p.29), and let several public servants off even though they used government resources for self-benefit (See p.40), and another public servant off even though they were involved in hiring a family member (See p.42).
“Integrity Commissioner Wake’s negligently bad enforcement record shows he is a lapdog who should not have been re-appointed for another term, as he has let dozens of lobbyists get away with secret, unethical lobbying, and let the Premier and his staff and top government officials get away with clear violations of the province’s government ethics laws,” said Conacher. “By re-appointing Commissioner Wake, Ontario’s political parties have confirmed that they are in favour of secretive and unethically bad government decision-making and don’t care about protecting the public interest or ensuring democratic good government.”
Integrity Commissioner Wake has also taken the negligent position (in response to a letter sent by DWatch in January 2020) that he will only issue public summaries of his rulings in his annual report which is made public in June of each year, and covers the fiscal-year period which runs from April 1 to March 31 of the previous year.
This means if Commissioner Wake completes an investigation of a lobbyist after April 1st any year, he will not issue any information or a public ruling on that investigation until his annual report in June of the following year (14 months later), unless he decides to penalize the lobbyist (which he rarely decides to do).
Commissioner Wake also claimed in his 2018-2019 Annual Report (p. 47) that the advisory opinions he gives lobbyists under section 15 of the LR Act are confidential, but there is nothing in that section or anywhere in the LR Act that requires them to be kept secret. They are rulings, and the public has a right to know how the Commissioner has ruled every time. The Commissioner should at least issue a summary of every ruling.
“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 after he completes his investigation and the lobbyist has been given an opportunity to respond, 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, and to keep almost all his rulings secret,” said Conacher.
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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