Regulating lobbying in Canada

03-05-2017

The recent populist backlash against traditional political systems in many countries has put the issue of ethics at the forefront of government attempts to demonstrate that public policy is carried out without undue influence or interference from vested interests. As one of the first four countries in the world to regulate parliamentary lobbying activities, Canada provides an interesting example of legislation aimed at boosting transparency, honesty and integrity in public decision-making. Evolving from the 1989 Lobbyists Registration Act, today’s Lobbying Act lays out the types of activities concerned and the processes of lobbying regulation, including sanctions, leading to a new wave of investigations and rulings. While a decision on the European Commission’s proposal for an obligatory transparency register is awaited, registration with the Registry of Lobbyists in Canada is already mandatory for any individual who is paid to carry out lobbying activities, on their own or on behalf of others. Lobbying activities are considered to include all oral and arranged communications with a public office about legislative proposals, bills, resolutions or grants. Consultant lobbyists must also declare meetings held with public office-holders, and communications they make regarding contracts for grants, on a monthly basis. Reporting takes the form of regular monthly ‘returns’, lodged with the Commissioner of Lobbying. In cases of conviction for a breach of the rules, sanctions can include fines and imprisonment. The lobbyists’ code of conduct, established in consultation with the lobbying community, is enforced by the Commissioner of Lobbying and provides guidance on access to public office-holders, conflicts of interest, and gifts. However, there are no fines or imprisonment for breaches of this code.

The recent populist backlash against traditional political systems in many countries has put the issue of ethics at the forefront of government attempts to demonstrate that public policy is carried out without undue influence or interference from vested interests. As one of the first four countries in the world to regulate parliamentary lobbying activities, Canada provides an interesting example of legislation aimed at boosting transparency, honesty and integrity in public decision-making. Evolving from the 1989 Lobbyists Registration Act, today’s Lobbying Act lays out the types of activities concerned and the processes of lobbying regulation, including sanctions, leading to a new wave of investigations and rulings. While a decision on the European Commission’s proposal for an obligatory transparency register is awaited, registration with the Registry of Lobbyists in Canada is already mandatory for any individual who is paid to carry out lobbying activities, on their own or on behalf of others. Lobbying activities are considered to include all oral and arranged communications with a public office about legislative proposals, bills, resolutions or grants. Consultant lobbyists must also declare meetings held with public office-holders, and communications they make regarding contracts for grants, on a monthly basis. Reporting takes the form of regular monthly ‘returns’, lodged with the Commissioner of Lobbying. In cases of conviction for a breach of the rules, sanctions can include fines and imprisonment. The lobbyists’ code of conduct, established in consultation with the lobbying community, is enforced by the Commissioner of Lobbying and provides guidance on access to public office-holders, conflicts of interest, and gifts. However, there are no fines or imprisonment for breaches of this code.