The job of the Canadian Commissioner of Lobbying is to ensure that lobbyists abide by a code of ethics, particularly with regards to any favours they may provide to officials in the hope of influencing policy-making. In November 2022, Commissioner Nancy Bélanger announced her intention to amend the Lobbyist Code of Conduct to make it more comprehensible and thus more enforceable. This sparked opposition, resulting in House Ethics Committee meetings, including one on Feb. 14.
Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch, is set to testify on behalf of 27 citizen groups. He told The Epoch Times ahead of the committee meeting that Bélanger was “gutting” the rules and that her amendments would allow for “corrupt favour-trading”. For example, he said, the current rule prohibits a lobbyist who has significantly helped an official get elected from lobbying that official for a full election cycle (four years) in order to put distance between the favour (campaign help) and the lobbyist’s request for policy action. Bélanger’s new rules reduce this cooling-off period to two, one, or zero years, depending on the circumstances.
Conacher argued that this would mean that a person who raises $45,000 for a minister’s riding association could send the minister an email showing how much money was raised and then go lobby the minister right away, as long as they had limited contact with the minister while fundraising and did the fundraising work less than “near-full-time”.
Bélanger sought legal advice from Goldblatt Partners LLP regarding possible infringements upon Charter rights when limiting lobbyists. The lawyers told her that restricting lobbyists from approaching certain officials could infringe upon the right to work, the right to participate in the democratic process, and freedom of expression. Bélanger said her restrictions of a one or two-year cooling-off period could be justified. However, Democracy Watch has requested that the House Ethics Committee force the Commissioner to make the Goldblatt opinion public.
At the end of March, Bélanger hopes the new code will be in place. After the Feb. 14 meeting, more meetings are expected for other concerned groups to testify, after which a 30-day public comment period will be required before any changes become final. During the comment period on a previous iteration of the code last spring, 63 stakeholders shared submissions.
One common point of concern was the limit Bélanger set on gifts and hospitality (food, drink) that can be offered to officials. Bélanger had proposed a limit of $30 per year on how much each lobbyist could spend on each official, but this was deemed “unreasonable and unworkable” by the Canadian Labour Congress. Bélanger raised the amount in her revisions to $80 per year. Conacher argued that if more than $80 is thought to create a conflict of interest, then surely raising tens of thousands of dollars for an official or their party would also create a conflict of interest.