Federal Accountability Action Plan, April 2006
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Toughening the Lobbyists Registration Act
- A five-year ban on lobbying for ministers, ministerial staffers, and senior public servants after they leave office
- A ban on the payment and receipt of success or contingency fees
- Requirements that contacts with senior public-office holders be recorded
- A new, independent Commissioner of Lobbying with a strong mandate to investigate violations under the new Lobbying Act and Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct
- A longer period under which lobbying violations can be investigated and prosecuted
There are more than 4,700 lobbyists registered with the Government of Canada- approximately 700 are individual consultant lobbyists, with the remainder representing 270 corporations and 375 organizations.
Why we are doing this
Individuals, organizations, and businesses have the right to communicate with decision makers to provide them with information and views on issues that are important to them. Lobbying is a legitimate part of our democratic system, but it must be done ethically and transparently. It is important that Canadians have the opportunity to know who is lobbying public-office holders, and in what context.
The current Lobbyists Registration Act provides for the public registration of individuals who are paid to communicate with public-office holders about government decisions. All information collected under the Lobbyists Registration Act and its regulation is a matter of public record. The objective of the registration system is to ensure that the general public and public-office holders know who is being paid to communicate with public-office holders regarding government decisions.
Parliamentarians and others, however, have identified weaknesses with the Lobbyists Registration Act. It has been noted, for example, that compliance with registration requirements is low, that the information disclosed is insufficient, and that the Registrar lacks the necessary independence, powers, and resources to conduct effective investigations of possible infractions under the Lobbyists Registration Act. Together, these factors have increased perceptions of conflict of interest in the relationships between public-office holders and lobbyists, and have raised concerns that privileged access to government is reserved for a chosen few.
The Federal Accountability Act will introduce the following changes:
- The Act will establish a new Commissioner of Lobbying as an independent Agent of Parliament.
- It will provide the Commissioner with enhanced investigatory powers and mandate to enforce compliance with the proposed Lobbying Act. The Commissioner will be able
- verify information on contacts with senior public-office holders that lobbyists submit, and display that information on a Web site;
- ask senior public-office holders to verify the accuracy and completeness of contact report information that lobbyists submit and, if necessary, report to Parliament the names of those who do not respond;
- conduct expanded investigations, including the power to summon and compel persons to produce documents relevant to any investigation of possible infractions under the Lobbying Act or the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct;
- prohibit any lobbyist convicted of any offence from communicating with the Government as a paid lobbyist for up to two years, if the Commissioner deems it to be in the public interest;
- publish the names of violators in reports before Parliament; and
- undertake expanded outreach, education, and communications activities to foster understanding and awareness of the requirements with the public, lobbyists and their clients, and public-office holders.
- It will require lobbyists to record registrable activities with senior public-office holders, including with whom they met, when, and on what specific subject, plus any other information that may be prescribed in regulation. To minimize the administrative burden, the Government, through regulations, will limit these activities to prearranged forms of communication—specifically, in-person meetings and telephone calls. These are the most important forms of communication through which lobbyists conduct business with public officials.
- It will prohibit ministers, ministerial staffers, and senior public servants from registering and lobbying the Government of Canada for five years after leaving office. To ensure fairness, the Commissioner will have the authority to exempt certain individuals from this ban (for example, administrative staff or students employed in a minister’s office, or individuals from the private sector who work in the public service for a period on executive interchange), consistent with criteria set out in legislation.
- It will ban any payment or other benefit that is contingent on the outcome of any consultant lobbyist’s activity. As a complementary measure, the Government will amend the Financial Administration Act to require that all government contracts and agreements contain provisions that prohibit the payment of contingency fees to a lobbyist specific to that transaction.
- It will extend from 2 to 10 years the period during which possible infractions or violations under the Lobbying Act and the Code can be investigated and prosecution can be initiated. Within this 10-year period, the Commissioner will have to complete investigations within 5 years of the time he or she becomes aware of the possible infraction or violation.
- It will double the criminal monetary penalties for lobbyists who fail to comply with the requirements of the Lobbying Act.
These changes will give the Commissioner of Lobbying the independence and necessary powers to ensure that lobbying is done in a transparent and ethical way. Canadians will have easy access, through the Internet, to information about lobbying activities. They will be reassured that former senior public-office holders do not use their personal connections to obtain special favours from government once they leave office, and that conflict of interest situations do not arise while they hold office. These changes will ensure that recipients of taxpayer money do not use it to reward lobbyists, and that unregistered lobbyists are effectively investigated and prosecuted.
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