Today, H+K Strategies CEO, Mike Coates, and I appeared before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. We take seriously the rules that govern our profession and the opportunity to provide recommendations to improve the Lobbying Act. The committee is charged with a five year review of the rules that govern lobbyists – consultants, corporate and organizational lobbyists. To situate our corporate interest one third of H+K’s business is in the public affairs area – two thirds of our business is in the corporate communications and marketing field.
At the outset, we made the point that lobbying is a fundamental right, produces more informed public policy decisions and is in the public interest. MP Dean del Mastro repeated a statement that we heard from others , that lobbyists play a constructive role and assist the public policy process along with building a bridge between business, non-government organizations and government.
Our interest in appearing before the committee was to influence two key areas – to ensure consistent application of the rules and to recommend that Parliament provide increased powers of enforcement to the Commissioner of Lobbying. Fundamentally H+K welcomes tougher enforcement rules as we want everyone to engage in lobbying with the same high standards of conduct.
With greater powers of enforcement, we also recommended that the Committee lighten the regulatory burden, close loopholes, clarify the treatment of corporate board members and affirm the rights of lobbyists to participate as volunteers in political campaigns.
Regulating lobbyists has come a long way in Canada. We have more stringent reporting requirements and more stringent restraint on political involvement than many other countries including the US, the UK and the EU.
MPs have now concluded the formal hearings – with the Commissioner of Lobbying appearing as the last witness. The committee has an opportunity to shape and improve the Act. They have heard from lobbyists, from the Canadian Bar Association, from critics and from provincial governments. With the foundation of transparency and consistency, we believe the Lobbying Act should continue to reflect the principal of free and open access to government.
Elizabeth Roscoe is the national practice leader for public affairs.