Submission shows Canada a leader in transparency & accountability

Ottawa, ON – February 16, 2012 – Hill+Knowlton Strategies Canada (H+K) today presented five recommendations to strengthen Canada’s Lobbying Act to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. The recommendations were made in Ottawa to the Committee undertaking a five year statutory review of the Lobbying Act.

Mike Coates, President and CEO of H+K and Elizabeth Roscoe, Senior Vice President Government Relations and National Practice Leader of the Public Affairs Practice, presented H+K’s recommendations as well research undertaken with H+K’s Washington, London and Brussels offices.

“At H+K we believe lobbying is a fundamental right, produces more informed public policy decisions and is ultimately in the public interest for citizens and for government.” said Mike Coates. “Our main message today is we welcome tougher enforcement because we want everyone to engage with the same high standards of conduct.”

“H+K’s five recommendations would strengthen the Act and provide certainty for lobbyists as well as those who rely on their services,” added Elizabeth Roscoe. “We believe our suggested approach which provides for greater powers of enforcement, closes loopholes, and moves to a quarterly update of registrations will maintain transparency, provide consistency and ultimately strengthen Canada’s Lobbying Act.”

H+K’s submission demonstrates that Canada’s lobbying legislation, Political Financing Laws and Conflict of Interest Rules are clear and stronger than most other G-8 countries. These findings support the recent presentation made to the Committee by the Commissioner of Lobbying.

Although the 2008 revisions to the Lobbying Act have played an important role in strengthening transparency and accountability, H+K proposes five recommendations that it believes will make the Act more effective. The recommendations will also provide clarity for corporations and NGO’s, the lobbyist community, and the MP’s and Senators and Public Servants who interact with lobbyists.

Five Recommendations to Strengthen the Lobbying Act:

Amend the Act’s Enforcement Powers

H+K supports the Commissioner of Lobbying request for additional enforcement powers. All registered lobbyists should be held to the same standard.

Delete the Designated Public Office Holder (DPOH) Carve-Out

The current legislation has created different rules for former DPOH’s who lobby as in house lobbyists and applies different treatment of the 5 year lobbying ban. Former DPOH’s and are governed by the 5 year lobbying ban cannot become consultant or organization lobbyists and register under the Lobbying Registration process.

On the other hand, in-house corporate lobbyists, affected by the 5 year Federal Accountability Act ban, are allowed to lobby if they self- determine that they lobby no more than 20% of their time.

H+K recommends the Act be amended to remove the significant part of duties test for former DPOH’s thereby clarifying they cannot lobby for the 5 year period as applied to all other DPOH’s.

Clarify Treatment of Corporate Board Members

Under the current Act, external officers of a corporation that are members of a Board of Directors are treated as consultant lobbyists.

H+K recommends Parliament clarify the treatment of outside directors on commercial boards so that they are treated as part of the corporation.

Delete the requirement for monthly communications reports. 

In its submission to the Committee H+K demonstrated that disclosure and transparency are common objectives for governments in the US, EU and the UK, and that none of these jurisdictions requires monthly communication reports. The monthly communication report is a secondary report that provides no further clarity on the issue or subject matter than originally identified in the primary registration.

In the interest of transparency and efficiency, H+K recommends registered lobbyists be required to update the primary return quarterly. This recommendation is more consistent with the accepted norms of commercial confidentiality.

Affirm Registered Lobbyists Ability to Engage in Volunteer Political Activity    

The ability for registered lobbyists to freely participate in political campaigns should be clear and unequivocal.

H+K’s submission shows that the UK, EU and the US treat lobbying and volunteer political activity much different than Canada. Furthermore, unlike the US, Canada prohibits corporate donations.

H+K recommends that the OCL’s Lobbyists Code of Conduct reflect the same principles found in the Public Service Employment Act, which allows public servants to participate in the political process like all Canadians.