Annual Report 2010–2011

Fostering transparent lobbying activities

Transparency in lobbying activities is a key objective of the Lobbying Act (the Act). Public office holders and the public should know who is engaged in lobbying activities with the federal government. To that end, the Act mandates that the Commissioner of Lobbying establish and maintain a Registry of Lobbyists (the Registry), which is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week on my Office's website.

The Registry discloses details about who is being paid to communicate with federal public office holders and on what subject matter. It is the central source of information about individuals, not-for-profit organizations and for-profit corporations who lobby the federal government by communicating with elected officials or public servants. Over 5,000 lobbyists are registered with my Office, and, as the table below demonstrates, this number has remained relatively stable over the past few years.

Active lobbyists by type — as of March 31
  2011 2010 2009
Consultant lobbyists 814 753 873
In-house lobbyists (corporations) 1,808 1,791 1,817
In-house lobbyists (organizations) 2,507 2,725 2,936
Total registered individual lobbyists (all types) 5,129 5,269 5,626
Active registrations by category — as of March 31
  2011 2010 2009
Consultant lobbyists (one registration per client) 2,136 2,229 2,253
Corporations 311 291 303
Organizations 484 434 487
Total active registrations (all categories) 2,931 2,954 3,043

The information contained in the Registry includes:

  • who lobbies for which firms, corporations, organizations or associations;
  • which parent and subsidiary companies or corporations benefit from lobbying activities;
  • the organizational members of coalition groups;
  • a general description of the subject matter of lobbying activities, as well as some details;
  • which Government of Canada departments or agencies are being contacted;
  • the names and descriptions of the specific legislative proposals, bills, regulations, policies, programs of interest and grants, contributions or contracts sought;
  • the positions former public office holders have held within the Government of Canada before they started lobbying; and
  • information regarding oral and arranged communications with designated public office holders.

The information contained in the Registry is publicly available online and is searchable by users at no cost. In addition to providing individual registrations, the system can produce standard reports that demonstrate such information as: the number of active lobbyists by type of lobbyist, the number of active registrations by type, the number of active registrations listing each subject matter, or the number of active registrations listing each federal government institution. It is also possible to generate a list of recent registrations, singling out new, updated or reactivated registrations, as well as registrations that have been terminated during the previous 30 days.

In accordance with the Act, registrants must disclose oral and arranged communications with designated public office holders (DPOHs) on a monthly basis. The Act defines DPOHs as senior federal government decision-makers, including ministers, their staff, deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers. The Act also gives the Governor in Council the authority to further designate positions as DPOH by way of regulation. In July 2008, 11 positions were so designated, including seven senior positions in the Canadian Armed Forces, two classes of positions in the Privy Council Office, and the Comptroller General of Canada.

In September 2010, the Regulations were amended to expand the DPOH sub-category to include Members of the House of Commons and the Senate. These amendments resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of communication reports submitted by lobbyists, as demonstrated in the chart below. I believe that the reporting of these communications enhances the transparency of lobbying activities at the federal level. The Registration system is robust and is handling the significant increase in the volume of communication reporting with ease.

Figure 1: Number of oral and arranged communications disclosed, by month
Number of oral and arranged communications disclosed, by month Description of Figure 1

Processing registrations faster

The information submitted by lobbyists in their initial registrations is reviewed by my Office for completeness and certified by the registrant for accuracy. In the interest of transparency, it is crucial that the information disclosed in a registration be made available publicly as soon as possible. To that end, significant efforts were dedicated this year to reduce processing times in order to accelerate the posting of registrations in the Registry. Processes have been simplified and streamlined with a view to ensuring that registrations are completed and published in the Registry faster and more efficiently.

As a result, the average processing time for initial registrations over the course of one year was reduced from more than 20 days to three days. I believe that this greatly improves transparency of lobbying activities at the federal level because information on federal lobbying activities is made available to Canadians sooner. Service standards for registration processing times have also been updated and implemented, and will be reported on in future annual reports.

Ensuring the integrity of the Registry data

The Registry of Lobbyists is a database that contains extensive information on lobbying activities conducted at the federal level since 1996. This past year, my Office has worked on developing protocols and quality assurance programs to ensure the integrity of the data contained in the Registry.

For example, a number of registrations containing what are referred to as "orphan" subject matters or government institutions have been identified. These "orphans" refer to a new subject matter or government institution added by registrants through a monthly communication report without amending the initial registration it related to, as required by the Act. Communication reports only disclose the broad subject matter being discussed, whereas initial registrations contain a range of details relating to that same subject matter, such as a description and title of a bill, policy or program, etc. A new feature was added to the Registry to require that registrants update their initial registrations when adding a new subject matter or government institution via a monthly communication report. This translates into improved transparency since it facilitates adherence to the requirements of the Act and, in particular, requires disclosure of the details relating to subject matters.

As part of its ongoing quality assurance program, my Office also realized that in some instances, the disclosure of the interests being represented by lobbyists was not entirely transparent. Some consultant lobbyists are being 'sub-contracted' by lobbying firms to undertake lobbying activities and represent a third party, the ultimate client. The Act currently requires consultant lobbyists to disclose their 'client', which could be interpreted to be the consulting firm which has, in fact, hired the lobbyist, rather than the client he or she ultimately represents. In the interest of transparency, I adopted the practice of requiring consultant lobbyists to disclose both the lobbying firm for which they are working directly as well as the client they ultimately represent. In my March 2011 submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics1, I recommended that the Act be amended to make explicit the requirement for consultant lobbyists to disclose both the firm hiring them and the client they are ultimately representing.

Rigorous testing has always been undertaken whenever changes were made to the Lobbyists Registration System. Nevertheless, as a result of a coding error discovered in one of our online Statistical Reports in August 2010, I implemented measures to strengthen our quality assurance program. Upon discovering the error, my Office took steps to improve the testing of the system, and introduced enhanced data integrity checks. In addition, an internal audit of the registry system is planned for 2011–2012.

Strengthening standards for client service

I am proud of the quality of the services my Office provides to registrants and their efforts to continually improve it. Service standards are key to monitoring the performance of the organization and represent a valuable internal management tool. This year, client service standards were updated and expanded to provide a more cost-effective and efficient registration process. The revised standards will be implemented in 2011–2012.

According to our adopted service standards, my Office will aim to:

  • activate user accounts within 24 hours upon receipt of a completed Registrant User Agreement;
  • approve or provide feedback on registrations within three business days;
  • answer telephone calls received during business hours within 30 seconds, 80% of the time;
  • respond to phone messages within 24 hours;
  • acknowledge receipt of e-mail inquiries within 24 hours; and
  • respond to less complex e-mail inquiries within two business days, and within 14 calendar days to more complex questions.

In 2010–2011, a new call distribution and management system was implemented to respond more effectively to the needs of clients. As a result, more calls are being answered directly by Registration Advisors, rather than being sent to voicemail. One of the useful features of the system is that it allows callers to directly access their designated Registration Advisor. I believe this helps to simplify the registration process.

Using the information in the Registry more broadly

Monthly communication reports, which were introduced by the Lobbying Act, have made a wealth of new information regarding communications between lobbyists and senior federal government decision-makers available to Canadians. The reports provide timely information on who is lobbying high-level public office holders, and regarding which subject matter. This information increases transparency by providing a more complete picture of lobbying activities conducted at the federal level. With the expansion of the category of designated public office holder in September 2010, Canadians are now more aware when Members of Parliament and Senators have oral and arranged communications with registered lobbyists, and the subject matter of these discussions. Together with the extensive and detailed information contained in initial registrations submitted by lobbyists, these reports serve Canadians well in understanding the extent of lobbying activities conducted at the federal level. Media articles often reference the Registry of Lobbyists, and use the information contained within it to describe lobbying activities.

Responding to increased requests for Registry data

The current trend towards open government has resulted in an increased demand for my Office to provide Registry information in alternative formats. In 2010–2011, my Office responded to nine separate requests from media and academics for large-scale datasets of Registry information. The growing number of requests suggests that, while the availability of Registry data is contributing to increased transparency of lobbying activities, it is not structured in a way that readily allows for easy large-scale analysis. That is why my Office is working to determine how to organize the Registry data most effectively in order to facilitate analytical work, from which all Canadians may benefit.

Improving transparency

The requirement for lobbyists to disclose their communications with designated public office holders enhances the transparency of lobbying activities. In 2010–2011, 11,098 communications were reported by lobbyists, an average of 925 per month. However, there is still room for improvement in this regard. In my March 2011 submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, I highlighted four areas where the Lobbying Act could be amended to further improve transparency.

First, the Lobbying Act currently requires corporations (for-profit) and organizations (not-for-profit) to be registered only once the threshold set by the significant part of duties test is met (currently interpreted as 20 percent of the equivalent of one person's time over a one-month period). If these lobbyists determine that they do not meet the threshold, they do not have to register. The Registry will, therefore, contain no information about their lobbying activities. As well, their oral and arranged communications with DPOHs are not required to be disclosed in monthly communication reports. For this reason, I recommended to Parliament that the provisions regarding the 'significant part of duties' be removed from the Act to require that all corporations and organizations register their lobbying activities. I further recommended that exemptions for some be considered to avoid creating an undue burden.

Second, the Act requires that monthly communication reports currently list the name of the DPOH with whom the communication took place and the name of the senior officer of a corporation or organization who is responsible for filing the registration. The Act does not require that the names of the in-house lobbyists who actually participated in the oral and arranged communication with the DPOH be listed in the monthly communication report. I, therefore, recommended that the Act be amended to require corporations and organizations to list the names of the lobbyists present during the communication as well as the name of the most senior officer.

Third, the Act currently requires lobbyists to file a monthly communication report only when the oral and arranged communication is initiated by the lobbyist. Communications relating to the awarding of grants, contributions or other financial benefits must be reported regardless of whether the lobbyist or the POH initiated the communication. For consultant lobbyists, this is also the case for communications relating to the awarding of a contract. I recommended that lobbyists be required to disclose all oral communications with DPOHs about prescribed subject matters, regardless of who initiates them.

Finally, the Lobbyists Registration Regulations prescribe that for the purposes of monthly communication reports, lobbyists should report all "oral and arranged" communications with DPOHs. I recommended that this provision be changed to require lobbyists to report all oral communications about prescribed subject matters, whether or not they were arranged in advance. This change would positively impact transparency since so-called 'chance' meetings between lobbyists and DPOHs, where prescribed subject matters are discussed, would be reportable.

1 – Karen E. Shepherd, "Administering the Lobbying Act — Observations and Recommendations Based on the Experience of the Last Five Years". Return to text