Annual Report 2010–2011

Reaching out to build awareness

The Lobbying Act (the Act) provides the Commissioner of Lobbying with an explicit mandate to develop and implement educational programs to foster public awareness of the requirements of the Act, on the part of lobbyists, their clients and public office holders (POHs).

Improving compliance through education and awareness

I believe that communicating the rationale and requirements of the Act leads to better compliance. In 2010–2011, my staff and I met with nearly 1,500 individuals, including lobbyists, public office holders, parliamentarians and their staff, counterparts, academics and university students. In addition, I appeared four times before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, and once before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, to provide members of these committees with information about my work, including my investigation process. In support of the statutory legislative review of the Act, I submitted a report in March 2011 to highlight key aspects of my experience in administering the Act and the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct (the Code) since 2005. The report also provides my recommendations for amendments to the Lobbying Act. I recommended that the education and awareness mandate remain in the Act.

Gathering information through outreach

I believe that feedback received from stakeholders during outreach activities is important in ensuring that the information products provided by my Office meet their needs. In 2010–2011, a focus was applied to identifying recurring issues and questions raised during meetings with stakeholders. This analysis contributed to informing my recommendations about possible amendments to the Act.

For example, the requirement for organizations and corporations to register only when lobbying activities constitute a "significant part of duties" is complex and requires concerted effort to explain. For this reason (and others related to the enforcement of this provision of the legislation), I recommended that it be removed from the Act and that consideration be given to providing exemptions to some in order to avoid undue burden.

Similarly, what constitutes an 'arranged' communication with a designated public office holder (DPOH) is often misunderstood in practice by lobbyists and public office holders alike, and it is a requirement that I am regularly asked to explain during my presentations. It is my opinion that in determining which communications should be disclosed, confusion would be reduced if the Regulations were amended to require lobbyists to report oral communications with DPOHs, regardless of whether they are arranged in advance or not.

Communicating with lobbyists

Significant effort and resources are devoted to communicating and sharing information with lobbyists about the requirements of the Act and the Code. In 2010–2011, my Office continued to respond to inquiries from lobbyists seeking clarification of various aspects of the Act, the related Regulations and the Code.

My staff and I met with several associations representing lobbyists, both consultant and in-house, including the Government Relations Institute of Canada, the Public Affairs Association of Canada, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and the Canadian Society of Association Executives. These interactions allowed us to provide information and answer questions about the requirements of the Act and share views with lobbyists on the administration of the legislation. These sessions provided lobbyists with opportunities to address issues of concern to them, and helped us identify areas where additional precision would benefit both the administration of, and compliance with the Act and the Code.

In addition, registered lobbyists were provided with information on specific changes to registration requirements during the year, via e-mail. The use of e-mail is a cost-effective approach that complements my website. It allows me to provide timely and important guidance and raise awareness about key aspects of the legislation, with a view to further improving compliance.

Advisory letters

Advisory letters are sent to individuals who appear to be engaging in lobbying activities but who are not registered. This year, 170 individuals, corporations and organizations were subject to compliance verification after my Office's monitoring activities revealed that they were lobbying federal public office holders. The majority (82%) were registered as required by the Act. Further analysis indicated that only five advisory letters needed to be sent to educate and assist potential registrants in determining if they needed to register. One recipient indicated that they were registered. Three responded that they did not meet the 'significant part of duties' threshold for registration set out in the Act. The remaining recipient has yet to reply.

Commissioner's Guidance

Following a Federal Court of Appeal decision issued in March 20092, I issued guidance to lobbyists on Rule 8 (Improper Influence) of the Code, which deals with Conflict of Interest. Following the release of the guidance, several lobbyists expressed a need to better understand how I would assess the issue of political activities as it relates to Rule 8. In response, I issued clarifications about political activities in the context of Rule 8. When the 41st general election was called in March 2011, I sent a message, via e-mail, to all registered lobbyists. This message reminded them that engaging in political activities may risk placing a public office holder in a real, or apparent, conflict of interest. I urged lobbyists to exercise caution and keep in mind that:

  • Working on a political campaign to support the election of a public office holder is, in my opinion, advancing the private interest of that public office holder.
  • A real or apparent conflict of interest can be created when a lobbyist engages in political activities that advance the private interest of a public office holder, while at the same time, or subsequently, seeking to lobby that public office holder.
  • In the case of a minister or minister of state, a real or apparent conflict of interest can be created when a lobbyist engages in political activities that advance the private interest of the minister or minister of state, while at the same time, or subsequently, seeking to lobby public office holders working in the department for which the minister or minister of state is responsible.
  • Temporary deregistration during the election campaign may not be sufficient to avoid creating a real, or apparent, conflict of interest.

Reaction to the guidance has been mixed. A few lobbyists have argued that the guidance was unclear as to what political activities are allowed. Others have expressed appreciation for the reminder and the additional clarifications provided, and have indicated that the guidance enabled them to arrange their affairs appropriately. Some lobbyists have raised concerns that I have placed unfair limits on their right to participate in the democratic process. I have been clear, however, that I recognize the legitimacy and legality of both political activities and registrable lobbying activities. The issue of conflict of interest, and the application of Rule 8 of the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct, may arise when the two types of activities intersect.

Educating public office holders

I believe that federal public office holders, whether they are elected officials or public servants, have a key role to play in ensuring a better understanding of the Lobbying Act and its requirements. When public office holders understand the objectives of the Act, they can contribute to greater compliance by inquiring if the lobbyists they meet are aware of the Act and its requirements.

My staff and I meet regularly with management teams and other officials in departments and agencies across the federal public service. These sessions provide an effective forum for sharing information and views on issues relating to lobbying activities and the requirements of the Act.

This past year, I met with representatives of several Regional Federal Councils in the context of their regularly scheduled meetings. Regional Federal Councils are intended to provide federal officials in the regions with a forum to share views and concerns on issues that are common to the federal departments and agencies located in each region of the country. This series of meetings helped ensure that federal public office holders located outside of the National Capital Region were aware of the requirements of the Act.

Assisting parliamentarians

Photograph of Bruce Bergen, Karen Shepherd, and René Leblanc

The Commissioner of Lobbying is an independent Agent of Parliament and, as such, I report directly to both Houses of Parliament. I appear primarily at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics to report on my activities. In so doing, I endeavour to provide all necessary information to help parliamentarians better understand my mandate under the Act and allow them to appropriately perform their oversight function.

The Designated Public Office Holder Regulations were amended in September 2010 to include Members of Parliament and Senators as designated public office holders (DPOHs). Upon the coming into force of the amended Regulations, I provided the new DPOHs with a broad range of information about the implications of that change in order to help them understand their responsibilities under the Lobbying Act. My Office prepared a document entitled "Ten Things You Should Know about Lobbying", a copy of which was distributed to all Members of Parliament and Senators. I also reached out to all registered lobbyists and reminded them of key aspects of the disclosure requirements for lobbyists, particularly as these related to communications with Members of Parliament and Senators as DPOHs. By invitation, I attended several party caucus meetings in both the House of Commons and the Senate to follow up on the information I provided in writing and answer questions.

Connecting with counterparts

The community that works to ensure that lobbying is conducted in an ethical and transparent manner is relatively small. It is critical to establish and maintain a network to connect federal, provincial and international counterparts in order to share experiences and best practices, and discuss ways to address existing and emerging challenges in various jurisdictions.

In September 2010, the Lobbyists Registrars and Commissioners of Canada held our annual meeting in St. John's, Newfoundland. Representatives from my Office, the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba, as well as the City of Toronto, came together to share experiences from the previous year, and to discuss best practices and challenges. At that meeting, the group determined that it would benefit from more regular contact. As a result, we met again in February 2011 to discuss a number of important issues, such as the value of lobbyists' codes of conduct, and to compare and share views on investigatory powers and processes.

I am active on the international front. Specifically, I attended the annual Council on Governmental Ethics Laws (COGEL) conference in Washington, DC, where I participated in a panel to present my perspective on the federal lobbying regime in Canada. I also shared my views, via teleconference, with representatives of the New South Wales (Australia) Independent Commission against Corruption's inquiry into the corruption risks involved in lobbying.

Reaching out to Canadians through the website

My website is a cost-effective tool to disseminate a broad range of information to lobbyists, public office holders, parliamentarians, media and the general public. The educational material prepared by my Office is updated regularly, and includes:

  • multimedia tutorials that detail the registration process;
  • PowerPoint presentations that highlight the key features of the Lobbying Act;
  • interpretation bulletins and advisory opinions explaining important requirements of the Act; and
  • guidance material on the application of the rules under the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct.

This year, visits to the website increased by 23% — from 89,603 to 110,390. I recognize the importance of communicating through the website, and work has begun to redesign the site with an emphasis on improving navigation. These changes will be implemented in 2011–2012.

Surveying stakeholders

My Office recognizes the need to assess its outreach tools and techniques. A survey has been developed and will be administered to stakeholders in the next fiscal year, with a view to helping target future outreach efforts where they are needed most.

2 – Democracy Watch v. Barry Campbell and the Attorney General of Canada (Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists), 2009 FCA 79. Return to text