Commissioner’s Guidance for lobbyists regarding the application of Rule 10 of the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct – Gifts
Guidance current to and last amended on . Previous Version.
This guidance does not reduce the responsibility of lobbyists to ask themselves the following questions, before providing or promising a gift, favour or other benefit to a public office holder: “Am I lobbying this public office holder? Will I lobby them later? Would a reasonable person look at the provision of this gift, favour or other benefit and consider that it was given in an attempt to influence the public office holder”? If the answers to these questions are “yes”, in order to avoid the creation of a conflict of interest, the lobbyists should not provide or promise the gift, favour, or other benefit.
Purpose of Commissioner’s Guidance
Federal public office holders are required to make decisions in the public interest. When public office holders are placed in a conflict of interest, public confidence in the integrity of their decision making is diminished.
The purpose of this document is to provide guidance for lobbyists in the area of gifts, so that they may avoid placing a public office holder in a real or apparent conflict of interest. Public office holders should always consult the appropriate authority when they have questions about the acceptability of a gift from a lobbyist, be that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Senate Ethics Officer, or their departmental Values and Ethics Officer.
Conflict of interest
A conflict of interest is a situation where an individual’s judgment is influenced, or might be influenced, from making decisions in an organization’s best interest due to a competing sense of obligation. A conflict of interest is created when there is a perception that a public office holder’s private interests may influence their performance when carrying out their duties.
Rule 6 of the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct states:
A lobbyist shall not propose or undertake any action that would place a public office holder in a real or apparent conflict of interest.1
Providing or promising a gift, favour, or other benefit to a public office holder could create a sense of obligation, or the appearance of one. This could in turn generate a tension between the public office holder’s primary duty to the public interest and their private interest. To prevent such a situation, Rule 10 of the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct states:
To avoid the creation of a sense of obligation, a lobbyist shall not provide or promise a gift, favour, or other benefit to a public office holder whom they are lobbying or will lobby, which the public office holder is not allowed to accept.
Definition of “gift”
The Commissioner defines “gift” to include anything of value, given for free or at a reduced rate, when there is no obligation to repay.2
Documents that set out the acceptability of gifts for public office holders
Examples of documents that lobbyists could consult include:
- Conflict of Interest Act (applies to Ministers, Ministers of State, Parliamentary Secretaries, their staff, and GIC appointees, including Deputy Ministers)3
- Conflict of Interest Code for Members (applies to Members of Parliament)4
- Ethics and Conflict of Interest Code for Senators
- Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector
- Organizational Values and Ethics Codes5
When is a gift allowed?
Given the rules in place governing the acceptability of gifts, there are some exceptions when gifts would be acceptable. These exceptions are typically when gifts are expressions of courtesy, protocol or hospitality provided when a public office holder is carrying out job-related duties. Examples include:
- Refreshments/meals served at an event where the public office holder has a role to play. These circumstances could include ceremonial or presentational roles, or active participation by a public office holder as a representative of the government, or a federal department or agency.
- Tickets to a public event such as a community event or charitable fundraiser given by event organizers to a Member of Parliament for events in their riding or region.
- A gift given following an appearance, speech, or presentation as a token of thanks or appreciation.
Gifts that are not allowed
If a lobbyist is actively lobbying or will lobby a public office holder, gifts, including meals and tickets to events, other than the exceptions listed above, are most likely unacceptable.
Lobbyists are cautioned against providing public office holders whom they are lobbying or will lobby with tickets to charitable or other events, when these tickets are at a reduced cost or no cost. The provision of such a ticket may reasonably be viewed as creating a sense of obligation on the part of a public office holder, and therefore risks creating a conflict of interest for the public office holder.
Charging the public office holder the actual cost of the ticket (i.e., the cost the lobbyist paid for the ticket or, if the cost of the ticket price included a charitable receipt, the cost of the ticket minus the amount of the charitable receipt) means that no gift has been offered, and therefore no sense of obligation has been created.
The Commissioner of Lobbying recognizes that the rules governing the acceptability of gifts for public office holders may not always be clear. When in doubt as to the acceptability of a gift, the lobbyist should ask the public office holder if the gift is something the public office holder can accept.
Commissioner’s advice regarding receptions for Parliamentarians
If a lobbyist or a corporation or organization organizes a reception to which Parliamentarians (members of Parliament and Senators) are invited, they should consider the risk posed by inviting Parliamentarians they are lobbying, or will lobby. It is the Commissioner of Lobbying’s view that meeting all three conditions listed below when inviting Parliamentarians will mitigate the risk of creating a sense of obligation, or the appearance of one:
- All members of Parliament and/or the Senate are invited;
- The total cost of any gifts provided or promised is reasonable (including food, beverages, and any other objects offered to the attendees); and
- The invitation is not accompanied by any information related to lobbying activity nor is there lobbying at the event.
In determining whether to invite Parliamentarians that a lobbyist, corporation, or organization is lobbying, the Commissioner encourages lobbyists to exercise caution.
Consult the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying
It is the Commissioner’s intention to help lobbyists reduce the risk that their activities will create a tension, or even the appearance of one, between the private interest and the public duty of public office holders with whom they interact.
If you have further questions about how to avoid creating a conflict of interest for a public office holder, please contact:
Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada
255 Albert Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H2
Karen E. Shepherd
Commissioner of Lobbying
4 – The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner has issued advisory opinions for Members of Parliament regarding the acceptability of gifts offered in conjunction with lobby days, the acceptability of event tickets and invitations, and the acceptability of gifts offered at events. Return to text
5 – All departments are required to develop a Values and Ethics Code. Some departments have posted their Codes on their websites. Return to text
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