Commissioner’s Advice for Post-secondary Institutions Subject to the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct (Rule 10 – Gifts)

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

When post-secondary institutions are required to register under the Lobbying Act, all employees who lobby are subject to the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct. The purpose of this document is to explore several context-specific instances in which employees of post-secondary institutions interact with public office holders. It provides specific advice to post-secondary institutions in the area of gifts in order to assist them in avoiding the creation of conflicts of interest.

Rule 6 of the Code states that:

A lobbyist shall not propose or undertake any action that would place a public office holder in a real or apparent conflict of interest.

Rule 10 of the Code states that:

To avoid the creation of a sense of obligation, a lobbyist shall not provide a or promise a gift, favour or 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. For clarity, this definition would include any meals or tickets to events. There are exceptions provided in the Commissioner’s guidance on Rule 10 when gifts would generally be permitted.

Post-secondary institution-specific events (including convocation, honorary degree/doctorate ceremonies, alumni events)

Post-secondary institutions hold a number of events that are specific to their functions as institutions of higher learning. Because members of Parliament have a representative role to play, they may be invited to attend such events at post-secondary institutions in their riding or region. In addition, public office holders who are alumni of a particular post-secondary institution may also be invited to participate in alumni activities.

Commissioner’s advice

  • Offering an invitation to members of Parliament to such events, in their capacity as elected representatives for that community or region is acceptable.
  • If all alumni are invited to an alumni event free of charge, there is no risk that a sense of obligation would be created when a public office holder who is an alumnus/alumna attends. In determining whether to invite a public office holder free of charge when this is not the case for all, post-secondary institutions should consider whether that public office holder is being lobbied or may be lobbied in future. If this is the case, the Commissioner encourages post-secondary institutions to exercise caution.

Public policy discussions and accompanying dinners

Public office holders and post-secondary institutions engage regularly on matters of public policy that are relevant to Canadian citizens. Post-secondary institutions may sponsor public policy discussions and/or tables at events that encourage dialogue by bringing together participants in the public policy space.

Commissioner’s advice

  • When hosting public policy discussions that include a meal, post-secondary institutions must ensure that no conflict of interest is created for public office holders in attendance. During such discussions, meals or refreshments offered to public office holders attending in an official capacity, who are playing an active role in the meeting, should be seen to be a normal expression of courtesy or protocol, and in line with the public office holders’ own conflict of interest rules. When in doubt as to the acceptability of a gift, the post-secondary institution should ask the public office holder if the meal is something they can accept.
  • When sponsoring a table at such an event, the post-secondary institutions should not offer tickets free of charge to any public office holder they are lobbying or will lobby. Charging the public office holder the actual cost of the ticket, as per the Commissioner’s guidance on Rule 10 of the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct, will suffice to prevent the creation of a conflict of interest for that public office holder.

Deputy Minister University Champion Initiative

This initiative was launched in 2002, with a view to strengthening the relationship between Canadian universities and the federal government. The Clerk of the Privy Council is responsible for partnering universities and deputy ministers. Deputy ministers (DMs) are tasked with building relationships between the Government of Canada and universities in order to identify shared priorities, align university research/curricula with federal public service priorities, promote and facilitate exchanges on public policies and programs, as well as build awareness of career opportunities in the federal public service.

Commissioner’s advice

  • Communications between university representatives and their assigned DM Champion that fall under the University Champion Initiative are not considered registrable lobbying activity. Meals provided during interactions that take place in the context of the University Champion Initiative would be considered expressions of courtesy or protocol, given that the DM is fulfilling official duties. As such, they would not be seen as creating a conflict of interest for the deputy minister.

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 individuals who lobby on behalf of post-secondary institutions have further questions about how to avoid creating a conflict of interest for a public office holder, they should contact:

Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada

255 Albert Street
10th Floor
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 6A9
Tel.: 613-957-2760
Fax: 613-957-3078

Karen E. Shepherd
Commissioner of Lobbying
May 2016