Grass-Roots Lobbying Interpretation Updated, New Restrictions Proposed for Former Public Office Holders in B.C.
Lobbying law in Canada is constantly evolving, with new developments occurring monthly. Two such recent developments include the release of an updated interpretation bulletin by the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada (Commissioner) on grass-roots lobbying in Canada and a proposed prohibition on lobbying by former public office holders in British Columbia.
COMMISSIONER’S INTERPRETATION OF GRASS-ROOTS LOBBYING IN CANADA
The Commissioner recently released an updated bulletin on her interpretation of “grass-roots communication” (commonly referred to as “grass-roots lobbying”) under section 5(2)(j) of the federal Lobbying Act (Updated Bulletin). The Updated Bulletin expands on the Commissioner’s previous interpretation of grass-roots lobbying released in May 2016.
Updated Bulletin’s Purpose
The Updated Bulletin explains that individuals paid for their “significant involvement” in grass-roots communication campaigns may have to be registered as lobbyists under the Lobbying Act, even if their activities or calls to action do not include direct communication with public office holders. The term “significant involvement” somewhat narrows the scope of the registrable activity for grass-roots lobbying. Previously, the Commissioner had stated that “paid lobbyists involved in grass-roots communication campaigns may be required to register even if their activities do not include direct communication with public office holders.” Under the Updated Bulletin, the paid lobbyists must have significant involvement in grass-roots communication campaigns.
The Updated Bulletin states that “significant involvement” is to be determined by the type and extent of the activities undertaken, as well as by the visibility of individuals in the lobbying campaign; and may include any combination of strategic and operational activities. Strategic activities include, but are not limited to:
- Approving elements of a grass-roots lobbying campaign
- Providing advice about a grass-roots lobbying campaign
- Undertaking research and analysis for a grass-roots lobbying campaign
- Drafting messages for a grass-roots lobbying campaign
- Preparing content and materials for a grass-roots lobbying campaign.
Operational activities include, but are not limited to:
- Disseminating content and materials (e.g., delivering printed documents, hosting websites)
- Interacting with members of the public (e.g., answering telephones calls, replying to correspondence, responding to online comments, making presentations)
- Day-to-day management of a grass-roots lobbying campaign.
Consultant and In-House Lobbyists Undertaking Grass-Roots Lobbying
The Commissioner’s interpretation of the registration requirement for in-house lobbyists undertaking grass-roots lobbying remains unchanged — registration is required where lobbying activities undertaken by paid employees of organizations or corporations, including grass-roots lobbying, constitutes a significant part of the duties of one employee or would constitute a significant part of the duties of one employee if they were performed by one employee. However, the Commissioner clarifies in the Updated Bulletin that, in respect of grass-roots lobbying, these duties may include “time spent by employees on research, analysis, preparation and approval of grass-roots lobbying campaigns”.
The Updated Bulletin states that the registration requirement under the Lobbying Act applies to consultant lobbyists where an individual undertakes any combination of strategic and operational activities in grass-roots lobbying (described above), for payment, on behalf of a client, with respect to a registrable topic. A registrable topic is defined under section 5(1)(a) of the Lobbying Act as:
- The development of any legislative proposal by the Canadian government or by a member of the Senate or the House of Commons
- The introduction of any bill or resolution in either House of Parliament or the passage, defeat or amendment of any bill or resolution that is before either House of Parliament
- The making or amendment of any regulation as defined in subsection 2(1) of the Statutory Instruments Act
- The development or amendment of any policy or program of the Canadian government
- The awarding of any grant, contribution or other financial benefit by, or on behalf of, the Queen in right of Canada
- The awarding of any contract by, or on behalf of, the Queen in right of Canada (consultant lobbyists only).
Restrictions on Grass-roots Lobbying by Former Designated Public Office Holders
The Lobbying Act establishes a five-year post-employment prohibition on lobbying for former designated public office holders. The Updated Bulletin sets out that in the context of grass-roots lobbying, former designated public office holders subject to the prohibition may not interact directly with members of the public, but may participate in strategic activities.
PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO THE B.C. LOBBYISTS REGISTRATION ACT
In early October, the Government of British Columbia proposed amendments to the Lobbyists Registration Act that would provide a sweeping prohibition on lobbying by former public office holders. The proposed prohibition would ban former public office holders and their senior staff from lobbying government, in relation to any matter, for two years after leaving government, although the Registrar of Lobbyists would have the discretion to grant an exemption from the prohibition if it is deemed in the public’s interest. Under the proposed amendments, a “former public office holder” includes:
- A former member of the executive council and any individual formerly employed in the former member’s office, other than administrative support staff
- A former parliamentary secretary
- Any individual who formerly occupied:
- A senior executive position in a ministry, whether by the title of deputy minister, chief executive officer or another title
- The position of associate deputy minister, assistant deputy minister or a position of comparable rank in a ministry
- A prescribed position in a provincial entity.
Currently, the Lobbyists Registration Act is silent on the participation of former public office holders serving as lobbyists in British Columbia. As described by the B.C. attorney general, proposed amendments aim to “increase transparency and eliminate the potential for undue influence or use of insider information by lobbyists…and ensure that knowledge is not used or sold for private gain after employment with the Province ends.” If enacted, the proposed amendments would bring the B.C. Lobbyists Registration Act in line with other provinces and the federal Lobbying Act, which already have lobbying prohibitions of varying time periods for former public office holders.
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