Wrapping Up 2019 with Increased Transparency: Updates on Lobbying Regimes and Conflict of Interest Rules

For the last quarter of 2019, certain amendments to the lobbying regime in British Columbia have been proclaimed into force, and changes have been proposed for the lobbying regime and conflict of interest rules in Saskatchewan. Among other things, these upcoming and proposed changes tighten lobbying rules by lowering the annual hourly threshold for registration by in-house lobbyists and adding gift-giving prohibitions from in-house and consultant lobbyists to public office holders.

BRITISH COLUMBIA DEVELOPMENTS

The lobbying regime in British Columbia will change by virtue of Bill 54, Lobbyists Registration Amendment Act, 2018 (B.C. Bill). The B.C. Bill amends the B.C. Lobbyists Registration Act, which will be renamed as the Lobbyists Transparency Act in 2020. To increase transparency and strengthen the lobbying regime in British Columbia, the B.C. Bill introduces significant changes to lobbying laws and received royal assent on November 27, 2018. For more information, please see our December 2018 Blakes Bulletin: Lobbying and Election Finance Reform: Roundup of Recent Developments.

On November 25, 2019, B.C. Reg 235/2019 (OIC 596/19) was filed and proclaimed into force certain sections of the B.C. Bill, effective May 4, 2020. The B.C. Bill repeals the Lobbyists Registration Regulation, B.C. Reg. 284/2002, and enacts the Lobbyists Transparency Regulation, also effective May 4, 2020.

Below is a summary of the key legislative changes:

In-House Lobbying Threshold

The in-house lobbyist 100-hour threshold will be removed. The B.C. Bill also adds exemptions to the qualification of an in-house lobbyist. An individual is not an in-house lobbyist if the individual is:

  • An employee, director or officer of an organization that has fewer than six employees; and
  • Lobbying, either alone or together with other individuals in the organization on behalf of the organization or an affiliate of the organization, for fewer than 50 hours in the prior 12 months. However, if the primary purpose of the organization is to represent the interests of its members, or to promote or oppose the issues, and the lobbying by the individual is for that purpose, the exemption does not apply.

The Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists in B.C. (B.C. Regulator) has confirmed in discussion with Blakes that its view is that all three aspects of the test will have to be met in order to qualify for the in-house lobbyists registration exemption, although it has yet to issue formal guidance to this effect. If this interpretive position is maintained, most organizations will not have the benefit of this threshold.

Relevant Code of Conduct

Lobbyists in British Columbia should also be aware that as of May 4, 2020, each registration return filed must include a declaration by each lobbyist named in a registration return of whether they have an undertaking in place to comply with a relevant code of conduct.

A relevant code of conduct has yet to be released and no organization has been named responsible for its administration.

Gift-giving Prohibitions

Gift-giving prohibitions that prevent both in-house and consultant lobbyists from giving or promising gifts to public office holders are added by the B.C. Bill. The prohibitions are accompanied with a list of exemptions to reflect social obligations that normally attach with the duties and responsibilities of a public officer holder. Furthermore, the B.C. Bill adds that if the total value of the gift or benefit given or promised to the public office holder is less than C$100 in a 12-month period, the gift-giving prohibitions do not apply.

Reporting Requirements

Timing, frequency and form requirements in connection to the filing of returns are amended by the B.C. Bill. As of May 4, 2020, in-house lobbyists will have to complete one initial filing 10 days after the organization first has an in-house lobbyist, and subsequent returns are to be filed for in-house lobbyists no later than 15 days after the end of each month.

Penalties

The B.C. Bill will expand the powers of the registrar to impose prohibitions on lobbying and on filing returns for a period of not more than two years.

PROPOSED AMENDMENTS IN SASKATCHEWAN

The last quarter of 2019 also saw proposed amendments in Saskatchewan to its lobbying regime and conflict of interest rules.

Bill 195, The Lobbyists Amendment Act, 2019 (S.K. Lobbying Bill) received first reading on November 25, 2019, and proposes amendments to the Saskatchewan Lobbyists Act. Similar to British Columbia, the S.K. Lobbying Bill proposes to prohibit both in-house and consulting lobbyists from providing gifts, favours and other benefits to public office holders, unless the gift, favour and/or benefit is less than C$200 and is given as part of protocol or social obligation that attaches to the duties or responsibilities of public office holder. The S.K. Lobbying Bill also proposes to tighten threshold requirements for in-house lobbyists, effectively reducing the required amount from 100 hours to 30 hours. If the S.K. Lobbying Bill is passed, in-house lobbyists who reach 30 hours of lobbying in a year would be required to register with the Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists Saskatchewan.

Bill 196, The Members’ Conflict of Interest Amendment Act (S.K. Conflict of Interest Bill) also received first reading on November 25, 2019, and proposes several amendments to the Saskatchewan Members’ Conflict of Interest Act. Namely, the S.K. Conflict of Interest Bill adds a definition of “gift or personal benefit.” While the Members’ Conflict of Interest Act already contemplates for and prohibits members of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan from accepting gifts or personal benefits connected with the performance of their duties in office, the S.K. Conflict of Interest Bill clearly outlines that a gift or personal benefit is:

  • An amount of money, if there is no obligation to repay it
  • A service, hospitality or property, including the use of property, that is provided without charge or for a charge that is less than its commercial value
  • Any other gift or personal benefit prescribed in the regulations (none are currently prescribed).

Moreover, the S.K. Conflict of Interest Bill adds a new requirement that former members of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan file a disclosure statement within 60 days after ceasing to be a member, and codifies that some of the member disclosure requirements also apply to former members of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan, such as submitting a declaration form regarding the existence or lack of material changes since the last disclosure statement.

NEXT STEPS

Organizations, industry associations and individuals lobbying in British Columbia, whether for themselves or on behalf of a client, should review their government relations policies and practices to ensure compliance with the legislative changes and be adequately prepared for the new requirements.

For further information, please contact:

Alexis Levine                             416-863-3089
Maria Nasr                                416-863-2297

or any other member of our Government & Public Sector group.

Blakes and Blakes Business Class communications are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice or an opinion on any issue.

We would be pleased to provide additional details or advice about specific situations if desired.

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