The Lobbyists Act was one of three statutes amended as result of the passage of the Alberta Accountability Act on December 17th, 2014. For a full copy of the amendments, click here. The consequential changes to section 6 of the Lobbyists Actdealing with contracting prohibitions result in some sweeping and surprising restrictions for those corporate entities that are contracted to provide paid advice to an Alberta government department, or “prescribed entity” and who engage in registerable lobbying activity for a paying client. The changes may have some unintended consequences of which oil and gas industry participants should be aware.
Previously under the Lobbyists Act, a “person” who lobbied a government entity on behalf of a client could not also have been engaged to provide paid advice to that government entity on the same subject matter. The new changes will now prohibit a “person” who has a contract to provide paid advice to a government department or “prescribed entity” from not only lobbying on the same subject matter but also on any other subject matter. That is, those having a contract with the government or “prescribed entity” are prohibited from engaging in any lobbying whatsoever. In addition, the prohibition extends to anyone that “person” is associated with – in other words, the prohibition in case of a corporate entity would extend to all employees of that corporation.
The amended Lobbyists Act provides a short transition period of 60 days where a “person” who is currently a registered lobbyist and has a contract for paid advice either to “cease to lobby” or “cease to hold the contract”. The transition period ends on Feb 16th, 2015.
It is clear that an individual lawyer or accountant cannot lobby government on behalf of a client while being paid by the government to provide advice on the same subject matter. However, the office of the Lobbyist Registrar of Alberta has advised that the prohibition on holding a contract with government and lobbying for clients on unrelated matters at the same time does not extend to law firms or accounting firms or other partnerships (as it does to corporate entities) because of the meaning of the word “person”. There is no definition of “person” in either the Lobbyists Act or Alberta Accountability Act and therefore one needs to turn to the Interpretation Act for a definition of “person”. Currently that definition does not include partnerships. However, we understand that amendments are being considered to close that gap.
Of concern to the oil and gas industry and other industries is the potential far reach of the Lobbyists Act and in particular Schedule I of the regulations thereto listing “prescribed entities”. The list (which hasn’t been amended since 2007) has more than 250 names ranging from every university and college in the province, to numerous commissions, councils and boards involved in agricultural and rural development, children and youth services, culture, education, employment and immigration, energy, environment, finance and enterprise, health and wellness, housing, seniors, community, sustainable resource development, tourism, parks and recreation, transportation, and treasury matters. Therefore, if one had a contract with any one of these “prescribed entities”, a “person” or anyone associated with the “person” would have to be very cautious about engaging with a paying client to lobby the government or any other “prescribed entity” because they could be in violation of the new prohibition set out in the Lobbyists Act. Likewise any “person” engaged in lobbying on any matter would be prevented from entering into a contract for paid advice from any government department or “prescribed entity”.
For those communicating with government, (and given the current state of the oil and gas sector, there will be many), ensure that your outside consultants are complying with the new legislation. For those within your corporation who are communicating with government, steps should be taken to ensure that the corporation is not simultaneously providing services to the crown or one of the “prescribed entities” while engaging in what might be considered lobbying activity under the legislation.