Premier Bob McLeod has formally rejected a proposal to introduce a lobbyist registry in Canada's Northwest Territories, despite a Legislative Assembly vote in favour of the concept.  The NWT Government's official position, tabled June 3, promises additional transparency measures but does not implement a registry of lobbyists.

February 19, MLAs voted in favour of a motion, "that the Government of the Northwest Territories investigate the best way to implement a lobbyist registry that is publicly accessible via the internet."[1] Ten MLAs, including mover Daryl Dolynny (Range Lake) and seconder Michael M. Nadli (Deh Cho) supported the motion.[2]  The entire Cabinet abstained, as did Norman Yakeleya (Sahtu) who said he was uncomfortable with a registry and felt it was not needed.[3]  Even if the MLAs who abstained had voted against the motion, it still would have passed.

Nine of ten Canadian provinces and several Canadian municipalities have adopted lobbyist registry laws.  The Province of Prince Edward Island and Canada's three territories are the only hold outs.

Despite his abstention, Premier Bob McLeod openly questioned whether a lobbyist registry was necessary, and said, "The old adage of making a mountain out of a molehill comes to mind."[4]

The Government's formal response to the motion, tabled personally by the Premier, June 3, promises a new transparency measure but declines to investigate or to implement a territorial lobbyist registry.  Specifically, the Government is promising to post quarterly reports of meetings that Cabinet Ministers hold with persons outside the territorial government.

According to the NWT Government: "The new reports, which will be published on a quarterly basis, will record all meetings with outside parties, including: intergovernmental meetings, meetings with representatives from industry and special interest groups, public events and conferences.  The Ministers' Offices have been collecting data for the report since the beginning of the fiscal year and the first quarterly report will be published on the GNWT website in July."[5]  (The territorial government's fiscal year commences April 1.)

Companies that do business in the Northwest Territories or organizations that deal with the NWT Government will note several significant differences between a lobbyist registry and the policy of Premier McLeod.

  • A lobbyist registry typically places the burden of disclosure on lobbyists and/or their employers.  Under the NWT policy, lobbyists and their employers bear no obligations.
  • The NWT policy applies only to meetings held by Cabinet Ministers.  The typical lobbyist registry applies not just to meetings but to other forms of lobbying communication such as phone calls and emails.  Further, these registries commonly cover lobbying of all government and legislative officials, including MLAs who are not in Cabinet, deputy ministers, and other government employees.
  • A lobbyist registry typically requires the disclosure of information about the companies and organizations on whose behalf lobbying occurs.  For example, it is common to require disclosure of corporate structure (names of parents and subsidiaries), whether the company or organization receives government funding, and whether any lobbyist is a former government employee.  Premier McLeod's policy does not include this level of disclosure.
  • In many jurisdictions, the lobbyist registries are accompanied by codes of conduct that require professional lobbyists to act with ethics and integrity.
  • Lobbyist registries are typically administered and enforced by an official independent of the government: often an officer who reports directly to the Legislative Assembly.  The Premier's policy leaves Ministers to decide what meetings will be reported.

In most Canadian jurisdictions, lobbying disclosure laws apply only to people who get paid to influence government decisions. Constituents' contact with their MLAs is unaffected. Further, a lobbyist registry does not apply to volunteers who advocate on behalf of causes and communities.

The lobbyist registry proposal might become an issue in the upcoming territorial general election, fixed for November 23, 2015.