Effective January 1, 2016, the new Lobbyist Registry By-Law[1] in Brampton, Canada's ninth largest city, will significantly alter how businesses, organizations and individuals interact with City officials[2]. The complex by-law is among the most comprehensive in Canada, so companies and associations should be preparing now for its implementation.

Overview

Once the By-law takes effect, lobbying of Brampton officials will be both transparent (posted on a public Registry) and regulated(through a Lobbyist Code of Conduct). The City's Integrity Commissioner, Mr. Robert Swayze, also serves as the Lobbyist Registrar who will maintain the Registry and enforce the By-law.

Everyone who engages in lobbying as defined by the By-law (see next section) is required to file a registration and keep it up-to-date[3]. A separate registration is required for lobbying on each distinct subject matter. The deadline for registering is five business days following the first communication with a Brampton official about the subject matter[4], and an update must be filed no later than five business days after any change[5].

The By-law expressly prohibits:

  • Lobbying for a contingency fee[6]
  • Lobbying related to procurement[7]
  • Lobbying without proper registration[8].

The By-law also prohibits a former public officer holder from lobbying for 12 months following the end of employment with the City of Brampton[9].

Not-for-profit organizations, community groups and trade unions are not subject to lobbyist registration when they communicate with Brampton officials about general policy matters. The By-law only applies to these entities when they have a business interest or financial interest in the subject matter[10].

Lobbying Defined Broadly

The By-law defines lobbying very broadly. Subject to some exceptions[11], lobbying includes any communication with a public office holder for the purpose of influencing an action by Council or any action taken by staff through Council's authority. Such action includes passing by-laws, awarding contracts, approving grants, and developing policies.

Communication includes "any form of expressive contact."[12] The individual who communicates must be representing a business or financial interest; otherwise he or she is not lobbying[13].

Many people assume, wrongly, that the By-law only applies to individuals who consider themselves professional lobbyists[14]. On the contrary, the law affects anyone who represents an entity's business or financial interest and tries to influence a City decision[15]. Employees, officers and directors are lobbying when their represent their company or organization. Lawyers, accountants, planners and other professionals might be lobbing when they represent their clients. Further, being a lobbyist does not depend on being paid; unpaid individuals can also be lobbyists[16].

Lobbyist Code of Conduct

The By-law includes a Lobbyist Code of Conduct[17] that prohibits inappropriate activity. It specifically deals with confidentiality, competing interests and improper influence. The Code also requires lobbyists to disclose their identity and purpose when they engage in lobbying activities.

Penalties for Violating the By-Law

Violating the Lobbyist Registry By-Law is not a offence – an alleged contravention will not lead to prosecution or a fine. That being said, the Lobbyist Registrar has the power to investigate alleged violations and to issue a public report declaring a violation has taken place. The adverse reputational impact of being found in violation of the By-law could be significant.

The Lobbyist Registrar has the express authority to ban individuals from future lobbying if they contravene the By-law. The Lobbyist Registrar also has the authority to refer a matter to the police if he suspects criminal wrongdoing. For these reasons, businesses, organizations and individuals who deal with the City of Brampton should take steps to ensure compliance with the Lobbyist Registry By-Law and the Lobbyist Code of Conduct.

Region of Peel Wants Lobbyist Registration Too

Peel Region – an upper-tier municipality that comprises Brampton, Mississauga (Canada's sixth largest city) and Caledon – has decided in principle to establish its own lobbyist registry, one that would apply to lobbying of regional government officials[18]. Acting on the initiative of Councillor Karen Ras, the Regional Council recently struck a special "Integrity Commissioner/Lobbyist and Gift Registries Committee" to work with staff on the development of the registry and related accountability reforms[19].

Compliance and Next Steps

Best practices for companies and organizations include the following:

  • Updating internal policies on lobbying, political activity and communications with municipal governments
  • Conducting a lobbying-law compliance audit
  • Training employees
  • Reviewing contracts to check for lobbying law compliance.
  • Engaging in due-diligence to ensure ongoing lobbying law compliance.