For the first time since the Act took effect in 1989, an individual has been charged with contravention of the federal Lobbying Act.
Andrew Skaling of New Brunswick is charged with failure to register as a consultant lobbyist as required by subsection 5(1) of the Lobbying Act. He is alleged to have undertaken to communicate with a public office holder, for payment, on behalf of the Canadian Network of Respiratory Care. The charge relates to alleged activity between June 2010 and January 2011.
The charge is an allegation only and has not been proven in Court. Further, there is no allegation that Mr. Skaling’s client did anything wrong.
While the information laying the charge was sworn in January 2013, the charge has only recently come to light. Lobbying Commissioner Karen Shepherd mentioned the development in general terms to a parliamentary committee during her April 29 testimony, but did not name the accused or provide details. MPs did not grasp the historic significance of the charge and did not ask any follow-up questions.
This new development should be a wake-up call, not only to consultants who communicate with government, but also to corporations and organizations that hire consultants. Compliance must be a top corporate priority, because the federal Lobbying Act and provincial and municipal lobbying laws are vigilantly enforced.
Consultants should note the continuing effort of the federal Commissioner of Lobbying, and her office, to crack down on alleged unregistered lobbying. Meanwhile, clients of consultants should pay attention to whether the consultants are complying with all relevant rules, including the Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct. A client should also ensure that its contract with a consultant insulates and protects the client in the event of an alleged breach.
Steps that Companies and Organizations Can Take
Standard government-relations consulting contracts do not contain explicit assurances that lobbying transparency/lobbying ethics laws will be honoured. A client should insist on such language, and on adequate protection in the event of an alleged breach.
Remember that what constitutes registrable lobbying may not always be clear. Therefore, a client who hires a consultant (or other third party) in any matter involving a provincial or federal government should ensure that the contract language addresses the potential application of lobbying law.
An employer, too, should ensure that its employment contracts address the need for compliance with lobbying law – and for cooperation with the filing obligation of the CEO. Training of employees, and due diligence, are other components of an appropriate compliance regime.