Lobbyists Act increases government's accountability to Albertans
Registering lobbyists a first for the province
December 5, 2007
Edmonton... Albertans will have easy access to information about who is seeking to influence government, and on what issues, under the Lobbyists Act which has been passed by the Alberta Legislature.
The Lobbyists Act establishes a lobbyist registry, prohibits lobbying government and being paid to advise government on the same subject at the same time, and requires release of government payment information on a regular basis.
"Our pledge to Albertans is that we will govern with integrity and be accountable and open in our business dealings," said Premier Ed Stelmach. "The Lobbyists Act proves we are serious in that commitment and marks the first time this information will be available to all Albertans.
Alberta's Lobbyists Act
What is lobbying?
Lobbying is communicating with a provincial government official (for example, an MLA or a government employee) to try to influence a government decision.
Lobbying can include:
- telephone calls
- letter writing
- face-to-face conversations
Talking to your MLA isn't considered lobbying, unless the conversation is about passing a private bill for your own benefit. Neither is talking to your MLA or a government employee about how existing legislation applies to you or an organization.
Who is a lobbyist?
There are two kinds of lobbyists outlined in the Act:
- organizational lobbyists , who work on behalf of organizations, and lobby the government as part of their jobs, and;
- consultant lobbyists, who are paid to lobby on a specific issue on behalf of their clients.
Unpaid volunteers are not required to register as lobbyists. However, volunteers who receive a stipend or honorarium for their work may be required to register if they work for not-for-profit organizations that service industry, unions or professional interests.
Features of the Bill
There are two important features of the Bill:
- a lobbyist registry that will give Albertans easy access to public information about who is paid to influence the government, and on what issues;
- an index of government contract information.
The Office of the Ethics Commissioner will establish and administer the lobbyist registry, and may name a person to act as Registrar. The Registrar will investigate breaches of the Act and can impose serious penalties — up to a maximum of $100,000.
The President of Treasury Board will oversee the index of government contract information, including accounts paid.
Setting up a lobbyist registry and providing more details on government contracts are key actions under government's plan to govern with integrity and transparency.
Lobbyists Act Frequently Asked Questions
Why is government establishing a lobbyist registry?
The lobbyist registry is intended to provide public access to information regarding individuals and organizations seeking to influence government decision-makers. The registry is one way the government is working to enhance transparency, openness and accountability to the public.
What kind of information will the lobbyist registry contain?
The registry will contain information identifying the lobbyist, and the focus of the lobbying effort. The registry will also contain information about the organization the lobbyist is working for, if the lobbyist is a former public office holder and communication techniques used by the lobbyist to influence the government.
ON-LINE BLUE BOOK
What else is the government doing to make information about government contracts more readily available?
To inform the public of who is doing business with the government, Alberta will also be publishing an online searchable index of government accounts paid. This list will be made available to the public and will include individuals and organizations who are under contract with the government or who are receiving government grants. While separate from the lobbyist registry, the process is set out in the Lobbyists Act.
How often will this list of government contracts be posted?
Our plan is to update this list on a quarterly basis.
TWO KINDS OF LOBBYISTS
I understand there are two kinds of lobbyists and that different rules may apply to each. So tell me, who in fact is a lobbyist?
The legislation defines a lobbyist as an individual who communicates with public office holders in an attempt to influence government decisions. Lobbyists may be employed by an organization to lobby the government as a part of their job - referred to as "organization lobbyists"- (note public interest and threshold exemptions below) or may be retained for a fee to lobby a particular issue on behalf of their client - referred to as "consultant lobbyists". Some people work on a volunteer basis and do not receive payment to influence government decisions. Volunteers who do not receive any form of payment do not have to register. **It's important to note that for consultant lobbyists, the public interest exemption and the threshold exemption described below does not apply. These exemptions only apply to organization lobbyists.
Who is not a lobbyist?
Elected officials and their staff or public servants who attempt to influence government decisions as part of their official duties are not considered lobbyists. This includes federal, provincial, territorial and municipal elected officials and employees, as well as members and employees of aboriginal governing bodies. Elected trustees and employees of school boards are also exempt from the act. Additionally, as explained further below, those who work for not-for-profit groups that serve the public interest are exempt.
THE PUBLIC INTEREST EXEMPTION
I understand some not-for-profit organizations will need to register their lobbyists and some will not. Can you please clarify this for me?
After hearing concerns from the not-for-profit sector, government chose to exempt those charities and organizations that serve the public interest. It was felt that capturing these organizations was not the intent of establishing a registry in the first place. This means, those organizations will not have to register their employees and directors as lobbyists. However, employees and directors of not-for-profit organizations that service industry, unions or professional interests will be subject to the Act – meaning their organizations will need to register their paid lobbyists. So, for example, a paid lobbyist working for Mothers Against Drunk Driving will not have to register while a paid lobbyist working for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers will. This ensures that Albertans get a good picture of who is being paid to influence decision makers but also allows those who wo rk for organizations that serve the public good to concentrate fully on their work.
THE THRESHOLD EXEMPTION
I understand that organizations can employ people to lobby a little and those people would still remain exempt from the Act. Is that correct?
Yes. Some corporations employ people who spend most of their time doing work outside of lobbying, but may once in a while meet or speak with decision makers. Like other jurisdictions, the Government of Alberta has established a threshold under which those who work for organizations can lobby without being subject to the Act. In Alberta, that threshold will be 100 hours annually per organization. Boiled down, that means employees or directors of an organization can lobby for a combined total of 100 hours annually without having to register. It's the responsibility of the head of the organization to register all paid employee lobbyists. Please note: If an organization hires a consultant lobbyist, the consultant must register as lobbyist independently of the organization.
THE REGISTRATION PROCESS
How difficult and time consuming will it be?
The Office of the Ethics Commissioner is still working out the details. However, it is not expected that the process will take a long time or be complicated. Organizations will need to provide a list every six months of those employees and directors who lobby, while consultant lobbyists will need to register each time they are hired to lobby.
How do I register?
You will be able to register online, by fax or by regular mail. The Standing Committee on Government Services recommended that there be no fee for registering online. Further details will come once regulations are enacted.
How much will it cost to access the lobbyist registry?
There will be no charge to access the registry. The lobbyist registry will be freely accessible on-line to all members of the public.
PROHIBITION OF LOBBYING AND BEING PAID FOR ADVICE
What makes Alberta's lobbyist legislation unique?
Currently, there are five provinces across Canada that have lobbyist legislation in place. Alberta's proposed bill will prohibit lobbyists from providing paid advice to government on the same subject matter at the same time.
An example of this is a lobbyist that is hired by a pharmaceutical company to influence the Minister of Health to include another cholesterol drug on the drug benefit list, while at the same time is being paid to give government advice on drug program policies.
What's the maximum penalty for breaching the Act?
Lobbying without registering will be a breach of the Lobbyists Act . The consequences will depend on the circumstances of the breach. However, there is an administrative penalty of up to $25,000. Lobbyists who do not register can also face conviction in court and be subject to a fine of up to $100,000, on par with other Canadian jurisdictions. They may also face suspension from lobbying for up to two years.
WHEN THE ACT COMES INTO EFFECT
When will the registry be ready?
It will be up to the Office of the Ethics Commissioner to determine when the registry will be operational. You need to understand that this requires a considerable public awareness campaign so that lobbyists are fully aware of their responsibility to register and know how to do so. Additionally, the system for registering has to be developed and tested to ensure smooth operation when lobbyists register.
Who will maintain the lobbyist registry?
The Ethics Commissioner of Alberta will be responsible for maintaining and administering the registry. A Registrar will verify the accuracy of registry submissions, communicate with lobbyists to rectify inconsistencies and omissions, reject inappropriate submissions and ensure public access to the registry.
What is the government doing to increase public awareness about the lobbyist registry?
Upon the law's passing, the Office of the Ethics Commissioner will initiate an awareness campaign dedicated to informing the public about the availability of this valuable resource. The Ethics Commissioner will develop guidebooks that will provide information about how the lobbyist registry will work. The Ethics Commissioner will also set up a website with more information on the Act that will be operational soon after the Act is passed.
Link to Act and amendments:
The lobbyist registry will contain the names of individuals who are paid to communicate with public office holders in an attempt to influence government decisions about the development or amendment of a law, government program, policy, or the awarding of government grants. The online, searchable index of government accounts paid will list individuals and organizations who have contracts with government or who are receiving government grants.
The Act was the first piece of legislation to be reviewed by the new all-party Standing Committee on Government Services. The committee recommended a number of amendments to the Act including a threshold of 100 hours annually per organization. This means that employees and directors of organizations who lobby the government do not have to register if they, together with their colleagues, lobby for less than 100 hours annually. The committee also recommended reducing the maximum fines from $200,000 to $100,000 and exempting school boards and trustees. Government accepted those recommendations and put forward a further amendment to exempt not-for-profit organizations engaged in activities that serve the public interest.
"We still feel that Albertans deserve a good picture of who is being paid to influence decision-makers," said Ron Stevens, Deputy Premier and Minister of Justice and Attorney General. "Therefore, employees of not-for-profit organizations that service industry, unions or professional interests will remain subject to the Act."