The Lobbyists Registration Amendment Act, 2009 will come into effect on April 1, 2010, enacting several significant changes to the system of lobbyist registration in British Columbia. The key changes include:
- increased reporting requirements;
- changes to the definition of an in-house lobbyist;
- new conflict-of-interest provisions; and
- expansion of the registrar’s powers to investigate and penalize.
We suggest that you familiarize yourself with these amendments to ensure that you and your organization are prepared and in compliance with these legislated changes. Many of the changes bring the British Columbia registration system closer to the federal government registration regime. Highlights of some of the most notable changes to the statutory regime include:
The definition of lobbying has been widened to include any lobbying about the privatization of government interests or assets, and contracting out of the provision of goods or services to government.
Lobbyists will now be required to report any subcontracted lobbyists and to disclose whether a lobbyist is a former public office holder.
The Act will continue to define two types of lobbyists (in-house and consultant), with parallel reporting requirements for both.
Changes to the definition of "in-house lobbyist" will require many more organizations, and many more people within those organizations, to register their lobbying activities.
Under the new definition, an "in-house lobbyist" will be an employee whose lobbying or duty to lobby "either alone or together with other individuals in the organization … amounts to at least 100 hours annually." The registrar has indicated that an Interpretation Bulletin will be published, but it appears that this new collective accounting of time requires that if an organization dedicates 100 or more person-hours to lobbying each year, then every employee who does any lobbying whatsoever must register. This requirement is much more onerous than the former definition of "in-house lobbyist," i.e., an employee whose lobbying on behalf of the employer comprised a "significant part" of his/her duties (specifically, 20 per cent or more of his/her time).
An important change is that the most senior paid officer (or most senior in-house lobbyist, if there are no paid officers) of both commercial and not-for-profit entities must register all in-house lobbyists. It remains to be seen if this task can be completed by others on behalf of the senior officer using a power of attorney.
Conflicts of Interest
The new provisions also create a prohibition on conflicts of interest: if two people are associated, one person cannot lobby on a matter while the other has a contract for paid advice to the government on the same matter. These associated persons must make a choice between the two roles.
The most common conflict scenario would involve employees of large entities — if a company has a contract for paid advice to the government, no employee of that company would be able to lobby in relation to the same matter. Large, complex organizations could face significant concerns under this new provision.
The amendments also provide that the registrar may exempt a person from the conflict provisions, with or without terms and conditions, if the registrar is satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so. It is presently uncertain as to how broadly such exemptions may be available.
Investigative and Punitive Powers
The amendments provide the Registrar with the specific powers to conduct administrative investigations into compliance with the Act, including compelling production of documents and the attendance of individuals to testify. It will be an offence to obstruct the Registry. The registrar may now levy administrative sanctions, including the power to impose sanctions of up to $25,000.
A new, free online lobbyist registration system will be launched April 1, 2010, when the amendments are brought into force. All new lobbyists will be required to register and all current lobbyists will be required to re-register under the new system. A new user-friendly website is promised, replacing the current primitive and confusing Web-based system.
Those registering for the first time (or re-registering) need to obtain a business BC electronic ID. This service is free and is available at www.bceid.ca/register. We recommend that you apply for your BC electronic ID well in advance of the due dates for lobbyist registration.
- Consultant lobbyists must re-register by April 10, 2010.
- Senior officers for non-profit and for-profit organizations must re-register all in-house lobbyists by May 1, 2010.
Information in the form of FAQs and guidance documents will be posted in the near future at http://www.ag.gov.bc.ca/lra/system/index.htm.