Major amendments to British Columbia’s Lobbyists Registration Act (the “Act”) will come into effect on May 1, 2018. If you or your organization lobbies British Columbia’s provincial government — and, in particular, if you employ former provincial public office holders — then these amendments will apply to you.
Significant penalties can be imposed for failure to comply with the Act. It is important that you understand the new rules and take steps to ensure your organization’s policies and practices are in line with them.
This lobbying law update provides a summary of the amended B.C. rules. It is intended to offer general guidance only. If you have specific questions or concerns, or want to confirm that you or your organization are complying with the amended Act, please contact Awi Sinha, Alexandra Cocks, Adam Goldenberg, or Jessica Firestone. We would be pleased to assist you.
Passed last year, the Lobbyists Registration Amendment Act, 2017 does two things to tighten B.C.’s lobbying rules:
- Lobbyists — as well as organizations and corporations that employ one or more in-house lobbyists — will now be required to disclose the names of government or legislative staffers whom they expect to lobby. Previously, only the name of a staffer’s employer, whether a minister or an MLA, needed to be disclosed.
- Certain public office holders are now subject to a two-year “cooling-off period” after they leave office. Former Cabinet ministers and their staff, former parliamentary secretaries, and former senior officials in government departments and Crown corporations are prohibited from lobbying for two years after the date on which they left office.
These amendments are intended to protect the integrity of public decision making by increasing transparency and prohibiting those who made decisions in public office from transitioning into lobbying straight away. The prohibition is designed to prevent former public office holders from trading on their insider knowledge and contacts for the benefit of corporations and organizations. Though this is a significant change for British Columbia, restrictions of a similar nature exist under other provincial and the federal regimes. For example, the “cooling-off period” mandated by Canada’s Lobbying Act restricts designated public office holders from lobbying for a period of five years.
Both of these new rules will have consequences for individuals and entities that lobby British Columbia public office holders. The following steps can help to ensure compliance.
- Disclose names of staff of ministers and MLAs in lobbyist registrations
To comply with the Act, lobbyists must include the names of staffers in their registrations within 30 days of new lobbying activities occurring after May 1, 2018. The change is not retrospective — lobbyists may, but need not, revise existing registrations to include names of staffers whom they lobbied in respect of activities occurring prior to May 1. However, existing lobbyist registrations will be edited by the Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists on May 1 to remove previously entered information about staffers who have been or will be lobbied.
- The “cooling-off period”
If you are a former public office holder subject to the new rule, you may apply for an exemption. The Registrar of Lobbyists (the “Registrar”) has discretion to grant an exemption if doing so would be in the public interest — though the bar to qualify for an exemption is expected to be high. The Registrar has published a guidance document that outlines what the Registrar will consider when adjudicating applications for an exemption.
If you left public service less than two years ago but are currently registered as an in-house or consultant lobbyist, you will still require a public interest exemption in order to lobby. A consultant lobbyist will most likely require a new exemption each time he or she submits a registration in respect of a new client, as an exemption will have specific terms which are not likely to apply to a new client.
If you are a former public office holder and left your position more than two years ago, you will not be subject to the two-year lobbying prohibition, but must still declare all of your former B.C. public office roles when registering as a lobbyist.
What are the consequences of non-compliance?
Non-compliance with the Act or its regulations can result in administrative penalties of up to $25,000. A person who is convicted of an offence under the Act is liable for a fine of up to $25,000 for a first offence, or up to $100,000 for a second or subsequent offence.
The bottom line
British Columbia’s new lobbying rules will have significant consequences for former government officials who are currently engaged as lobbyists, as well as for the organizations that employ them. The amendments will also require greater disclosure by lobbyists when they register and file their returns. Since non-compliance invites significant penalties, it is important to develop corporate policies and procedures that ensure you and your employees stay on the right side of the law. And there may be more to come; the B.C. government has signaled that further amendments may be on their way later this year.