In a previous article we advised our readers of the Quebec government’s introduction of Bill n°56: Lobbying Transparency Act (“Bill n°56”), which was presented before the Quebec National Assembly on June 12, 2015. The legislation proposed by the Bill n°56 would replace the current legislation governing lobbying in Quebec and would require most non-profit organizations that communicate with public office holders to register on the Registry of Lobbyists.
On January 29, 2016, the Quebec Lobbyists Commissioner (the “Commissioner”) initiated a consultation with non-profit organizations from various sectors regarding Bill n°56. The Commissioner submitted his report (available in French only) on June 9, 2016 and presented it to the National Assembly on September 28, 2016.
The report outlines certain arguments made by organizations against Bill n°56, which include:
- the potential for a decrease in civic participation;
- a loss of autonomy for non-profit organizations;
- inconsistency between the provisions of Bill n°56 and the Quebec government’s Policy on Community Action; and
- the risk that charities may have their charitable status revoked as a result of the registration requirement. Because the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) limits the proportion of resources which may be allocated to political activities, some smaller organizations could risk revocation because, in proportion, a significant amount of their resources would appear to be devoted to political activities (both in the expenses incurred to register under the proposed Act and in the expenses incurred to engage in the broad political activities caught by the proposed Act).
Notwithstanding the foregoing, all of the organizations that chose to comment were generally in favor of more transparency in lobbying activities.
The Commissioner outlined several solutions and proposed modifications to Bill n°56. For instance, while the Commissioner agreed that all organizations required to register as lobbyists under Bill n°56 should be required to do so, he suggested that the rules governing registration should be simplified, to wit, only one person from the organization would have to register, and not every employee or director. Another proposed modification was that organizations providing services directly to people (such as providing shelter, food, or health care) should not have to register, while social enterprises and groups of organizations (i.e., in the context of a collective action) should be subject to the registration requirement.
During the presentation of the Commissioner’s report, the Quebec government’s Committee on Institutions (the “Committee”) raised a concern about the practical application of some of the Commissioner’s conclusions. Specifically, members of the Committee wondered how the Commissioner would be able to fairly distinguish the registration rules applicable to each entity. The criteria concerning registration would have to be clearly identified.
Bill n°56 is therefore undergoing discussion and will likely bring further debate at the National Assembly to ensure that the regulation of lobbying activities do not unfairly harm non-profit organizations.
We will keep you informed on the upcoming developments.