On February 19, 2019, the Government of Québec introduced Bill No. 6: An Act to transfer responsibility for the registry of lobbyists to the Lobbyists Commissioner and to implement the Charbonneau Commission recommendation on the prescription period for bringing penal proceedings.
Responsibility for keeping the registry of lobbyists transferred to the Lobbyists Commissioner
Since the Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Act came into force, the Personal and Movable Real Rights Registrar has been responsible for maintaining the registry of lobbyists. This means that the lobbyists registry has been housed in the Personal and Movable Real Rights Registry Office.
The bill would amend the Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Act to assign responsibility for keeping the registry of lobbyists to the Lobbyists Commissioner.
Commissioner Jean-François Routhier welcomes that announcement, as he and his predecessors have been calling for this transfer for several years: [Translation] "I am very happy that the government has acted on our request to administer the registry of lobbyists. My team and I are eager to get to work with all stakeholders on developing this new platform for transparency, so that it will provide an effective response to their needs and expectations for both registration and consultation."
The transfer of responsibility will include creation of a new electronic platform that will be simpler and more effective. The government's intention is to ensure greater transparency in lobbying activities in Québec.
Extension of the limitation period for prosecutions
At present, an offence under the Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Act is subject to the general limitation period of one year from the date on which the offence was committed.
The bill would extend the limitation period to three years after it becomes known that the offence was committed, although no proceeding may be instituted more than seven years after the offence was committed. However, the offence of obstructing the work of the Commissioner would still be subject to the general limitation period of one year after the offence was committed.
Extension of the limitation period for commencing a prosecution responds to a recommendation of the Commission of Inquiry on the Awarding and Management of Public Contracts in the Construction Industry (Charbonneau Commission). If this amendment passes then the likely result will be the completion of more investigations and the initiation of more prosecutions.
These amendments, introduced by Justice Minister Sonia LeBel, have long been expected. In fact, the Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Act has not been amended since it took effect in 2002, even though as far back as 2007 enforcement problems were identified and amendments proposed by the Rapport sur la mise en œuvre de la Loi sur la transparence et l'éthique en matière de lobbyisme et du Code de déontologie des lobbyistes [Report on the Implementation of the Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Act and the Code of Conduct for Lobbyists]. Difficulties flagged by this report included both the responsibility for keeping the registry and the limitation period for prosecutions.
The introduction of Bill 6 seems to be the initial step of the present government's plan to undertake a complete reform of the oversight of lobbying activities in Québec. Justice Minister LeBel has also promised to clarify the responsibilities and obligations of the key actors under the Act: the Commissioner, lobbyists and public office holders. She might also revise the definitions of the three categories of lobbyists (consultant lobbyists, enterprise lobbyists and organization lobbyists) and introduce new compliance measures, including compliance measures that involve public office holders. The Minister's additional proposals could be presented in a future second bill on lobbying in Québec.