On July 18, 2012, the Ontario Liberal minority government indicated its intention to introduce legislative amendments to Ontario’s regulatory framework governing the activities of lobbyists when the legislative session resumes in late September. The current statute – the Lobbyists Registration Act, 1998 (“the Act”) – has not been substantively amended since coming into force in 1998. The Act currently requires that lobbyists disclose their formal communications with public office holders, the subject matter they are attempting to influence, the organizations they are working on behalf of, and whether those organizations receive public funding.
Below is a summary of the proposed legislative amendments to the Act to be tabled in the fall of 2012.
Proposed Amendments to Ontario’s Lobbyists Registration Act, 1998
- Giving the Integrity Commissioner/Lobbyist Registrar more enforcement powers, including the ability to prohibit individuals from lobbying;P
- Providing the Integrity Commissioner/Lobbyist Registrar new investigative powers, including the ability to compel testimony and obtain key documents;
- Requiring lobbyists to identify the specific MPP and ministers’ offices they lobby;P
- reventing lobbyists from accepting success or contingency fees;
- Prohibiting lobbyists from providing paid advice to a ministry and lobbying on the same subject matter;
- Providing the Integrity Commissioner/Lobbyist Registrar with the ability to establish a lobbyist’s code of conduct;
- Incorporating for-profit and not-for-profit organizations under the same category of ‘in-house’ lobbyists, treating both classes of lobbyists the same and capturing more lobbying activity. The Act distinguishes between “persons and partnership” in-house lobbyists (for-profit organizations) and “organizations” (trade associations, not-for-profits etc.). What is being proposed is to collapse these two categories into “organization” in-house lobbyists.
This will then require each corporation to file a single return by the senior officer of the corporation. All employees who lobby will be listed in that one registration. The “significant part of duties” test of the Act and the regulation (O.Reg 722/98) states that when the accumulation of lobbying activities over a 3-month period reaches the threshold of 20% for either an individual employee’s time, or the combined times of more than one employee, then the senior officer must file a registration. However, section 6 of the Act requires “the senior officer of an organization that employs an in-house lobbyist shall file a return with the registrar” within 60 days of that employee becoming an in-house lobbyist. This effectively means that any corporation that employs a full time in-house lobbyist will have to file a return by the senior officer of the corporation and list all employees who lobby.
These proposed changes to the Act are consistent with the key recommendations made by the Integrity Commissioner and Lobbyist Registrar in May 2012 and reflect growing trends among lobbying regulators in Canada. For example, the federal Commissioner of Lobbying recently recommended to the Standing Committee reviewing the federal Lobbying Act, to increase her authority to issue administrative and monetary penalties. The government of British Columbia is currently consulting with stakeholders on the need for a code of conduct for lobbyists.
Expense Review and Accountability Act
The government will also propose changes to the Cabinet Ministers’ and Opposition Leaders’ Expenses Review and Accountability Act. Cabinet ministers, parliamentary assistants and their staff already post expense information. If passed, these changes would require opposition leaders and their staff to make their expense information available to the public.
The Ministry of Government Services, the Ministry responsible for the Lobbyists Registration Act, 1998, will table the government’s proposed amendments in the fall legislative session. In a minority government context, this will require support from the opposition parties. We anticipate that the proposed legislation will be sent to a Standing Committee of the Legislature for further review and input from stakeholders.