On June 6, 2019, the National Assembly adopted 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.
On February 13, 2019, the Government of Québec introduced Bill No. 6 ("the Bill") to the National Assembly. It was the government's first concrete step toward undertaking a complete reform of the legal framework applicable to lobbying activities in Québec.
The Bill then quickly made its way through the various steps in the National Assembly and before a parliamentary committee; it was adopted in principle on April 10, 2019, passed on June 6, 2019 and then assented June 19, 2019. The Bill will enter into force on December 19, 2021, or by decree on an earlier date, except for the new limitation period for prosecutions, which has been in effect since June 19, 2019.
According to Québec Justice Minister Sonia LeBel, "[TRANSLATION] the quick passage of the Bill is the first step toward effective and transparent governmental lobbying policies. Our goal is to give to the Lobbyists Commissioner all the tools he needs to modernize the registry, making it simpler, more efficient and easier to use for everyone, lobbyists and members of the public alike."
Registry of Lobbyists Transferred to Lobbyists Commissioner
The Lobbyists Commissioner will be responsible for maintaining the registry of lobbyists under the Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Act (the "Act") as of December 19, 2021 (currently anticipated date for the Act to come into force) or by decree on an earlier date. In the meantime, the Personal and Movable Real Rights Registrar remains responsible for maintaining the registry, which is housed in the Personal and Movable Real Rights Registry Office.
This transfer of the registry aims to resolve the problems arising from the sharing of responsibilities between the two agencies.
The Commissioner has approximately 30 months to modernize the registry in order to launch a new, more user-friendly platform centred on the transparency of lobbying activities:
"[TRANSLATION] We will soon be able to achieve our vision for this new platform (PDF - available in French only), which will take into consideration the needs of all users, both for registration and consultation purposes," confirmed Lobbyists Commissioner Jean-François Routhier.
Once the registry reform is complete, the Lobbyists Commissioner will handle all matters relating to the Act, whether concerning the application of the Act or the registry itself.
On June 20, 2019, the Commissioner and his team officially launched the work which will lead to the new registry of lobbyists by announcing the creation of a users committee to advise on the development of the future platform. This committee will be composed of two lobbyists, two public office holders, a journalist and a citizen. Anyone interested is invited to apply(available in French only) before July 12 at 5 p.m.
Extension of Limitation Period for Prosecutions
Since June 19, 2019, the applicable limitation period for prosecutions is three years. More precisely, any prosecution for an offence under the Act is now subject to a limitation period of three years after it becomes known that the offence was committed; however, no proceeding may be instituted more than seven years after the offence was committed.
Before, an offence under the Act was subject to a general limitation period of one year from the date on which the offence was committed.
The extension of the limitation period gives both the Lobbyists Commissioner and the Directeur des poursuites criminelles et pénales [Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions] more time to investigate and file formal accusations, which will serve to underpin their ability to ensure compliance with the Act.
The passage of the Bill will increase the likelihood of investigations and sanctions. Following-up on communications with public office holders and developing good habits with regard to registration in the registry of lobbyists are part of the best practices to adopt to ensure that lobbying activities comply with the Act. Fasken's Lobbying Law group can assist you to develop a strategy adapted to your needs.
Proposed Reform to Lobbying Framework
On June 11, 2019, the Lobbyists Commissioner presented the highlights of his report, Simplicité, clarté, pertinence, efficacité : Réforme de l'encadrement du lobbyisme (available in French only). This report sets out the principles that will guide the complete reform of the Act. These principles are based on the best national and international practices relating to communications to influence and transparency. This report aims to help government officials in determining how to modernize the Act.
Justice Minister LeBel intends 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. These additional proposals could be part of a future bill on lobbying in Québec.