On March 3, 2020, an Ontario bill that would make significant changes to legislation on lobbying and ethics violations by public officials and employees (Bill) was referred to the Standing Committee on Justice Policy. The Bill received second reading in the Legislature of Ontario (Legislature) on February 20, 2020. It is a private member’s bill introduced by an independent MPP but has support from major political parties in the Legislature, and, in particular, Government House Leader Paul Calandra has voiced the intention of the government to support this Bill.
The Bill would amend the Lobbyists Registration Act, 1998, Members’ Integrity Act, 1994, Public Service of Ontario Act, 2006 and Legislative Assembly Act. It would require more detailed information to be reported and made public on lobbying activities in Ontario, compel the Integrity Commissioner to conduct investigations into allegations of wrongdoing in certain cases and double the penalties for MPPs found in contravention of certain lobbying laws.
Specifically, the Bill would require the returns filed in respect of consultant and in-house lobbyists to include a list of the dates and times the lobbyist lobbied on behalf of their client or organization, and “any electronic communications made or received” by the lobbyist in the course of their lobbying during the period captured by the return. On its face, this new requirement is very broad and could be read as requiring lobbyists to submit the full content of all emails, texts and other electronic messages sent to or by the lobbyist concerning any matter(s) they are lobbying on.
DISCLOSURE BY MINISTERS
In addition, the requirement to report on lobbying activities would be expanded to apply to members of the Ontario Cabinet (Cabinet) who have been lobbied. Members of Cabinet who were lobbied by or met with a consultant or in-house lobbyist would be required to file a report within 30 days of the lobbying or meeting that sets out the name of each lobbyist, the date and time and the subject matter of the lobbying/meeting.
The penalties for conviction of an offence under the Lobbyists Registration Act, 1998 would be increased from C$25,000 and C$100,000 for first and subsequent offences, respectively, to C$50,000, imprisonment for up to six months, or both for a first offence, and C$200,000, imprisonment for up to two years, or both for a subsequent offence. The limitation period with respect to these offences would also be extended to 10 years, up from two.
INVESTIGATIONS AND THE INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER
The Bill would also provide that an MPP with reasonable and probable grounds to suspect that another MPP has contravened lobbying legislation may request the Integrity Commissioner to provide an opinion on the matter. The Members’ Integrity Act, 1994 would also be amended to provide that any individual with reasonable and probable grounds to believe that an MPP has contravened that act or parliamentary convention may request the Integrity Commissioner give an opinion on the matter, and the Bill would compel the Integrity Commissioner to conduct an inquiry when such a request is made. The Act currently provides that only a member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario (Legislative Assembly) may make this request and gives the Integrity Commissioner discretion to decide whether to pursue an inquiry.
Further, the Bill would remove provisions in the current legislation that terminate inquiries concerning the conduct of Cabinet members when the Cabinet member subject to an inquiry resigns or a general election is called.
The Bill would also require the Government House Leader to ensure that the Legislative Assembly considers and responds to reports by the Integrity Commissioner and would make failure to do so a contempt.
Similar amendments would be made to the Public Service of Ontario Act, 2006 to provide for any individual to disclose wrongdoing by a public servant to the Integrity Commissioner, and to compel the Integrity Commissioner to investigate and make a public report in certain circumstances.
Finally, the Bill would amend current legislation to provide for some matters subject to inquiry by the Integrity Commissioner or the Legislative Assembly to be referred to or notice to be given to provincial and/or federal law enforcement.
While members of major political parties have expressed support for the Bill, the final form of any legislation is expected to differ from the Bill’s current provisions following study by committee.