Businesses, not-for-profit organizations, charities, and clients of consultant lobbyists should take note of the 2012-13 Annual Report released by the federal Commissioner of Lobbying, Karen Shepherd, on June 12[1] The report demonstrates significantly stronger compliance activity and monitoring by the Office of the Commissioner, with an increased focus on corporations and organizations.

While the Office continues to educate stakeholders and to build awareness of lobbyist registration obligations, the report documents a notable increase in compliance assessments, administrative reviews, and investigations. The Commissioner and her Office completed a 100th administrative review this year, and she tabled two investigation reports in Parliament as well.

Verifying Compliance by Corporations and Organizations

The 2012-13 Annual Report reveals a growing focus on corporate compliance. This year, 113 corporations and organizations were sent advisory letters and subjected to compliance verification after the Office’s monitoring activities revealed that they may be lobbying federal public office holders. The number is up from last year, when 73 advisory letters were sent to individuals, corporations and organizations. This year, letters were sent only to corporations and organizations, suggesting that the Commissioner and her Office have shifted the focus of monitoring activities to corporations and organizations.

Compliance assessments are also routinely conducted to review the registrations and monthly communication reports submitted by registrants previously under review for non-compliance. The number of compliance assessments has nearly doubled, increasing from 43 to 82 annually.

Administrative Reviews of Potential Breaches of the Lobbying Act or the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct

When it becomes aware of a potential breach of the Lobbying Act or the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct, the Commissioner’s Office will, prior to commencing an investigation, conduct an administrative review. The review results in an Administrative Review Report, which is used to determine whether an investigation is warranted.  Decisions that the Commissioner bases on these reports are subject to judicial review in the Federal Court[2]  The annual number of administrative reviews has increased by 22 per cent.

There are four possible conclusions or outcomes from administrative reviews:

  • The allegation was unfounded.
  • The allegation was well-founded, but the lobbyist will be made subject to alternative compliance measures such as education.
  • A formal investigation is initiated when the breach is serious and appears to be well-founded.
  • The matter is referred to the RCMP if there are reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has been committed under the Lobbying Act, or any federal or provincial statute.

Investigations by the Office of the Lobbying Commissioner and the RCMP

Over the past year, the Office was involved in eight investigations and it initiated three more investigations during the course of the year. The Lobbying Commissioner also suspended three investigations in order to refer matters to the RCMP.

In January 2013, the RCMP laid the first ever charge under the Lobbying Act, alleging that a consultant lobbyist, Andrew Skaling, had failed to register after undertaking to communicate with public office holders, for payment, on behalf of the Canadian Network of Respiratory Care. (See full details of the historic first charge under Lobbying Act.)

Increased Compliance Efforts and Investigations Should Serve as a Warning

The annual report reveals that the Office of the Lobbying Commissioner is stepping up its monitoring and compliance-related oversight of corporate and organizational in-house lobbying. This should serve as a warning to busineses, not-for-profit corporations, charities, and other organizations: they must establish better internal compliance mechanisms to deal with the complex web of lobbying transparency and ethics laws across Canada.