In the wake of the ORNGE air ambulance inquiry, the Ontario government has proposed amending its Lobbyists Registration Act (the Act). The key changes to the rules that govern the lobbying of provincial government officials are outlined below.
- Lobbyists would be required to identify the specific MPP and ministers’ offices that they lobby.
- Lobbyists would be prevented from providing paid advice to the government and lobbying on the same subject matter.
- Lobbyists would be prevented from accepting contingency fees for preferred outcomes.
- The Integrity Commissioner, who serves as the Lobbyist Registrar of Ontario and is responsible for administration of the Act, would be granted investigative and enforcement powers.
- The Integrity Commissioner would be authorized to develop a code of conduct for lobbyists.
In addition to the proposal for new rules governing lobbyists, the Ontario government has proposed changes to the rules for the disclosure of expenses by opposition leaders and their staff. This amendment to the Cabinet Ministers’ and Opposition Leaders’ Expenses Review and Accountability Act, 2002 would require opposition leaders and their staff to make public their expense information in the same manner as cabinet ministers, parliamentary assistants and their staff are presently required, by law, to do.
The government’s proposed amendments are designed to encourage greater transparency of lobbyists’ activities. We would hope that specific details are provided in the amended legislation that would achieve the government’s intended outcome.
It will be interesting to see how requirements for lobbyists to identify specific MPP and ministers’ offices would be implemented. One possibility would be to follow the federal model, which requires that each meeting be documented and reported to the Registrar by the 15th of the following month.
Restricting lobbyists from providing paid advice to the government while simultaneously lobbying on the same subject matter would prevent a potential conflict of interest. This change would bring the Ontario legislation up to date with modernized lobbying laws in other provincial jurisdictions such as British Columbia and Alberta.
Banning lobbyists from accepting additional fees for "preferred outcomes" is a response to the public’s demand for greater transparency and disclosure of government officials’ spending activities.
The Integrity Commissioner would be authorized to prohibit certain individuals from lobbying provincial government officials, compel individuals to testify and order lobbyists to provide key documents. By way of comparison, the federal, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador lobbyist administrators currently all have the power to ban people from lobbying if they breach their respective provincial rules.
The Lobbyist Registrar of Ontario stated in its report of May 2012, titled "Recommendations for amendments to the Lobbyists Registration Act, 1998," that it does not endorse including a lobbyists’ code of conduct in the Act. The Lobbying By-law within the Toronto Municipal Code contains a lobbyists’ code of conduct, but many provincial jurisdictions, including Ontario, are hesitant to have one in their Act. Therefore, it is not evident that the Integrity Commissioner would establish a code of conduct, even if granted the capability to do so.
These amendments will be introduced when the Ontario Legislature resumes in the fall, and we will follow up with further details as they become available. In the meantime, lobbyists and government officials will continue to operate under the existing laws.
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