Lobbying Act Shows Real Teeth

For the first time ever, an individual was charged with contravening subsection 5(1) of the federal Lobbying Act (Act) for undertaking lobbying activities while failing to register as a consultant lobbyist. Andrew Skaling is alleged to have communicated with a public office holder on behalf of the Canadian Network of Respiratory Care, a registered charity, for remuneration. The charge relates to consulting activity that occurred between June 2010 and January 2011. The case is currently being investigated by the RCMP.

Any communication with a federal public official regarding government decisions, by a paid individual on behalf of any person or organization is considered to be lobbying under the Act. Subject to certain exemptions, section 5 of the Act requires a consultant lobbyist – that is, an individual hired for pay to lobby on behalf of clients – to personally register prior to lobbying public officials. The organization that hires the consultant lobbyist is not subject to any registration requirements. Failure to register is punishable on summary conviction by a maximum fine of $50,000, six months in jail or both, and on indictment by a maximum fine of $200,000, two years in jail or both. The Commissioner of Lobbying can also impose a two-year lobbying ban on any individual convicted of an offence under the Act.

In the cases of in-house corporate lobbyists, typically full-time employees who lobby for a corporation, the officer responsible for filing returns for a corporation is also responsible for the registration obligations of the corporation engaged in lobbying activities (including all other employees engaged in these activities) and is personally liable for any contravention of the Act. Aside from reputational damage, the corporation itself will not be subject to any penalties under the Act if a consultant lobbyist lobbying on its behalf, or the responsible officer in the case of an in-house corporate lobbyist, fails to register prior to the undertaking of lobbying activities.

Lobbying must be done in a transparent manner in order to ensure that citizens can have confidence in the integrity of government decision-making processes. Therefore, the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada, which is the government body responsible for conducting reviews and investigations to ensure compliance with the Act and the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct, is vigilant and takes all alleged breaches of the Act or Code seriously. Accordingly, compliance with the Act and Code should be a priority for any organization that employs in-house corporate lobbyists or that hires consultant lobbyists to undertake lobbying activities on its behalf.

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