Top Alberta civil servants who leave their jobs will for the first time be barred from lobbying the government for a certain period, under a proposed bill that would also tighten conflict-of-interest rules for MLAs and former cabinet ministers.

The Conflicts of Interest Amendment act, which received its first reading on Wednesday, aims at tightening and expandingexisting rules by imposing or lengthening so-called cooling-off periods and increasing fines for violators.

In the most significant change, senior aides to the premier, deputy ministers and executive assistants who leave the government would have to wait six months before they could lobby it. There is currently no cooling-off period for such staff.

If the act passes:

  • Departing cabinet ministers would have to wait a year before doing business with the government, instead of the current wait of six months.
  • Former ministers would not be able to accept work as lobbyists for third parties that bid on government contracts or benefits.
  • Former ministers who violate the rules would face fines of up to$50,000, instead of the current maximum of$20,000.
  • MLAs who are still in the government would be prohibited from using inside information to benefit private interests, nor could they usetheir influence to sway government decisions to benefit any person improperly.

The proposed bill was drawn up following the recommendations of an all-party committee.

Progressive Conservative MLA Neil Brown, who chaired thecommittee, said the bill shows that Premier Ed Stelmach,also a Tory,is serious about running a more transparent government.

"It is paramount that we avoid conflicts of interest and maintain high public expectations of integrity," the Calgary MLA said in a news release.

Brown said former MLAs would be exempt from the proposed cooling-off periods because they are exposed to less inside information thancabinet ministers during their times in government.

"The cooling-off period as it applies to ministers is related to the fact that ministers have very high-level knowledge and contact information that backbench members like myself do not have access to," he said.

"There's a need to balance the need to attract qualified people to public life without unduly restricting what they do when they leave office."

Liberal MLA Mo Elsalhy said he supports the bill but would have liked to see longer cooling-off periods and heavier fines for violators.

With files from the Canadian Press