New Brunswick's proposed lobbyist registry law will not accomplish its key objectives and would be the weakest in Canada, according to a leading expert on lobbying laws.
The Progressive Conservative government introduced its promised lobbyist registry legislation earlier this month, however it was not passed before the legislative assembly adjourned.
Guy Giorno, a Toronto-based lawyer and the former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said the provincial bill doesn't go far enough to cover its stated objectives of clamping down on lobbyists.
He said a bill to create a lobbyist registry in New Brunswick will not prevent people from moving back and forth between the lobbying business and government jobs.
And he said forcing lobbyists to publicly identify themselves and their clients isn't enough.
"That transparency has its limits, right? Because unless there's a law to require lobbyists to conduct themselves in a certain way, to avoid conflicts of interest and act with integrity, then the only thing transparency does is to throw everything to the court of public opinion," Giorno said.
'The legislation that's in place before the New Brunswick legislature will not shut the revolving door between government and the lobbying industry.' — Guy Giorno
Giorno said the provincial government's lobbyist registry bill will not end the so-called "revolving door" of political insiders and lobbyists, which Premier David Alward criticized earlier this month.
"On one day, literally, lobbying to move forward a file and on the very next day, that person be hired by government to deliver the file," Alward said.
"That is what lobbying is about and that is what should not be allowed to happen."
The premier was talking about Doug Tyler, a former Liberal cabinet minister who ran the 2006 Liberal election campaign and the Liberal transition to power, then switched to lobbying, helping clients get meetings with the Liberal government.
Tyler left his lobbying career to join Shawn Graham's premier's office as a top advisor.
However, Giorno points out the Alward government's bill will still allow that revolving door to persist.
"The legislation that's in place before the New Brunswick legislature will not shut the revolving door between government and the lobbying industry," he said.
Giorno said the simple solution is to ban people who work for governments and transition teams from becoming lobbyists. Yet Alward will still let that practice occur even though the premier said stopping it is the rationale for his law.
Registry bill will return
The lobbyist registry bill is expected to be reintroduced in the next session, which is expected to start in November.
The proposed bill will order lobbyists to register with a new independent office of the legislature.
Lobbyists will be forced to sign up with the registrar and update their client list every six months.
When the proposed law is passed, lobbyists will have to register their activity with respect to talks with MLAs, cabinet ministers, staff members and civil servants.
Lobbyists are paid consultants or employees of a corporation or organization who arrange meetings with government officials or try to influence decisions.
The proposed bill sets out a broad definition of lobbying that is intended to capture any attempt to influence an elected official or a civil servant over matters related to government policy, legislative and regulatory matters.
Any lobbyists who fail to disclose their activities or make false or misleading statements to the registrar will be subject to stiff fines.
A first offence could see a lobbyist fined a maximum of $25,000 and a second or subsequent offence could lead to a $100,000 fine.