Lobbyists seek clarity on election campaigning
Lobbyists are calling for clearer rules governing their participation in election campaigns.
The Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying issued a reminder last week warning lobbyists to be careful of their political involvement in the run-up to the federal election next month.
The commissioner said a person could create a conflict of interest if they help improve the private life of a public official they're lobbying.
Michael Robinson, a principal with the Earnscliffe Strategy Group, has helped with every national Liberal campaign since 1972.
But not this time.
He's one of several high-profile lobbyists taking a pass this election.
"It's frustrating. I mean, I think a lot of us are very committed to the political process," said Robinson.
"I made the decision that I just didn't want to take the risk of finding out sometime later that [the commissioner] judged me to be in conflict, so easier to be safe than sorry."
The problem is that the commissioner operates on a complaint-based system, which makes it hard to know you're doing something wrong before it's too late, Robinson said. He said there's a whole range of activity — such as organizing a debate — where it's not clear if it would put a lobbyist in conflict with a public office holder.
"For people in an industry where reputation and integrity are your only calling card, people just aren't prepared to take that risk."
One lobbyist who is ignoring the warning is Walter Robinson, principal with Tactix Government Relations and Public Affairs Inc.
He is now helping re-elect his local MP, Conservative Royal Galipeau of Ottawa-Orléans, and isn't going to let his day job end the streak of political participation he started when he first campaigned in a federal election at age 13.
The Commissioner of Lobbying's recent "clarification" tramples on his constitutional rights, he said.
"It's my right [of] being a citizen. And if we don't participate in a democracy, and if we don't protect our rights to participate in a democracy, we will slowly lose them."
Michael Robinson said a database of precedents would help clarify what's allowed for people in this position.