Banking industry has lobbied officials, MPs hundreds of times
Those lobbied include banking watchdogs and MPs studying allegations of questionable practices
Canada's big banks and the association that represents them have lobbied government officials hundreds of times since the last election – including the watchdogs charged with policing them and members of the parliamentary committee now examining their practices.
An analysis by CBC News of reports filed with the Commissioner of Lobbying's office found that there have been 581 individual contacts between top government officials and representatives of the banks or the Canadian Bankers Association (CBA). On average, that works out to eight contacts every week between the banking industry and federal government officials.
The data shows that lobbying by Canada's big banks has also risen sharply since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government was sworn into office on Nov. 4, 2015. Communication reports to the lobbying commissioner's office, which often list more than one person contacted, are up 60 per cent over the previous 18-month period during Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government.
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In all, 410 communication reports have been filed since the election by the six largest banks or the CBA, compared with 256 during the previous 18 months.
While communication reports filed by Canada's six biggest banks are up 52 per cent, the number of reports filed by the CBA are up 74 per cent.
Lobbying is not illegal and those who do significant amounts of lobbying are required to file communication reports with the lobbying commissioner who then puts them online for the public to consult.
How Ottawa works
Some argue that lobbying is part of how Ottawa works and it is important for government officials to meet with industry representatives. Others, however, argue that lobbying allows those with deeper pockets to influence government decisions.
On Monday, Canada's big banks will be in the spotlight as they testify before the House of Commons finance committee, which has been holding hearings into their practices.
The hearings come in the wake of a series of stories by CBC's Go Public, in which bank employees described questionable practices by some of Canada's biggest banks. Allegations of things like pressure on employees to meet ever increasing sales targets. Signing clients up for services without informing them. Forging signatures and initials.
- GO PUBLIC: Document forgery in financial industry more common than you'd think, past employees say
- 'I feel duped': Why bank employees with impressive but misleading titles could cost you big time
- 'We are all doing it': Employees at Canada's 5 big banks speak out about pressure to dupe customers
To date, thousands of bank employees have contacted CBC Go Public, describing stress-inducing pressure to increase sales.
Call for independent body to protect consumers
On Wednesday, the committee heard calls for the government to put in place a new, independent body to protect consumers, arguing that existing regulators and watchdogs were too cozy with the banks.
Given the delay between the time lobbying takes place and the time a communication report is posted online, it is too early to know whether the committee hearings have resulted in lobbying by the banking industry. The most recent reports online date from late April.
However, an analysis of the data reveals that in past months, banking industry representatives have lobbied every single member of the finance committee with the exception of one – New Democrat MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault, who initially proposed the hearings into the banks' practices.
The most lobbied MP on the committee has been Liberal Francesco Sorbara who met three times with officials from Scotiabank and twice with CBA representatives. Before he was elected to Parliament in 2015, Sorbara was a financial analyst in the banking industry.
Second place for the committee member most lobbied by the banking industry is a tie between its chairperson, Liberal Wayne Easter, and Liberal Raj Grewal. Prior to becoming an MP in 2015, Grewal practiced law for two years at the firm now known as Gowling WLG, specializing in public and private mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance and securities.
Liberal MP Jennifer O'Connell has been lobbied three times by the banking industry, Liberal Robert-Falcon Ouellette and Conservatives Gérard Deltell and Ron Liepert have each been lobbied twice while Liberal Greg Fergus and Conservative Dan Albas have each been lobbied once.
However, the lobbying of MPs pales in comparison to the number of times the banking industry has met with top government officials or staff in Finance Minister Bill Morneau's office.
Most lobbied in finance department
The second most lobbied person was Finance Department executive Rob Stewart, who met with banking industry officials 59 times. While most of the communication reports list him as an assistant deputy minister, the government directory currently lists him as an associate deputy minister.
Those who regulate the banks are also among those most lobbied. James Hubbs, assistant superintendent in the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), was the third most lobbied official with 30 contacts.
Not far behind was Brigitte Goulard, deputy commissioner of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, who was mentioned 27 times in reports by lobbyists. Goulard was among the government officials who provided an in camera briefing to the finance committee behind closed doors at the outset of its hearings into bank practices.
Andrew Marsland, senior assistant deputy minister in Finance Canada's tax policy branch, was the fifth most lobbied official, meeting with banking industry representatives 25 times since the election.
Among cabinet minister, Finance Minister Bill Morneau met 10 times with lobbyists, making him the minister most lobbied by the banking industry. Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay was lobbied seven times. The third most lobbied was Chrystia Freeland when she served as international trade minister and met four times with bank industry officials.
Some banks more active than others
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is listed in two lobbying reports – once by the Royal Bank and once by Scotiabank.
While all of the six biggest banks have lobbied the government, some have been more active than others.
The CBA was the busiest, filing 159 communication reports. Scotiabank lobbied more than the other banks, filing 71 communication reports, compared with 60 for the Royal Bank. BMO Financial Services submitted 40 reports, Toronto Dominion filed 30 while the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce filed 27 and National Bank filed 23.
The communication reports give a few hints about what banking industry representatives were discussing with officials: constitutional issues, housing, taxation and finance, consumer issues.
Beyond that, the banks were tight lipped when asked why they are meeting with government officials.
"TD complies with all federal lobbyist reporting requirements and reports all of its activities to the Commissioner of Lobbying, as required," wrote Toronto Dominion Bank spokesperson Daria Hill. "These are all publicly available on the commissioner's website."
"Active and constructive engagement is an important part of good corporate citizenship," responded Catherine Hudon, director, external communications for the Royal Bank of Canada. "Like all large financial institutions in Canada, we meet regularly with government to discuss topics of importance to the sector. Additional information is publicly available via the federal registry."
What the banks and CBA say
Responses from Scotiabank and the Canadian Bankers Association matched each other nearly word for word.
"Banks in Canada are governed by policies and regulations set by the federal government," wrote CBA spokesperson Robin Walsh. "The CBA meets regularly with federal policy-makers and regulators to discuss policies related to banking. Our recent discussions included current issues involving the country's financial services sector and the economy as a whole and highlighted the significant role banks play in the Canadian economy."
None of those who responded would say whether they have been lobbying federal officials in relation to the reports by CBC Go Public about banking practices and the pressure to meet sales targets.
Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at email@example.com