Inside Politics

Federal lobbyist watchdog launches review of industry code of conduct

Calling all lobbyists, legislators, legal experts and anyone else with an opinion on the code of conduct governing federal lobbyists: Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd has launched an "online consultation process" to investigate whether the existing rules -- which haven't been changed since the Code first came into force in 1997 -- are in need of an update.

According to the release, Shepherd hopes to "consult widely with lobbyists, public office holders, academics and other interested parties" to find out whether ... amendments are required ... to ensure lobbying continues to be done ethically and with the highest standards."

To that end, her office has released a 30-page background paper, which includes, presumably for comparison purposes, lobbying codes of conduct from across the country and around the world, as well as a few conversation-starter questions:

      1. What should be the objectives of a lobbyists' code of conduct?
      2. Which interactions should the code of conduct regulate other than those between a lobbyist and a public office holder? Should communications between lobbyists and clients be regulated? Between clients and public office holders?
      3. Does the current Lobbyists' Code of Conduct need more clarity?
      4. What are the top 10 rules you would like to see in a code of conduct?
      5. The current Lobbyists' Code of Conduct includes a Preamble, Principles and Rules. Should the format change?
      6. Codes of conduct from other jurisdictions and professional associations include sections such as an introduction, preamble, purpose, objectives, application, principles, rules, definitions, conclusion, sanctions, etc. What would you like to include in a code of conduct?
      7. Should a code of conduct apply to both lobbyists and clients?
      8. Is the sanction for breaches of the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct well understood and communicated?
      9. Is it well understood that failure to comply with the Act may also result in a breach of the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct?
      10. Should the client have an obligation to ensure the lobbyist they hire complies with the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct?

Interested parties are invited to send in their answers, as well as any other suggestions for possible improvements to code, before December 20th. ("To promote transparency," the release notes, those submissions will also posted to the consultation website during the process.)

The final report is tentatively scheduled to be released by next May.

One thing that Shepherd may want to make absolutely, positively clear from the start, however, is that she is not looking at the Lobbying Act -- which, as a statute, carries the full weight of law, unlike the Code, which offers no provisions for sanctions or penalties beyond an official finding that a breach has taken place.

Given the frequent confusion engendered by what is, to be fair, an inherently confusing system of overlapping regimes, perhaps the simplest and most effective change that could be made to the Code would be to abolish it, and incorporate its more meaningful provisions into the legally enforceable Act.

Then again, it's been more than a year since Treasury Board President Tony Clement promised to expand the scope of the Act to cover all civil servants with any influence over procurement and other expenditures of taxpayer money, which would seem to bode ill for the prospect of speedy reform on the legislative front.

Read the current Lobbyists' Code of Conduct here and follow the online consultation process here

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