New Brunswick

Lobbyists face new disclosure law

New Brunswick's paid lobbyists will no longer be able to attempt to influence politicians and government officials under a cloak of secrecy.

Paid consultants must register activities, clients with the legislature

New Brunswick's paid lobbyists will no longer be able to attempt to influence politicians and government officials under a cloak of secrecy.

Government House leader Paul Robichaud introduced the Progressive Conservative government's promised lobbyist registry plan on Wednesday.

The proposed bill will regulate the lobbying industry and make the process of influencing government decision-makers more transparent.

"Lobbyists will need to be registered, they will need also to name the companies that they are working for, and they will also need to name the ministers and the departments they have met," Robichaud said.

Lobbyists are paid consultants or employees of a corporation or organization who arrange meetings with government officials or try to influence decisions.

Lobbying is not illegal and even under the proposed law, lobbyists would simply be forced to disclose who they were working for and their activities to a new Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists.

The registrar will be a new independent office of the legislature. But the Tories are leaving open the possibility of appointing an existing officer, such as the conflict of interest commissioner or ombudsman, to take on the additional role.

The legislation is similar to the law that exists in Ottawa and some provinces.

The Tories began pushing for a law when they were in opposition when it was revealed Liberal insiders were being hired to arrange meetings for energy companies bidding on contracts.

Former Liberal premier Shawn Graham had talked about setting up a regional lobbyist registry but the plan never materialized.

Stiff fines possible

The bill establishes 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.

There will be three types of lobbyists established under the new system: an in-house lobbyist employed by a corporation and an in-house lobbyist for a non-profit organization.

The final type of lobbyist is a professional who is hired by private companies with the sole purpose of trying to influence the government to push forward a corporate agenda.

Lobbyists will have to register their activity with respect to MLAs, cabinet ministers, staff members and employees in the civil service.

The act could be expanded to include a broader definition that would include other government agencies, such as NB Power and NB Liquor.

Lobbyists will be forced to sign up with the registrar and update their client list every six months. The proposed law will also impose fees on the different classes of lobbyists.

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 have a lobbyist hit by a fine of a maximum of $25,000 and a second or subsequent offence could lead to a $100,000 fine.