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N.W.T. one of few jurisdictions without lobbyist registry

An increasing number of municipalities and provinces are setting up registries to document meetings between lobbyists and public officials but the N.W.T. government has made no moves to set up a similar system, even as it takes control of oil and gas resources.

'It would allow exposure for who you're working for, who you're working with,' says MLA Daryl Dolynny

The Northwest Territories is one of a handful of jurisdictions in Canada that doesn't have a lobbyist registry, which documents meetings between public officials and paid lobbyists, but some say it's worth considering setting one up.

Range Lake MLA Daryl Dolynny says the time is ripe for a lobbyist registry now that devolution is in place. (CBC)

The registries provide a record of what is discussed between government officials and people who are paid to lobby for legislation, contracts and programs. Nationally, this includes people who work for lobbying firms, corporations and non-profit organizations. 

The N.W.T. government has never discussed setting one up publicly. But some, like Daryl DolynnyMLA for Range Lake, say it's worth considering.

He says with devolution the territory has added responsibilities including acting as the onshore oil and gas regulator. 

"As regulatory officials and stewards we're going to have a lot of people coming forward now, meeting with ministers, meeting with MLAs, lobbying or pushing for mineral and gas exploration," he said.

He says even in a small territory where people can easily meet with politicians, a registry could give the public a better idea of how policies are shaped. 

"It would allow exposure for who you're working for, who you're working with," he said, adding this would clarify when and why people working for southern companies meet with government officials here. 

No one from cabinet was available to discuss why the territory doesn't have a registry. 

Most provinces have one

A national lobbyist registry has been in place since 1989, the registry has been accessible online since 1996. Ontario was the first province to follow suit, setting up a registry in 1999. Now only New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the three territories remain without lobbying legislation. Cities such as Toronto and Ottawa have their own registries and Quebec's provincial legislation encompasses municipalities. 

Karen Shepherd, Canadian Commissioner of Lobbying, says lobbying is a legitimate activity that happens at all levels of government, regardless of the size of the jurisdiction. 

"In a democratic process, you don't want government operating in a decision-making vacuum," she said.

"You want them having access to the best advice, understanding the benefits and cons of making one decision or another. The idea behind lobbying legislation is to make those types of lobbying activities transparent so citizens can have confidence in the decision being taken by their government."

Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says lobbyist registries are becoming standard across the country. 

"It's a very basic level of accountability to make sure that as public policy is being changed and ideas are being brought forward, that you know who your politicians are meeting with," he said. 

Bateman says registries don't need to be expensive to set up and they can also benefit politicians by making it clear to the public why meetings are happening. 

It's a very basic level of accountabilty.- Jordan Bateman

"It protects politicians because it shows this transparency and this ability to have meetings and to be able to talk to people without that shroud of secrecy they sometimes get tarnished with."

The territory has rules that MLAs can't get paid for lobbying for a contract or a government benefit and rules for when former politicians can work as lobbyists.

The topic of a lobbyist registry has only been raised in question period in the legislative assembly once, by Bob Bromley in 2009. At the time the premier said it would only be considered if it were a priority for the government. 

In 2011, there were 5,129 people registered as lobbyists through the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying in Canada. That registry includes an online database that lists meetings and the topics under discussion.

For example, the N.W.T. and Nunavut Chamber of Mines had three communications in the last 12 months with the federal government on the subject of mandatory reporting requirements, amendments to Nunavut mining regulations, and the Nunavut waters regulations policy change "and its negative effects on mineral exploration."

In the same time frame, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association met with federal officials to discuss changes to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. 

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