P.E.I. lobby registry has room for improvement, says advocate
Draft legislation contains "gaps" which would allow some lobbying to remain undisclosed
An Ottawa lawyer who's a leading expert on lobbyist legislation across the country says a new bill put forward by the P.E.I. government represents "a big step forward."
However Guy Giorno, partner in the firm Fasken Martineau DuMoulin, said "gaps in the proposed law mean many lobbying activities would continue to be undisclosed."
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P.E.I. and New Brunswick are the only provinces without legislation requiring a public registry of lobbyists and their activities — that is, a public listing of who gets paid to try to influence government decision-making, who they're paid to represent, and when they meet with government.
P.E.I. bill to be passed in 2017
New Brunswick has passed legislation for a lobbyist registry that hasn't yet come into effect. Premier Wade MacLauchlan tabled draft legislation last week to create a lobbyist registry in Prince Edward Island. MacLauchlan said the legislation will be debated and passed in 2017.
Giorno, who also served for a time as Stephen Harper's chief of staff, said enforcement measures in the legislation are strong, with fines of up to $25,000 for lobbyists who break the rules.
But he said the bill also includes a few "curious sections" which would allow lobbying to go ahead without public disclosure.
No need for lawyer exemption, says Giorno
In particular, Giorno said a section which would exempt lawyers from the rules when they're lobbying on the topic of proposed or draft legislation is not "particularly warranted."
He said there have been debates in other jurisdictions as to whether lawyers should have to register their lobbying activities, but so far the only law to provide an exemption is Nova Scotia's, on which P.E.I.'s law is based.
"If you call yourself a lobbyist or you call yourself a lawyer … everybody on the Island who lobbies should be transparent," said Giorno. "Lawyers shouldn't get a pass on that."
He also raised concerns about the ability the law provides for cabinet to specify certain types of lobbying or lobbyists who can be exempted under regulations.
He said other provinces have used such clauses in order to be able to add public-sector exemptions for things like Crown corporations. But he said the way P.E.I.'s bill is worded an exemption could be extended to private companies as well.
"The way it's drafted, you could exempt IBM. You could exempt Irving. You might ask [government] who they mean to exempt."
'Ample opportunity for public feedback'
A spokesperson for the premier provided a written response based on Giorno's criticisms.
With regards to the exemptions for lawyers, the statement said "departments occasionally engage external drafters of legislation, who would be lawyers. The clause would apply to those scenarios."
With regards to cabinet creating exemptions for certain types of lobbying or lobbyists, the statement attributed that to a "drafting error" in the legislation and said it would be amended.
MacLauchlan told the Legislative Assembly last week the registry bill won't come to the House for a vote until next year. But it was tabled ahead of time to allow "ample opportunity for public feedback prior to the anticipated debate and passage of the bill in 2017."
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