P.E.I.'s new lobbyist registry applauded by expert
'The more sunlight is shone on things ... the better off we are'
A lawyer who has worked with both government and lobbyists in Canada is applauding P.E.I.'s new lobbyist registry.
The new Lobbyists Registration Act came into effect April 1 and requires anyone who is paid to lobby the P.E.I. government — for things like grants or support for businesses, or regulatory change — to register online every six months with P.E.I.'s Department of Justice.
"The more we know, the better off we are as citizens of democracy," said Guy Giorno, an Ottawa lawyer with a specialty in lobbying and ethics law, on Island Morning. He used to be chief of staff to former prime minister Stephen Harper and also former Ontario premier Mike Harris.
"The more sunlight is shone on things, the more we can request documents from government, the more proceedings are open, the better off we are," he said. "Lobbying transparency is just like that."
Still work to do
Giorno said P.E.I.'s law is "robust" compared to some others, since it ensures Islanders can go online and see who has been paid to try to influence government and for what purpose.
The law also includes a six-month cooling-off period to prevent those who have held public office from immediately exploiting contacts and networks made while in government. That applies to ministers, MLAs, deputy ministers, secretary to treasury board, and clerk or assistant clerk of executive council.
P.E.I.'s Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker had tried in the legislature to have the cooling-off period extended to two years, but his amendment was defeated.
How lobbyists do business is not legislated, however, and Giorno said it is evolving.
The trend in Canada has been to tackle transparency first with a lobbyist registry, then later bring in a code of conduct and ethics. Giorno said that should be achievable within a year or two.
He said such a code should include not giving gifts to those being lobbied, not lobbying friends, and not lobbying those whom you have helped in politics.
Grassroots efforts still lobbying
Grassroots lobbying is different than directly lobbying a politician — it's firing up or mobilizing the public to lobby for your cause.
"You're lobbying, but you're communicating with the government indirectly through the public, whom you've activated," Giorno said.
And P.E.I.'s updated act recognizes that power: On its first page, it defines lobbying as including grassroots efforts.
"About half the jurisdictions in Canada, P.E.I. being one of them, has figured that this ought to be disclosed just the same," he said, so the public still knows who has been paying for the influence.
The fees to register range from free to $75 per initial six-month term. A lobbyist could be fined up to $25,000 for non-compliance with the act.
Giorno is a partner with the Toronto law firm Fasken, where he leads the firm's political law practice, advising clients on lobbyist registration, government accountability and ethics, public-sector conflict of interest and government procurement. He was previously the lobbyist registrar for Brampton, Ont.
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With files from Island Morning