Concerns about Sask. lobbyists, political donations raised by NDP

A new lobbyists' registry is online and dozens of people have formally registered to bend the ear of officials on everything from potash to beer. Some of the busiest of them have strong ties to the Saskatchewan Party.

Lobbyists working for more than 100 companies or organizations listed on new registry

A registry for lobbyists was activated in Saskatchewan in August. (Kevin O'Connor/CBC)

Three months after the provincial government launched a new system to keep track of lobbyists in Saskatchewan, dozens of consultants and company representatives have formally registered to bend the ear of officials on everything from potash to beer.

It turns out before they were lobbyists, a number of them were involved with the Saskatchewan Party. 

The searchable database was activated Aug. 23.

Since then, lobbyists working for more than 100 companies or organizations have registered.

In some cases, a single lobbyist — usually a consultant — has registered as the representative for a number of clients.

Lobbyists with political links

Some of the busiest have links to the Saskatchewan Party.

Terri Harris, for example, who had previously worked for Brad Wall for years, is listed as the lobbyist for the Great Western Brewery Company and the Saskatchewan Scrap Tire Association, among others.

She's a former chief of operations and former deputy chief of staff with the Premier's office.

Consultants and company representatives seeking to influence government are now required to be registered in Saskatchewan. (John Weidlich/CBC)

Another lobbyist, Lance Donison, is associated with no less than 17 clients including a law firm, three medical associations and a collection of firms with agricultural interests.

On his LinkedIn page, Donison says he had previously worked for the Sask. Party in a variety of positions over 10 years. Most recently he was the party's development director where he "built and managed strong relationships with existing donors and friends of the organization."

In 2011, Donison began working for Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

"We welcome the lobbyist registry. It is there for transparency," Donison told CBC on Wednesday.

Donison said his job is to educate elected and unelected officials on potential consequences of legislation and to help his clients tell their story.

There's at least one high-profile New Democrat on the lobbyist list.

Cam Broten, the former leader of the provincial NDP who lost his seat in the last election, is noted as the lobbyist for Saskatchewan Egg Producers.

Donations from lobbyist raised in legislature

The appearance on the registry of people associated with companies that have made political donations caught the eye of the Opposition NDP.

Lance Donison is a former Saskatchewan Party official who is now registered as a lobbyist. (LinkedIn)

Hill+Knowlton Strategies, the company Donison works for, was referred to by NDP critic David Forbes. He didn't name Donison or the company in the legislature, but mentioned the company had contributed $27,000 to the Sask. Party.

Donison said the money was used to buy tickets to Sask. Party fundraising dinners — over a period of five years — on behalf  of Hill+Knowlton clients.

Trent Wotherspoon, the current NDP leader, said the intersection of donations and lobbying raises questions about the influence of corporate dollars on the political process.

"These sort of donations, this sort of big money makes Saskatchewan people question their democratic process," Wotherspoon said.

Justice Minister Gordon Wyant noted the province has a whole set of rules regarding registered lobbyists, including requirements concerning former government employees.

"In the legislation there are cooling off periods for individuals that work in this building," Wyant said at the Saskatchewan Legislature Wednesday.

"That cooling off period is specifically there … to ensure that someone doesn't leave the building and start lobbying the people he was working with."

According to the registrar of lobbyists, people who undertake lobbying efforts — whether they are based inside or outside Saskatchewan —  have 30 days to register their activities.

With files from Adam Hunter