Politics

Facebook promises to join registry of lobbyists

Facebook has said it will join Canada's registry of lobbyists, after questions were raised over whether it is following the rules when it comes to lobbying the government.

NDP questions whether Facebook executive Kevin Chan’s meetings with cabinet ministers are lobbying

Kevin Chan, the head of public policy for Facebook in Canada, faced pointed questions about his and the company's ties to the government when he testified on Thursday. (CBC News)

Facebook has said it will join Canada's registry of lobbyists, after questions were raised over whether it is following the rules when it comes to lobbying the government. 

In a letter sent to Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger on Friday, NDP MP Charlie Angus questioned whether the social media giant is finding ways around the rules, especially the rules that require it to register its lobbyists. The company has no registered lobbyists, despite frequent meetings with senior decision-makers. 

After CBC News reported on the controversy, Facebook sent a statement saying it will "soon" register its personnel as lobbyists.

"Facebook understands the need for greater transparency and, while we do not meet the threshold required for registration, we are committed to being added to the Lobbyist Registry. We will do so as soon as possible," a Facebook spokesperson said

Angus is skeptical about Facebook's decision to register now. 

"Why is it that Facebook only does the right thing when they get caught," he told CBC News. 

"This speaks to a larger corporate disregard for rules and domestic law. Facebook is facing investigations in numerous jurisdictions because of their cavalier attitude towards the privacy laws. They seem to show the same cavalier attitude to Canada's lobbying rules."

Contact with decision-makers called 'extensive'

Angus's letter had expressed concern over Facebook's frequent access to ministers and decision-makers.

"Because of their extensive contact with ministers and other senior government decision-makers and the broad self-definition of their public policy advocacy efforts, I believe that it would be worthwhile for a proactive investigation to ensure that they are complying with Canada's Lobbying Act," Angus writes. 

"Facebook Canada is unique for a company of its size and sector for having no registered lobbyists on its staff. Its closest analogues, the Canadian subsidiaries of Google and Amazon, both have registered lobbyists on staff," the letter continues.

Facebook executives, including former Liberal staffer Kevin Chan, defended the company's actions before a Parliamentary committee on Thursday. 

Although the social media network was there to discuss its latest data breach, Chan faced pointed questions about his and the company's ties to the government.

Ontario NDP MP Charlie Angus asks Facebook executives to implement the EU's General Data Protection Regulation for Canadian users 2:38


Chan firmly stated that Facebook was complying with the regulations, as it does not meet the so-called "20 per cent" rule — the threshold after which lobbying represents a significant part of one's overall duties.

The Lobbying Act has provisions around how companies must register employees as lobbyists, when it comes to the amount of time that is spent meeting with public office holders.

"At no time has Facebook come close to meeting the threshold for registration as a lobbyist," Chan told the committee.

Angus pushed Chan, citing Facebook's meetings with a handful of ministers. 

Chan said he's proud of the work he does and that Facebook reviews the lobby threshold on a monthly basis and will register when they meet the requirements.

20% rule called into question

In his letter, Angus acknowledged that Facebook says it does not meet the 20 per cent threshold, but he questioned the interpretation of the rule by the previous commissioner.

"Commissioner [Karen] Shepherd was of the opinion the 20 per cent was the source of some abuse in the lobbying industry, and it was used to circumvent the requirement to register for big players who, by virtue of their size and/or close connections to the government of the day, are able to easily secure meetings with senior government officials."

Angus argued "Facebook Canada regularly meets with ministers and other public office holders," citing Chan's apparent meetings with Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, and Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett.

On Thursday, Chan and a Facebook press official fled from reporters, when journalists attempted to ask questions about the company's testimony.

Chan appeared at the Commons Ethics committee and then when he left he declined the common practice of speaking to reporters 1:54