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ETHI Committee Report

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Mr. Pierre-Luc Dusseault
Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Mr. Dusseault:

Pursuant to House of Commons Standing Order 109, on behalf of the Government of Canada, I am pleased to provide the Government’s Response to the recommendations of the Third Report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, Statutory Review of the Lobbying Act: Its First Five Years.

The Lobbying Act is a key component of the 2006 Federal Accountability Act. Through the Lobbying Act, the Government has clarified and strengthened the rules around lobbying and delivered greater accountability and transparency to Canadians. I would like to thank the Committee for its work on this important legislation. The Committee is to be commended for expeditiously undertaking its review and considering a variety of perspectives.

The Lobbying Act seeks to achieve a balance between maintaining public confidence in government decision-making and ensuring free and open access to government. At the same time, the Lobbying Act balances the need for transparency with minimizing the administrative burden on small- and medium-sized enterprises as well as charities and other not-for-profit organizations. In the Government’s view, maintaining these balances is an essential requirement as changes are being considered. 

The legislative review provided the opportunity to examine the Lobbying Act to ensure it is providing the clarity Canadians rightly seek in regard to who is communicating with government officials on important matters. As the Committee noted in its report, the overall tenor of the testimony suggested that the Lobbying Act is working well and in accordance with its objectives.

In responding to the Committee’s eleven recommendations for changes to the Lobbying Act, the Government is striving to improve the transparency and accountability aims of the legislation while maintaining balance amongst the Act’s objectives.

More specifically, the Government supports:

  • Committee recommendation # 5: Ensure monthly communications reports contain the names of in-house lobbyists who attended oral pre-arranged meetings [in addition to the senior reporting officer.] In the Government’s view, this proposal would increase the accuracy of these reports without unduly increasing administrative burdens and provide Canadians with further transparency around who is actually lobbying Government.

  • Committee Recommendation # 9: The five-year ban should be retained, and post-employment restrictions on public office holders should be interpreted and administered by a single authority. In the Government’s view, consolidating the post-employment restrictions on public office holders under a single authority could bring further clarity to the post-employment regime for public office holders. The Government will consider this matter further, taking into account any associated recommendations from the required Parliamentary-led legislative review of the Conflict of Interest Act.

The Government concurs with the intent of the following Committee recommendations and will consider means of implementing them that maximizes their effectiveness while minimizing administrative burden.

  • Committee recommendation # 1: All public servants serving in a Director General’s position, or serving in a more senior position than Director General, should now be considered Designated Public Office Holders and held subject to all applicable laws governing this designation. The Government accepts the intent of the recommendation and will examine how best to frame and define positions that could be categorized as having characteristics consistent with those of Designated Public Office Holders, including, but not limited to, influence over the procurement process or oversight and decision making power.

  • Committee recommendation # 3: Eliminate the distinction between in-house lobbyists (corporations) and in-house lobbyists (organizations). The Government will eliminate the distinction between in-house lobbyists (corporations) and in-house lobbyists (organizations), by applying the ‘significant part of duties’ threshold to both equally with respect to the post-employment prohibitions contained in the Lobbying Act. This will introduce greater fairness to the treatment of in-house lobbyists. 

  • Committee recommendation # 4: Require in-house lobbyists to file a registration, along with the senior officer. The Government is of the view that senior officers should not be unduly compromised in the event that in-house lobbyists working for them do not report their activities and will therefore explore options to make it an offence in the Lobbying Act for an employee to engage in lobbying if the senior officer has not registered the employee.

  • Committee Recommendation # 6: Allow board members (corporations and association directors), partners and sole proprietors to be included in an in-house lobbyist’s returns. Placing accountability for registering the lobbying activities of non-employee board members with the senior officer of corporations and organizations and having them included in an in-house lobbyist’s return would provide a clear statutory basis for registration and further transparency under the legislation. At the same time, the Government remains committed to safeguarding the rights of individuals, such as partners and sole proprietors, to communicate unencumbered with public officials on their own interests, preserving the principle of free and open access to government.

  • Committee recommendation # 7: Impose an explicit ban on the receipt of gifts from lobbyists. The Government is of the view that interactions between lobbyists and public officials must continue to meet high ethical standards. The Government will therefore consider making it more explicit to lobbyists that they must not place public office holders in a real or perceived conflict of interest. Specifically, the Government will prohibit, under the Lobbying Act, lobbyists from giving gifts to public office holders. This will include providing clarity regarding the nature and value of gifts such that lobbyists will know the standards they will be expected to meet.

  • Committee recommendation # 8: Prohibit an individual or entity from lobbying the government on a subject matter, if they have a contract to provide advice to a public office holder on the same subject matter. The Government remains committed to providing Canadians with transparency and accountability with respect to government contracting processes and rules. Any potential advantages and benefits that accrue from an individual’s contractual obligations with government should not be used by them in the context of paid lobbying they may undertake. A prohibition should be placed on individuals lobbying on the same subject matter for which they have a contract to provide advice to a public office holder on the same subject matter. In the case of an entity, the same prohibition should apply unless safeguards to avoid a conflict of interest are verifiably in place within their organizations.

The Government takes note of the following Committee recommendations and will continue to study them carefully:

  • Committee recommendation # 2: Remove the ‘significant part of duties’ threshold for in-house lobbyists.

  • Committee recommendation # 10: Enshrine the administrative review process in the Act.

  • Committee recommendation # 11: Empower the Commissioner of Lobbying to impose administrative monetary penalties. Perhaps consider temporary bans for breaches of the law (as in the Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec provincial legislation).

The Government remains committed to ensuring that lobbying activities are undertaken in a transparent manner and will initiate steps to move forward with those Committee recommendations it supports such that Canada’s legislative regime remains leading edge and among the most robust governance systems regulating lobbying.

Again, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and the members of the Standing Committee for your work.

Yours sincerely,

The Honourable Tony Clement, P.C., M.P.