This year the Office of the Integrity Commissioner has received a record number of lobbyist inquiries about the offering of gifts to public office holders.
Can light refreshments be offered at a Queen’s Park reception? Can MPPs be sent a basket of a company’s products? Can ministers’ staff accept a ticket to join lobbyists at a table at an event where an MPP is the featured speaker?
Some gifts are readily determined to be problematic: a ticket to a sports or cultural event, meals at a restaurant, flowers and gift baskets. Others may require more analysis.
To answer these questions, we start with s.3.4 of the Lobbyists Registration Act, 1998. This section states that a lobbyist should not place a public office holder in a position of “real or potential conflict of interest”.
What can place a public office holder in a position of real or potential conflict of interest? It’s an action that would cause that public office holder to breach these sections of the Members’ Integrity Act, 1994:
- s.2 - Conflict of interest
- s.3 - Insider information
- s.4 - Influence
- s. 6(1) - Gifts
Remember: the gift rule starts with an absolute prohibition on the receipt of gifts, and then offers important, but limited, exceptions.
The bottom line: Lobbyists should be cautious about offering a gift or benefit to a public office holder. This could lead to the individual being placed in a real or potential conflict of interest, either at the time or in the future. If that happens, a lobbyist could be found to be non-compliant with the Lobbyists Registration Act, 1998.
When in doubt, seek an Advisory Opinion from the Integrity Commissioner to find out if the gift or benefit you want to offer is appropriate. You can do this by sending a detailed email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also review our guidance for lobbyists about gifts.