A required legislative review of the Lobbyists Registration Act, 1998 has begun, with Ontario’s Legislative Assembly referring the review to the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly on June 1, 2021.
Having worked with the 2016 amendments to the Act for five years, the Integrity Commissioner, as Lobbyist Registrar, looks forward to providing the Standing Committee with his views on how the legislation can be clarified and strengthened.
Here are some of the changes the Commissioner would like to see made to the Act:
Significantly reducing the annual 50-hour threshold for in-house lobbyists
Companies and organizations that have employees who lobby Ontario public office holders need to register their lobbying activity only once their employees, paid officers and directors (for companies) and paid officers (for organizations) spend a total of 50 hours lobbying in a year. This threshold is high and results in less transparency on who is lobbying whom in government and about what.
Improving the conflict of interest provisions
The prohibition on lobbyists placing a public office holder in a real or potential conflict of interest is an important component of Ontario’s lobbying legislation. The Commissioner would like to see the definition of a conflict of interest clarified, and would also like to see significant loopholes closed on when the prohibition applies to individuals.
Reporting lobbying done by volunteers or unpaid directors
While the definition of lobbying in Ontario only captures individuals who are paid to lobby, some companies also ask their unpaid directors, and some organizations ask members of their professional or industry groups to lobby public office holders on a volunteer basis. The Commissioner believes that this lobbying activity should be disclosed in a company or organization’s registration.
Broadening the range of penalties for non-compliance
Currently, if the Commissioner finds non-compliance with the Act, he can impose either or both of the following two penalties: publicly naming the non-compliant individual, or prohibiting the individual from lobbying for a period of up to two years. Through compliance and investigation activity, the Registrar has noted a wide range of the types and severity of non-compliance with the Act. A broader range of penalties, which could include fines, would provide more options to ensure compliance.
The Commissioner will provide a full list of his views and recommendations to the Standing Committee. He encourages interested parties to follow the work of the committee and to participate in the review process.