A full year after the province claimed it would make B.C. the ‘most transparent lobbying regime in Canada,’ major loopholes remain — leaving secret, unregistered lobbying completely legal
“The most transparent lobbying regime in Canada.”
That’s what Attorney General David Eby told British Columbians they were getting when the provincial government announced amendments to lobbying rules last year.
“Big money and political insiders have had too much influence for too long,” Eby said. “These changes are long overdue and build on our continuing work to strengthen B.C.’s democracy for all British Columbians.”
Eby’s comments are part of a long line of promises from the B.C. NDP to clean up politics, eliminate big money donations and ferret out corporate influence — which includes Bill 54, the province’s lobbying amendment act introduced last October.
But in spite of much talk and limited action, the secret lobbying of elected officials remains a common practice in B.C. today, according to Duff Conacher, coordinator of Democracy Watch, an Ottawa not-for-profit focused on making Canadian governments and corporations more accountable.
“Secret, unethical lobbying is very easy to do in B.C. still,” Conacher says. “[The NDP] started with very strong rhetoric, but they didn’t follow through.”
Conacher says all of the recently announced changes — including a strengthened two-year ban on lobbying for politicians or high-level bureaucrats after leaving office — only apply to those who officially register with B.C.’s Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists.
But if you are not being expressly paid to lobby, or do less than 50 hours of in-house lobbying a year, registration isn’t required.
And if you’re unregistered, your interactions are not reported, documented or scrutinized by government or any public watchdog. In other words, at any moment in B.C., an unknown number of unregistered lobbyists are working to influence elected officials on the sly, and it’s completely legal.
‘It’s a sad joke’: gaping holes in lobbying law
This is not just a B.C. problem.
Conacher is calling for broad changes to how Canadian governments regulate lobbying and political donations, noting that lobbying loopholes are found at the federal, provincial and territorial level across the country.
Over his 26-year career in democracy advocacy, he has observed that governments only take action on closing loopholes in the wake of scandal, and in the case of the NDP, to create the impression that the wild west days of the BC Liberals, who ruled the province from 2001-2015, are over.
But not much has really changed, says Conacher, as he reads aloud over the phone from Section 2 of B.C.’s Lobbyist Registration Act. The province’s lobbying rules do not apply to oral or written submissions made to a public office holder concerning the “enforcement, interpretation or application of any Act or regulation.” Nor do they apply to the “implementation or administration of any program, policy, directive, or guideline” by a public office holder.
“It’s a sad joke,” he says. “That almost [exempts] everything. What else is there? The biggest loopholes that allow for secret lobbying in B.C. are still in the law.” MORE