How corporations still get away with secret lobbying in B.C.

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

David Eby BC Lobbying

“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

8 key, written rules needed to have a fair post-election, and minority government

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8 Key Rules for Minority Government

Given lack of honesty-in-politics law, and past pattern of ruling party breaking half of democratic reform promises, voters should be skeptical of all parties’ promises

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released it Report Card on the Federal Parties’ 2019 Democratic Reform Platforms (See the full Report Card chart below, and click here to see the Report Card Backgrounder).

Voters should be very skeptical of all the parties’ promises given the lack of an honesty-in-politics law, and the fact that Prime Minister Chrétien, Prime Minister Harper, and Prime Minister Trudeau all failed to keep half of their democratic reform promises, and the fact that no party promised an honesty law covering promises in their platforms.

The Green Party received the best grade B- as it promised 25 key, systemic democratic reforms and had good grades in four of the five areas graded in the Report Card.

Democracy Watch’s Report Card on the Federal Parties’ 2019 Democratic Reform Platforms

“Given only the Green Party has a strong democracy platform, hopefully all the parties will get serious after the election and work together to finally make the key changes needed to give Canadians the fully democratic and accountable federal government that many surveys over the past 15 years have shown a large majority of voters want,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch.

“The Liberals and the Conservatives especially made a big mistake in this election thinking they could ignore key democracy reforms and still have voters hand them power – voters have clearly been disappointed too many times by past Liberal and Conservative governments abusing their power.”

“Unfortunately, even if the Green Party is able to push through all the changes it promised, everyone in federal politics would still be allowed to lie to voters, politicians would still be allowed to make money from their decisions, secret lobbying would still be legal, wealthy individuals would still be allowed to use money to have unethical influence, and enforcement and penalties would still be too weak to stop wrongdoing,” said Conacher.

Hundreds of thousands of messages have been sent to federal party leaders and politicians through Democracy Watch’s campaigns calling for the 100 key changes needed to ensure fully honest, ethical, open, representative and waste-preventing federal politics, and accountability for everyone who violates any rule.

Democracy Watch and the coalitions it leads will continue to push for all 100 key changes.

The NDP received the next best grade of D+ because it had only a dozen vague promises in its platform, and no promises in the area of open government.

The Conservatives failed to make any promises in three of the five categories measured by the Report Card, and ended up with a D- grade. This is a big change from their 2006 election platform – in that platform the Conservatives promised 60 democratic reform and government accountability changes in their so-called “Federal Accountability Act”, which earned them a B grade.

The Liberals failed to make any promises in two of the five categories measured by the Report Card, and also ended up with a D- grade. This is a big change from their 2015 election platform – in that platform the Liberals promised about 75 democratic reform and government accountability changes, which earned them a B grade.

The Liberals’ 2019 platform is as weak as their democratic reform record since 2015:

  1. they broke most of their open government promises;
  2. Prime Minister Trudeau broke his electoral reform promise;
  3. they failed to make the political finance system more democratic;
  4. they ignored recommendations to strengthen whistleblower protection in a unanimous House Committee report;
  5. they ignored recommendations to stop secret, fake online election ads in a unanimous House Committee report, and weakened a key honest election rule;
  6. Prime Minister Trudeau and Liberal Cabinet ministers have been involved in many secrecy and ethics scandals.

The Bloc received an F as it had no promises in four of the five categories of the Report Card, and the People’s Party of Canada received an Incomplete as it had no democratic reform promises in its platform. SOURCE

The Liberals’ 2019 platform is as weak as their democratic reform record since 2015:

  1. they broke most of their open government promises;
  2. Prime Minister Trudeau broke his electoral reform promise;
  3. they failed to make the political finance system more democratic;
  4. they ignored recommendations to strengthen whistleblower protection in a unanimous House Committee report;
  5. they ignored recommendations to stop secret, fake online election ads in a unanimous House Committee report, and weakened a key honest election rule;
  6. Prime Minister Trudeau and Liberal Cabinet ministers have been involved in many secrecy and ethics scandals.

The Bloc received an F as it had no promises in four of the five categories of the Report Card, and the People’s Party of Canada received an Incomplete as it had no democratic reform promises in its platform.