Canada’s Lobbying Commissioner, Nancy Belanger, proposed amendments to the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct this past November which received an array of mixed reactions from MPs and lobbyists alike. Renewing the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct released in November 2022 by the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada (OCL) highlighted the updated changes to promote “ethical and transparent lobbying.”
While some agree with the new set of rules which are pending, others are strongly opposed. Those who agree with the changes argue that this move levels the playing field for smaller organizations who do not have the capacity to host receptions at the level which large organizations do. Members of Parliament were quick to intervene and delay the proposed code of conduct for lobbyists due to a high volume of complaints.
Amongst the newly introduced guidelines in the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct (last updated in 2015) two rules stand out as the subject of conversation and controversy amongst MPs, critics, and lobbyists. The updated guidelines suggest:
- Changing the four-year ban on lobbying to a recommended 12-24 months (depending on the level of involvement) for individuals who have worked on political campaigns. Bélanger divided political involvement into a two-tier system:
- Tier One: Individuals who are heavily involved in political work would be subjected to a 24-month waiting period.
- Tier Two: Individuals whose political involvement was limited to volunteer work such as door knocking, accepting donations, etc., are facing a one-year waiting period.
- While the 2015 version did not set a dollar value limit on hospitality, the updated proposition suggests that lobbyists should never offer hospitality to an official they intended on lobbying or are currently lobbying. The only acceptable hospitality suggested is “low-value food or beverage for consumption during an in-person meeting, lobby day, event, or reception.” The proposed limit is $40 with an $80 limit annually on hospitality.
Concerns were raised regarding volunteer roles falling under the scope of political work. Critics believe that the new guideline violates freedom of expression and political participation rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Under Section 2(b) – Freedom of expression; engaging in work for a political party or candidate is considered a protected expression (Osborne v. Canada (Treasury Board),  2 S.C.R. 69).
The revised code was expected to come into effect January 2023, however, MPs on the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (ETHI) (House Ethics Committee) called on Ms. Bélanger to appear before the committee to review the proposed changes due to complaints from critics who do not agree with the new guidelines.
While the approval of the House Ethics Committee is not required to update the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct, the Lobbying Commissioner intends on considering feedback before confirming the new guidelines. These changes are currently in the process of review, however, Bélanger hopes to have the updated code in effect by the end of March 2023.
Organizations that lobby federal government officials must be aware of these changes and all requirements involved with registering and recording interactions associated with lobbying.
At Grassroots, we closely monitor all factors that impact our client’s advocacy activities. Look for our follow up commentary in the coming weeks once the proposed changes to the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct have been finalized.