At the time this article was written Pierre
Duchesne was Secretary General of the Quebec National Assembly. Russell Ducasse
was a member of the Committee Secretariat of the National Assembly.
Lobbying has been around as long as politics
itself. The origins of the word "lobby" do not go back quite as far.
It only became fashionable near the middle of the 17th century and it referred
to the corridors of the British House of Commons. The definition was later
broadened to describe conversations exchanged in the corridors of Parliament.
According to Safire's Political Dictionary
(1978). the word lobby is derived from "lauba", an old German word
meaning a refuge of verdure. The lobby was a public room where parliamentarians
took refuge to receive complaints or solicitations from lobbyists or special
In a book on political groups in the United
States, Professor Leon Dion defined lobbying as: an activity, generally in
return for pay, of an agent of an association or a group, for the very specific
purpose of influencing, directly or indirectly the plans and actions of
governments to promote their own interests.2
Corrupt activities of some American pressure
groups resulted in lobbying and the profession of lobbyist developing an
In Canada, the slightest action or
corruption, favouritism or nepotism is reported as lobbying. There is even a
tendency to use the word to describe political representations by the business
sector, i.e. lobbying by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Credit commercial
de France or the Association of Mines and Metals. Lobbying is also done by
groups such as the Mouvement national des Québécois the Automobile Protection
Association or the Ligue pour la défense des femmes maltaitdées.
In its broadest sense lobbying may be considered
essentially an art of communication, public relations or even management. It is
more a team activity than a case of a person working alone. New lobbyist
recruits have joined lawyers and former politicians who, at one time, dominated
the trade. The recruits include specialists in various disciplines such as
political science, marketing, economics and the applied sciences. Some American
universities are already thinking of offering a specialized course in lobbying.
Finally, an increasing number of interstate
relations, especially pertaining to foreign trade, are made through Congress.
Canada, for example, has hired American lawyers, public relations experts and
lobbying specialists to help the staff in its embassy deal with complex
The Status of Lobbyists in Canada and in
Lobbyists both at the federal and provincial
levels have no official status in Canada and are not subject to any regulation.
However, Members of Parliament are explicitly prohibited from lobbying. Under
the Senate and House of Commons Act, a senator or a member cannot:
"...receive or agree to receive any compensation directly or indirectly,
for services rendered, or to be rendered, to any person, either by himself or
another, in relation to any bill, proceeding, contract, claim, controversy,
charge, accusation, arrest or other matters before the Senate of the House of
Commons, or before a committee of either House, or in order to influence or to
attempt to influence any member of either House."
The House does recognize the activities of
parliamentary agents but they are simply persons who promote private bills and
the conduct of proceedings upon petitions for such bills. A list of such
persons is kept by the Chief Clerk of Private Bills and a copy filed with the
Clerk of the House. "No person shall be allowed to be registered as a
parliamentary agent during any session unless he has paid a fee ... for such
session and is actually employed in promoting or opposing some private bill or
petition pending in Parliament during that session."
It is the practice in the House of Commons
for Members to take charge of private bills and to sponsor their progress
through the House and its committees, but it is contrary to the law and usage
of Parliament that any Member of the House should be permitted to engage,
either by himself or any partner, in the management of private bills for
pecuniary reward. No officer or clerk of the House is allowed to act as
parliamentary agent. In fact there are very few private bills and most are now
introduced in the Senate.
In 1976, the Conservative Party was
unsuccessful in having the House of Commons pass Bill C-124 concerning the
registration of lobbyists. According to this bill, a lobbyist: "...means
any person, who for payment attempts to influence, directly or indirectly (a)
the introduction, passage, defeat or amendment of any legislation before either
House of Parliament, or (b) a decision to be taken on any matter coming within
the administrative jurisdiction of a Minister of the Crown, whether or not that
matter has come or is likely to come before either Houses of Parliament for
In Quebec, the Liberal Party once considered
a resolution taken by the Party Youth Committee at the 19th convention in 1976.
This recommendation defined lobbying in particular as representations made to a
member of the National Assembly, a minister, an officer, a commission or board
or any other organization vested with regulatory power for the purpose of
influencing directly or indirectly the passage or defeat of legislation, an
order-in-council or the settlement of a recommendation.
This broad definition would cover lobbyists'
activities in approaching not only parliamentarians but also the executive of
administrative bodies. Although the media placed great emphasis on the fact
that the young Liberals' proposal was a major and desirable innovation. the
idea was not adopted by the Party.
In France, Section 23 of the Réglement de
l'Assembée nationale refers to lobbying almost in the same spirit as the Senate
and House of Commons Act. All members are prohibited from belonging to an
association or a group defending specific, local or profession interests, or
from signing commitments concerning such parliamentary activity when this membership
or commitment involve his parliamentary responsibilities.
Despite this, there is great
"familiarity" between representatives of interest groups and elected
representatives. Occasionally, a lobbyist will buy a meal for a
parliamentarian, hold briefings, draft amendments right in the office of a
member or a senator: or provide the government with well-prepared subjects for
the question period and even rebuttal for parliamentarians when ministers give
unconvincing answers. On some occasions, ministers will even use the influence
of interest groups to force parliamentarians to vote on legislation jointly
supported by the government and groups. Parliamentary associations put French
parliamentarians and interest groups in contact with one another. The makeup of
these associations often transcends partisan boundaries. For example, 160
members and 100 senators belonged to one such group with ties to small and
In the United States each state has its own
legislation regarding lobbying. In fact, ail organizations, associations or
individuals wishing to exert pressure on assemblies are asked to register,
report the expenses incurred during their operations, including the salaries of
their lobbyist-agents, specify the nature of the interests they intend to
promote, and fulfill a variety of other obligations which vary from state to
Lobbying in the United States must be seen
in the context of the First Amendment of the Constitution, which decrees that:
"Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech or of the
press; of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the
Government for a redress of grievances."
These are rights of association and petition
which ordinary citizens are acknowledged as having when making their grievances
known to the government. In 1876, the House of Representatives adopted a
resolution ordering the registration of lobbyists with the House Secretariat as
a result of various scandals involving pressure groups. This action, however,
turned out to be temporary, since the following Congress did not renew it.
At the present time, lobbying is governed by
the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act of 1946, some aspects of which were
amended by subsequent legislation. The main clauses in this Act deal with the
compulsory registration of lobbyists and the requirement to report expenses
incurred by lobbying activities, including salaries paid to persons paid to
perform the duties of a lobbyist. Section 307 of the Lobbying Act provides the
following definition of a lobbyist:
Any person (except a political committee as
defined in the Federal Corrupt Practice Act, and duly organized state or local
committees of a political party), who by himself, or through any agent or
employee or other persons in any manner whatsoever, directly or indirectly,
solicits, collects or receives money or any other thing of value to be used
principally to aid. or the principal purpose of which person is to aid, in the
accomplishment of any of the following purposes: (a) the passage or defeat of
any legislation by the Congress of the United States. (b) to influence,
directly or indirectly, the passage or defeat of any legislation by the
Congress of the United States.
The scope of the Federal Regulation of
Lobbying Act, which was termed ambiguous by numerous critics as early as 1946,
was considerably reduced by the Supreme Court in 1954. In the U.S. vs Harris
case, the Court declared that this Act applied only to groups and individuals
receiving money for the main purpose of influencing legislation through direct
contact with members of Congress.
Thus, for many years, the Act did not apply
to some groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers because its
main goal was not to influence Congress, or the National Rifle Association
(which favours the free sale and possession of firearms) that claimed it did
not have direct contact with Congress.
Approximately 2,000 agents are officially
registered as lobbyists in Washington. However, if company vice-presidents,
consulting barristers, independent entrepreneurs, representatives of foreign
governments and many others to whom the legal definition does not apply are
counted. there are an estimated 5,000 practicing lobbyists, i.e 10 lobbyists
for every member of Congress. Approximately 800 of the 1,000 largest companies
in the United States have agents in Washington, only 300 of whom are registered
in accordance with the provisions of the Act.
Other loopholes regarding financial
statements have been reported. Lobbies only report a small percentage of
expenses actually incurred. Despite the fact a detailed account is mentioned in
the Act, the latter is silent on the various types of contributions and
activities which should appear in the expense statements.
Lobbying in Ottawa and Quebec City
There is very little empirical data on the
practice of lobbying in Canada. Existing material is, for the most part,
theoretical dealing with the interaction of groups and governments; or studies
of very specific cases. Professor Robert Presthus of York University, one of
the few Canadian researchers to have seriously studied lobbying, reports that
several people simply do not believe that lobbying is widespread in Canada.4
Journalists have explored the subject in a
superficial way, however, it must be remembered that it is not easy to
investigate the subject because very few lobbyists agree to be interviewed.
Generally, they refuse to admit they are lobbyists because people do not look
favourably upon attempts to influence the government. Furthermore, people in
political and administrative circles do not like to talk about any influence
lobbyists may have on them, because they run a great risk of being accused of
having ties with private interests to the detriment of public interest.
According to Presthus most associations
require the services of professional lobbyists and, occasionally, experts to
approach the government or parliament. The senior managers in large enterprises
spend a good part of their time on relations with governments, almost as much
as do directors of associations. In the 200 largest enterprises in Canada
(enterprises with sales of $100,000,000 per year, including banks, trust
companies, insurance companies or business corporations), senior managers
spend, on the average, the equivalent of half a day per week in contact with
public officials or organizations... Some 30% of directors of associations
spend between one tenth and one third of their time with officials; and 17%
spend the same amount of lime with Members of Parliament.
The most desirable contacts in the
government sought by lobbyists from the business sector are senior public
servants (51%). They are followed by members of cabinet (25%), unspecified
contacts (13%) and ordinary Members of Parliament (11%).
Further testimony about the relationship
between parliamentarians and lobbyists in Ottawa is found in articles published
in Parliamentary Government in 1980. They confirmed that lobbyists and
especially those representing the most important interests will first knock at
the doors of ministers and senior public Servants. Most Members of Parliament
strongly emphasize that lobbying by interest groups is perfectly legitimate.
Members are quite willing to listen to the private sector, which is an
additional source of information for them. Moreover. they point out that there
is a correlation between private sector participation and the effectiveness of
Opposition Members of Parliament are major
targets of lobbyists when someone wants to bring a problem before the House
during question period. Government backbenchers, being in a position where they
can be heard by powerful figures in the government, are much sought after. In
caucus, they can embarrass the minister and his own colleagues if they refuse
It may also prove effective to lobby
committees as long as policy has received final cabinet approval. When a
committee has legislation before it and if the policy is already decided, the
minister generally does not co-operate with lobbyists or groups. Instead, he is
on the defensive.
In short. interest groups make it a rule to
respect the logic of the system by being knowledgeable about the workings of
parliament, making sustained efforts to persuade politicians and senior public
servants, being well prepared and moving in the right location, knowing the
opponents' arguments, determining the interests of Members of Parliament and
having a government affair's adviser in the National Capital.
One of the few serious studies giving some indication
of how certain groups approach the Quebec government is A Study of Business in
Quebec Politics (1975) by Pierre Fournier.
According to Fournier, spokesmen from the
business sector especially prefer personal contact when approaching the
government. The line of influence extends from the Prime Minister and members
of his cabinet down through the deputy ministers and other public servants to
members of the National Assembly.
The Canadian Press reported not too long ago
that there are still very few lobbyists active around the National Assembly.
Mr. Dominique Boivin, one of the few persons willing to be recognized as a
professional lobbyist by the National Assembly, notes that other lobbyists are
present but do not wish to be identified as such.
According to Mr Boivin, a lobbyist must be a
specialist in government documentation and politics; know how to serve as a
intermediary between the client and the authorities; and be a privileged
Another professional lobbyist, Pierre Morin,
maintains watching briefs on pertinent information about issues considered by
the National Assembly. He sees the role of parliamentary lobbyist becoming more
and more accepted in Quebec, even if some still associate it with political
patronage. In a request to the House Leader in 1982 Mr. Morin asked for freer
access to documents and personnel of the National Assembly. However, he felt it
was premature to give official recognition to lobbyists and to regulate their
Despite the evolution of political customs
and structures in the past twenty years, lobbying will always be part of
politics. How many times have we seer the private sector hurry to employ a
former political figure to defend its interests before the authorities? How
many times have we seen former senior public servants or former ministers
become advisers in government relations or establish prosperous consulting
Increasingly, lobbyists are operating
through normal channels to avoid as much as possible any justified or
unjustified suspicions of favouritism. Relations between interest groups and
the government of Quebec are institutionalized in a sense since they consult
with each other and seek consensus. For example, according to a recent press
report, it was discovered that the 20 largest enterprises in Quebec belonged to
a club which includes members of the Treasury Board.6
Other testimony has confirmed the existence
of aggressive lobbying when powerful interests are at issue. When speaking
about the passage of the Quebec Automobile Insurance Act, a former minister
pointed out that there was unusually strong pressure from the Bar, the
Insurance Bureau of Canada, representatives of brokers and even members of
cabinet. "Each time, the bill would fall flat in cabinet where the private
interests of groups directly affected by the slightest reform were
over-represented. Because there was no direct lobby another form of arm
twisting was observed. No government bill ... had ever been the target of as
much advertising paid by opposing groups. Ministers, who were also lawyers,
were the first ones to act as they had been alerted to the lobby of their
The current system of lobbying does not give
small groups claiming to represent general interest enough chance to be
successful. People based interest groups face certain problems such as
financial dependence, doubtful legitimacy and difficulty in determining very
specific priorities. It is difficult for them to resort to professional
lobbyists to defend their case before the authorities. It is also impossible
for them to be able to meet regularly with the government in choice clubs, as
do private businesses, to discuss specific problems in a particular social or
These interest groups usually resort to
protest action either through mass demonstrations or legal actions. In this
regard, it seems that lobbying is a privilege enjoyed by few.
During the past twenty years, much
legislation both federal and provincial has been passed related to the
establishment and organization of public corporations, the information they are
required to divulge, their competition with each other and the limitations on
their spending. Other laws have been adopted concerning the protection of the
environment, consumer protection, financing of political parties and election
campaigns, conflict of interest etc. Some would argue present laws and
procedure may be adequate to accommodate the pressure of various groups without
a great risk to the democratic system or the public interest. Well organized
unions, for example, constitute a strong counterweight to lobbying by business.
It is doubtful if many associations, groups
or lobbyists would welcome legislation giving them an official status and
requiring then to disclose the persons who engage their services, the persons
who provide them with information or even the interests that they are
The Lobbying Act in the United States was
only passed as a result of public opinion at a time when political institutions
were vulnerable to the pressures exerted upon them by aggressive business
lobbies. The application of the law, even today, leaves much to be desired not
because of its imprecise nature but due to lack of co-operation from lobbyists.
'As is the case with all laws aiming to define the limits of legitimate
exercice of personal and civil rights, the effectiveness of the law on lobbying
resides on the good faith and the honesty of those who are governed by
The Canadian and Quebec attitude toward
lobbying has been rather pragmatic. With the growing size of government and
increasing paperwork lobbying is becoming an indispensable tool for
organizations having relations with governments. Without adopting complicated
legislation to regulate lobbying perhaps the time has come for at least
administrative guidelines by various legislatures to clarify the situation of
both lobbyist and those who are being lobbied. Among other things such
- recognize the existence of professional lobbyists in the
- encourage co-operation between the services of legislatures and the
- outline for the benefit of lobbyists some guidelines in keeping
with the fundamental ethics of parliamentary institutions,
1. William Safire, A Political Dictionary,
Random House, New York, 1978., p. 383.
2. Leon Dion, Les groupes et le pouvoir
politique aux États-Unis, Presses de l'Université Laval, Quebec, 1965, p.
3. See "Les groupes d'intérêt sous le Ve
République, Revue français de science politique, no. 2 vol. 33,
4. Robert Presthus, Elite Accommodation
in Canadian Politics, MacMillan, Toronto, 1973.
5. See Parliamentary Government, vol.
2 (no. 1, 1980).
6. Le Soleil, December 13, 1982.
7. See Lise Payette, Le Pouvoir? Connais
Pas, Québec-Amérique, Montreal, 1982, pp. 45-47.
8. Leon Dion, op. cit., p. 129.