At the time this article was written
Patrick Boyer was the Member of Parliament for Etobicoke--Lakeshore.
When legislation providing for
the Registration of Lobbyists was adopted by Parliament in 1989, the act
provided for a an automatic review of the legislation. That review is now under
way by the Standing Committee on Consumer and Corporate Affairs and Government
Operations. One of the first witnesses to appear before the committee was
Patrick Boyer who calls for a more comprehensive approach to this issue for a
greater role for Parliament in the administration of the legislation.
Observations about life in our
small capital from different perspectives over the years has led me to the view
that the Lobbyist Registration Act, is an important start, but really is an
inadequate response to the lobbying phenomenon. In fact, it is not even
adequate, in terms of the criteria and standards set down by Prime Minister
Mulroney on September 9, 1985.
The principles that ought to
underscore this are first, to ensure openness around the decision--making
process, and second, to ensure that access to government is unimpeded. On this
second principle, we are seeing some impediments or some barriers being
developed on both sides. Legislation that was recently passed in Parliament,
now charging fees with respect to registration, goes against the principles
enunciated when the bill was first brought in, and that can be seen to
constitute a barrier. Similarly lobbyists who insert themselves as middlemen in
the process between public and government can equally be seen as a type of
barrier to the citizens and organizations in the country, who feel that unless
they retain the services of a lobbyist they may not have equal access to
With those two principles about
openness and access, I would like to make three general points. It is time,
both historically and in terms of the three--year review process, to consider
what I call a comprehensive approach in three areas: first, the legal and
statutory framework; second a comprehensive approach with respect to the
lobbying relationship; and third, the need for a comprehensive definition of
Let me begin with the need for a
comprehensive legal and statutory framework. I think it is helpful to pause and
realize that currently Parliament is dealing with three different statutes by
three different committees, which all relate to the same subject matter. We
have Bill C--43, dealing with conflict of interest, which is before the House
of Commons and which was the subject of a further committee study that reported
last June. We have a Special Committee, currently chaired by Jim Hawkes, that
is looking at the whole question of election financing. Third, we have the
Consumer and Corporate Affairs Committee dealing with the Lobbyists
My purpose is to urge a more
comprehensive approach to the phenomenon of lobbying as it is now being
There are three different statutes,
three different sets of definitions three sets of government officials
involved. Yet all are dealing ultimately with the interaction of money, power,
influence, access, decision--making, and public policy.
There are also two other statutes,
the Criminal Code and the Income Tax Act, which also can be said to bear on the
same subject if we are to take a comprehensive view of the legal and statutory
framework that can capture the lobbying phenomenon. Another way of looking at
the need for a comprehensive approach to the legal framework is to reflect for
a moment on what anyone can see in the literature or what anyone can see who
visits our capital. When a person arrives at the Ottawa airport and comes
through the Department of Transport facilities, he or she is met by a sign
advertising the services of one of the many professional lobbying firms in the
city. The past couple of decades have witnessed a very major increase in the
growth, nature, activity, and reach of lobbying organizations.
I am emphasizing this in its
historic perspective. To underscore why I am stressing a comprehensive
approach, let us go back and look at what happened two decades ago. In 1974
Parliament passed the Elections Finances Reform Act. Up to that time there had
been a lot of concern in Canada about how political parties raised their funds.
Everyone conceded that it was rather a swamp of misunderstanding and there was
certainly need to bring it out into the open.
So 1974 brought in a new regime,
with public disclosure of the sources and the amounts of the funding. It was
all based on the notion that is intrinsic to all of these areas – openness is
essential, sunshine is the best antiseptic. What can be done in public view is
likely going to be a lot better than what might be done in dark and shady
corners, behind the scenes and without disclosure.
Well, not too much time passed
after 1974 before the role of paid professional lobbyists in this capital began
to grow. My point is a simple one. There were before 1974, and remain after
that date, some organizations in this country and some individuals who have
wanted to extract decisions from government. Like water running down a hill
that hits a boulder and is stopped temporarily but soon finds a way to get
around it, they have now found access to government, not through contributions
to political parties as in the former fashion, but through retaining the
services of paid professional lobbyists.
My second point is the need for a
comprehensive view of the lobbying relationship. What I am suggesting is that
the focus ought not be exclusively on the lobbyists, who after all are
intermediaries who have inserted themselves for a fee, between their clients
and government. We ought to indeed take a comprehensive look at the entire
relationship. This means those with whom lobbyists interact, both their clients
and government officials.
I think it is always important to
remember that ultimately it is the decision--makers who do control the system.
A decision--maker decides who he will or will not see, and what he will or will
not decide. Therefore, it is going to be important to see, from the government
officials' side, their response to the current operation of the lobbyist system
as it is developed. The committee has already heard from some people speaking
to that point, in a somewhat muted way. I think it could be brought out more
clearly if the committee were to focus on the recipient side of the lobbying
activity as well as the client side, those who are giving instructions to
lobbyists, retaining their services. Indeed, it may be worth asking if, once
someone retains the services of a lobbyist, they are able to get off that
The committee heard from a witness
who described the phenomenon of a multiple--year retainer fee for the
consideration for acting for them. It seems there is something happening here
that is going towards the institutionalization of lobbying as a relationship
for a number of the clients with lobbyists, in their relationship with
government. That is why to come to grips with what is going on it is important
to deal with the full relationship and not focus only on the lobbyists themselves.
Sooner or later we will look at
these phenomena as all threads of the same fabric. We do not want to have three
different statutes, three different sets of officials, three different sets of
definitions, three different approaches, and the ability therefore for a lot to
be lost between the three.
The third point I wanted to make,
in terms of a comprehensive approach, relates to the definition of lobbying.
This is one that takes a lot of effort and review of the legislative regimes in
many other countries and the committee's own experience. I was on the committee
chaired by Albert Cooper, although I did not engage in the final drafting of
the report, I remember we were very much struggling with how to define the
activity of lobbying.
Clearly, a couple of things have
come to light that really have to be taken into account when we look for a more
comprehensive definition to embrace the whole transaction that is going on
here. For example, the phenomenon of the so--called grassroots movements
springs up. Last week the committee heard in detail how that can and is done,
when what appears to be a populist outcry over a certain issue or concern is
indeed something that is being orchestrated to influence the public system.
In this area of definition, the role
of the Income Tax Act is also relevant. We have a lot of non--governmental
organizations, in the country that have registered themselves as charitable and
educational organizations in order to give tax receipts. In so doing, they buy
into and conform with rules set down by Revenue Canada that prohibit political
activity. There are other NGOs that know it is their mandate and purpose to
expressly engage in political activity. They make the decision not to apply for
charitable registration. I am thinking of organizations such as Greenpeace, the
National Citizens' Coalition and others. Those may be fairly clear examples. If
we are being realistic today there are, a number of organizations in Canada,
public--purpose organizations, that do have an interest in contributing to
public decision--making, providing information, ensuring their point of view is
brought forward. Where do they fit in terms of lobbying, as currently defined?
Does the standard set down under the Income Tax Act actually force and
constrain some of these organizations into patterns of activity that are not,
shall we say, natural for them? Do they end up having to retain paid
professional lobbyist to do things they would otherwise find their charitable
registration in jeopardy over? Do they otherwise simply register as tier--one
We are seeing a time of great
challenge to the political parties in our country as credible and respected
institutions for carrying out political missions. A lot is going on around that
The solution may be one that is
contemplated by Professor Paul Pross, now at Dalhousie University, who has made
himself very well informed on the subject of lobbying in Canada. He has
advocated or at least proposed consideration of another system under the Income
Tax Act, where there could be public--interest groups, NGOs, that could qualify
for some form of tax credit, but at a lower or different rate, where it was
known that they would engage in some form of lobbying, public interest,
This keeps leading to the question
of whether we want to see in Canada the creation of PACs, the Political Action
Committees, that operate outside of the political parties in order to control
and influence members of Parliament and the people who work in our parties. The
reason I am raising this is that all of this is tied in as part of the same
fabric, part of the same phenomenon of what is going on in Canada.
I think a comprehensive definition
is going to have to embrace more of this wider area of activity than is
contemplated by some of the traditional definitions of lobbying that we find
not only in this country but also in statutes and regimes in other countries.
I would suggest one other idea as
well concerning responsibility for whatever system is developed. Currently, a
separate, small office has been set up in one of the government departments.
But we do have other models to follow that we are familiar with – for example,
where they relate to broad public policy, political activity, the interaction of
money and influence and so on, the political parties.
The Chief Electoral Officer of
Canada reports directly to Parliament, as does the Commissioner of Canada
Elections under the CEO. We also have, with respect to the Auditor General,
someone who is regularly reviewing public transactions, to see that taxpayers
are getting value for dollars spent and that public purposes are being followed
in government spending. He is reporting directly to Parliament.
It strikes me that a lot of the
issues that are before this committee, qualitatively, go to the same types of
concerns and issues that are dealt with by Elections Canada, by the Auditor
General. Therefore, should we go beyond the step that was taken at the
beginning, with the Lobbyists Registration Act, to have this function located
within one government department, with the problem that entails in terms of
independence and in terms of the public perception of a function that is
independent and neutral?
I think the justification for
locating this function within a government department was to maintain low
overhead, to keep the costs down. This was unanimously part of the committee's
report three or four years ago, which I support very strongly. We did not want
to see a large bureaucracy being created.
On the other hand, we have a larger
issue before us – the role of elected representatives in our system of
government and the need to reinstate Parliament with power and authority in
this very important area. Everything we do as parliamentarians is open. We are
What we are looking at with
lobbyist are people who are likewise involved as intermediaries, in the
political system, in the decision--making process. They are largely operating
outside of any public view and certainly in a system that is unaccountable. My
view is that Parliament itself is the best watchdog. We do not need to create a
large bureaucracy of public--service snoopers as much as we need to have an
accounting and reporting chain or stream that involves parliamentarians far more
directly. I think that would serve several purposes at once.