December 13, 2004


Lobbyist legislation now before the House of Assembly

Tom Marshall, Minister of Justice and Attorney General, has introduced legislation in the House of Assembly that is designed to regulate the activity of lobbyists in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

"Our government committed to develop strong, leading-edge legislation to regulate lobbyists in this province," said Minister Marshall. "We asked the people of the province for input and now we are ready to put forward legislation that will raise the bar for open and accountable government, which complements government�s accountability and transparency agenda. Citizens can and should have input into the public decision-making process, to make better, stronger public policy. This legislation will simply ensure that input takes place in a transparent manner." 

The Department of Justice completed an extensive review of similar legislation in other jurisdictions and conducted stakeholder consultation on the basic principles proposed for the legislation in this province. A discussion paper outlining the issues was posted to the government Web site and hard copies were mailed to over 100 organizations likely to have interest in, and perspectives on, such legislation; government consultants, umbrella advocacy groups, academics and any others interested in public policy. Some 20 written briefs were submitted on the topic, providing valuable input into the legislative drafting process. 

"What we heard again and again from those who responded to the discussion document," said the minister, "is that access to government decision-makers is essential. The people of this province want to continue to provide input and present opinions that inform policy and program decisions, as individuals and as members of stakeholder groups. 

"Newfoundlanders and Labradorians also think that creating transparency around lobbying is a step in the right direction. If individuals or groups are working to influence government decisions, that information should be available to public office holders and to the public-at-large. After all, every one of us has a stake in how government collects and spends, what programs and services government provides, and the laws under which we live." 

"There were cautions raised, also," said the minister. "Some respondents were concerned that the cost or administrative effort involved in registering might be too great for some organizations (primarily volunteer or not-for profit groups), and that this would prevent those groups from having access to government decision-makers. I can assure you that government has no intention of passing a law that creates financial barriers to government access. The purpose is to increase transparency around lobbying, not to limit it. 

"The information and the perspectives we received during the consultation was very valuable in helping us ensure that our legislation not only leads the country, but fits our province." 

"Good, solid lobbyist legislation will help clarify what is appropriate conduct for lobbyists as they bring information forward to government," the minister said. "This legislation will enable the public to know who is lobbying government and why. The people of Newfoundland and Labrador expect openness, transparency and accountability in the public decision-making process. We�re making sure the law reflects that." 

Media contact: Heather MacLean, Communications, (709) 729-6985 or (709) 690-2498

Bill 43, An Act to Provide for the Registration of Lobbyists
: Highlights 

The Act to Provide for the Registration of Lobbyists, also known as the Lobbyist Registration Act, is leading-edge legislation for the regulation of lobbying activities in Newfoundland and Labrador. It was drafted and introduced into the House of Assembly after extensive review of similar legislation in other Canadian jurisdictions and focused consultation with key stakeholders in this province. 

The core objectives of the new act are to:

  • establish a registry so the public will know who is lobbying and who is being lobbied;
  • require lobbyists to report their activities;
  • require lobbyists to file their general objectives and/or their specific lobbying activities;
  • impose significant penalties for those who violate these provisions;
  • establish a code of conduct for lobbyists.

The following are highlights of the Lobbyist Registration Act.

Definitions and Exclusions
: Government is seeking to regulate paid lobbying, which is defined under the act to mean communicating, for pay or other benefit, with a public office holder in an attempt to influence public policy or program decisions.

Not all communication with a public office holder would be subject to the act. Exclusions include (but are not limited to): responses to written requests for comment on an issue; submissions to Members of the House of Assembly (MHAs), in their official capacities as MHAs, by, or on behalf of, their constituents; on-the-record submissions to a committee of the House of Assembly or to any body or person with jurisdiction under a given piece of legislation; and communication by a trade union regarding administration or negotiation of a collective agreement, or representing a member or former member who is, or was employed, in the public service.

Public Office Holders: To influence government decisions, lobbying has to reach the decision-makers. The act defines "Public Office Holders" to include employees of government departments and agencies, and persons appointed to various positions by Cabinet and by ministers, as well as Members of the House of Assembly. The definition does not include: elected municipal representatives and council employees; judges, justices of the peace and members of an administrative tribunal, exercising a judicial function; the Information and Privacy Commissioner; or the Citizens� Representative.

Lobbyists: The act is aimed at regulating paid lobbyists - that is, those who receive remuneration, or other benefits, to carry out lobbying activities. A consultant lobbyist is defined to mean "an individual who is paid to lobby on behalf of a client"; examples include lawyers, accountants and public relations specialists. An in-house lobbyist is defined to mean an employee, whose lobbying activity (either individually or counted with other employees) amounts to 20 per cent of one staff member�s work time over a three-month period; this would apply to individual employees as well as a collective of employees conducting lobbying activities. Individuals who make representations on their own behalf will not have to register as lobbyists in order to bring their concerns forward to their elected representatives.

Those NOT considered lobbyists include public office holders acting in an official capacity would not be required to register as lobbyists. Examples of those not considered lobbyists would be:

  • members, officers or servants of the House of Assembly, and their staff;
  • employees in the public service;
  • members, officers and employees of a municipal council, the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Municipalities or the Combined Councils of Labrador;
  • officers and employees of a school board, or the Newfoundland and Labrador School Boards� Association;
  • officers, directors or employees of a health and community services board under the Health and Community Services Act, or of the Newfoundland and Labrador Health Care Association or the Newfoundland and Labrador Hospital Boards Association;
  • officers, directors or employees of organizations established or funded by government to provide information or advice on matters of public policy;
  • federal senators, MPs, elected members of the legislative assembly of another province or territory, or their staff;
  • officers, directors or employees of an aboriginal government, political organization or band council;
  • unpaid volunteers representing a voluntary organization, about an issue of concern to that organization.

Registration and the Registry
Registration of paid lobbyists is provided for by the act to provide a public record of who is seeking to influence public policy, and by what means. It will give concrete form to the principles of openness and transparency and help respond to public concern that paid lobbyists might receive preferential treatment.

Lobbyists covered by the legislation would be required to disclose certain information within specified time limits. Lobbyists will have to disclose who they are, who and what they are lobbying for, and by what means. They will also have to disclose the sources of funding for their lobbying activity, including any government funding their client has received or expects to receive.

This information will have to be provided to the Lobbyist Registry within 10 days of beginning an undertaking for a client. New information or changes to a registration would have to be reported within 30 days. New information would include the end of an undertaking, conclusion of a project, stopping a particular lobbying activity or a change in personnel for an organization represented by an in-house lobbyist.

The Registry
Registration information will be recorded in a public registry. Government intends to establish a Web-based registry, allowing easy access for those viewing the registry or submitting registration information; the process should be no more difficult than on-line vehicle registration. An added benefit is that an on-line registry would be both efficient and cost-effective.

The Lobbyist Registry will be self-funding. Registration fees will be levied to cover the cost of the system, with not-for-profits organizations paying less than profit-making commercial lobbyists. In some cases, the fee may be waived altogether. Public access to the Registry will be free. 

The Registry of Lobbyists would be administered and maintained by a Registrar of Lobbyists, appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council. 

The registrar�s role would be administrative and operational and would include responsibility for: administering the registration process; identifying omissions and inconsistencies, and requesting completion and corrections from the lobbyist; informing lobbyists, public office holders, the public and others about the registry; and ensuring that the public has access to information in the registry

Monitoring and Compliance
Registration of lobbyists will be monitored for compliance. The Lobbyist Registration Act defines prohibited acts and imposes penalties for violations. Prohibited acts include non-compliance, submitting false or misleading information and placing a public-office holder in a position of conflict of interest. The act also imposes a 12-month "cooling off period" that will apply to members and officers of the House of Assembly, as well as cabinet ministers and deputy ministers who become lobbyists after leaving office or employment. There will be fines of up to $25,000 for a first offence and up to $100,000 for a second or subsequent offence, as well as forfeiture to the Crown of proceeds from inappropriate lobbying.

Code of Conduct
To accompany the act, and complement its registration requirements, government will establish a Lobbyist Code of Conduct that sets the standard of behavior for lobbyists. The Code will proscribe things that lobbyists should not do, as well as establish positive duties. It will, as far as is possible, be consistent with similar codes now in place federally and in Quebec.

Codes of Conduct have long been applied in this and other jurisdictions to guide the behavior of persons occupying positions of responsibility and trust. Other jurisdictions, particularly the federal, have adopted a Code of Conduct for Lobbyists. 

Monitoring of adherence to the code will be the responsibility of a Commissioner of Lobbyists, who will have the authority to investigate violations of the act and the code, to prohibit or cancel registrations, and to refer files to the police for investigation.

Lobbyist Registration Act

In preparing the Lobbyist Registration Act for presentation in the House of Assembly, government has done a great deal of research. A review of similar legislation in other Canadian jurisdictions was followed up by a consultation seeking the input of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. 

The Department of Justice developed a discussion document that outlined potential key elements of lobbyist legislation; it was posted to government�s Web site and advertised it in the province�s major newspapers. It was mailed directly to more than 100 organizations, including volunteer groups and industry associations, for review and input. 

The response included numerous telephone calls and some 20 written submissions from advocacy groups throughout the province. Organizations providing written input included groups representing business, seafood producers, women�s interests, health and community, and education. 

Government is very appreciative of this input, which has helped refine the Lobbyist Registration Act. The information and the perspectives brought forward were very valuable in helping government develop legislation that not only leads the country, but also is appropriate to this province. 

The range of submissions reflect the great diversity of interests and concerns within Newfoundland and Labrador. However, four key themes very quickly emerged:

1. Most respondents agreed that lobbying is a good and useful tool in the democratic process.

"One of the main strengths of government is its willingness to receive and act upon informed constructive criticism by grassroots advocates and lobbyists..."

It is important "that free and direct access to government be realized in order to provide necessary advice, guidance and representation...."

2. However, some drew a distinction between those who lobby for a not-for-profit organization or on social issues (often referred to as "advocates") and those who are paid to lobby on behalf of a commercial enterprise. Many felt that the latter should be regulated and the former not.

"Non-profit, member-based associations ... are not, or should not be, the primary focus of lobbyist legislation."

"... advocacy organizations should be exempt from the Lobbyist Registration Act."

3. Many respondents were concerned that registration would impose too great an administrative or financial burden, especially on non-profit organizations operating on a shoestring budget, and cautioned government to design the process and the fee structure so as not to create barriers based on cost.

"...non-profit advocacy organizations [should] be exempted from registration fees."

The legislation should ensure that "non-profit organizations are not presented with significant administrative burdens in having to province information."

4. Finally, all respondents agree that transparency around lobbying is a good public policy goal. Information should be publicly available on individuals or groups seeking to influence how government collects and spends public funds, or to change the law under which we live.

"Making government and its decision-making processes more transparent to the public will help to correct one of several significant democratic deficits that we as citizens confront."

2004 12 13                   4:25 p.m.

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