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New lobbying rules come into effect for province April 1. Not a joke

March 30th, 2010 · No Comments

The province is tightening up its lobbying rules a little bit on Thursday, making it clearer who needs to register as a lobbyist and removing the $150 fee to encourage people to do so.

No attempt made to regulate what lobbyists can do, except for what is being called the “Ken Dobell” amendment, which prohibits lobbyists from lobbying government when you have a contract from that same government to give advice on the same matter. (Likely proceeding from the same philosophy as that being expressed by Community Development Minister Bill Bennett, who says people want information about who is giving political donations in civic elections but they don’t necessarily want to see a ban or limit on donations. If the public has the information, that solves the other problems, goes this way of thinking.)

I am no legal expert on lobbying, but former attorney-general Geoff Plant is and this is the memo he sent out in his firm of Heenan Blaikie to explain in lovely, clear, non-legalistic language what this means for people who think that they aren’t really lobbyists but actually are.

This is just to remind everyone that the new BC Lobbyists Registration Act comes into force on April 1.  All existing registrations will expire, and anyone who is currently registered as a “consultant lobbyist” will have ten days to re-register in respect of ongoing engagements.

The new Act expands the definition of lobbyist, and introduces a new regime of administrative oversight and enforcement.  Registration is free.  The Ministry of Attorney General has put some helpful information up on their website.

I have known lawyers who think the Act does not apply to them because of solicitor client privilege, or because they do not consider themselves to be “lobbyists”.  Neither excuse will avail you against the plain wording of the Act.  For example, you are lobbying if you are communicating with a public office holder in an attempt to influence:

• the development of any legislative proposal;
• the introduction, amendment, passage or defeat of any bill or resolution;
• the development or enactment of any regulation;
• the development, establishment, amendment or termination of any contract, grant or financial benefit;
a decision by cabinet to transfer from the Crown all or part of any business that provides goods or services to the Crown, a provincial entity or the public [this is new]; or

a decision by cabinet to have the private sector, instead of the Crown, provide goods or services to the Government of British Columbia or a provincial entity [this is also new];or
• you are a consultant lobbyist who arranges a meeting between a public office holder and any other individual.

If you are doing these things as a volunteer – ie, you are not paid for them – then you will not be required to register.  But if you have been retained by a client to do these things, then you will be a “consultant lobbyist” under the Act and you should register.  The government takes the view that solicitor-client privilege does not apply to the act of lobbying public office holders.  The Law Society takes the same view: see Bencher’s Bulletin (2001: No. 5).

Public office holder is broadly defined to mean any of the following:
members of the legislative assembly (MLA) or their staff;
an officer or employee of the B.C. government;
a person appointed to any office or body by or with the approval of cabinet (other than a person appointed on the recommendation of the legislative assembly);
a person appointed to any office or body by or with the approval of a minister of the B.C. government; or
an officer, director or employee of any government corporation, as defined in the Financial Administration Act.

A public office holder does not include members of the judiciary.

There is a new prohibition.  You may not lobby on a matter in relation to which you hold a contract from government for providing paid advice.  So if you’re hired to help the government develop transit policy, you better not accept a retainer from a construction company to try to persuade the government to build a new rapid transit line.

Registration requires disclosure of the start and end dates of your undertaking to lobby, a summary of your client’s business activities, whether your client receives any government funding, the lobbying subject matter, public office holder targets and intended outcome of the lobbying, among other things. An online registry stores this information and is available for public viewing.  I have not seen the new online registry; the old one was appallingly inflexible and user-unfriendly.  I can say that without fear of contradiction because I was responsible for creating it.  The new one will, I hope, be an improvement.

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