The Government of British Columbia has introduced legislation to toughen the rules around political lobbying, which is expected to help protect the integrity of public decision making.
Attorney General David Eby said that today’s legislation will ban former public office holders and their senior staff from lobbying government for two years after leaving government. The legislation — which amends the Lobbyists Registration Act — also provides the Registrar of Lobbyists the discretion to grant an exemption from this two-year prohibition if it is deemed best for public interest.
“We’re making sure people are at the centre of government decisions,” Eby said, thanking the Green Party caucus for its work on the issue. “British Columbians want to know that decisions are being made in the interests of their families, communities and province — and not because a lobbyist had access to inside information.
“Our legislation will increase transparency and eliminate the potential for undue influence or use of insider information by lobbyists. Previously, individuals could go straight from a senior decision-making role in government to lobbying. This sweeping prohibition will ensure that knowledge is not used or sold for private gain after employment with the Province ends. This significant legislation will also require lobbyists to register the names of staff of ministers or MLAs they lobbied.”
The act defines former public office holders as former cabinet ministers and their staff (excluding administrative personnel), parliamentary secretaries, deputy ministers, ministry CEOs, associate deputy ministers, or positions of an equivalent rank, including the two most senior positions at universities, institutions, school boards, health authority boards, hospitals, Workers Compensation Board, and a number of Crown corporations, agencies and associations.
Many provinces have lobbying prohibitions of varying time periods, including the federal government’s Lobbying Act, which prohibits designated public office holders for a period of five years.
Penalties under the Lobbyists Registration Act will remain. Administrative penalties may be imposed by the registrar up to $25,000 for non-compliance with the act and regulation. For convictions of offences, fines up to $25,000 for a first offence and up to $100,000 for a subsequent offence may be imposed. The two-year prohibition would come into effect approximately two months after the amended legislation is approved, giving the registrar time to update the online registry and develop a policy to guide the granting of exemptions.
A backgrounder follows.
Government Communications and Public EngagementMinistry of Attorney General
The goal of this legislation is to enact a strong, sweeping prohibition, so that individuals who worked for the government cannot sell their insider-knowledge and contacts in order to influence governments on behalf of corporations and organizations.
- The proposed changes to the Lobbyists Registration Act will prohibit former public office holders from acting as lobbyists for two years after leaving office.
- The two-year prohibition begins on the date employment ended.
- This two-year prohibition is new for British Columbia.
- However, the Registrar of Lobbyists will have the discretion to grant an exemption to this two-year prohibition if it is deemed in the public interest.
- The amendments require lobbyists to disclose the names of any staff person working in a minister or MLA’s office with whom they speak.
- This is in addition to disclosing the name of the minister or MLA to whom a lobbyist speaks.
- The Lobbyists Registration Act has not undergone significant amendment since 2009.
- Ministry staff will be working with the Registrar of Lobbyists to review the Act, including past recommendations of that office. The review will begin within the year.
- Currently, the Act is silent on the participation of former public office holders serving as lobbyists.
- The definition of former public office holder includes former cabinet ministers and their political staff, parliamentary secretaries, deputy ministers, ministry CEOs, associate deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers, or positions of an equivalent rank and the two-most senior positions and board members of universities, institutions, school boards, health authority boards, hospitals, organizations in the natural resources and economic development sector, transportation and social services sectors, the Workers Compensation Board, and a number of Crown corporations, agencies and associations.
Penalties for breaking the prohibition rules
- There are both administrative penalties and fines for offences under the act.
- Administrative penalties may be imposed by the registrar up to $25,000 for non-compliance with the act and regulation. Since 2012, the registrar has imposed 62 administrative penalties under the act with the average penalty being $447.18. The highest penalty imposed was $1,500.
- If convicted of an offence under the Lobbyists Registration Act, there is a maximum fine of up to $25,000 for a first offence and up to $100,000 for a second offence.
- As part of the penalties, the registrar may also impose a two-year prohibition from lobbying.
Restrictions in other jurisdictions
- The federal government’s Lobbying Act prohibits designated public office holders for a period of five years.
- Saskatchewan prohibits former cabinet ministers for one year and other former public office holders for six months.
- Quebec has a two-year prohibition for former cabinet members and members of the National Assembly, and a one-year prohibition for other positions.
- Newfoundland and Labrador has a one-year prohibition.