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Wide open system for unethical activities by former Canadian Cabinet ministers and government officials

Set out below is an op-ed by Democracy Watch Board member Duff Conacher which was published on June 30, 2011 on Rabble.ca -- To see related CBC.ca article, click here

Former Conservative Cabinet minister Stockwell Day claims that in his new government relations role he will "not deal in any confidential information" he will only "provide advice"Former minister Monte Solberg, who has been providing such strategic advice to clients for the past few years, claims that it's easy to avoid lobbying when communicating with his former Cabinet colleagues.


While their claims may be difficult to believe, they may well be true.


What is definitely true is that because neither the federal Commissioner of Lobbying nor the federal Ethics Commissioner do any audits or inspections of the activities of former ministers, staff or senior officials, these people can essentially choose whether or not they will follow the laws that prohibit them from selling lobbying services for five years after they leave office (under sections 10.11 and 10.12 of the federal Lobbying Act), and that prohibit them forever from giving advice using secret information they learned while in office or taking improper advantage of their former public office -- as well as, for one to two years, working for people or organizations that they had significant official dealings with during their last year in office (under sections 33-42 of the federal Conflict of Interest Act).

Along with the federal Integrity Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd and the Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson have been acting like lapdogs protecting federal politicians, government officials and lobbyists, instead of being watchdogs strictly and strongly upholding key good government laws.


Another part of this wide open, unethical system is that the so-called five-year ban is only on being a registered lobbyist, not on lobbying.  You are allowed to lobby the day after you leave office because you don't have to register as a lobbyist if you are not paid for the lobbying (so you can just arrange to have someone pay you for "advice" and do the lobbying for free).  You also don't have to register if you work as an employee for a company and lobby less than 20% of your work time, or if you only lobby about the enforcement and/or administration of laws, regulations, policies and government programs, so these lobbying activities are also legal the day after you leave office.


Perversely, the rules are stronger, and Canadians have a higher chance of getting a ticket, for having their car parked a few minutes after the meter runs out compared to the chance a former Cabinet minister or government official have of getting caught violating these key anti-corruption laws.

The cases of former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer, and of former prime minister adviser Bruce Carson, have highlighted these loopholes, but still the federal Conservatives continue to fail to make the changes they promised in the 2006 election that would require all lobbying to be registered by the politicians and government officials being lobbied.


Until the loopholes in these laws are closed (and they also exist in every province, city and territory across Canada), and these laws are effectively enforced, they will just be empty words on paper.


Canadians deserve better, especially from the Conservatives who promised to clean up federal politics and end secret, unethical lobbying.

For more details, go to Democracy Watch's Government Ethics Campaign and Money in Politics Campaign pages