[Democracy Watch Logo][Op-ed]

Five-year ban on former ministerial staffers becoming lobbyists is both needed and reasonable

(The following opinion piece, by Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch, was published as a letter-to-the-editor in the Hill Times on March 13, 2006)

Dear Editor,

In two different articles (Lobbying, and Lobbying World - March 6), commentators are quoted making very exaggerated and misleading claims about the effects of a prohibition on ministerial staffers becoming lobbyists for five years after they leave their position (that the Conservatives have pledged to enact as part of their planned "Federal Accountability Act.")

Liberal MP (and former lobbyist) Paul Zed is quoted as saying that ministers "want top quality people, and we don't want them inhibited in any way."  Not surprisingly, Mr. Zed reveals with this statement that he is unaware (as are most federal politicians) of what the ethics rules currently are, and that he has a very low government ethics standard.

Ministerial staffers are already prohibited by the rules from becoming lobbyists for one year after they leave (and from even joining the board or staff or doing contract work with any organization with which they had direct dealings in their last year as a staffer), and are prohibited forever from sharing secret information with anyone, and are also prohibited from taking a position with an organization involved in a negotiation or legal dispute with the government in which they were involved as a staffer.

By his statement, Mr. Zed is suggesting that these "inhibitions" on staff should also be removed.  Does he really believe that the revolving door between government and the private sector should be wide open?  If so, I can only say that he should review the 12 years of recent Liberal government (during which these restrictions were never enforced) to discover how much a wide-open revolving door is a recipe for corruption.

University of Calgary professor Lisa Young is quoted as saying about the proposed five-year ban that ""if there is no private-sector possibility at the end of a career working in the party, it weakens the political party."  This is a completely misleading statement about the effects of a five-year ban.  The proposed ban will, if enacted, only be a ban on becoming a lobbyist (ie. a person who communicates with government officials about changes to laws, policies and programs).  Not only can ex-staffers become strategic advisors to private-sector organizations (of course still following the rules set out above), there are thousands of other private sector jobs that people can take at the end of their party careers.

Many commentators are making similarly exaggerated claims about the pledged five-year ban.  Their inability to stick to the facts and make their points in a reasonable way only highlights how empty and unconvincing their arguments against the ban are.

Not only must the lobbying ban be put in place for ministerial staffers to help ensure that the federal government upholds the public interest and is not open to undue, undemocratic and unethical influence by private sector organizations, there are similarly strong arguments that a ban of at least one year should be put in place for MPs and their staffers.

Please become a Supporter of democratic reform, government accountability and corporate responsibility in Canada

Democracy Watch's Government Ethics Campaign

Democracy Watch homepage