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ISSUE: Strengthening Lobbying and Government Ethics Rules and Enforcement in Canada

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Background Information  |  The Opportunity for Change  |
The Message to Send to Politicians  |  Addresses for Politicians  |


Government corruption = waste and abuse of the public!

The Liberal Party stated in its 1993 election campaign platform Creating Opportunity that "If government is to make a positive difference, honesty and integrity in our political institutions, so badly shaken by the Conservative government, must be restored." The Liberals promised a government "that listens to people because it cares about people" and pledged "openness in decision-making."

Specific commitments made by the Liberals in Creating Opportunity include: implementing the recommendations of the June 1993 Holtmann Committee Report on changes to the Lobbyists Registration Act; appointing an independent Ethics Counsellor to advise public officials and lobbyists and to enforce codes of conduct and report directly to Parliament; and developing a Code of Conduct for MPs and Senators and a Code of Conduct for Lobbyists.

When Prime Minister Chretien introduced the much-delayed government ethics package in Parliament on June 16, 1994, he said that the proposed changes to the Lobbyists Registration Act would "put an end to backroom deals" and bring lobbyists "from the shadows out into the open." He said that that the Ethics Counsellor position "has the teeth to investigate and take strong action," and he also pledged that the committee to draft a Code of Conduct for MPs and Senators would be set up "as soon as possible."

In fact, from June 1994 to December 2003 it became very clear that the federal government's lobbyist registration and ethics rules were full of loopholes, and were not effectively enforced.

First, the government introduced severely flawed guidelines on the awarding of advertising and polling contracts and the release of government polls in early May 1994. The guidelines allow Ministers broad discretion in choosing which firms can submit bids for contracts, and which firm will be awarded the contract.

Second, Bill C-43, which amended the Lobbyists Registration Act in 1995, Bill C-15, which amended the Act in 2003, did not follow the Holtmann Committee recommendations, and left lobbying in the shadows by failing to close key loopholes.

Third, Howard Wilson, the new Ethics Counsellor, was not independent as the Liberals promised. He reported behind closed doors to Prime Minister Chretien, and could only investigate conflicts of interest if Chretien allowed him, and he had no power to enforce the ethics standards. And he proved to have no teeth when he failed to investigate or take action in 18 cases where Ministers (including the Prime Minister), MPs and Senators were involved in conflicts of interest and questionably unethical actions.  He also cleared several ministerial staff people, and more than 12 Liberal Party-connected lobbyists even though all were involved in highly questionable activities that most commentators believe violate federal ethics rules.

Fourth, Bill C-43 gave Howard Wilson, the Ethics Counsellor, the authority to draft the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct. He began consultations on the Code in February 1996 and, after very limited consultations (mostly with lobbyists) he released the Code. The Code is intentionally and severely flawed. For example, a lobbyist can serve both the government and a client without violating the Code as long as both the government and the client have no problem with it. As a result, a federal government department can give a contract to a lobbying firm that also consults on communication issues, and the lobbying firm can continue to lobby on behalf of clients on issues involving the same government department. The Department of Finance and Industry Canada have both done this with the Earnscliffe Strategy Group (one contract involved giving advice on how to communicate the budget, while Earnscliffe continued to lobby on budget issues for clients; the other contract involved giving advice on telecommunications policy, while Earnscliffe continued to lobby on the same issues for clients).

Fifth, Democracy Watch filed 12 complaints since April 2000 concerning questionable unethical activities of both Cabinet Ministers and lobbyists. The Ethics Counsellor ruled on 7 of the complaints, and in every case he cleared the Minister or lobbyist involved. Democracy Watch challenged some of the Ethics Counsellor's rulings in court, and won that court challenge in July 2004.  (See news releases and other information about the complaints and the court case on the Government Ethics Campaign page)

Sixth, in spring 2003, then-Prime Minister Chrétien introduced in Parliament, finally, draft proposals in Bill C-34 that included ethics rules for MPs and Senators, and the creation of an independent, fully empowered Ethics Commissioner to enforce ethics rules for Ministers, MPs and Senators. However, the proposals were not as strong as needed to ensure politicians act ethically.  Bill C-34 did not pass before Parliament closed in November 2003.  When Parliament re-opened in early February 2004, Prime Minister Paul Martin re-introduced Bill C-34 (now called Bill C-4) and it was passed in May 2004.  Since then, an ethics code for MPs has been created, but and ethics code for Senators has still not been created (See below for details about the loopholes that still exist in federal ethics rules for politicians and bureaucrats, and how to close them).

In addition, the federal government changed the Lobbyists Registration Act in June 2003 to require more corporate lobbyists to register, but these changes still leave key gaps in the law that allow secret lobbying (See below for details about the gaps that still exist in the federal lobbying law, and how to close them).

Finally, Bill C-11, the Whistleblower Protection Act, was introduced in Parliament in October 2004 and became law at the end of November 2005.  Bill C-11 is flawed because it does not provide protection to all public officials (only bureaucrats would be protected), it does not create a fully-independent, fully-empowered agency to handle whistleblower complaints, and it does not offer any rewards to whistleblowers who report true government wrongdoing.


On both lobbying and ethics reforms, the federal government has not heard from citizens or citizen groups enough to counter the lobbying of the lobbying industry.  It is important that you let the government know what you think about reforms to lobbying and ethics rules.

On November 4, 2005, the federal Conservative Party pledged to pass 52 measures to increase the ethics and accountability of the federal government as the first thing they would do if they were elected.  However, the Conservatives' broke their election promises by passing a so-called "Accountability Act" containing only 30 measures, and many of those measures are weaker than promised. 

To see Democracy Watch's news release about the Conservatives' broken promises, click here.

The Oliphant Commission into the Mulroney-Schreiber affair made some good recommendations in its May 2010 report, but the Conservative federal government needs to be pushed to implement them and other changes.

Democracy Watch has organized the Government Ethics Coalition, made up of 32 groups from across Canada representing over 2.5 million Canadians. The Coalition is pushing the federal government to strengthen lobbying and ethics rules and enforcement of the rules.


Write your Prime Minister and Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper, Interim Liberal Party Leader Bob Rae, the NDP and your own MP (See addresses below). Please send a copy of your letter and any response to Democracy Watch.

In your letter urge the government to reduce the undue influence of lobbyists, strengthen federal lobbying and ethics rules, and strengthen enforcement of those rules, by enacting the following measures:

  • require all government consultation processes to provide meaningful opportunities for citizen participation, so that the influence of lobbyists is decreased;
Make the federal ethics rules stronger by:
  • adding a requirement that federal politicians, their staff, Cabinet appointees and senior government officials to disclose, and in most cases sell, investments and financial interests they (and their spouses and dependents) own or, if they do not sell them, prohibiting them from taking part in discussions or votes on all matters (general and specific) in which they have a financial interest;
  • prohibiting them also from taking part in discussions or votes on matters in which they have an apparent conflict of interest, even if they don't have a direct financial interest;
  • increasing the post-government employment restriction for all staff of Cabinet ministers and senior government officials from 1 to 5 years, and for MPs and senators and their staff, and junior government officials and employees from 1 to 4 years (to close the revolving door through which public official sell their expertise and inside knowledge to private interests when they retire, are defeated in an election, or leave government for another reason); and
  • putting in place an open, merit-based process for government appointments and contracts.
Ensure lobbyists activities are tracked and their undue influence restricted by changing the federal Lobbyists Registration Act as follows:
  • require Ministers and senior public officials to disclose their contacts with lobbyists, and put this information in the Registry of Lobbyists database;
  • require lobbyists to disclose how much they and their clients are spending on their campaigns (as required in 33 U.S. states);
  • require lobbyists to disclose past work with political parties, candidates for federal public office and governments;
  • prohibit lobbyists from serving in senior positions for political parties and candidates (as prohibited in Maryland and New Mexico);
  • prohibit lobbyists from doing work for government departments (such as providing advice on communications) and from having any business connections with anyone who does such work, and;
  • eliminate the corporate tax deduction for lobbying expenses.
And ensure all existing federal ethics rules (and the new rules proposed above) are effectively enforced by:
  • strengthening the "whistleblower" protection law so that anyone who reports a violation of ethics rules or other government wrongdoing is protected by the Integrity Commissioner from retaliation;
  • requiring the Integrity Commissioner and Ethics Commissioner to review complaints filed by the public;
  • allowing complainants to go to court if the Ethics Commissioner or Integrity Commissioner delays an investigation an unreasonable length of time; and
  • enacting a general anti-avoidance provision in all ethics rules to prevent people from exploiting any loopholes.
For more information about Democracy Watch's proposed lobbying and government ethics reforms, go to the Government Ethics Campaign page.


SEND YOUR LETTER BY MAIL calling for passage of stronger federal ethics rules and a more effective enforcement system to:
Prime Minister and Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper, Interim Liberal Party Leader Bob Rae, the NDP, the Green Party, key MPs, and your own MP
all at the following address (NO POSTAGE NEEDED):

House of Commons
Ottawa, Canada
K1A 0A6
(To find your MP using your postal code, click here)

OR send your letter by email to all the federal party leaders at:
pm@pm.gc.ca, harper.s@parl.gc.ca, bob.rae@parl.gc.ca, rae.b0@parl.gc.ca, ndpadmin@fed.ndp.ca, thomas.mulcair@parl.gc.ca, may.e@parl.gc.ca, may.e0@parl.gc.ca, leader@greenparty.ca, dwatch@web.net, oggo@parl.gc.ca, ethi@parl.gc.ca, proc@parl.gc.ca, just@parl.gc.ca, leg-jur@sen.parl.gc.ca

OR send your letter by fax or email individually to:
Prime Minister and Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper
Fax: 613-941-6900
Email: <pm@pm.gc.ca>
Email: <harper.s@parl.gc.ca>

Interim Liberal Party Leader Bob Rae
Fax: 613-947-0310
Email: <bob.rae@parl.gc.ca>, <rae.b0@parl.gc.ca>

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair
Fax: 613-230-9950
Email: <thomas.mulcair@parl.gc.ca>
Email: <ndpadmin@fed.ndp.ca>

AND, finally, please send a copy of your letter by email to Democracy Watch at: <dwatch@web.net>

Thank you for participating in our DemocratizACTION Network

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Updated April 17, 2012

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