(Updated September 2011)
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Moneyed interests play by different rules than the rest of us. When they don't like how the world is treating them, they invest large sums of money in well-connected lobbyists and revolving-door incentives -- whereby those serving in public office carry on their duties with an eye to securing lucrative private-sector posts -- to ensure that both elected officials and bureaucrats remain friendly and compliant.
The line between the lobbying industry and government is so unclear that government now relies on lobbyists for virtually every aspect of governance. For example, when the government needed guidelines for information technology, the person they hired to facilitate development of the rules was a lobbyist who represents information technology companies. Between 1993 and 2003, the main communications consultants for the Department of Finance worked at a government relations firm that also lobbied Finance on behalf of many large business clients. These people had top-level security clearance, were among Paul Martin's closest advisors, and were getting paid millions of taxpayer dollars for the advice they gave.
And it gets worse. There are very weak conflict of interest rules for Senators, so they can assist lobbyists in their efforts to influence government without violating any rules or facing any penalties. Lobbyists also run the election campaigns of some of our most powerful political leaders, likely to gain access for their clients. Once these leaders are elected, lobbyists shape the words that come out of their mouths. And when the leaders are tossed out of office by voters, they often land softly in the lobbying industry, where a former leader can trade on his or her image, experience and contacts. All the while, these lobbyists are pitching the very same offices they once served -- or still serve -- for contracts, policy changes and regulatory relief on behalf of clients.
In 1994, the Liberals introduced amendments to the Lobbyists Registration Act that Prime Minister Chretien said would "put an end to backroom deals," and bring lobbyists "from the shadows out into the open." Since then, in stark contrast to these bold predictions, lobbying has become an incredible growth industry in Ottawa. At a conservatively estimated $300 million in annual revenues, the industry has increased in size 10 times in the past decade. When you take into consideration the revolving door between government and lobby firms, public service is now seen by many as a mere stepping stone to more lucrative private-sector postings. It is only a slight understatement to say that lobbyists run our government.
In addition, the costs of corporate lobbying can be written off as a business expense. So taxpayers actually subsidize this distortion of the democratic process, to the tune of an estimated over $100 million a year.
Finally, none of the current ethics rules for public officials or lobbyists are effectively enforced for three main reasons:
Join the Government Ethics Coalition
Democracy Watch's Government Ethics Coalition has been formed to campaign for changes to Canada's electoral finance laws to reduce the influence of wealthy interests in Canadian politics. Becoming a member group of the coalition is very easy. Just sign on to our 19 Recommendations to Clean Up Canada's Lobbying and Ethics Rules Enforcement System, set out below and send us a note stating that your group wants to join the coalition.
Thirty-one citizen groups, including 11 national
groups and 20 groups from six provinces and the
Northwest Territories representing over two million
Canadians, have signed on in support of the
recommendations, as follows:
The Gomery Commission Inquiry into the sponsorship scandal, among many other scandals involving unethical activities by politicians and lobbyists, has opened a window of opportunity over the next few years to strengthen government lobbying and ethics rules, including in the area of whistleblower protection.
Also, the upcoming federal election means now is a good time to let all federal political parties know that Canadians want democratic reforms to lobbying and ethics rules and the rules enforcement system, and to push them to promise such reforms in their election campaign platforms.
Democracy Watch feels a common approach is essential on this issue. Every member of Parliament, even those in opposition, reached their position using the system that is currently in place. Most have an interest in keeping the loopholes in place, and it will take a large, broad-based coalition to convince the federal political parties that the system should be made more accountable and transparent.
While these changes may appear difficult to attain, the victories Democracy Watch has won by organizing the Canadian Community Reinvestment Coalition -- including our success in defeating the proposed bank mergers in 1998 -- and the changes the Government Ethics Coalition has already won, have taught us that broad-based coalitions can overcome even the wealthiest special interests.
We look forward to hearing from you.
If you have any
questions, please don't hesitate
to contact Democracy Wach at Tel: (613) 241-5179.
19 Recommendations to Clean Up Canada's Lobbying and Ethics Rules Enforcement System
I. TO ENSURE ALL
ACTIVITIES OF LOBBYISTS THAT RELATE TO THEIR ABILITY
TO INFLUENCE GOVERNMENT DECISION-MAKERS ARE TRACKED
AND ANY MEANS BY WHICH THEY MAY EXERT UNDUE INFLUENCE
RESTRICTED, THE FEDERAL LOBBYISTS REGISTRATION ACT
SHOULD BE AMENDED AS FOLLOWS:
2) Whether or not Ministers and public officials are required to disclose their meetings and communications with lobbyists, the current system under which paid lobbyists are required to register their lobbying efforts with federal government departments and agencies should still be maintained, and loopholes in that system closed by also requiring lobbyists to register if they spend a period of time lobbying that exceeds a prescribed threshold. (NOTE: Lobbyists are required to register if they undertake or exceed a time threshold in various U.S. jurisdictions)
3) Lobbyists should be required to disclose how much they and their clients are spending on their campaigns (as is required in 33 U.S. states).
4) Lobbyists should be required to disclose past or current work with governments, political parties, or candidates for federal public office (they are currently only required to disclose past work with the federal government).
5) Lobbyists should be prohibited from serving in senior positions on campaigns of political parties or candidates (as is prohibited in Maryland and New Mexico).
6) Lobbyists should be prohibited from doing work with government departments they are lobbying, and from having business connections with anyone who does such work.
7) The business tax deduction for lobbying expenses should be eliminated.
8) Contingency fees, whereby lobbyists are only paid based on whether they succeed in their lobbying effort, should be banned.
II. FEDERAL LOBBYING AND
ETHICS RULES SHOULD ALSO BE MADE STRONGER THROUGH THE
10) The government should put in place an open, arms-length and merit-based process for government appointments and awarding of contracts.
11) Parliament should strenthen the ethics codes for MPs and Senators to require disclosure of, and in some cases divest from, investments and interests that they, their spouses, and their dependents hold.
12) All ethics rules should contain stringent restrictions on gift-giving to public officials and employees, especially by lobbyists.
III. FEDERAL LOBBYING AND
ETHICS RULES SHOULD BE EFFECTIVELY ENFORCED THROUGH
THE FOLLOWING MEASURES:
14) Lobbying and ethics rules should include a general anti-avoidance provision to prevent people from exploiting any loopholes. (PLEASE NOTE: Such a provision is currently in place in the Canadian Income Tax Act.)
15) Anyone covered by a federal government code of conduct (e.g. Ministers and other appointees, civil servants, lobbyists) should be required to report any lobbying or ethics rules violations they have evidence of to the Ethics Commission.
16) The identity of any person who reports a violation of lobbying or ethics rules to the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner (so-called "whistleblowers") should not be made public without their consent, and they should be protected from retaliation or disciplinary measures of any sort during the investigation and if the violation is found to be true, especially if the person is a civil servant or political staff.
17) If a person reports a violation of lobbying or ethics rules to the Ethics Commission, and the Commission does not investigate the violation with a specific time period (e.g. 60 days), the person should have the right to go to court to obtain an order forcing the Ethics Commission to investigate.
18) An appeal to the Federal Court should be allowed for all Ethics Commission rulings.
IV. IN ORDER TO ENSURE
THAT CITIZENS HAVE BETTER ACCESS TO GOVERNMENT
DECISION MAKING, AND THE POWER OF LOBBYISTS IS
For the details behind the above
recommendations, please return to the Government Ethics
Campaign page and view the various documents
produced since the campaign was launched in spring
1994, or contact Democracy Watch
Democracy Watch homepage