Saskatchewan’s Justice Minister and Attorney General, Gordon Wyant, has introduced a Bill in the legislature to regulate lobbying in the province. Bill 120, the Lobbyists Act, would require persons who are paid to lobby elected officials to register their lobbying activities with a proposed government registry. The Bill contains numerous exemptions, which some critics say weaken the proposed law, but it will add a valuable layer of transparency to government, and may be strengthened in the future. Indeed, the Bill only received its first reading on November 21 and may see modifications before it becomes law.
Here are the key features of the Bill.
- The Act applies to individuals who are paid to lobby, including organizations with employees whose duties include lobbying on their behalf
- Unpaid individuals, such as volunteers or members of the public pursuing personal interests with their members of the legislative assembly are not required to register
- The Conflict of Interest Commissioner will be appointed as the registrar to oversee the Act and promote compliance by lobbyists
Many individuals would be exempt from the application of the law, “when acting in their official capacity,” including:
- Members of the Senate or House of Commons of Canada, the legislative assembly of another province, the council or legislative assembly of a territory, or individuals on the staff of any of those members
- Employees of the government of Canada or of the government of another province or of a territory
- Officers, directors or employees of a local authority
- Officers, directors or employees of most not-for-profit organizations
- Officers, directors or employees of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association, the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities or the Saskatchewan School Boards Association
- Officers or employees of the Métis Nation – Saskatchewan Secretariat Inc.
- Officers or employees of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations
- Members of the council of an Indian band as defined in the Indian Act (Canada), individuals on the staff of any of those members or employees of any of those councils
- Diplomatic agents, consular officers or official representatives in Canada of a foreign government
- Officials of a specialized agency of the United Nations in Canada or officials of any other international organization to whom privileges and immunities are granted by or pursuant to an Act of the Parliament of Canada
- A person acting as a volunteer who does not receive a payment
- Companies that lobby the government for fewer than 100 hours in a year
- Any other prescribed individuals or categories of individuals
The Saskatoon StarPhoenix suggests the “long list of exemptions…could leave secret more than half of the lobbying that takes place annually.”
The 100-hour threshold before companies are required to register their lobbying efforts is troublesome, given that a short phone call or email that doesn’t have to be reported by a powerful CEO to a cabinet member could guide or change public policy. At the very least, including preparation and travel time in the 100-hour limit should be considered, given that a long time spent on these would indicate the value the company places on the lobbying.
Nonetheless, the government “is on the right track” according to the newspaper.
Lobbying lawyer and former top bureaucrat, Guy Giorno, shares these concerns, but is positive about the Bill:
The Saskatchewan government has tabled legislation that, if passed, would give the province one of the most strongly enforced lobbying laws in the country, and lobbying conflict-of-interest rules among the toughest in Canada.
This law may not apply to most not-for-profits, but these organizations should nonetheless pay attention to their lobbying activities. Stephanie Smith, author of Not-for-Profit PolicyPro, writes that not-for-profits may have statutory requirements under the federal Lobbying Act and charities can lose their status under the Income Tax Act if their lobbying and advocacy don’t conform to the law. Find out more about lobbying in chapter 3 of Not-for-Profit PolicyPro.
First Reference Internal Controls and Compliance Editor