Hurain Sheikh is a Pakistan-born Canadian. She has international work experience in West Canada, Dubai, and Islamabad. She is currently refining her experience by pursuing a degree in political science.
Traditionally, lobbying is defined as influencing the decision-making process of political actors, government leaders, and policymakers. To avoid corruption and conflict of interest from taking place, democratic societies have enforced certain laws and provisions for further transparency towards this profession. In Canada, the federal government adopted the “Lobbying Act” in 2008 after multiple reforms.
It occurs when interest groups approach governmental bodies to promote corporate interests or issues regarding public concerns. In modern society, it is regarded as “manipulative” and can be misinterpreted as a legalized form of “bribery”. Given the past experiences of this profession and the numerous changes made to prevent partiality, it brings us to speculate how transparent is the current Canadian political system regarding lobbying?
Also, are the laws in place ensuring fair play? Following the last amendment, the current Act still allows deficiencies and breaches to occur as there is still the presence of gray areas surrounding these administered policies. For further understanding, it is important to consider the very definition of this profession, its history in Canadian governance, the policies administered towards controlling it, and its effectiveness in current affairs.
Lobbying is an art of persuasion, and it manifests when certain individuals or groups bring forward their interests towards public officials that lead to certain changes towards regulations and public relations. Any form of influence towards the public policy is coined as such.1 However, the profession itself is practiced by lobbyists.
Lobbyists play an essential part in the Canadian government by bringing attention to matters of corporate interests and private and public concerns. This is necessary considering access to government officials has become difficult and private industries do possess resources that are essential towards the development of societies.
Therefore, when practiced fairly in a well-regulated system, lobbying can aid in democratic engagement and bring attention to matters that are overlooked by legislatures. Suppose a group of environmentalists wants to bring forward the importance of global warming, but they have no connection to government officials or the method of approach. They will, thus, make use of consultants to bring forward their concerns to policymakers in hopes to create new policies that benefit the environment.
While, theoretically, this depicts a prime example of consistency with the values of democracy. Nevertheless, in practice, it is noted that direct access of interest groups towards policymakers leads to political corruption, inequality in representation, and overcrowding in the institutions. The direct connection towards the parliamentary bodies is often regarded as questionable when concerning external parties.
Campaigning and its contributions can lead to political misuse. It is an opportunity to create connections by making monetary contributions towards a party to influence the elected government.2 It is basically publicity, obtaining “wealthy” connections and buying political access. Furthermore, involving private groups leads to misrepresentation of interests in senates’ advisory groups and may create a strong link between the lobbying industry and parliament, a “revolving door”.3
In Canada, a centralized system, gaining political access allows external parties to gain direct access to the Prime Minister’s office. Therefore, this is a cause of ambiguity as gaining access to the leader and the office is not challenging. Lobbyists can gain easy access to the core of the Federal government depending on who one knows and the nature of interests and issues, which is at the discretion of official bodies.4
Lobbying and Democracy
It is understood that lobbying is part of democracy and can improve social interests towards the public. In contradiction, when it is not monitored and controlled responsibly, lobbying could lead to misuse and abuse of the democratic system. To preserve public confidence and maintain a responsible government, it is recommended to adopt policies that ensure absolute transparency.5
Even Transparency International has suggested democratic systems to include strict regulations towards the profession of lobbying itself, towards the movement of individuals in between the two institutions, towards practices of conflict of interests, towards the inflow of monetary funds in relation to politics, towards the competition amongst private companies, towards the decision making the process of policies, towards access of information, and towards media.
It is important to consider that often political leaders will resist the adoption of overly transparent regulations and could hesitate to disclose the true nature of their relations with external parties due to the preservation of their private interests. Thus, the state may have laws and policies to gain public confidence, but the actual enforcement of said regulations is questionable.6
Due to British influence, lobbying has been interrelated with Canadian history since colonialism and even after obtaining Confederation in 1867. The “Pacific Scandal” of 1873 comes to mind, which resulted in the resignation of Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald and other senior members in his party for accepting election funds from business tycoon, Sir Hugh Allan.7
After this event, there have been numerous popularized scandals of Premiers alleged or involved in dishonorable practices with regards to external businesses such as Brian Mulroney and the “Airbus Affair” in 1995, Jean Chretien and “Shawainigate” in 1997, and the “AdScam” of 2004 to name a few.8 It is important to note that said Premiers involved with notorious behaviors were neither severely punished nor penalized but were forced to resign from office.
Additionally, these scandals were only brought to notice due to the accusations of other parties. There were no real boundaries or investigations in place to negate such occurrences, which can also be related to the transparency of the current Parliament. To avoid such events from occurring, the Lobbyists Registration Act of 1989 was enacted; it, however, only required lobbyists to register themselves, their agencies, and their clients.9
The original policy became a point of numerous criticisms over the following years; it was accused of lacking information and that the sanctions in relation were too modest. Members of opposition parties even coined it as the “business card bill”10 due to the minimal amount of information required, which was limited to the example of a business card.
As noted previously, there were no thorough investigations or questionings in place regarding the relationship between government bodies and external parties. To maintain public confidence, the former Act underwent a series of amendments over the years. Then there was a complete change of the original Act, which was then finalized as The Lobbying Act of 2008 with the addition of Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct.11
This version of the enactment added additional regulations and provisions to ensure absolute professionalism by respecting the interest of the public. Additionally, the new position of a Lobbying Commissioner replaced the previous position of the Registrar.12 In Canadian governance, these laws apply on two forms: consultant lobbyists and in-house lobbyists.
Consultant lobbyists are paid to approach the government by private parties to seek specific government actions, whereas in-house lobbyists come under two categories: non-profit organizations and for-profit earning corporations.13 To summarize, inside lobbyists are approached for their personal contacts and outside lobbyists are approached for creating public awareness.
The policies and laws in relation to this profession are structured around the Canadian idealisms of absolute respect for openness towards democratic institutions and to adhere to the values of integrity, honesty, and professionalism.14 Therefore, the Lobbying Act enforces regulations that allow access towards the government with the emphasis only on matters of public interest and legitimizing the activities in relation.
To give some examples of these ground rules, lobbyists must exhibit transparency of the identity and purpose of the representee. They must provide accurate information to public officials and have a duty to disclose their obligations towards the Act and Code of Conduct, which is followed through by the senior officer. They must exhibit proper use of information and avoid conflict of interest.15
Previous misconduct observed in relation to the lobbying Code and Act was limited to investigation and imprisonment for the duration of two years. In recent years, the policy extended the limitation period to a maximum of 10 years, adding severe penalties of 200,000$ fine and 2 years of imprisonment.16
The Commissioner of Lobbying is an appointed body that oversees that the laws and policies in relation to the Code are being applied, respected, and improved. They are independent of the Parliament and are less prone to be influenced by political bodies.17 The overseeing supervisor has the power to conduct regular investigations to maintain compliance with the Code and Act. These investigations may extend towards all individuals who partake in the act of lobbying and are not necessarily limited to registered lobbyists and civil servants alone.
Additionally, when misconduct is suspected, they must detail their findings and investigations in a thorough report and submit it to the Parliament. After conviction, these officials have further authority to prevent individuals from practicing this profession for an additional two years. The Commissioner’s office also provides training sessions for further understanding of the reporting system.18
It is noted that public office holders should not participate in lobbying activities in the duration of their time in office for personal interests. Many civil servants still become consultants for the industries they once monitored, and private company officials can also receive government-related posts.19 Therefore, private organizations will hire these former officials who are now consultants to gain political access.
This is beneficial because when former civil servants become future advisors for external parties, they have easy access due to their previously earned reputation. Thus, this can undoubtedly lead to the exploitation of decision-makers. Reversibly, if former advisors have easy access to become future official bodies in government, this can again lead to corruption.
This concept of “revolving door” depicts how the two are interrelated and threaten the integrity of lobbyists and public confidence. The enactment of 2008 strengthened “revolving door” provisions, a lengthy “cooling off” period, and added severe penalties for infractions. To explain, there is an imposition of a 5-year ban on all parliamentary members from participating in activities in relation.
Theoretically, when private organizations hire former officeholders, said advisors are less likely to provide valuable information or gain easy access to the system. If previous public officials violate this period of “cooling off”, they are liable to a maximum fine of $50,000. It is important to consider that members who encompass provincial, municipal, and indigenous governments are not considered as “lobbyists” under the Act.
This further applies to diplomats, councilors, and foreign legislatures. Private citizens and volunteers are exempted from this Act as well. The policies and provisions only apply to individuals who disclose themselves as lobbyists. In theory, individuals who practice consultancy are required to register themselves as so under the overseeing supervisor. Therefore, individuals with wealth and connections can “voluntarily” influence public office holders through means of contributions and donations.
Persons in charge of supervising registered lobbyists mostly rely on the verbatim documented by the practicing individuals. There are no thorough audits done in nature to fully investigate all detailed meetings. It is mostly based on the accuracy of the documented meetings provided by the registered individuals.
Government officials are not required to keep the same formalities and records of their meetings with lobbyists. It is the responsibility of the consultants to report and adhere to the formalities, which the officials only need to authenticate. It is noted that in 2017, the Commissioners performed 94 compliance analyses to review the accuracy of the provided information in the lobbyist’s registry.
These analyses did not require communication with governmental bodies in order to verify their authenticity. Although breaches in the Code fall under the Commissioner’s jurisdiction, they do not have the authority or can impose any charges in relation to the Lobbying Act and hence could allow discrepancy to occur. Even the cooling-off period of 5 years can be lifted at the discretion of the Commissioner.
In addition, the regulations around this profession are only severely enacted when there is a popularized scandal. There is no previous severity imposed as such to prevent a conflict of interest from occurring. Even on a contingency basis, lobbyists must be paid regardless of the success or failure of their efforts.
Also, the last statutory review of the Lobbying Act was done in 2012 after the first 5 years of its enactment. There have not been subsequent reviews and improvements made towards this law in the past 10 years and so further depicts political systems maintaining the involvement of external parties in government for monetary gains.
To give a more recent example, we must observe the current relationship between the fossil fuel industry and the Canadian government. It is well acknowledged that fossil fuel is considered hazardous to the global environment and yet, this company achieved to gain more attention from the Senate. There is evidence of 224 recorded meetings between the two parties in relation to environment-related policies.
On the same subject matter, external environmentalist groups only achieved 36 meetings in comparison. Additionally, from January 2011 to January 2018, the fossil fuel industry established 11,452 lobbying-related connections along with political actors. Consequently, the use of lobbyists in the current democracy is not related to public or environmental concerns.
Furthermore, under Trudeau’s present governance, the focus on lobbying has shifted away from Parliament and is passed on to other senior public servants or middle-level staff members. This pattern of changing narrative depicts the established relationship between private elite companies and state actors for personal ambitions.
In the overall findings, even though the Canadian system depicts strong values of democracy, political actors’ past and present dealings with external elite parties do not hold on to the Canadian values of transparency and responsible government. If the inclusion of external parties is necessary for the betterment of society, frequent revisions and adjustments of the Lobbying Code and Act are required for further transparency and accountability.
1 Paul A. Pross, “Lobbying in Canada”. In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada, last edited February 01, 2017, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/lobbying.
2 Jeremy Sapers, “Regulation of Lobbying,” Chapter 10. (2018): 897-899 https://dspace.library.uvic.ca/bitstream/handle/1828/9253/Ch.%2010_April2018_web.pdf?sequence=11&isAllowed=y.
3 Maxime Boucher, “Who You Know in the PMO: Lobbying the Prime Minister’s Office in Canada,” Canadian Public Administration 61,
no. 3 (2018): 317–40, https://doi.org/10.1111/capa.12294.
4 Maxime Boucher, “Who You Know in the PMO: Lobbying the Prime Minister’s Office in Canada,” 317–40/
5 Jeremy Sapers, “Regulation of Lobbying,” 896-897.
6 Jeremy Sapers, “Regulation of Lobbying,” 896-897
7 Paul A. Pross, “Lobbying in Canada,”
8 “Top Canadian Political Scandals,” Zoomer, accessed November 11, 2020
9 Nancy Holmes and Dara Lithwick, “The Federal Lobbying System: The Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct” Background Paper, 2011-73-E. (Ottawa, Ont.: Library of Parliament, 2011), https://lop.parl.ca/staticfiles/PublicWebsite/Home/ResearchPublications/BackgroundPapers/PDF/2011-73-e.pdf.
10 Paul A. Pross, “Lobbying in Canada”
11 Nancy Holmes and Dara Lithwick, “The Federal Lobbying System: The Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct,”
12 Paul A. Pross, “Lobbying in Canada”.
13 Nancy Holmes and Dara Lithwick, “The Federal Lobbying System: The Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct,” 5-6
14 Jeremy Sapers, “Regulation of Lobbying,”
15 Jeremy Sapers, “Regulation of Lobbying,”
16 Nancy Holmes and Dara Lithwick, “The Federal Lobbying System: The
Lobbying Act and the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct”
17 Paul A. Pross, “Lobbying in Canada,”.
18 Jeremy Sapers, “Regulation of Lobbying,” 935.
19 Felix Goldberg, “Corruption and Lobbying: Conceptual Differentiation and Gray Areas,” Crime, Law and Social Change: An Interdisciplinary Journal 70, no. 2 (2018): 197–215, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10611-017-9727-x.
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