Written by William S. Osler and Micaela Zila
On April 11, 2018, the Legislative Assembly of Alberta held the first reading of Bill 11: the Lobbyists Amendment Act to bring changes to the Lobbyists Act. Key changes in the proposed amendments include increased restrictions on lobbyists, changes to the “public comment” exemption, and changes to the administrative monetary penalty regime.
The fundamental principle of the Lobbyists Act—and of lobbying legislation in Canada generally—is to ensure transparency in lobbying activity through registration and the public disclosure of the identity of lobbyists, the organizations on whose behalf they are lobbying, and the subject matter of lobbying communications.
Increased Restrictions on Lobbyists
The amendments would reduce the number of hours required to be considered a lobbyist—and therefore be required to register with the Alberta Lobbyist Registry—from 100 to 50 hours annually. The amendments also clarify that for the purpose of determining the number of annual hours spent lobbying, time preparing for communication with a public office holder and the communication itself will both count.
The proposed amendments would also prohibit gifts given or promised to a public office holder being lobbied that would place the public office holder in a conflict of interest. This is also prohibited under the federal Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct. The amendments would also prohibit payments for consultant lobbyists that are contingent on the degree of success in lobbying. Receiving payments that are in whole or in part contingent on the outcome of a lobbying activity are also prohibited under the federal Lobbying Act.
Changes to the Public Comment Exemption
Under the current Lobbyists Act, communications with public office holders are not considered lobbying if they are in response to a request initiated by a public office holder for advice or comment on certain matters including the development of legislation, the introduction or amendment of a bill and the establishment or termination of a program or policy. This exemption had previously been included in the federal Lobbying Act, but has been removed.
The proposed amendments would limit the exemption to only allow for comment if the individual is participating on a board, commission, council or other similar body established by a public office holder, the Government or a prescribed Provincial entity. This amendment results in a much broader range of activities being considered lobbying for purposes of the Lobbyists Act.
Administrative Monetary Penalty Appeals
The proposed amendments would allow parties who are served with notice of an administrative monetary penalty under the Act to appeal to the Court of Queen’s Bench, which would have the ability to rescind, vary, or confirm the amount of the penalty.
The proposed amendments would not alter the maximum amount of a penalty ($25,000), though, they list a number of factors that should be considered by the Registrar of Lobbyists when determining the amount of an administrative monetary penalty including: the severity of the contravention, mitigation steps taken, and whether or not steps have been taken to prevent reoccurrence.
If you have any questions regarding the implications of the Lobbyists Amendment Act, our team at Bennett Jones LLP would be pleased to assist you.