Written by Sharon G.K. Singh and Charlotte Teal
On May 4, 2020, British Columbia's lobbying rules will change (again). The Lobbyist Registration Act will become the Lobbyist Transparency Act (LTA), carrying over some provisions from the current act and bringing new sections of the LTA and the Lobbyist Transparency Regulation into force.
On April 17, 2020, the Registrar extended the deadline for Lobbyists to register from June 15, 2020, to September 15, 2020, recognizing the challenges organizations are currently facing with respect to COVID-19.
The changes will impose new requirements on those already registered under the Lobbyist Registration Act and will bring some organizations previously exempted from registration within the scope of the LTA. Here are some of the key changes.
Definition of Lobby
The LTA defines "lobby" so that it applies equally in all respects to both consultant and in-house lobbyists. Previously, there was a lower threshold for what constituted "lobbying" for consultant lobbyists when arranging meetings with a public office holder or individual. Now, consultant lobbyists are subject to the same threshold as in-house lobbyists with respect to meeting public office holders or individuals for a specific purpose.
Under the LTA, "lobby" includes communicating with a public office holder or arranging a meeting between a public office holder and any other individual for the purpose to trying to influence various forms of governmental activity including, for example, the development of legislative proposals, bills or resolutions, regulations, programs or policies, or the awarding of a contract or grant, among other things.
We note that at the time of publication, many organizations are concerned with the impacts of COVID-19 on their business. Organizations should be mindful that some COVID-19 related communications with public office holders may be deemed to be lobbying, including those related to seeking exemptions, relief or new stimulus.
Prohibition on Gift-giving
Under the LTA, lobbyists are generally prohibited from giving, or promising to give, directly or indirectly, any gift or other benefit to the public officer holder the lobbyist is lobbying, with limited exceptions. Where the gift or benefit is both (i) incidental to protocol or social obligations, and (ii) valued at less than $100 over the 12 months preceding the date that the gift is promised or given, the gift is permitted.
The LTA requires all lobbyists to register.
- Organizations with in-house lobbyists must, through their designated filers, file a registration return within 10 days of the organization first having an in-house lobbyist. The LTA clarifies that only one registration return is required for an organization, regardless of the number of in-house lobbyists or lobbying activities conducted by the in-house lobbyists.
- Consultant lobbyists must file a registration return within 10 days of beginning to lobby on behalf of a client.
Under the former Lobbyist Registration Act (in force until May 4, 2020), organizations were not required to register if the organization did not employ more than one individual who, alone or collectively, spent 100 hours lobbying. This exemption has been removed under the LTA in favor of a more limited exemption for organizations with in-house lobbyists where:
- the organization has fewer than six employees;
- the organization is not member-based or does not have as its primary purpose to promote or oppose issues; and
- the lobbying activities add up to fewer than 50 hours in the preceding 12-month period.
The calculation of time must take into account all activities related to carrying out a lobbying activity, including preparation time.
The LTA and the Lobbyist Transparency Regulation set out what a registration return must include. These information requirements have been updated from the previous registration requirements under the Lobbyist Registration Act. Some of the notable information requirements include:
- that lobbyists identify whom they are lobbying;
- the intended outcome of each lobbying activity;
- information related to the designated filer and information on those that control or direct the activities of the client or organization that have a direct interest in the outcome of the lobbying activities;
- identification of any person or organization that contributed an amount equal to or greater than $1,000 toward a lobbying activity within the preceding 12 months and has a direct interest in the outcome of the lobbying activity;
- a declaration that no lobbyist is in violation of contracting or lobbying prohibitions; and
- a declaration for each lobbyist of whether there is an undertaking in place to comply with a relevant code of conduct and, if so, particulars related to the code of conduct.
Lobbyists with active registrations will have until September 15, 2020, to update their registrations.
Filing Monthly Returns
The LTA also requires monthly returns for each month where lobbying activity has occurred, which must be filed by the 15th day of every month starting the month after the registration return is filed. The monthly return serves both as (i) a regular update on lobbying activity through a Lobbying Activity Report, and (ii) a way to continually update the information in the registration return.
If no lobbying activity occurred in the applicable month and there are no updates to the registration return, a monthly return is not required for that month.
The monthly return must include, among other things:
- information related to each lobbying activity including, for example, the name and position title of the senior public office holder being lobbied, the date of the lobbying activity, the names of the lobbyists who participated, and other particulars. Note that this requirement applies only to a "senior public office holder", whereas lobbying includes activity directed more broadly to "public office holder";
- any changes to the information in the registration return, any information that the designated filer acquired after the registration return was filed, and any clarification information requested by the registrar;
- information about contributions (political, sponsorship or recall) made by a lobbyist or, in the case of a consultant lobbyist, made by the client of a consultant lobbyist on or after the date the writ was issued for the last provincial election;
- the name of any public office holder (not restricted to senior public office holder) that a lobbyist gave or promised to give a gift or benefit, a description of the gift or benefit, the value of the gift or benefit, and the circumstances under which it was given and accepted or promised to be given; and
- the date on which a gift or benefit was given and accepted or promised to be given and the intended outcome of each lobbying activity.
The Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists lists important upcoming dates on its website.
|April 30||Lobbyists Registry goes offline.|
|May 1||Lobbyists Registry user guides posted.|
|May 4||New legislation comes into force and the new Lobbyists Registry available.|
|June 15||Lobbyists can submit Lobbying Activity Reports for May.|
|July 15||Lobbyists can submit Lobbying Activity Reports for June.|
|August 15||Lobbyists can submit Lobbying Activity Reports for July.|
|September 15||Deadline to login and update active registrations. All new registrations are due.
Monthly returns for May, June, July (if not yet submitted) and August are also due.
The table above reflects the recent deadline extension permitted due to COVID-19. Regardless of this extension, organizations should track all transactions after May 4 to ensure that accurate records are submitted come September 15, 2020. The Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists encourage organizations to set up their registrations as soon after May 4, 2020, as possible.
If you would like help ensuring that your lobbying practices are compliant with the new rules, please contact a member of the Bennett Jones Team.