Written by Radha D. Curpen, Sharon G.K. Singh and Sophie Marshall
On October 29, 2018, the Government of British Columbia introduced Bill 54, the proposed Lobbyists Registration Amendment Act (Bill 54), as part of its commitment to reform the province’s lobbying rules and enhance transparency of lobbying practices.
Bill 54 adopts recommendations made by the current Registrar of Lobbyists for British Columbia (Registrar) and the former Registrar in her 2013 report, including a requirement to report actual, and not only intended, lobbying. Bill 54 also builds upon the May 2018, amendments to the Lobbyists Registration Act which introduced a two-year ban on former public office holders and their senior staff from lobbying government after the former public office holders left their government position. See our previous blog post for further details.
Bill 54—Proposed Amendments
Symbolically, one of Bill 54’s amendments is to rename the Lobbyists Registration Act to the Lobbyists Transparency Act. Substantial changes include:
Requiring Lobbyists to File a Monthly Return
Bill 54 introduces a new requirement for lobbyists to file with the Registrar a monthly return within a specific time frame. The form and content of the monthly reports include disclosing:
- lobbying activity undertaken in the reporting month, including the lobbying target, individuals who participated in the lobbying, and the subject matter of the lobbying activity;
- political, sponsorship, and recall contributions to certain individuals, including members of the Legislative Assembly, made by a lobbyist or, in the case of a consultant lobbyist, a client of the consultant lobbyist, on or after the date the writ was issued for the last provincial election; and
- any promise or actual gift or other benefit given to a public office holder, the name of the public office holder, a description of the gift or benefit, the gift or benefit’s value, and the circumstances under which the gift or benefit was given and accepted or promised to be given.
Broadening the Definition of "Former Public Office Holder"
Bill 54 broadens the definition of former public office holders to include "any individual, other than administrative support staff, formerly employed in a current or former office of a current member of the Executive Council".
This amendment addresses an existing gap in the current Act, which restricts the definition of public office holder to any individual formerly employed in the former member's former office. Therefore, individuals formerly employed by current members of the executive council are not affected by the two-year cooling off period. This gap was raised by the Registrar in his Exemption Decision 18-05 and Reconsideration 17-08.
Lowering the Trigger for Becoming an "In-house Lobbyist"
Currently, "in-house lobbyists" must, either alone or with other individuals in their organization, lobby at least 100 hours annually in order to trigger registration requirements. Bill 54 would lower this time requirement to 50 hours of lobbying work in the past 12 months. Bill 54 also introduces certain exemptions to the definition of in-house lobbyists.
Tightening the Rules on Gifts
Currently, the Lobbyists Registration Act is silent regarding gift-giving by lobbyists. Bill 54 would prohibit lobbyists from giving or promising to give, directly or indirectly, any gift or other benefit to the public officer holder the lobbyist is lobbying. Bill 54 would, however, permit some gift-giving if the total amount is less than an amount set out in the regulations.
Strengthening the Registrar's Powers of Enforcement
Currently, a person contravening the Lobbyists Registration Act may be fined up to $25,000. Bill 54 adds an additional option for the Registrar, in sufficient circumstances, to ban the offender from lobbying for up to two years.
Review of Act
Bill 54 introduces a requirement for a committee of the Legislative Assembly to (i) review the Lobbyists Transparency Act (if passed) at least once every five years, and (ii) submit a report to the Legislative Assembly within one year after beginning the review on the Lobbyists Transparency Act, including any recommended amendments. This amendment responds to a call by current and former Registrars to ensure that through periodic review, the province’s lobbyist’s registration and reporting regime continues to meet its objectives.
Lobbyists and the New Regime
According to Attorney General David Eby, Bill 54 will "make British Columbia the most transparent lobbying regime in Canada". If passed, the provisions of the new act will come into force at various milestones, including date of royal assent, by regulation, or within 30 days of Royal Assent.
The reforms align British Columbia's lobbying rules regime with elements of the federal and other provincial regimes. Those engaged in lobbying in British Columbia should prepare themselves for the pending changes, including through amending their current government relations policies and ensuring appropriate governance and reporting systems are in place to meet the additional reporting requirements.