Lobbying Ethics in Canada

Those interested in the subject of lobbying ethics may wish to take note of the Canadian Lobbying Code of Conduct, which has been in force since 1997.  Compliance with the code is monitored by the Commissioner of Lobbying, an independent officer of Parliament.  In the event that the Commissioner finds a violation, she sends a report to Parliament, which presumably may take action with regard to the violator. 

            The Canadian Lobbying Code sets forth three basic principles (integrity and honesty, openness, and professionalism) and eight specific rules.  Rule 8, which has been the subject of a recent interpretation by the Commissioner, provides that “[l]obbyists shall not place public office holders in a conflict of interest by proposing or undertaking any action that would constitute an improper influence on a public office holder.” 

            The Commissioner issued this opinion about a week ago, interpreting Rule 8 in the context of political or campaign activities by lobbyists.  The opinion starts with the proposition that a “conflict of interest may arise when a person engages in political activities that advance the private interest of a public office holder, while at the same time, or subsequently, seeking to lobby that public office holder [or the office holder’s department or staff].”  It then goes on to identify political activities that have a low risk of presenting such a conflict (merely voting in an election, putting up a yard sign or making a campaign contribution), those that present a medium risk of such a conflict (being a member of the office-holder’s constituency association, which I take it is like the local party organization that supports an MP, or having limited participation in the office-holder’s campaign), and those that present a high risk of conflict (organizing fundraising or chairing the office-holder’s campaign). 

            It is interesting that the Commissioner draws a distinction between merely making permissible campaign contributions, which is not thought to present a significant conflict, and “organizing fundraising,” which is.  The ABA Task Force on Lobbying Reform has been wrestling with a similar distinction. 

            My understanding is that the Commissioner’s opinion is controversial and could face legal challenges.