OTTAWA–The federal government is cracking down on lobbyists working for Crown corporations and institutions such as the Toronto Port Authority and the Canadian Wheat Board.
Treasury Board president Vic Toews is announcing the tightened-up rules Monday in the Commons. The rules are aimed at "reminding" lobbyists and Crown corporations that they’re not supposed to be working together, a government spokesperson said.
The crackdown comes after reports in the Toronto Star about lobbyists’ involvement in a $250-a-head Toronto political fundraiser coordinated out of the office of the president of the port authority, a position Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt held before running successfully for the Conservatives in 2008 in the riding of Halton
The Star’s investigation revealed not only the port authority’s involvement but also the fact that registered lobbyist Michael McSweeney, vice-president for industry affairs at the Cement Association of Canada, helped organize the event.
McSweeney’s association lobbied the government eight times from March to August, including calls on Raitt’s and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s offices.
Opposition critics such as New Democrat MP Olivia Chow and Liberal MP Paul Szabo have been asking for the federal auditor general and the ethics and lobbying commissioners to investigate dealings at the Toronto Port Authority.
The ban on lobbyists working for Crown corporations is almost 25 years old, and came in a directive from the Clerk of the Privy Council in 1985. The logic was that since Crown corporations are government-financed, they should not need outside lobbyists to deal with the government.
The same thing applies to "shared governance" institutions such as the Port Authority and the Canadian Wheat Board, the government spokesperson said.
Another source in Ottawa’s government-relations industry said the rules have been a bit unclear about port authorities in recent years, and the "clarification" to be issued Monday is in keeping with the Harper government’s attention to lobbying practices.
The so-called Accountability Act, setting tighter controls on the relationship between government and lobbyists, was the first legislation introduced by the Harper government after it was elected in 2006.
Under the new crackdown, there are no legal penalties, since this is a directive, not legislation. Agencies in violation of the "accountability mechanism" would be in violation of directives from the Privy Council, the spokesperson said, and penalties would be decided.