Canada: New Ontario Lobbyist Registration Rules Come Into Effect On July 1, 2016 – Are You Ready?

On July 1, 2016, substantive amendments to the Lobbyist Registration Act, 1998 (LRA) will come into force. Highlights of these amendments include new investigative and enforcement powers for the Office of the Integrity Commissioner (OICO) as Lobbyists Registrar, extended renewal periods and new questions on the registration form completed by all lobbyists, requiring greater detail about the goal of their lobbying activity.  The Integrity Commissioner is urging all lobbyists to carefully review the LRA and familiarize themselves with the changes.

Amendments to the LRA

Amendments to the LRA include a shorter filing timeline for consultant lobbyists; lowered registration for in-house lobbyists and a shifting of the registration/filing responsibility from the in-house lobbyists to a "senior office" of the employer; and an expansion of the scope of the registrar's powers.

Key differences between the current LRA and the amendments coming into force on July 1, 2016 are set out below.

         Before...
Now... 
 Consultant Lobbyist
  • Consultant lobbyists had two months from the date of filing and subsequently two months from each anniversary of the date of filing to confirm to the Registrar the information contained in their filed returns.
  • Consultant lobbyists now have 30 days before or after the expiration of the first and each subsequent year to confirm to the Registrar the information contained in their filed returns.
 In-house Lobbyists
  • "In-house" lobbyist means an individual, employed by a person or partnership, who spends a significant part of his/her duties lobbying on behalf of the employer.
  • "In-house" lobbyist means an individual who is employed by a person or partnership or is a director of a person or partnership who is compensated for the performance of his or her duties if,

    a) the individual spends at least 50 hours a year lobbying on behalf of the person or partnership; or 

    b) the individual devotes, together with other employees or other directors of the person or partnership, devote at least 50 hours a year to lobbying.
     
  • In-house lobbyists must file a return with the registrar either: 

    a) within two months after the day on which he or she becomes an in-house lobbyist; and

    b) within two months after the end of the financial year of the employer.
     
  • Senior officer of a person or partnership that employs an in-house lobbyist shall file a return with the registrar either:

    a) within two months after the day on which that person becomes an in-house lobbyist; and

    b) within 30 days either before or after the expiration of each six-month period after the date of filing of the previous return. 
Registrar's Powers 
  • The registrar may issue advisory opinions and interpretation bulletins with respect to the enforcement, interpretation or application of the LRA.
  • The registrar may issue advisory opinions and interpretation bulletins with respect to lobbyists' conduct and any other matter respecting the enforcement, interpretation or the application of the LRA. In addition, the registrar has the authority to issue a lobbyists' code of conduct.

Additions to the LRA

Beyond the amendments highlighted above, there have been significant additions to the LRA. These additions are aimed at ensuring the LRA is a more robust piece of legislation bolstering the powers of OICO as a lobbyists registrar.

Prohibitions on Consultant Lobbyists

Under the amended LRA, consultant lobbyists are prohibited from lobbying under the following conditions:

  • If they are compensated by public funds (contravention of this prohibition may mean conviction of an offence under which the guilty individual is liable for a $25,000 dollar fine upon first conviction and $100,000 upon each subsequent conviction);
  • On a contingency basis; or
  • Where the subject of their lobbying is also a subject on which the consultant lobbyist provides lobbyist registration rules legal advice to an office holder for payment.

In addition, consultant lobbyists must not knowingly place public office holders in a position of real or potential conflict of interest.

New Disclosure Requirements for All Lobbyists

Lobbyist registrations will now require the subject matter of lobbying, the goals of their lobbying and the name of the target of the lobbying (be it a minister or other member of the Legislative Assembly).

Additionally, consultant lobbyists and in-house lobbyists must disclose if they have ever been any of the following:

  • a minister;
  • a person employed in the office of a minister;
  • a deputy minister, associate deputy minister or assistant deputy minister, or anyone of equivalent classification;
  • a chief executive officer or chair of the board of directors of an agency, board or commission of the crown;
  • a senior employee of an agency, board or commission of the crown who reports directly to its chief executive officer;
  • a chief executive officer or chair of the board of directors of,

    • Ontario Power Generation Inc, or a subsidiary of it,
    • Ontario Power Authority, or
    • independent electricity system operator; or
  • a senior employee of an entity listed above who reports directly to its chief executive officer.

New Investigative, Regulatory and Enforcement Powers for the Registrar

Investigations

The registrar will hold significant powers of investigation, including the ability to commence an investigation into an alleged non-compliance with the LRA for a period of two years after the date when the registrar knew or should have known about the alleged non-compliance and the ability to refuse to investigate a matter, refer the matter to another person or body, suspend an investigation and resume a previously suspended investigation.

In conducting an investigation, the registrar may require any person to provide and produce information and documents on a specific date and may summon any person to attend in person or by electronic means.

Findings

If the registrar determines after conducting an investigation that a person has not complied with a provision of the LRA, the registrar shall:

  • give notice to the person setting out:

    i. the alleged non-compliance,
    ii. the reasons why the registrar believes there has been non-compliance, and
    iii. the fact that the person may exercise an opportunity to be heard; and
  • give the person a reasonable opportunity to be heard respecting the alleged non-compliance and any penalty imposed by the registrar. 

If the registrar determines after conducting an investigation and after giving the person a chance to be heard that a person has not complied with a provision of the LRA, the registrar shall give notice to the person setting out:

  • the finding of non-compliance;
  • any penalty imposed; and
  • reasons for the finding and for the imposition of any penalty.

Review

The person receiving notice of the regsitrar's finding may apply for reconsideration  of the decision within 15 days of notice and the registrar's decision is also subject to judicial review.

Penalties

As a penalty, the registrar may prohibit the person from lobbying for a period of not more than two years; and/or make public certain information regarding the persons' non-compliance with the LRA.

Finally, it is important to note that there is a whistle-blowing protection policy which prohibits retaliation against persons for aiding in the enforcement of the LRA.

Key Takeaways

These amendments and additions, the first since the LRA's inception in 1988, represent the maturing of the lobbyist registration system in Ontario and it is important that lobbyists familiarize themselves with these new rules to ensure compliance.

The contribution of Xi Chen, articling student, in the preparation of this article is gratefully acknowledged.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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