Canada: Is Your Charity Or Association Inadvertently Lobbying In Ontario?

Last Updated: June 27 2018
Article by Kyle Morrow

Many for-profit corporations and partnerships are aware of their legal obligation to register their provincial lobbying activities. That being said, many organizations (including charities and associations) are not aware of their legal obligations under the Ontario Lobbyists Registration Act (Act). Organizations that fail to comply with the Act may be exposed to potential legal or reputational risks.

Here is an overview.

I. Organizations may need to register

Lobbying must be registered if the lobbying duties of all employees and officers (across an organization) exceed 50 hours in a calendar year.1 Organizations include the following:

• Business organizations

• Trade unions

• Charitable organizations

• Trade organizations

• Labour organizations

• Coalitions

• Industry organizations

• Chambers of commerce

• Interest groups

• Professional organizations

• Boards of trade

• Certain corporations without share capital2

• Voluntary organizations

• Associations

II. Senior officers are responsible for registrations

It is the responsibility of the senior officer3 to file a return disclosing the lobbying activities of all employees and officers. An initial return must be filed no later than two months after the date by which the lobbying duties of all employees and officers exceeded 50 hours.4 The senior officer is also required to update an organization's return within 30 days of any change5—and file semi-annual returns on behalf of the organization.6

An organization's return must disclose, among other things, the following:

  • The names of all employees and officers whose duties include lobbying the provincial government;
  • Any funding received from the provincial government or a provincial government agency in the government's last fiscal year; and
  • The names (and addresses) of all entities and organizations that have contributed $750 or more to the organization's lobbying activities in the organization's last fiscal year.7

III. Lobbying is not limited to communications about legislation and regulations

Many organizations assume that lobbying only includes communications about legislative proposals and regulations. This assumption is incorrect. Subject to some exceptions, lobbying includes communicating with a public office holder8 in an attempt to influence any of the following:

  • The development of a legislative proposal;
  • The introduction, passage, defeat or amendment of any bill or resolution;
  • The making or amendment of any regulation;
  • The development, amendment or termination of any policy or program;
  • A decision to privatize an interest in (or any asset of) a government institution, business or enterprise;
  • A decision to have the private sector, instead of the government, provide a good or service; and
  • The awarding of any grant, contribution or other financial benefit.9

Lobbying can occur directly (via written communications or oral communications) or indirectly (via grassroots communications10).

IV. Convictions can result in fines of up to $100,000

If convicted of an offence under the Act, an individual is liable for a fine of up to $25,000 for a first conviction and up to $100,000 for a subsequent conviction.11 Offences under the Act include:

  • Knowingly making false or misleading statements;12
  • Failing to file an initial return in a timely manner;13
  • Failing to update a return in a timely manner;14 and
  • Knowingly placing a public office holder in a position of real or potential conflict of interest.15

As an alternative to prosecution in the courts, the Integrity Commissioner has the ability to investigate non-compliance—and to issue penalties for non-compliance.16


1 Lobbyists Registration Act, 1998, S.O. 1998, c. 27, Sched. at subsection 6(5).

2 Ibid, subsection 1(1).

3 Senior officer is defined, in subsection 6(5), as "the most senior officer of an organization who is compensated for the performance of his or her duties".

4 Lobbyists Registration Act, supra note 1, paragraph 6(1)(a).

5 Ibid, subsection 6(3.3).

6 Ibid, paragraph 6(1)(b).

7     Ibid, subsection 6(3).

8 Ibid, subsection 1(1).

9 Ibid. 

10 The Integrity Commissioner for Ontario has issued an interpretation bulletin ("Bulletin #8: Registering Grass Roots Lobbying") that defines grassroots communications as "an indirect form of communication with public office holders...Grass-roots communication may use any means, including advertisements, website(s) or social media tools to encourage members of the public to communicate with public office holders directly through any means including  letters, email, social media tools (e.g. posting, direct messaging, tweeting), text, phone or  in-person demonstrations." 

11 Lobbyists Registration Act, supra note 1, subsection 18(8).

12 Ibid, subsection 18(4).

13 Ibid, subsections 18(1) and 18(3).

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid, subsection 18(7.4).

16 Ibid, subsections 17.4(1) and (2); Ibid, section 17.9.

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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