putting lobbyists in the spotlight

If you think you know who's pulling the levers of power in the Yukon, think again. At the moment, the average Yukon citizen has no idea who is trying to influence government decisions.

If you think you know who’s pulling the levers of power in the Yukon, think again.

At the moment, the average Yukon citizen has no idea who is trying to influence government decisions.

In a global economy, in a territory rich with natural resources and with a budget of more than $1 billion annually, there are people sniffing around looking for things – land, roads, licences, grants, concessions, legislation, regulations.

Who are they? How often are they meeting our governing politicians? What are they talking about?

We don’t know.

But we should.

Most jurisdictions across Canada have passed lobbyist rules, making the practice transparent and accountable. The Yukon isn’t one of them.

Just what are we talking about?

Well, in 2010, Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with lobbyists close to 600 times.

And, “We know that government House Leader John Baird met with Suncor Energy on June, 26, Union Gas on June 3 and SNC-Lavalin on April 28,” according to the late Steve Cardiff, who was a powerful advocate for lobbyist rules in the Yukon. Even if that’s all we know about Baird’s meetings, it is useful information. Citizens, opposition politicians, journalists and business competitors should know these wooing sessions are taking place.

It helps keep everything above board.

Cardiff knew this. Which is why he was pushing hard for rules in the Yukon.

For the most part he was rebuffed by the governing Yukon Party.

The government has no knowledge of paid lobbyists influencing policy, said then-premier Dennis Fentie, adding it’s not happening.

Which, of course, is nonsense.

While there probably aren’t many paid lobbyists in the Yukon, there are plenty of companies, NGOs, special interest groups and even employees who are pushing government to address their specific issues, according to Guy Giorno, a lawyer and Canadian expert on lobbying laws.

And there is nothing wrong with them doing so, he added.

Environmentalists will ask for new parks or the Yukon Energy Corp. will pitch new hydro developments. This is natural in a modern democracy.

But problems can arise when nobody knows they are doing so.

Which is why all meetings and correspondence between public officials and private concerns – environmentalists, tycoons, prospectors, daycare owners or anyone else – should be logged and publicly available.

It is something that is easy to do, needing nothing more than existing computer programs and someone to oversee the registry, perhaps even on a part-time basis.

And it’s also something the Yukon’s conflict of interest commissioner David Phillip Jones has suggested the territory should implement alongside other tweaks to its Conflict Of Interest (Members and Ministers) Act.

Lobbyists, their employers’ and clients’ names, the departments and officials the lobbyist contacts and the subject under discussion should be in the open and available to all.

It’s about transparency, said Giorno, who was a former chief of staff for Harper and a big fan of Cardiff’s efforts in the Yukon.

Giorno summed things up nicely.

“Every Canadian has the right to influence government policy,” he said. “Nobody has the right to influence government policy in secret.”