Yukon’s NDP Opposition has tabled the Paid Lobbyist Act for consideration in the House, a piece of legislation intended to regulate the lobbying profession in the territory and to prevent certain government employees from entering the lobbying profession for a certain period of time after leaving government.
My issue with the proposed statute is that it intends to create an entire regulatory structure to address a non-existent problem. There are no full-time lobbying firms in Yukon and no revolving door of elected officials leaving government for lobbying positions.
This legislation is not about fixing a real issue; it is tabled for the sole purpose of allowing the Opposition to make political hay. Which is fair enough, but when the emperor (or in this case empress) wears no clothes, there is always the danger somebody will point.
The proposed legislation will require two types of lobbyists to register with a local regulator: consultant lobbyists who work for a lobbying firm, and in-house lobbyists who work internally for an organization and contact the government.
In Yukon there are no professional lobbying firms, nor do I imagine that we appear on the radar of any Outside lobbying firms. We are the smallest jurisdiction in Canada. Our legislation is not that complicated. When local businesses or organizations have an issue they phone their MLA, minister or premier to discuss, they do not hire a lobbyist.
Which means that the only people who would reasonably be concerned about being caught by the proposed legislation are those individuals who work internally for organizations with local interests. The proposed legislation would require those individuals to register with the lobbyist czar or face penalties. The end result of having these people register with the lobbyist czar is simply the creation of a list of local organizations such as Victoria Gold and the Yukon Employees Union – in essence, the creation of an entire regulatory structure to tells us that local businesses talk with local government.
Further, the proposed regulator has no teeth. The legislation requires people to self-register if they spend more than a certain amount of hours lobbying. Unless the regulator spent every minute of every day with all government officials, there is almost zero chance that the lobbyist czar could ever actually catch an in-house consultant who failed to register.
The other aspect of lobbyist legislation is the introduction of a “cooling off period” for ministers and executive council employees leaving government.
Again, this is a mechanism built for larger governments with large executive staffs who are offered lucrative contracts to join professional lobbying firms after their stint in government. The purpose is to prevent people from leaving positions of influence and immediately walk into lobbying firms.
Of course in Yukon there are no lobbying firms and there is no revolving door of ministers or MLAs leaving government for lobbying firms. In Yukon, elected officials leave government and go back to their professions – they run grocery stores and vet clinics. There simply isn’t a problem with that type of behaviour, as there are no lobbying organizations to which these elected officials go in their post-government life.
But let’s say I’m completely wrong about all of the above. Let’s say there is a shadowy cabal of Imperial Oil lobbyists camped out in the premier’s office, whispering sweet nothings in his ear seven days a week.
As a society we are only concerned about that scenario if other special interest groups are denied access.
If everybody has a chance to say their piece, there is no issue. It is not the lobbyists who make the decisions, it is on the elected officials to then distill the information and make a decision.
This does not mean that the government must meet with all groups upon demand, it just means that the elected officials shouldn’t open the doors only to paid interests.
Given the size of our territory, and the fact that each member of the legislature represents on average around 1,600 people, I find it hard to believe that any local organization can’t get face-time with an MLA, appropriate minister or even the premier to discuss issues. We are a small jurisdiction; timely access is not an issue.
The Yukon simply isn’t big enough to warrant the creation of an entire department to govern lobbying. There are no lobbying firms for ex-ministers and employees to go, nor are any of same flocking to mining companies or unions.
The Opposition simply does not like the government’s decisions and is attempting to argue that those decisions are the result of lobbying activity. I assure you, there is no smoky back room in which decisions are made. There are only hard-working elected members with open doors trying to synthesize information in order to make what they see is the best decision for the Yukon. We, as an electorate, then hold our elected officials to account for those decisions at the ballot box.
At the end of the day all the Paid Lobbyist Act does is provide another hurdle for local organizations to jump over when attempting to conduct legitimate business.
I encourage the government to give short shrift to the proposed legislation, as every dollar we spend on creating and maintaining regulatory bodies for non-existent problems is a dollar taken from programs and departments concerned with real problems faced by Yukoners.
Graham Lang is a Whitehorse lawyer and long-time Yukoner.