Lobbying for Cardiff

Ottawa lawyer Guy Giorno is picking up a torch left behind by the late Steve Cardiff. Giorno, the former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is passionate about lobbyist legislation. So was the NDP's Cardiff.

Ottawa lawyer Guy Giorno is picking up a torch left behind by the late Steve Cardiff.

Giorno, the former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is passionate about lobbyist legislation.

So was the NDP’s Cardiff.

The premise is simple.

If corporations, consultants, companies, special interests groups or NGOs meet with government to push for policy change or are after funding, these meetings should be on the public record.

In the Yukon, they’re not.

“We meet continually with corporations … in some cases, they bring forward proposals,” said former premier Dennis Fentie in the legislature last year.

“Many of these meetings and discussions are based on the premise of proposal of ideas and suggestion.”

But that doesn’t mean “paid lobbyists are influencing policy,” he said.

“That’s not happening in today’s Yukon.”

But if it were, Yukoners wouldn’t know about it, because lobbyist legislation doesn’t exist here.

The Yukon is one of only five jurisdictions in Canada without lobbyist legislation.

Federally, and in almost every Canadian province, if a mining mogul meets with a government minister one day and mining legislation is changed in their favour the next, people can connect the dots.

“Every jurisdiction in Canada has or is addressing this issue through lobbying rules and registration,” said Cardiff in the legislature in 2010.

Even the Yukon’s conflicts commissioner has said the Yukon should follow suit, he said.

“The people have a right to know who’s trying to influence their elected officials and bureaucrats in setting their government’s policy priorities.”

Giorno, who’s coauthored a book about lobbyist legislation, first noticed Cardiff during these exchanges in the house.

The more Giorno listened to Fentie’s responses to Cardiff, the more incredulous he became.

At one point the premier said, “I’m looking forward to hearing suggestions from (Cardiff) of what so-called ‘lobbyist legislation’ … would look like in the Yukon.”

The answer is right in front of him, said Giorno.

“There exist more than a half dozen examples of what lobbyist legislation looks like.”

Alberta and BC both have lobbyist legislation, as do most of Canada’s provinces.

“People think it’s complex and costly,” said Giorno. “But it’s not.”

All you need is software, which already exists, and someone to run it part time, he said.

But “this territory is a small jurisdiction where contact with Yukoners, Yukon businesses, NGOs, First Nations and others happens on a daily basis,” said Fentie in the legislature, responding to Cardiff.

This is another common excuse, said Giorno.

“They say, ‘This is a small jurisdiction so we don’t need it because everyone knows what everyone else is doing.’

“Well, is that the case in the Yukon?” he said.

Harper and his ministers met with registered lobbyists almost 600 times in 2010, said Cardiff in the legislature.

“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.”

Unfortunately, we don’t know who is trying to influence Yukon government decisions because there is no corresponding Yukon legislation, said Cardiff.

“This government has no knowledge of paid lobbyists influencing policy,” said Fentie in response . “That’s not happening in today’s Yukon.”

There are three types of lobbyists, according to Giorno.

There are paid lobbyists, like the ones Fentie is referring to, who are hired by clients to meet with government and push for policy changes, contract procurement and grant money. There are a lot of these outfits in Ottawa, but probably not as many in the Yukon, said Giorno.

Then there are companies that lobby government, often to have things like environmental regulations changed to facilitate their projects. And while everybody wants to attract investment and don’t want cumbersome regulations, the regulations are often there for good reason, like protecting the environment, said Giorno.

The Yukon would see this kind of lobbying, he said.

Finally, interest groups, NGOs and employees often lobby government.

And I’m sure this is happening in the territory, he said.

While the Yukon Party denies it’s being lobbied.

Justice Minister Marian Horne appeared to be clueless about what a lobbyist is.

“I honestly don’t know who the member opposite is targeting when she speaks of lobbyists,” she said in the legislature.

“What is her definition of ‘lobbying’ or ‘lobbyists?’”

Fentie was just as confused.

Is an NGO like Kaushee’s Place that brings forward a proposal, a paid lobbyist and influencing policy? said Fentie.

The answer is yes, according to Giorno.

“And when we make investments in hydro-infrastructure by presentations from our energy corporation, is that paid lobbying and influencing policy?” said Fentie.

Again, the answer is yes.

Lobbyist legislation doesn’t stop lobbying, said Giorno.

There is nothing wrong with companies, NGOs and special interests groups meeting with government and making requests, he said.

The legislation just puts these meetings on the books, “so Yukoners have a way of knowing who is trying to influence their government’s decisions,” he said.

“Whether lobbying is done by the private sector or the non-profit sector, all meetings and correspondence with politicians and their senior officials should be tracked and publicly disclosed,” said Cardiff in the legislature.

“The public needs to know that any contact between paid lobbyists and the government is conducted in accordance with current public expectations of transparency, integrity and honesty.”

Professional lobbying is a $100-million-a-year industry in Canada.

“And to deny lobbying is happening here, or that there is no need to regulate it, flies in the face of common sense and good governance,” said Cardiff.

“Any jurisdiction without clear rules around lobbying and lobbyists is not acting in the best interests of its citizens.”

Over the last 800 years, we have learned that secret meetings do not make for good governance, said Giorno.

In a democracy, the more light we shine on government dealings, the better, he said.

This is what Cardiff was trying to do.

And Giorno has picked up the torch.

“An election is coming up,” he said.

“It’s a good time for Yukoners to be asking these questions.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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