The Yukon Liberals are taking the first step to follow through on an election promise and create lobbyist regulations for the territory.
The government has launched a public survey to get more information on what the public wants out of the new law to regulate those who seek to influence public officials.
Lobbying is a profession, Community Services Minister John Streicker said.
“The point is we just need to make sure that Yukoners are aware of where that influence is being applied and on what topics. It’s about accountability.”
Under Yukon’s new law lobbyists will have to register and publicly report when they meet with government officials and ministers.
“It’s about those people who are paid to lobby. So that could be an organization like an environmental organization or like a chamber of mines who have staff members whose job it is to advocate on certain files to try and influence legislation, regulations, funding or support,” Streicker said.
The minister added that it could also include consultants hired to lobby but won’t include representatives from other levels of government or members of the general public “just coming to us with their questions.”
As part of its survey the government is asking whether people in unpaid positions, such as volunteers or board members, should be required to register if they lobby on behalf of an organization that has paid staff.
Streicker said the registry would include basic details of who was at meetings and what general topics were discussed.
“I think the general idea is that organizations are required to register and once they’re registered they are required to report.”
The minister said the government wants an independent oversight body to oversee the registry.
“We can possibly use an existing one. It doesn’t have to be new, it just has to be someone who is assigned the job. So I think that’s the conversation right now.”
He said the new piece of legislation will be tabled this fall but he couldn’t say when the new rules would take effect.
After passing the act, the government still has to write the required regulations and there will need to be time to educate people on what the requirements are, he said.
Guy Giorno is a former chief of staff for Ontario Premier Mike Harris and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He is now a partner at an Ontario law firm focusing on lobbying law. He said having a lobbyist registry in the Yukon is a good move.
“I never am critical of a jurisdiction that starts down the road of implementing something because I believe something is better than nothing,” he said.
“Moving towards transparency is better than no transparency. The government should be congratulated for keeping its campaign commitment.”
Giorno estimates there are 18 different lobbying laws in Canada for provinces, the federal government and various municipalities.
He said it will be important for Yukon’s rules to have some type of enforcement — something that is not mentioned in the public survey.
“There’s no sense in having a law that says people have to be transparent, make their lobbying transparent, unless there’s a means to deal with a situation where people don’t do that. How’s the law going to be enforced?”
Across the country provinces have different ways of dealing with people who break the lobbying rules. In British Columbia fines for breaking the law can be up to $100,000. Fines also exist in Quebec and in the municipal bylaws of Toronto. If the offence is serious enough the registrar in British Columbia can ban someone there from being a registered lobbyist for up to two years.
Some other provinces have laws but have never sanctioned anyone, Giorno said.
Streicker said the Yukon intends to have “tools” to enforce its new law. The specifics are still being developed but could include fines and possible bans, he said.
Streicker said the government also intends to have a section in its law dealing with the ethics of lobbying.
Giorno said when coming up with their lobbying laws some provinces decide to have rules dealing with how lobbyists can behave.
“Do we just stick with transparency or do we go further and do we say there are some ethical or conduct rules that you should abide by if you’re going to lobby?” he asked.
In Alberta cabinet ministers and other officials cannot accept gifts worth more than $200 or tickets to events worth more than $400 from one source over the course of a year. The province is considering doing away with allowing gifts at all.
Other provinces have rules around conflict of interest if an organization receives government funding.
Streicker said the Yukon will have ethics rules of some kind but that it is too soon to say what those will be.
The public consultation survey closes Sept. 4. It can be found online at engageyukon.ca.
Contact Ashley Joannou at firstname.lastname@example.org