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Treasury Board President Stockwell Day says new lobbying restrictions are a step toward greater accountability. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Treasury Board President Stockwell Day says new lobbying restrictions are a step toward greater accountability. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Ottawa shortens leash on lobbyists Add to ...

In a move that is as much aimed at their tormentors in the opposition as it is about probity in government, the Conservatives enacted new rules Monday that make lobbying of any kind, with anybody, subject to the Lobbying Act.

Under the new rules, any paid lobbyist who contacts an MP, senator or the senior staff in the office of the Leader of the Official Opposition about legislation, government policies, government contracts or grants must report that activity.

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Previously, only those who contacted members of cabinet, their political staff and senior bureaucrats were subject to the act.

This much larger group also joins the list of those banned from lobbying the government for five years after leaving government or the public service, something many critics complain is making it harder to recruit political candidates and staff.

The new restrictions will bring "a new level of accountability that is shared by all our colleagues in the House and in the Senate," Treasury Board President Stockwell Day said Monday, as the rules went into effect.

The move comes in response to the Rahim Jaffer affair. The former Conservative MP excited months of allegations and recriminations over his contacts with Conservative cabinet ministers, political staff and government officials, as he advanced green-energy proposals from which he stood to profit.

Mr. Jaffer denied any wrongdoing, pointing out that he received no money for his efforts. The RCMP dismissed complaints against him. But the affair led to the resignation from cabinet of his wife, Helena Guergis, and to vituperative parliamentary committee hearings in which opposition MPs accused the Conservatives of playing favourites with one of their own.

By widening the ban, the government has closed a potential loophole that those seeking to influence legislation or the awarding of government contracts might exploit.

But it has also placed the opposition parties in the crosshairs, should registered lobbyists try to influence their vote. And it rules out a future career as a lobbyist - at least for half a decade - for opposition MPs and senators and for senior advisers to the opposition leader.

The opposition parties support the measures, but argue they should go even further, placing the onus on the MP or senator to report lobbying, rather than requiring the lobbyists to fill out the forms.

The effect, however, will be to restrict even further efforts to influence politicians and senior officials when government dollars are at stake, though the lobbying industry invariably finds a way of getting its point across, regardless.

Follow on Twitter: @JohnIbbitson

 

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