British Columbia will ban cabinet ministers and their staff, along with senior bureaucrats, from lobbying government for two years after leaving the public service under proposed legislation tabled on Monday.
The measures, introduced on the heels of campaign finance reform, are part of a package of legislative changes designed to "restore public confidence" in government institutions, Attorney-General David Eby told reporters after tabling the bill.
It will apply to a long list of former office holders who were swept from power after the May provincial election, including cabinet ministers, members of public boards and top officials at Crown corporations.
"The goal of this unprecedented legislation in B.C. is to enact a strong, sweeping prohibition," Mr. Eby said, "so that former public-office holders cannot unfairly use their insider knowledge and connections in order to influence government policy on behalf of corporations and organizations."
He said at least three currently registered lobbyists will be prohibited from lobbying government once the bill is passed into law. Ministry staff would not identify them.
Imposing new restrictions for lobbyists was part of the BC Green Party's election platform, and the governing NDP has adopted it as part of the co-operation agreement between the two parties.
The BC Greens did not get everything they asked for, but further changes will be studied as part of a review.
Green MLA Adam Olsen said he was pleased his party was able to champion these changes and that he would like more to be done. "It's frustrating that B.C. is following other provinces on campaign finance and lobbying reform. I want us to be leaders, to be on the cutting edge."
The lobbyist rule changes follow the introduction two weeks ago of a campaign finance bill – one of the flagship reforms of the new NDP government.
In the provincial election in the spring, the NDP and the Greens promised to ban union and corporate donations to political parties, and to limit individual donations.
The New Democrats are facing a barrage of criticism because their bill, which has not yet passed into law, would provide public subsidies to the three political parties with seats in the legislature despite NDP commitments to the contrary.
Campaign finance and the role of lobbyists in political fundraising were brought into the spotlight after a Globe and Mail investigation revealed in March that the BC Liberals – the governing party of the day – milked lobbyists and government consultants, paid by corporations or special-interest groups to try to influence politicians, for multiple donations in exchange for access to premier Christy Clark and members of her cabinet.
The lobbyist bill falls short of the Greens' call for tougher penalties for violations of the province's lobbying law.
The existing penalties have never been used to the full extent of the law.
Currently, the registrar of lobbyists can impose administrative fines of up to $25,000 on those who do not follow the rules. Over the past five years, the registrar has imposed 62 penalties. The average penalty is $447.18, and the largest penalty was $1,500.
Under the proposed changes tabled by Mr. Eby, former cabinet ministers and their political staff, as well as top-ranking bureaucrats including deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers, will not be able to register to lobby in B.C. for two years after leaving their employment in the public service. MLAs who are not in cabinet will face no restrictions, and the independent Registrar of Lobbyists can grant exemptions if they are deemed to be in the public interest.
As well, the two most senior officials of government agencies, including universities, school boards, health-authority boards and a number of Crown corporations, will have to follow the same cooling-off period.