Canada's lobbying watchdog is calling for the ability to slap financial penalties against unregistered lobbyists in a bid to give necessary teeth to her Code of Conduct.
Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd made the request as she released a report concluding that former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer organized a series of meetings with federal officials as part of his efforts to win $178-million in funding for green-energy projects.
Ms. Shepherd concluded that Mr. Jaffer and business partner Patrick Glémaud breached the lobbyists' code of conduct in five instances, but she said in her report that she does not have the ability to impose any fines or jail terms.
As the Lobbying Act is coming up for a five-year review, Ms. Shepherd said in an interview that she will ask a parliamentary committee on Tuesday to give her the ability to impose fines in particular circumstances to "ensure compliance" with the Act. While she is not mentioning any specific figure, she said other bodies have the right to slap fines in the $25,000 range as part of their enforcement mechanisms.
The move would give more power to Ms. Shepherd's office, while ensuring that stiffer penalties for breaches of the Act, such as jail terms, remain under the purview of the RCMP.
While there will be no penalties in the case of Mr. Jaffer and Mr. Glémaud, Ms. Shepherd said her report serves as a reminder of the pitfalls that await businessmen who fail to register their contacts with federal officials.
In particular, she said that while Mr. Jaffer and Mr. Glémaud did not earn any money as part of their lobbying activities, they still needed to register with her office. She added in her report that the fact that Mr. Glémaud was a lawyer did not shield him from registration requirements when he contacted federal officials in the search for funding.
"Although Mr. Glémaud and Mr. Jaffer were not successful in securing more than $178-million in government funding that they were seeking, their activities required registration," Ms. Shepherd writes. "This report shows that registration is required even if the desired outcome is not achieved."
The Conservatives have shown little sympathy toward Mr. Jaffer since the start of the controversy, which included Mr. Jaffer pleading guilty to careless driving last year and media tales of a meeting with escorts in a Toronto restaurant. In a statement, the Prime Minister's Office emphasized that Mr. Jaffer and Mr. Glémaud "did not secure any government funding."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff, lawyer and lobbying expert Guy Giorno, used his Twitter feed to state that the failure to obtain federal funding is not an excuse in this case. "Sorry, even ineffective lobbyists must register," Mr. Giorno said.
The NDP, meanwhile, blasted the fact that the legislation does not include any penalties for breaches to the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct.
"We're not at all satisfied with the outcome of today's findings," Winnipeg MP Pat Martin said.
Duff Conacher, the founder of Democracy Watch, said it's time to rid the Lobbying Act of its loopholes.
"No one has ever been prosecuted for violating the Act in the past 23 years. It is so easy for lobbyists to exploit one of the loopholes that it is likely no one will ever be prosecuted unless the loopholes are closed," he said.
In response to the report, Mr. Glémaud blamed the "often ambiguous provisions" of the Lobbying Act. Mr. Jaffer expressed his concern over the fact the Commissioner of Lobbying pursued her investigation even though the RCMP has decided not to lay any charges.