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editorial

The centre block of the Parliament buildings is reflected in a puddle on February 1, 2016, in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Are we suddenly meant to feel badly for lobbyists?

Just such a request for sympathy lies at the heart of a movement in Ottawa to review the law that bans MPs, senators, deputy ministers, cabinet staff and political aides from lobbying government for five years after they leave Parliament Hill.

The charge is being led by lobbyists themselves, including one who twice served as a ministerial chief of staff in the governments of Stephen Harper, the former prime minister who brought in the ban after winning power in 2006.

Writing in Policy Options magazine, Michele Austin argues that the five-year-ban is heavy-handed and has hurt Canadian politics because it has "virtually eliminated the ability of elected officials to attract the best and the brightest to Ottawa."

She's essentially arguing that if talented potential staff can't easily and lucratively bounce back and forth between the halls of Parliament and those of a lobbying firm, good people won't be willing to work in government. Others in Ottawa assert that the ban makes it difficult to recruit, according to a report in The Hill Times.

Please. Consider the issue from the public's point of view. Yes, lobbying is part of normal democratic government – within reason. But it is compromised when former political staffers and politicians are allowed to turn around and take advantage of their connections to former colleagues in government, on behalf of cheque-writing interest groups. The conflict of interest is obvious, which is why the law bans the revolving door.

The five-year ban works because it covers the life of most Parliaments. It prevents someone from working in government for one mandate and then, if their party is re-elected, lobbying former colleagues during a second mandate.

The Trudeau government should ignore calls to reduce the five-year ban. It provides voters with some protection against government cronyism, by inserting some daylight between the lobbyists and the lobbied. And if that is a hindrance to good talent going to work in Ottawa, that's surely news to at least some of the people who work there now. Is everyone on Parliament Hill really just there for the post-government payoff? Then all the more reason for the law to make that payoff harder to get.