Today in the Legislature we commenced second reading debate of Bill 8 — Lobbyists Registration Amendment Act, 2017. This is an important piece of legislation that fulfills yet another promise contained within the Confidence and Supply Agreement that the BC Greens signed with the BC NDP.
As I was the last speaker on Thursday afternoon, I moved adjournment of the debate at the end of my initial comments. I will conclude my remarks when debate resumes next week.
Below I reproduce the text and video of my speech. I will update this post when I complete my remarks next week.
PS This post has now been updated at the end (text and video) with the remainder of my speech given Monday, October 23, 2017.
A. Weaver: Thank you to the member for Vancouver-Kensington for the eloquent words speaking in favour of this bill, a bill that obviously, I’m rising to speak in support to, with recognition that perhaps there are some things that we might expand upon as we have this debate go forward. Some interesting ideas have been raised by members opposite.
I’m sure, in the spirit of trying to develop the best possible Legislature, and with the new access that members opposite have…. Actually, the government deserves a lot of credit for this. It’s quite remarkable that they have given us access to legislative drafters to allow us to actually provide amendments to legislation, government legislation, on a trial basis this fall, that could actually meet the issues that we raise, but at the same time, do so in a manner that we know has spanned across the legislative framework.
So when we put forward amendments — if there are any such amendments — we know that government could make a decision knowing that it has gone through legislative drafters as opposed to — even if it’s an amazing piece of amendment — having to say no because they’re concerned that maybe legislative drafters haven’t seen it.
So I think the government deserve an awful lot of credit for providing access to both the B.C. Liberals and the B.C. NDP MLAs. I hope we, collectively, don’t abuse that so that we get to have the access withdrawn. But I think it’s a good step forward for our democracy and, perhaps, members opposite will be standing forth with some legislative drafter approved or assisted-upon amendments.
This bill that I’m standing to speak to — Bill 8 — Lobbyists Registration Amendment Act, 2017, takes steps forwards in British Columbia for much-needed lobbying reforms. But, of course, it doesn’t include all the reforms that everybody would want, perhaps, but it does make an important step forward. It reforms…. Just because reforming lobbying is fundamental. It’s essential to rebuilding public trust in our democracy, in government and ensuring that special interests do not exercise undue influence on this or any other future governments.
The office of the registrar of lobbyists has issued a number of recommendations to reform lobbying in British Columbia. And our priorities for reform were drawn from and in line with these recommendations. The B.C. Greens were the only party that formally campaigned on introducing lobbying reform legislation, and we’re absolutely delighted that government has seen fit to bring forward a bill here to take steps towards improving the Lobbyist Registration Act by the amendments that are brought forward.
In particular, the bill before us acts on one of the recommendations from the office of the registrar of lobbyists, and that recommendation was instituting a prohibition on lobbying for former senior public office holders for a period of two years since leaving office. What does it mean now to say former senior and public officers?
Well, we’re delighted with the definition here in section 2 of the bill, where it says, “‘former public office holder’ means,” and therein lies a definition: “(a) a former member of the Executive Council and any individual formerly employed in the former member’s former office, other than administrative support staff.” Why that’s important is, ministerial staff have access to information, and ministers have access to information that most members here do not have access to. It’s information on how this government is operating at a very fundamental level. So we support this inclusion of those within the minister’s offices.
It also says, “a former parliamentary secretary,” — again, access to information that most members here will not have, as well as, including members in government, who were not in cabinet. Cabinet confidentiality is something that is respected not only with member’s opposition, but also member’s in government do not have access to the information unless they are in cabinet. That’s important that that be kept that way.
I fully support this ban because going out into now lobbying, a cabinet or a government where you have inside information, potentially puts people into awkward situation. I think we should try to avoid that.
The definition further continues saying, “any individual who formerly occupied (i) a senior executive position in a ministry, whether by the title of deputy minister, chief executive officer or another title, (ii) the position of associate deputy minister, assistant deputy minister or a position of comparable rank in a ministry, (iii) or a prescribed position in a Provincial entity” — the famous prescribed position done through regulation.
Again, senior members of government have access to privileged information — information that, in many cases, is subject to cabinet confidentiality. It’s information that is not available to the general public, and therein lies an important point. Sure, we want people with expertise to lobby in their area of expertise, but having inside information gives undue influence to various individuals — kind of like insider trading. If I know, for example, that a company is about to go bankrupt and I’ve been told by the chief financial officer of a company that the company is going bankrupt, and I act upon that by shorting that stock, that’s illegal, and the reason why is because the public does not tolerate the use of inside knowledge to undermine general public interest, which happens in that case. That’s the intent of this, and I applaud government for bringing forward legislation that’s true to that intent.
What’s important…. I’ve heard a number of members opposite speak about the fact that some staff may have moved off into positions now and they have to resign. I think that a case could be made, based on section 2.3 of this bill, which is entitled “Exemption from prohibitions….” It says here: “If the registrar is satisfied that it is in the public interest, the registrar may, on request and on any terms or conditions that the registrar considers advisable, exempt a person from a prohibition set out in section 2.1 or 2.2.” And, again, there are more details that the registrar has to do.
This doesn’t mean…. You know, this is what I would like to see through further discussion. The exemption is there, and if a compelling case can be made that somebody…. Well, honestly, I knew a couple of people who moved here from afar. They weren’t political, per se. They were very talented individuals who have since, because of the downsize of government, lost their positions. You know, one could make a case that they are impartial. They happened to work in the positions they worked because of an opportunity for their career advancement, particularly young people.
But we have the exemption here where the registrar could be approached with a compelling case. So I don’t see this legislation, as some members have pointed out, as being particularly unfair to those who have worked in a ministry’s office.
As I said, the B.C. Greens — soon to be officially recognized in this House, I should say, so I should say right now: the three independent members who ran under the B.C. Green banner…. It was the banner of the only party to actually campaign on lobbying reform. Frankly, it was one of our central pillars of our governance reform platform, and our confidence and supply agreement included a discussion of this.
You know, as in any agreement, it’s not — you bring your baseball bat and your ball to the game and then you stand up and walk and stomp out if you don’t get your way. Clearly, if…. This is not 100 percent what we would have written, but on the other hand, we understand the importance of collaboration, the importance of listening to other views, the importance of actually reflecting upon your position and being willing to change or expand upon it, based on new information that is brought forward. And again, we commend the government on bringing this forward, recognizing that it is a first step.
When we did our campaigning on reforming lobbying in B.C., we wanted to see first and foremost an increase in the transparency of how lobbying takes place in British Columbia and an increase in the accountability of lobbyists and public office holders. So one of the things, again…. To expand upon that, we wanted to see a requirement to disclose who one actually intends to lobby removed from the act and replaced with the requirement to disclose who one actually lobbies within ten days of lobbying.
Let me tell you why we thought that was important. We recognize, of course, that lobbying is a natural part, an important part of political life. It’s an important part for us to gather information as legislators on what the issues are facing various groups. It’s critical lobbying within the democratic system. But the public needs to know who is lobbying whom. By making it more transparent, then, decision-makers are more accountable for their actions, but also, the public trusts them when they make the actions. They’ve done so in an open and transparent manner.
It’s quite common for a lobbyist to say that they’re going to lobby 87 members of the B.C. Legislature — well, 86, because one member has since stepped down. Well, that’s not very helpful to anyone.
Let me suppose I’m from the Deep Earth coal mining company of Kansas. Well, let’s see. Who is a member here? Saanich South — the Deep Earth coal mining company from Saanich South. It’s very unlikely that that person would be lobbying the member from Cariboo-Chilcotin or elsewhere, but if they listed with the lobbyist registrar that they’re lobbying all 87 members, nobody really knows who they’re lobbying.
But if they were to lobby the member for Saanich South, the Minister of Agriculture now, or the Minister of Energy, we’d want to know that. The public would want to know that. They wouldn’t want to know that they intended to lobby everyone, because they’re not. They’re obviously going to lobby whoever. This is done with the greatest respect for the member for Saanich South. I just happened to look to see if there was someone in the audience here.
The purpose here is to register who you are lobbying to, and so we recognize that this is a first step. We would hope that, at some point in the future and in this Legislature, we’ll be able to list who is lobbying who, as opposed to “we’re lobbying everybody.”
One of the second goals that we had, in including lobbying reform in our platform, was to reduce the undue influence of special interests on government decisions. I don’t want to rehash all of the last four years I’ve been here or the last 16 years in total — or even the 1990s. We don’t need to rehash all of that. The reality is the public wants government to work in the interests of the people of British Columbia, not in the interests of vested interests. One of the ways of getting that is reforming lobbying to get to transparency and to reduce undue influence.
One of the things with doing the two-year prohibition is it does just that. It gives, in some sense, a cooling-off period for those who’ve had that insider knowledge, so to speak, a cooling-off period that allows them to, you know, figure out what they want to do. Frankly, if it’s an MLA, it’s going to be tough when moving from an MLA. You’re going from 24-7 a day to suddenly having time on your hands.
Going back to university …. I’ll tell you, hon. Speaker, as you would know from the University of the Fraser Valley, that’s a cushy job compared to what we’ve got here, having to work — and B.C. Greens having to sit on five committees. But they’ll have time to reflect upon what they want to do and maybe they won’t become a lobbyist — and good on them; power to them — and build upon the expertise that got them here in the first place.
Public office holders have, as I mentioned, special privileged relationships and access to privileged information that would give them outsized influence if they become a lobbyist immediately upon leaving. As I said, two years is a sufficient time for these lobbyists to, in some sense, get a sense of what they want to do. We don’t want government and the senior civil service to be a revolving door. Once government, then lobbyists. That’s not good for democracy.
One of the third things we wanted to do is…. We felt it was very important — and again, we’re very grateful to government for moving down this path — to bring B.C. standards in line with other jurisdictions in Canada. As has been pointed out, we’ve been called the Wild West here in British Columbia. And I would argue in lobbying reform, we lag behind other jurisdictions across other provinces and at the federal level.
In 2008, the federal government imposed a multi-year prohibition on lobbying. Now, kudos go to the Harper government at the time for doing just that — a multi-year prohibition on lobbying was in recognition of the undue influences that could have, the special interests of somebody with inside knowledge lobbying as soon as they left.
We know that Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia all have so-called “cooling-off periods” as well for former public office holders and a variety of lengths. Here we’ve got two years proposed, and they also have more stringent requirements for reporting codes of conduct and so on and so forth.
You know, this bill goes a long way towards reducing some of the problems that we face here with lobbying in British Columbia. Coming back to what this bill does, this bill, as I’ve said, takes steps forward for much-needed lobbying reform. It does not include all of the things that we felt were necessary, but it does make a good step forward. The two-year prohibition — wonderful.
What’s also really important — and frankly, give government credit for this — is that they’ve committed to undertaking a review of lobbying. Government has said that they’re committed to undertake a review of lobbying. I think that it’s a good step forward, and I hope that we get a multi-party agreement that this is something that we could….
This is not a partisan issue. I recognize that there are a few individuals who this legislation might actually cause some difficulty for right now. But we do have that exemption in section 2.3 that they could seek to apply for and make the compelling case why it’s important that they continue as lobbyists.
By committing to undertaking lobbying, I think we all will have collectively a chance and an opportunity to actually bring our views to this.
I do note that the Chair of the committee has entered. I do note the hour, and I reserve my right to speak on this matter further on Monday and do so move adjournment of debate just now.
A. Weaver: I rise to take my place and continue debate on Bill 8, Lobbyists Registration Amendment Act, 2017.
Last Thursday, as I was noting the hour, I was coming to near an end of the issues I wish to raise in this bill, but please let me just expand a little bit more upon something that I think is very important that government has announced that it will do.
One of the key aspects of this bill is not so much what’s in the bill — it’s a very good first step — but also that the government has committed to undertaking a review of lobbying in general. While it’s not in the legislation, this is being put forward by government as a means of us moving forward to account for some of the areas that have not been covered here. For example…. We’ll come to one in a second.
I would like to note that the B.C. Green caucus will be delighted…. Well, we’ll soon be called the B.C. Green caucus, I hope, if the Constitution Amendment Act changes. But we’ll be participating in this review, as we have some ideas that we’d like to explore in further discussions.
One of these priorities for further changes that we’d like to explore is dealing with actual versus expected lobbying. As it stands now, the bill doesn’t really address the transparency issue. The bill articulates…. It still remains that you’re supposed to register who you’re going to lobby.
As we know, various lobbyists will sign up to lobby all 87…. Sorry, I forgot one member’s seat is open. They will sign up to lobby all 86 members here, and the public really wants to know who is being lobbied by who, not whether somebody is lobbying anybody. And transparency isn’t met in this registry system, because of the fact that we don’t actually know who is lobbied.
I recognize that the bill before us is called the Lobbyists Registration Amendment Act, and the whole framework of the bill is such that it’s designed as a registry, as opposed to a list of who you’ve lobbied. It would require substantive changes throughout the entire act, were we to actually start to note who was actually lobbied, rather than registering as a lobbyist per se.
You know, Elizabeth Denham’s 2013 report had some words attributed to a media spokesperson — I won’t mention his name. It said the following: “The current system creates a smokescreen about who is really being lobbied. We should be able to search the registry and find out who was actually lobbied, when and where.”
We support that. I support that. My colleagues have spoken about this. I’m sure my friend from Cowichan Valley, who will speak shortly, will reaffirm that we support this recommendation, as articulated in the quote that I just did. Again, expecting to lobby, as opposed to who you actually lobbied. We’d like to see that be reported — who you actually lobbied, within ten days. It’s something we hope that, as we move forward in this discussion process, we’ll be able to have input in.
There is no code of conduct, in the actual legislation, for lobbyists. Again, this is something that we will be looking to push, actually: the development of a code of conduct. Now, we recognize that a bill is probably not the right place to embed an entire code of conduct, but we’re looking to see if we could enable the registrar to come up with a code of conduct that will be made available to lobbyists, and they would be expected to follow that code of conduct in their lobbying efforts.
Finally, we want to look a little bit at government accountability and what role ministers play in confirming lobbying that actually may have taken place. We think there can be some further measures taken there to expand upon transparency.
Obviously, I will be standing and voting in support of this bill, because it takes important first steps towards the reform of our lobbying in British Columbia. I look forward to further discussions of this at committee stage. I particularly look forward to the discussions that will ensue as we develop this comprehensive review of lobbying registration in British Columbia in the months ahead.