Legislative assembly

MLA’s motions to improve Alberta’s Lobbyists Act rejected by committee

A committee of MPs reviewing the Lobbyists Act voted against changes proposed by Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner, including the creation of a communications registry to track meetings between lobbyists and licensees public charge.

Drew Barnes, committee member and independent MP for Cypress-Medicine Hat, presented 13 motions for the committee to consider at meetings April 26 and last Wednesday. About half were based on recommendations from Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler.

The only motion accepted by the committee was a government recommendation “to consider the importance of public transparency” when changing the law. By law, the law must be reviewed every five years.

Legislative staff will now prepare a report for the government based on recommendations the committee heard from stakeholders, including Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler, during the seven-month review.

The committee rejected two of those recommendations, including removing an exemption for insider lobbying by nonprofit groups, except charities and community service organizations.

Barnes and the NDP minority will each prepare their own dissenting reports. The government will ultimately decide what it will accept when it proposes changes to the law.

Tim Gerwing, UCP caucus communications director, defended the UCP committee members’ decision to vote against nearly all of Barnes’ motions.

“Many of the recommendations presented…were unclear and, if adopted, would create mountains of cumbersome paperwork,” Gerwing wrote.

“Others, meanwhile, already exist, such as recommending a ‘cooling off’ period for former civil servants.

“Ultimately, Alberta’s Lobbyist Act is one of the strictest in the country, and the committee felt that these recommendations made by an independent MP were not constructive in improving it.”

Missed opportunity

Barnes, a veteran Alberta legislator who was kicked out of the UCP caucus nearly a year ago, said he was disappointed with what happened.

“We missed an opportunity from this committee…to send a signal to the prime minister and the cabinet that it’s time to better protect taxpayers’ money and increase transparency,” he said.

In addition to establishing a communications registry to track contact between government officials and lobbyists, Barnes’ motions included establishing a requirement for lobbyists to publicly file monthly the hours they spend lobbying. and funding changes resulting from this activity; reducing from 50 to 20 the annual number of lobbying hours that require a person to register as an organization lobbyist; and the introduction of an obligation for lobbyists to disclose gifts, favors or advantages offered to a public office holder above a certain amount.

Barnes presented additional motions that were not addressed by the Ethics Commissioner. They include the imposition of a cooling-off period before former public office holders can lobby the government. He suggested that a period of one to five years might be appropriate.

Barnes is concerned about the close relationship between Prime Minister Jason Kenney’s office and some companies that regularly lobby his government like Wellington Advocacy.

“What I’m hearing is a revolving door now between lobbyists and the prime minister’s office, and access is often only granted by the prime minister through a lobbyist,” said Barnes.

“It’s not the best way to protect taxpayers’ hard-earned money. This is not the best way to increase transparency for Alberta’s 4.4 million people. And the committee failed to reject those recommendations.

Nick Koolsbergen founded Wellington Advocacy in the spring of 2019 after serving as Kenney’s chief of staff in opposition and successfully campaigning for the UCP in the 2019 provincial election.

Since then, several people who worked in the Kenney government have joined Wellington Advocacy, including Brittany Baltimore, former press secretary and executive director of the UCP caucus, Clancy Bouwman, Kenney’s executive assistant for three years, and Katy Merrifield, Kenney’s executive director. for communications for the first year and a half of the UCP government.