Sask. changing lobbyist, conflict of interest rules

The Saskatchewan government introduced legislation on Monday to "promote transparency and enhance accountability among provincially-elected officials," via amendments to the Lobbyists Act and the Members' Conflict of Interest Act.

"It is important for people to have confidence in government," Justice Minister and Attorney General Don Morgan said in a news release.

"This legislation will ensure the public knows who is lobbying and who plans to lobby elected officials in Saskatchewan and provide sensible guidelines for elected officials to follow regarding conflicts of interest."

The changes to both acts come from recommendations by Conflict of Interest Commissioner and Registrar of Lobbyists Ron Barclay.

There are two types of lobbyists under existing rules. Paid "consultant" lobbyists must register. An "in-house" lobbyist, who is an employee, officer or director of a corporation, must register once they reach a threshold of 100 hours of lobbying in a year.

The Lobbyists Act changes include:

  • A new provision prohibiting in-house lobbyists or consultant lobbyists from providing gifts, favours or other benefits to public office holders.
  • Reducing the threshold for registration as an in-house lobbyist from 100 hours to 30 hours per year.
  • Requiring non-profit organizations with more than five employees and without a charitable mandate to register any in-house lobbyists.

The Members Conflict of Interest Act changes include:

  • Requiring that a description of the assets of private companies in which members have a controlling interest be included in the disclosure statement and the public disclosure statement.
  • Requiring former members to file a disclosure statement within 60 days of ceasing to be a member.
  • Allowing a former member to request an opinion or recommendation from the Commissioner on his or her obligations under the Act for 12 months after he or she ceases to be a member.
  • Adding a definition of "gift or personal benefit."

NDP says bill falls short

NDP Ethics and Democracy Critic David Forbes said his party will oppose the legislation because it does not reduce the threshold from 100 hours per year to 0.

"Thirty hours, I mean that is still really big. It's big enough in this day and age of campaign financing where we see huge donors and they can just make a simple five minute call," Forbes said.

Morgan said the government consulted with professional lobbyists about lowering the threshold and landed at 30 hours in a year as a compromise.

Morgan said the lobbyists wanted to avoid needing to document "casual conversations" at the grocery store.

In response Forbes jokingly said, "I don't know who spends 30 hours in Safeway."

Commissioner called for changes in 2017-18 annual report

The province brought in a lobbyist registry in 2016.

Barclay had called for the removal of the threshold from 100 hours to zero.

"The 100-hour threshold that permits lobbying to go undisclosed is not in keeping with the purpose of the Act, which is to promote transparency. It is quite feasible for a company to achieve their mandate with far less than 100 hours of lobbying," Barclay wrote in his 2017-18 annual report.

The government has adopted two of Barclay's recommendations in full: adding a clause prohibiting lobbyists to give gifts to public office holders and allowing former members to seek his advice during the 12-month "cooling off period."

In March, the NDP introduced a bill asking for non-profits to register as lobbyists, a ban on gifts and complete removal of the 100-hour threshold.