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BC Fed president fined for lobbying violation

The registrar of lobbyists for British Columbia has upheld a fine of $1,000 against Jim Sinclair, the president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, for violating the Lobbyists' Registration Act.

The registrar's office this week released both the original March 14 investigation report by investigator Tim Mots and a June 6 review by registrar Elizabeth Denham.

"The end result was that the BC Federation of Labour lobbied from January 8, 2013 without being registered or having its lobbying activities open to the public until it filed its corrected return on April 19, 2013," wrote Denham in her report.

In upholding the fine against Sinclair, she reiterated Mots' statement on the seriousness of the violation: "It is important for all designated filers to understand that keeping registrations current is not simply 'paperwork.' It is a serious legal obligation that they must meet if the objectives of the [Act] are to be achieved."

The Lobbyists' Registration Act is intended to provide transparency to the public on who is talking to government officials and on what topics. The BC Fed failed to keep its registration information current and to accurately correct it when asked to do so by staff in the registrar's office, both reports say.

According to Denham's review, in June 2013, "The organization stated that it believed its January 22, 2013 return had been accepted and claimed that it was originally unaware that the [registrar] had alerted it to the errors in registration." It said it only discovered the errors on April 19, 2013, and contacted the registrar at that time.

The report lists at least four registrar emails to which the BC Fed failed to respond.

"It appears from the evidence before me that the designated filer either overlooked emails from the [registrar] manager clearly stating that he needed to make corrections or he saw the emails but took no action to make the required corrections," Denham wrote.

According to Denham's report, the BC Fed had argued in its request for a review of Mots' investigation that email is not an appropriate method of correspondence.

"I do not agree with this submission," wrote Denham. "Email is a common means for communication and is acknowledged as an acceptable communication method in such legislation as the Electronics Transactions Act."

The BC Fed had provided the email address, she wrote. "After supplying the [registrar] with this email address, it is not then reasonable for the designated filer [Sinclair] and the BC Federation of Labour to suggest that the [registrar] should not use this email address for communication."

Nor did Denham accept the BC Fed's argument that a cabinet shuffle had made its information out of date, stating the fact that government makes changes to ministerial positions "does not excuse designated filers from their requirement to comply" with lobbying rules.

"Neither the submissions of the designated filer nor the BC Federation of Labour provide adequate evidence to justify rescinding the original finding of contravention by the Investigator," concluded Denham. "Based on the information before me, I am satisfied that the designated filer failed to make corrections within 10 days of being notified that the return he had filed on January 22, 2013 was not accepted and that corrections were required."

Sinclair had no previous violations of the Lobbyists' Registration Act, but the registrar's office had sent a letter in 2012 "regarding apparent non-compliance with a warning that further instances would result in the [registrar] taking action."

There was no evidence Sinclair or the BC Fed benefited from contravening the lobbying rules, both Mots and Denham found.

A spokesperson for the BC Fed said the report speaks for itself and officials would not be commenting on it.

The registrar also released reports detailing a $700 fine against consultant lobbyist Cynthia (Burton) Shore related to work for MWH Business Solutions, $700 against Muneesh Sharma related to the B.C. Lung Association and a $400 fine against Michael Klassen related to his registration to lobby for the BC Care Providers.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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