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BC introduces new rules for lobbyists

The British Columbia government today announced long-awaited Lobbyists Registration Act amendments that Attorney General Michael de Jong said will make lobbying more open and transparent in the province.

“The registrar under these provisions is provided with significant powers to investigate and compile the presentation of evidence and obtain evidence,” said de Jong.

Under the amendments the lobbyist registrar, freedom of information and privacy commissioner David Loukidelis, will be able to conduct investigations, compel testimony and demand documents be produced.

The amendments leave responsibility for registering with the lobbyists, not the politicians they are lobbying, de Jong said. “You don't actually want a situation to arise where publicly elected officials, MLAs, ministers are in a position where they are guessing about whether or not they can talk to somebody.”

The amendments are likely a step forward, but don't go far enough, said New Democratic Party attorney general critic and Nanaimo MLA Leonard Krog. “This is very much a situation of too little and far too late,” he said.

Liberals have been lobbying under weak regulations for seven years, he said. “The fact is government is in disrepute,” he said. “If you have an inadequate Lobbyists Registration Act, that sends a message to the public that this government is not concerned about the integrity of the process and it's not concerned about who gets access to the government and whether the public's right to know is actually clear.”

The onus should be on politicians to say who is lobbying them, he said. “It is a far simpler and more effective and comprehensive process if its the minister's responsibility, the ministry itself, to enquire when people are approaching, 'Are you or are you not registered?'”

The amendments re-define in-house lobbyists as people whose organization lobbies the government for 100 hours or more in a year, instead of basing it on the percentage of their time people spend lobbying. They also increase penalties and make it illegal to lobby the government while being paid by the government as an advisor on the same subject.

The online registry will be upgraded to be consistent with the new requirements, the government's announcement said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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