The Ontario Lobbyists Registration Act recently underwent its first major revision since the legislation was passed in 1998. Any business or non-profit organization whose employees or directors communicate with Ontario public office holders needs to be aware of these changes.
The most significant change for businesses and non-profit organizations is the move from individual employee registrations to a single entity-wide registration with a significantly lower threshold for registration. The overall impact of these changes will bring Ontario’s lobbyist registration system more in line with the federal system.
Under the old system:
- Each employee of a business or non-profit organization was responsible for filing his or her own return with the Lobbyists Registrar.
- The employee would only have to file a return with the Lobbyists Registrar if he or she spent 20% of his or her time engaged in lobbying, which the Office of the Integrity Commissioner interpreted as meaning 96 hours over a three-month period.
Under the new system:
- The senior officer of the business or non-profit organization (“the most senior officer who is compensated for the performance of his or her duties” – the CEO or president) is required to file a return with the Lobbyists Registrar setting out the names of all employees who are engaged in lobbying. The return for a business also has to include the names of any paid directors who are engaged in lobbying.
- The senior officer has to file a return if the employees and paid directors of a business or the employees of a non-profit organization collectively spend 50 hours or more lobbying in the calendar year.
The amendments have also given the Lobbyists Registrar expanded investigatory powers and increased the range of available penalties.
- The Lobbyists Registrar has the authority to investigate complaints received from the public or launch an investigation on his or her own initiative into possible breaches of the Lobbyists Registration Act. In the course of the investigation, the Lobbyists Registrar can require any person to provide documents or information relevant to the investigation and can issue a summons to any person with relevant information for examination.
- In the event of a finding of non-compliance, the Lobbyists Registrar can impose fines on individuals of up to $25,000 for a first offence and $100,000 for subsequent offences, impose a prohibition from lobbying in the province for up to two years, and “name and shame” the lobbyist by publishing a description of the individual’s conduct on the registry.
Businesses and non-profit organizations should also be aware of the new restrictions on consultant lobbyists. Under the new system, consultant lobbyists:
- cannot accept contingency fees for successful lobbying outcomes; and
- cannot lobby a public office holder if they are already providing paid advice or services to the public office holder on the same subject.
Businesses and non-profit organizations that operate in Ontario should take immediate steps to ensure they and their consultant lobbyists continue to meet their obligations under the Lobbyists Registration Act.