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Foreign lobbying transparency bill another attack on environmental groups: critics

Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant has a private member’s bill on foreign lobbying, which lobbyists don’t like.

 

Critics of a private member’s bill on transparency in foreign lobbying say it’s another political attack from the federal government against environmental charities, but transparency advocates see merit in some of its provisions.

Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, Ont.) introduced Bill C-618, the Foreign Lobbying Transparency Act, in the House of Commons on June 13, days before the federal Cabinet approved Enbridge’s controversial $7-billion Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.

The bill would amend the federal Lobbying Act to require lobbyists to disclose funding from a foreign corporation, organization, or individual.

It would also require them to report grassroots activities related to lobbying that involve persuading the public to affect government policy. This section would cover “any appeals, directions or other communications to organizations or members of the public through the mass media or by direct communication that seek to persuade those organizations or members of the public to take measures to obstruct, delay or otherwise affect any Government of Canada policy-making process, including any process in accordance with which the Government of Canada is required to consult with the public before embarking on a specific course of action, in an attempt to place pressure on the public office holder to endorse a particular opinion.”

The Lobbying Act requires lobbyists to indicate in their registrations whether the organization or firm receives government funding as well as the amount. The bill would expand this to include funding from foreign nationals, firms and organizations, and the amount received.

Lobbyists are also currently required to indicate in their registrations whether they intend to use grassroots campaigns urging members of the public to communicate with public office holders. Companies are required to list the name and address of their parent company and any subsidiaries. The bill doesn’t change the significant part of duties test or reporting threshold that determines when a firm or organization has to register, so the bill still wouldn’t apply to groups that don’t lobby government and only engage in grassroots advocacy.

Ms. Gallant said the bill is necessary because a more globalized world means more foreign financial interests in the country.

“What Canadians demand is that they have reporting systems so that they know who is influencing decision-makers,” she said. 

Ms. Gallant said the inspiration for the bill comes from the forestry industry’s concerns in her Eastern Ontario riding, a sector that operates in Algonquin Park. Environmental activists have affected provincial policy governing forestry in the park, she said, a campaign she calls misguided.

She wants to know whether forestry competitors from other countries are providing funding to the campaigns to hinder the Canadian sector, she said, and she consulted forestry and nuclear energy groups in drafting the bill.

Ms. Gallant could not name any of the environmental groups campaigning against the forestry sector in her riding. 

The Canadian Institute of Forestry, an advocacy group representing industry, scientists and others, spoke out against an anti-logging campaign earlier this year that saw signs posted around Algonquin Park calling the industry unsustainable. 

An organization called Earthroots ran a campaign in 2011 calling on the provincial government to limit logging activities in the park. Earthroots, describes itself as a “grassroots conservation organization,”  its website says.

Ms. Gallant’s suspicions about foreign funding for environmental campaigns has more frequently been made about organizations opposing the development of the Alberta oilsands and the pipeline projects that would see its bitumen exported to international markets. In January 2012, then-natural resources minister Joe Oliver (Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont.) wrote an open letter about radical environmental groups hijacking the regulatory system by exploiting loopholes to stall resource development projects.

“They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest,” the letter said.

The 2012 federal budget streamlined the environmental assessment process and allocated $8-million in funding for the Canada Revenue Agency to ensure charities comply with the rules that limit their political activities to 10 per cent of annual expenditures.

Organizations such as Tides Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation were singled out for receiving foreign funding by oilsands advocacy group Ethical Oil, which has ties to the federal Conservatives.

Tides declined to comment on the bill for this article.

Ms. Gallant said her bill addresses the lobbying industry’s increased sophistication.

“Rather than entities just lobbying public office holders, now what they’re doing is constructing campaigns to influence the general public with the expectation that the public will in turn exert pressure for a particular course of action,” she said.

Lobbyists speaking on background told The Hill Times they thought Ms. Gallant’s bill was a continuation of the same environmental charity debate, a “shot across the bow” to environmental groups ahead of the government’s Northern Gateway decision and a bone to the Conservative base in the resource sector.

Transparency is a good thing when it’s applied for the right reasons, said Tim Powers, vice-chairman of Summa Strategies, but it can also be used for “partisan gamesmanship.”

“Sometimes I think it becomes reflexive for politicians of all political stripes to focus on where they believe there are deficiencies in the lobbying industry or advertising industry for political benefit,” he said in an interview. “It’s an old political play and sometimes it has resonance.”

He said he thinks the motivation for the bill stems back to the Conservatives’ 2012 criticism of U.S. organizations “becoming more active in Canada and trying to, in the words of the government, trying to hamstring different resource projects.”

Nick Kyonka, CEO of advocacy watchdog Canadians For Responsible Advocacy, said it’s important to be able to see whose interests’ organizations are representing and why they’re spending money to influence policy decisions.

“We think the idea of requiring organizations to disclose whether they receive significant amounts of foreign funding or large donations from foreign sources is important because it can impact their advocacy and lobbying messages,” he said in an interview.

The bill could be difficult for organizations that receive hundreds of small donations from donors whose nationality isn’t tracked, though, he said, and suggested a threshold so organizations would only have to keep track of the nationality or residence for donations from larger donors.

Including appeals to grassroots organizations is a good idea, he said.

“I think that Canadians and public decision makers have a right to understand the relationships between organizations that are all advocating or lobbying for similar issues or similar policies because, again, it allows them to somewhat inflate the strength of their voice,” he said.

Duff Conacher, founder of transparency organization Democracy Watch, said he liked the idea of including information about foreign funding in the registry.

Rather than just the amount of foreign funding received, he said the bill should include the amount spent on lobbying activities, something his organization has been asking for from all lobbying organizations—foreign or Canadian—for several years.

He also said he thinks the bill is targeting not-for-profit groups and charities. Corporations don’t send out the type of action alerts the bill refers to but they do advertise, he said, with those messages sometimes containing directions to a website for more information on a specific policy or proposal.

“Is that a communication to members of the public that seeks to persuade them to take measures to affect a government of Canada policymaking process?” he said. “When the ad is happening at the time that a policymaking process is going on… I think they should ensure the definition of communications includes those kinds of ads.”

Ms. Gallant said she couldn’t go into specifics about what advertising would be covered under the legislation .

“Depending on what the bigger picture was and the whole lobbying campaign, it may or may not,” she said.

NDP MP Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay, Ont.), his party’s ethics critic, was also critical of the motivations behind the bill, saying the government is using it to act as a “bully boy for the oil lobby.” He also said it would be difficult to enforce with so many companies with subsidiaries and health-related NGOs with international partners, making the lobbying commissioner’s job “almost impossible.”

He and Mr. Powers also said it could send the wrong message when Canada is trying to encourage global businesses and organizations to operate in Canada.

“We’re an international player. We have international companies that lobby. We have international NGOs with international connections. Unless they want to put a firewall around Canada and prevent anybody from speaking to us, I don’t know how that would be possible,” Mr. Angus said.

Mark Blumberg, a partner at Blumberg Segal LLP and an expert in charity and non-profit law, said that while he favours more transparency, he thinks the bill is another effort to put a chill on charities.

The T3010 form charities file to the Canada Revenue Agency already contains a full page of questions on political activities, including a list of funding from outside Canada for political activities and the amount received.

The form also requires charities to report gifts of more than $10,000 received from donors who aren’t Canadian citizens or not resident in Canada.

“Charities have to disclose any funds really that they’re getting from foreign sources that is essentially earmarked for or intended to support political activities. So they already have to disclose that,” he said in an interview.

He said making the reporting too complex for charities that don’t have the resources to deal with multiple levels of disclosure could silence them.

“So who’s going to be at the table talking to the members of Parliament? It’s basically going to be business and professional lobbyists. That’s it,” he said.

Ms. Gallant denied that the bill was driven by concerns outside her riding and said its introduction before the Northern Gateway approval was a coincidence and came when it did because her previous private member’s bill had received royal assent in late May.

She said there’s no timeline for when the bill will come up again in the House. In the meantime, she said she’s starting to solicit support for it in the Conservative caucus.

mburgess@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times


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Foreign lobbying transparency bill another attack on environmental groups: critics

Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant has a private member’s bill on foreign lobbying, which lobbyists don’t like.

 

Critics of a private member’s bill on transparency in foreign lobbying say it’s another political attack from the federal government against environmental charities, but transparency advocates see merit in some of its provisions.

Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, Ont.) introduced Bill C-618, the Foreign Lobbying Transparency Act, in the House of Commons on June 13, days before the federal Cabinet approved Enbridge’s controversial $7-billion Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.

The bill would amend the federal Lobbying Act to require lobbyists to disclose funding from a foreign corporation, organization, or individual.

It would also require them to report grassroots activities related to lobbying that involve persuading the public to affect government policy. This section would cover “any appeals, directions or other communications to organizations or members of the public through the mass media or by direct communication that seek to persuade those organizations or members of the public to take measures to obstruct, delay or otherwise affect any Government of Canada policy-making process, including any process in accordance with which the Government of Canada is required to consult with the public before embarking on a specific course of action, in an attempt to place pressure on the public office holder to endorse a particular opinion.”

The Lobbying Act requires lobbyists to indicate in their registrations whether the organization or firm receives government funding as well as the amount. The bill would expand this to include funding from foreign nationals, firms and organizations, and the amount received.

Lobbyists are also currently required to indicate in their registrations whether they intend to use grassroots campaigns urging members of the public to communicate with public office holders. Companies are required to list the name and address of their parent company and any subsidiaries. The bill doesn’t change the significant part of duties test or reporting threshold that determines when a firm or organization has to register, so the bill still wouldn’t apply to groups that don’t lobby government and only engage in grassroots advocacy.

Ms. Gallant said the bill is necessary because a more globalized world means more foreign financial interests in the country.

“What Canadians demand is that they have reporting systems so that they know who is influencing decision-makers,” she said. 

Ms. Gallant said the inspiration for the bill comes from the forestry industry’s concerns in her Eastern Ontario riding, a sector that operates in Algonquin Park. Environmental activists have affected provincial policy governing forestry in the park, she said, a campaign she calls misguided.

She wants to know whether forestry competitors from other countries are providing funding to the campaigns to hinder the Canadian sector, she said, and she consulted forestry and nuclear energy groups in drafting the bill.

Ms. Gallant could not name any of the environmental groups campaigning against the forestry sector in her riding. 

The Canadian Institute of Forestry, an advocacy group representing industry, scientists and others, spoke out against an anti-logging campaign earlier this year that saw signs posted around Algonquin Park calling the industry unsustainable. 

An organization called Earthroots ran a campaign in 2011 calling on the provincial government to limit logging activities in the park. Earthroots, describes itself as a “grassroots conservation organization,”  its website says.

Ms. Gallant’s suspicions about foreign funding for environmental campaigns has more frequently been made about organizations opposing the development of the Alberta oilsands and the pipeline projects that would see its bitumen exported to international markets. In January 2012, then-natural resources minister Joe Oliver (Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont.) wrote an open letter about radical environmental groups hijacking the regulatory system by exploiting loopholes to stall resource development projects.

“They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest,” the letter said.

The 2012 federal budget streamlined the environmental assessment process and allocated $8-million in funding for the Canada Revenue Agency to ensure charities comply with the rules that limit their political activities to 10 per cent of annual expenditures.

Organizations such as Tides Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation were singled out for receiving foreign funding by oilsands advocacy group Ethical Oil, which has ties to the federal Conservatives.

Tides declined to comment on the bill for this article.

Ms. Gallant said her bill addresses the lobbying industry’s increased sophistication.

“Rather than entities just lobbying public office holders, now what they’re doing is constructing campaigns to influence the general public with the expectation that the public will in turn exert pressure for a particular course of action,” she said.

Lobbyists speaking on background told The Hill Times they thought Ms. Gallant’s bill was a continuation of the same environmental charity debate, a “shot across the bow” to environmental groups ahead of the government’s Northern Gateway decision and a bone to the Conservative base in the resource sector.

Transparency is a good thing when it’s applied for the right reasons, said Tim Powers, vice-chairman of Summa Strategies, but it can also be used for “partisan gamesmanship.”

“Sometimes I think it becomes reflexive for politicians of all political stripes to focus on where they believe there are deficiencies in the lobbying industry or advertising industry for political benefit,” he said in an interview. “It’s an old political play and sometimes it has resonance.”

He said he thinks the motivation for the bill stems back to the Conservatives’ 2012 criticism of U.S. organizations “becoming more active in Canada and trying to, in the words of the government, trying to hamstring different resource projects.”

Nick Kyonka, CEO of advocacy watchdog Canadians For Responsible Advocacy, said it’s important to be able to see whose interests’ organizations are representing and why they’re spending money to influence policy decisions.

“We think the idea of requiring organizations to disclose whether they receive significant amounts of foreign funding or large donations from foreign sources is important because it can impact their advocacy and lobbying messages,” he said in an interview.

The bill could be difficult for organizations that receive hundreds of small donations from donors whose nationality isn’t tracked, though, he said, and suggested a threshold so organizations would only have to keep track of the nationality or residence for donations from larger donors.

Including appeals to grassroots organizations is a good idea, he said.

“I think that Canadians and public decision makers have a right to understand the relationships between organizations that are all advocating or lobbying for similar issues or similar policies because, again, it allows them to somewhat inflate the strength of their voice,” he said.

Duff Conacher, founder of transparency organization Democracy Watch, said he liked the idea of including information about foreign funding in the registry.

Rather than just the amount of foreign funding received, he said the bill should include the amount spent on lobbying activities, something his organization has been asking for from all lobbying organizations—foreign or Canadian—for several years.

He also said he thinks the bill is targeting not-for-profit groups and charities. Corporations don’t send out the type of action alerts the bill refers to but they do advertise, he said, with those messages sometimes containing directions to a website for more information on a specific policy or proposal.

“Is that a communication to members of the public that seeks to persuade them to take measures to affect a government of Canada policymaking process?” he said. “When the ad is happening at the time that a policymaking process is going on… I think they should ensure the definition of communications includes those kinds of ads.”

Ms. Gallant said she couldn’t go into specifics about what advertising would be covered under the legislation .

“Depending on what the bigger picture was and the whole lobbying campaign, it may or may not,” she said.

NDP MP Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay, Ont.), his party’s ethics critic, was also critical of the motivations behind the bill, saying the government is using it to act as a “bully boy for the oil lobby.” He also said it would be difficult to enforce with so many companies with subsidiaries and health-related NGOs with international partners, making the lobbying commissioner’s job “almost impossible.”

He and Mr. Powers also said it could send the wrong message when Canada is trying to encourage global businesses and organizations to operate in Canada.

“We’re an international player. We have international companies that lobby. We have international NGOs with international connections. Unless they want to put a firewall around Canada and prevent anybody from speaking to us, I don’t know how that would be possible,” Mr. Angus said.

Mark Blumberg, a partner at Blumberg Segal LLP and an expert in charity and non-profit law, said that while he favours more transparency, he thinks the bill is another effort to put a chill on charities.

The T3010 form charities file to the Canada Revenue Agency already contains a full page of questions on political activities, including a list of funding from outside Canada for political activities and the amount received.

The form also requires charities to report gifts of more than $10,000 received from donors who aren’t Canadian citizens or not resident in Canada.

“Charities have to disclose any funds really that they’re getting from foreign sources that is essentially earmarked for or intended to support political activities. So they already have to disclose that,” he said in an interview.

He said making the reporting too complex for charities that don’t have the resources to deal with multiple levels of disclosure could silence them.

“So who’s going to be at the table talking to the members of Parliament? It’s basically going to be business and professional lobbyists. That’s it,” he said.

Ms. Gallant denied that the bill was driven by concerns outside her riding and said its introduction before the Northern Gateway approval was a coincidence and came when it did because her previous private member’s bill had received royal assent in late May.

She said there’s no timeline for when the bill will come up again in the House. In the meantime, she said she’s starting to solicit support for it in the Conservative caucus.

mburgess@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

  

Parliamentary Calendar
Friday, July 25, 2014
HILL LIFE & PEOPLE SLIDESHOWS
U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman's Fourth of July shindig July 14, 2014

The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman, right, and his wife, Vicki, were all smiles at hosting their first Fourth of July bash in Ottawa. Some 3,000 guest attended. The mood was good and there was a lot of dancing, eating, and chatting.

The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Vicki and Bruce Heyman.

The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Vicki and Bruce Heyman.

The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Vicki and Bruce Heyman. The dress code was summer whites. The atmosphere was light and lovely.

The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Ken Taylor, former Canadian ambassador to Iran.

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Bluesky's Susan Smith, Ottawa University's Robert Asselin, and Bluesky's Tim Barber.

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Former CTV Hill reporter Roger Smith.

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Former Bloc MP Claude Bachand and Danielle Leclerc.

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House of Commons protocol's Elizabeth Rody and Jane Kennedy.

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McLoughlin Media's Barry McLoughlin and Laura Peck.

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Canadian Chamber of Commerce President Perrin Beatty, wearing a nice summer hat.

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The National Arts Centre's Peter Herndorff and Rosemary Thompson.

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Sisters, Maggie Creskey, left, and Hill Times publisher Anne Marie Creskey.

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Former Progressive Conservative prime minister Joe Clark.

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Chad Schella, Maureen McTeer, and CPAC's Catherine Clark.

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The guests on the front lawn of the U.S. ambassador's official residence in Ottawa's swishy Rockcliffe neighbourhood, high up above the Ottawa River.

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The cheesecakes were brought in from Chicago. Yum!

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Maclean's magazine's Paul Wells.

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Shaw's Alayne Crawford and Gary Clement, senior manager of GR at TD Bank (Toronto). 

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CCCE's Ailish Campbell, Ekos' Frank Graves, Amgen's Kim Furlong, and H&K's Jackie King.

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CommuniquéDirect's Nick Masciantonio and MDA's Leslie Swartman.

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Postmedia News columnist Andrew Coyne and Global TV News reporter Laura Stone.

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Former Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay, right, and a friend.

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The lineup.

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The scene.

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Postmedia News national affairs columnist Andrew Coyne.

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CTV cameraman Dave Ellis, centre. 

MICHAEL DE ADDER'S TAKE