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Pipeline contractors, charities lead October lobbying blitz as activity picks up

By Beatrice Paez       

Bill Schaper, director of public policy at Imagine Canada, said his group organized a lobbying blitz to push for sweeping reforms that would modernize regulations governing the charitable sector.

Top lobbied cabinet ministers in October and the number of their communications reports for the month: Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi (29); Small Business Minister Mary Ng (24); Finance Minister Bill Morneau (23); Treasury Board President Scott Brison (16); Environment Minister Catherine McKenna (15); Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains (13); Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen (12); Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay (12); Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor (11); International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr (11); Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould (11); Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (11); Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson (10); Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale (9); and Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly (9). The Hill Times photographs by Andrew Meade
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Lobbying activity has spiked in the last couple of months as groups sought to redouble their efforts in the lead-up to the next election, according to the federal lobbyists’ registry.

Lobbyists filed a total of 3,126 communication reports in October and 1,816 in September, compared to 1,054 in July and 1,157 in August, lobbying records show.

Among the groups logging the most contact with public officials last month was the Mortgage Professionals Canada (MPC), which recorded 44 reports, mainly with MPs. Paul Taylor, the president and CEO of MPC, said his group has been urging the government to tweak the stress test to reduce the barriers prospective first-time homeowners face in qualifying for an uninsured mortgage.

Under the new requirement, introduced in January, borrowers have to show they can afford to pay off their mortgage if interest rates were to rise by two per cent. The central bank is expected to continue to raise the overnight rates, Mr. Taylor said, especially if employment numbers remain healthy.

“We’re in a rising interest-rate environment, which by itself is going to make it more difficult for would-be, first-time homebuyers to get into that market. … We’re asking for a bit of a reduction in the stress test. We’re advocating for three-quarters of a per cent rather than two per cent,” Mr. Taylor said. “It still allows for more prudent underwriting, but it has a much less onerous effect on the qualifications for young folks.”

Some 40 volunteers and staffers representing the Canadian Foodgrains Bank were in Ottawa to hand deliver 8,000 postcards to International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau. Its postcard campaign, dubbed ‘I Care,’ is an ongoing initiative aimed at nudging the Liberal government into raising its foreign-aid contributions to match, at minimum, what its global peers are offering. Photograph courtesy of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank’s Twitter 

Though Mr. Taylor said it appears the government doesn’t have the appetite at this point to fiddle with the stress test, other solutions were floated, including bringing the option of 30-year amortization payments back. “I don’t think anyone disagreed that the housing market is becoming much more challenging for the people at the bottom of the economic ladder,” he noted. “I think [the government] is open to the idea of exploring other mechanisms that could support that group.”

At the top of the list of filings in October was the Pipe Line Contractors Association of Canada, or PLCAC, which posted 56 reports, including one that featured an audience with a group of Conservative Senators from Atlantic Canada: Percy Mockler, Thomas McInnis, Norman Doyle, Fabian Manning, and Paul McIntyre.

A representative from the association was unavailable for an interview, but an email was sent, indicating that 24 of its senior leaders were on the Hill to raise concerns about how the government plans to move forward on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which has been put on hold after the Federal Court in August quashed approval for the project, ordering Ottawa to redo its consultations with Indigenous peoples. Those consultations are underway and expected to wrap up on Dec. 6. The National Energy Board was also ordered to redo its assessment of the project.

Charities, international aid group enlist reinforcements to boost Hill presence

Imagine Canada, an organization that works on behalf of charities, and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, an international-aid group that works to end global hunger, were neck and neck in terms of their filings, with each posting 42 reports last month.

Bill Schaper, director of public policy at Imagine Canada, said his group organized a lobbying blitz that brought some 40 representatives from across the charitable sector to Ottawa to push for sweeping reforms that would modernize Canada’s regulatory framework for engaging with charities.

For the past 400 hundred years, Mr. Schaper said, the legal structure that governs the sector’s activities has remained largely untouched and is long overdue for an overhaul. “There’s not been a real effort for the government and the sector to sit down [and discuss], ‘What do we need this to look like for the 21st century?’ ” he said, noting that, at the committee level, there’s a recognition that the laws are in need of updating. (The Senate has a special committee studying the government’s role in strengthening the sector.)

An overview of the top-lobbied cabinet ministers, by communication reports. Graphic made with Infogram; source: federal lobbyists’ registry 

As an example of one issue Imagine Canada would like to see addressed in a review, Mr. Schaper said that there are varying conditions attached to government grants, depending on the department. One department might restrict the charity from using the grant to cover overhead costs even though the funding is meant to be used for new hires.

Mr. Schaper said it’s taken the industry a while to collectively push for action on the file,  noting that only in the last four years has it worked to bring charities from a variety of fields under a unified effort, “the sector has traditionally not come together that much and advocated for its common needs. Most organizations are too busy trying to get on with the business of delivering their missions.”

But there are signs that those efforts are starting to inform policy at the cabinet level. In the feds’ latest fiscal update, the Trudeau government pledged to set up a $755-million Social Finance Fund—that would be spread over 10 years—to help charities and non-profits fund social projects.

The Foodgrains Bank, meanwhile, also showed up in full force. Some 40 volunteers and staffers were in Ottawa to hand deliver 8,000 postcards to International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau (Compton-Stanstead, Que.). Its postcard campaign, dubbed “I Care,” is an ongoing initiative aimed at nudging the Liberal government into raising its foreign-aid contributions to match, at minimum, what its global peers are offering.

Canada’s aid dollars have been declining over the years. According to a recent report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, spending has fallen from 0.31 per cent of its gross national income (GNI)  in 2012 to 0.26 per cent in 2017. That figure falls short of the global peer average, which is at 0.5 per cent; the global target is 0.7 per cent of a country’s GNI.

The campaign was developed in response to feedback it received  from the minister’s office after its last campaign that it’s been hard to convince cabinet ministers to support an increase.

“What we heard back after the fact was that it was a tough sell around the cabinet table, that other cabinet ministers felt it wasn’t a big enough issue for Canadians, that Canadians didn’t care,” said Paul Hagerman, director of public policy at Foodgrains Bank. “So with those very words, we decided to create a campaign. It’s a pretty soft message compared to what lots of advocacy messages are. It doesn’t say, ‘You should do this.’ It says, ‘This is an issue I care about.’ So we’re hoping that that message will feed into conversations around the table as the budget is being prepared for 2019.”

Though the group wasn’t able to line up any meetings with ministers, Mr. Hagerman said the MPs they spoke with seemed receptive to their concerns: “Lots of MPs are supportive of the message, recognizing that aid has lots of benefits globally. The benefits reflect back on Canada as well. It’s not an entirely self-interested argument, but it’s not an entirely altruistic argument.”

The Hill Times 

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