With all eyes turned to the Upper Chamber as the government tries to stickhandle its final pieces of legislation through Parliament, lobbyists also increased their attention to the Senate this spring. In the first four months of 2019, the volume of lobbyists targeting the Senate has increased by nearly one-third over the same time period in the last two years, and more than doubled the 2016 rate.
Between January and April 2019, lobbyists listed 517 interactions with Senators and their staff, according to the federal lobbyists’ registry, a 29 per cent increase over the previous year. In the first four months of 2018, the number sat at 400, up only slightly from the 384 in 2017, when following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election, there were more than 25 new Senators appointed under a newly established independent process.
At 517 lobbying records, in the first four months of 2019, the volume of lobbyists targeting the Senate has already surpassed the annual totals common before Mr. Trudeau’s government came to power.
From 2011 and 2015, the numbers for the whole year never reached 500. In 2016, when Mr. Trudeau started naming new Senators, that increased to almost 700. The next year, it doubled to 1,250, and last year it shot up to more than 1,400.
Over the last several weeks, the Senate has been considering key pieces of government legislation as the Liberals push through the last months of their mandate, with April’s numbers leading into what’s sure to be a breakneck final two months for Senate lobbying.
The House is scheduled to sit until June 21 and the Senate until June 28.
The hotly contested, and highly lobbied environmental assessment legislation, C-69, continued to make progress through the Upper Chamber last week, with Senators approving a report by the Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee proposing 187 amendments to the bill. Third reading debate began this week, and if the bill is accepted in the Senate in its altered form, it will still have to return to the House of Commons for consideration of the Upper Chamber’s changes.
And, this week the Red Chamber will decide whether the tanker ban bill, C-48, makes it through.
The Senate Transport Committee recommended that the Senate kill the bill in its report, finalized late last week. Senators on the committee came to a tie vote on whether to proceed with the bill. Tie votes count as a loss, meaning the vote determined that the committee would recommend that Senators do not allow the bill to go ahead.
If the Senate accepts the committee’s report, Bill C-48 will die, in what would be an exceptionally rare move by the Upper Chamber to defeat a government bill. If the Senate does not accept the committee’s report, the bill would go on to be debated at third reading, where Senators could move amendments to the controversial bill, which Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and others have said would harm the oil and gas industry.
The Liberals’ omnibus budget implementation bill, C-97, has been making a parallel path in the House and Senate, with meetings still planned at various committees in the Upper Chamber.
Energy, environment, agriculture, health, and aboriginal affairs were among the most commonly cited subjects in the communication reports filed with the lobbying commissioner’s office.
The lay of the land in the Senate has changed significantly in less than three years after the Liberals came to power and Mr. Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) followed up on a promise he made as third-party leader that there would be no Liberal partisan Senators, instead appointing independent members. Those Senators, along with previously appointed Senators who left, or were kicked out, of partisan caucuses, now make up the majority of the Chamber.
In April, Independent Alberta Senator Douglas Black, who chairs the Senate Banking, Trade, and Commerce Committee was in the lead, listed in 16 reports. Sen. Black has been a vocal opponent of both Bill C-69 and C-48. His director of parliamentary affairs, Patrick Cousineau, was also high on the Senate list, posted in nine reports. Next in line, Sen. Black’s provincial colleague Grant Mitchell, who acts as government liaison in the Senate, was mentioned in nine. Independents Éric Forest (Gulf, Que.) and Rosa Galvez (Bedford, Que.), as well as non-affiliated Senator Diane Bellemare (Alma, Que.) each had eight apiece. Sen. Galvez chairs the Energy Committee, which spent the entire spring entrenched in its study of Bill C-69.
Lobbying the Upper Chamber still pales in comparison to outreach among MPs and their staff, which in April at 997 reports, was six times more than the 164 posted to the Senate.
Lobbyists filed 2,423 communications, not quite doubling the 1,459 posted in March, according to the federal lobbyists’ registry as of June 3. It’s also a 20 per cent uptick over the same time last year when 1,991 discussions were logged in April 2018.
Interactions with Parliamentarians and their staff tripled, from 327 in March to 993 in April, returning to levels seen in the Hill’s busier months, February and November.
For the 10th month in a row, Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada was the top target, with 196 filings, followed by the Senate (163), and Finance Canada (141). In subject matter, international trade was tied with health as the most important topic at 389, followed by economic development (365), environment (333), and industry (314).
Communications in all subjects increased across the board, with health, agriculture, employment and taxation, and finance all more than doubling reports from the month before.
Aboriginal affairs experienced the most noticeable spike, with conversations increasing by 280 per cent, from the 58 listed in March to 222 in April. In February, there were 174 listings on the subject, and 63 in January. Organizations can list several subjects they cover in a single meeting.
For the second straight month, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau (Compton-Stanstead, Que.), named to the post in a March 1 shuffle, earned the most mentions in the lobbying registry, at 34. That tripled her next closest cabinet colleague, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi (Edmonton Mill Woods, Alta.), who was named in 11 reports.
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