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The Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada recently released updated guidance on how to mitigate conflicts of interest regarding preferential access, political activities and gifts.

Rules 7 and 8 of the Code relate to preferential access and prohibit lobbyists from activities that would create a sense of obligation for a public office holder because of the relationship they share. If the relationship can reasonably be seen to provide preferential access to the lobbyist, it could be a perceived conflict of interest to lobby or arrange meetings. In that case the lobbyist should not lobby or arrange meetings.

Where the relationship between lobbyist and public office holder involves “family, close friends, business partnerships, or other personal or professional bonds” they are seen to have a “high risk” of creating preferential access and must be treated with an abundance of caution.

Rule 9 relates to political activities and imposes time-limited prohibitions on lobbying where the lobbyist has engaged in political activities on behalf of a person who becomes a public office holder.

The guidance distinguishes between high- and low-risk political activities. Examples of high-risk political activity include serving as a campaign chair or other strategic campaign role, being in a named position for a registered Canadian political party, organizing political fundraisers, working in a party’s “war room”, preparing candidates for debates, etc. Where there are strategic activities or there is significant interaction with candidates, this results in a high risk for creating a sense of obligation and there should be no lobbying for a period equivalent to a full election cycle.

Examples of low-risk political activity include volunteering, canvassing or scrutineering for a registered party or riding association without significant interaction with candidates, attending fundraising events or expressing personal political views in a strictly individual capacity. Occasional involvement in these lower risk activities does not restrict lobbying; however, the Guidance issues a word of warning where there is frequent involvement or multiple activities. If the activity is frequent, it increases the risk of creating a sense of obligation and caution should be exercised before lobbying the public office holder or staff.

Examples of no-risk political activity include displaying campaign signs or posters or making personal donations as permitted by the Canada Elections Act.

Rule 10 prohibits giving gifts to public office holders unless an exception applies. A gift is anything of value given for free or at a reduced rate. The Guidance recognizes that gifts given “as a normal expression of courtesy or within the customary standards that normally accompany the public office holder’s position” won’t create a sense of obligation. What are those gifts? The Guidance identifies the following as exceptions:

  • Tickets, passes or access to events (including meals/refreshments during events) where the public office holder speaks, moderates, or serves a ceremonial role
  • Gifts of minimal value as a token of thanks for speaking, moderating or serving a ceremonial role
  • Promotional items of minimal value
  • Meals or refreshments during a meeting, if of minimal value

The Guidance again offers a word of caution where multiple gifts are offered to the public office holder, or if that person has already received gifts from a client, employer or affiliate. The cost of food and refreshments must be assessed on a case-by-case basis to determine whether it is reasonable or if it would create a sense of obligation.

The Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying was established in July 2008 as an independent Agent of Parliament to ensure transparency and accountability in the lobbying of public office holders. For more information, see the Full Text of the Code , the Lobbying Act, or Advice and Interpretation of the Lobbying Act.

Noteworthy is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Every organization’s circumstances are unique. Before acting on the basis of information contained in this blog, readers should consult with a qualified lawyer for advice specific to their situation.

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