Prince Edward Island recently enacted lobbying legislation, becoming the final Canadian province to require reporting on lobbying activities. The Lobbyists Registration Act, RSPEI c L-16.01 impacts not only businesses but also voluntary organizations, charitable organizations, coalitions, interest groups, and not-for-profit corporations. The change in PEI is a good reminder for all Canadian charities to evaluate whether their activities are captured by applicable lobbying acts.
Similar to other Canadian definitions, the PEI legislation defines lobbying as communicating with “a public-office holder, directly or through grass-roots communication, in an attempt to influence,” among other things:
- the development of legislative proposals
- the introduction, passage, defeat or amendment of bills or resolutions
- the making or amending of regulations
- the development, amendment or termination of policies or programs
- the awarding of grants, contributions or other financial benefits
“Grass-roots communication” means appeals to the public, whether through direct communication or mass media that tries to persuade them to, in turn, pressure public office-holders to endorse a particular opinion. An important exception to the definition of grass-roots communication is communication between an organization and its members.
There is another important exemption section in the legislation that lists activities not caught by the Act, such as making submissions to a legislative committee where they are a matter of public record; making submissions with respect to the enforcement, interpretation or application of Acts and regulations with respect to that organization; and making submissions in direct response to a public office-holder’s request.
Public office holders are not only elected members of the Legislature, but also members’ staff, government appointees, government employees, education authority employees, Crown officers and employees and others as specified.
Under the PEI legislation, lobbyists are either “consultant lobbyists”, i.e. external, paid lobbyists, or “in-house lobbyists”, whether employed by a person/partnership or an organization. Most charities would likely fall in the latter category of an in-house lobbyist employed by an organization. That person is defined as an employee whose duties involve lobbying for at least fifty hours in a three-month period. Where multiple employees lobby part-time, their activities would also fall under the Act if their combined time meets the fifty-hour/three-month threshold. In that case, the most senior officer of the organization is responsible for filing a return with the Registrar.
The return must be filed within two months after the day the employee becomes a lobbyists, and within 30 days of the end of each six-month period after filing the previous return. The Act has a laundry list of information that must be included in the Return (see s. 7(4)(a)-(p)). For organizations with in-house lobbyists, there is no filing fee.
The Registry will be available for public inspection online and there are significant fines (up to $25,000) for knowingly placing public office-holders in a real or potential conflict of interest and for failure to comply.
It is important that a charity continue to monitor its activities to ensure compliance with provincial and federal lobbying legislation. As CRA notes in its guidance on CG-027, Public Policy Dialogue and Development Activities by Charities, “a charity that meets the requirements of the Income Tax Act as they relate to PPDDAs is not exempted from meeting any provincial [or federal] requirements on the use of its resources,” lobbying acts included.
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.