Ontario Lobbyist Registration Changes May Impact Non-Profits and Charities

August 2012 | Kate Lazier

On July 25, 2012, the Ontario government announced its plan to amend the Lobbyists Registration Act to ensure greater transparency and accountability among lobbyists, government and the public.  The government plans to introduce a bill when legislature resumes in the fall to enhance the existing Lobbyists Registration Act by:

  • giving the Integrity Commissioner more enforcement powers, including the ability to prohibit individuals from lobbying;
  • giving the Integrity Commissioner new investigative powers, including the ability to compel testimony and obtain key documents;
  • requiring lobbyists to identify the specific Members of Provincial Parliament and ministers’ offices they lobby;
  • preventing lobbyists from accepting additional fees for preferred outcomes;
  • prohibiting lobbyists from providing paid advice to a ministry and lobbying on the same subject matter;
  • providing the Integrity Commissioner with the ability to establish a lobbyist code of conduct; and
  • incorporating for-profit and not-for-profit organizations under the same category of ‘in-house’ lobbyists; treating both classes of lobbyists the same and capturing more lobbying activity.

The Office of the Integrity Commissioner issued a report in May 2012 recommending these changes. The report noted that the two categories of in-house lobbyists is unnecessarily confusing and does not promote maximum transparency. All jurisdictions, except Nova Scotia, require a single registration for each for-profit (and not-for-profit) entity engaged in lobbying.

An in-house lobbyist is an employee who spends a significant part of his/her duties lobbying for the employer. The Lobbyist Registration Act has separate classifications for in-house lobbyists for commercial entities and those for non-commercial entities such as charities and non-profits.  Currently, all in-house lobbyists employed by not-for-profit entities register together in a single return and the “significant part of duties” test is calculated using an aggregate of all time spent by all in-house lobbyists at the non-profit or charity.

As single registration per organization (rather than a registration from each employee) is the norm in most provinces, we expect that this requirement will not change for non-profits and charities.   However, when the categories are merged, there may be changes to the way lobbyists are defined and to the reporting requirements. The lobbyist code of conduct could also impact charities and non-profits. Therefore, charities and non-profits engaged in lobbying in Ontario should stay tuned for these changes.

The lawyers in Miller Thomson’s charity and Not-For-Profit Group can assist organizations to assess whether they need to register under the provincial or federal lobbying rules.

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