On May 4th, the Lobbyists Transparency Act came into effect, increasing registration and reporting requirements for all organizations (including not-for-profits) that lobby provincial employees or public office holders in British Columbia.
“Lobbying” is defined broadly. It includes attempting to influence government decisions, such as legislative proposals, bills, resolutions, regulations, programs, policies, directives and guidelines. It also includes lobbying when seeking government contracts. It can be a challenge to determine what counts as lobbying. The Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists (ORL) has indicated that it is not considered lobbying if an organization is strictly following an established process with the government or a provincial entity that any other member of the public would follow. However, if the organization contacts a public office holder outside of an established public process, in an attempt to influence a decision in their favour, that activity would likely be considered lobbying, and registration would probably be required.
Certain communications with public office holders, such as a request for information or responding to a written request from a public office holder for advice or comment, do not require registration.
Submissions made in proceedings that are a matter of public record to a committee of the Legislative Assembly, or to an authority having jurisdiction or powers conferred under legislation, are not treated as lobbying and do not require registration.
An organization must register with the provincial ORL within 10 days after any of its paid employees, officers, or directors lobby a provincial public office holder or employee. Lobbying by unpaid directors or other volunteers does not trigger the registration requirement.
The new Lobbyists Register went online on May 4th. Organizations that were registered with the ORL under the previous requirements have had their registrations transitioned to the new Register. They have until June 15, 2020 to update their current registrations and to file their first monthly return for any lobbying activity. This transition period may be extended to September 15, 2020 for registrants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Registration is required regardless of the amount of time spent on lobbying activities by the organization’s paid employees, officers, and directors. The previous registration “threshold” of 100 hours of provincial lobbying has been eliminated.
Organizations with fewer than six employees may lobby without registration, provided that the organization’s lobbying activities have totaled fewer than 50 hours in the preceding 12 months. This exception does not apply to organizations whose primary purpose is to represent the interests of their members or to promote or oppose issues.
Registrants must identify whom they are lobbying and the intended outcome of their lobbying efforts.
They must also identify persons or organizations that have contributed $1,000 or more towards their lobbying activities in the previous 12 months and that have a direct interest in the outcome of those activities.
Registrants must name any government, government agency or provincial entity that has funded the organization within the preceding 12 months, the amount of that funding, as well as the name of any such entity from which the organization has requested funding and the amount of funding requested.
Registrants must also file monthly lobbying activity reports.
Organizations may not give or promise to give gifts to any public office holder whom the lobbyist is lobbying. The only exception is for gifts “under the protocol or social obligations that normally accompany the duties or responsibilities of office of the public office holder,” and only if the total value of such gifts in a twelve-month period is no more than $100.
If your charity or not-for-profit engages with government in British Columbia, you should consider whether you need to register with the ORL and report your lobbying activities. Miller Thomson lawyers are able to advise you on the requirements of this legislation.