Lobbying – Tell us what you think

The Canadian Values Party wants to know what you think about lobbyists.

Do you think that the FAA rules are good; should be less; should be more or lobbyists should have no more access to the Government than the average Canadian?

 

FIVE-YEAR BAN ON LOBBYING EXCESSIVE, SAY FORMER POLITICAL STAFFERS

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The Federal Accountability Act, a cornerstone campaign commitment of the Harper Conservatives, introduced a five-year ban on lobbying activities for ‘designated public office holders’ after they left their Hill jobs.

Former political staffers are encouraging the Liberal government to review and amend the Federal Accountability Act, in particular to reduce the five-year lobbying ban included under the Lobbying Act, saying it deters people from working on the Hill and is overly burdensome.

“From the time that the FAA [Federal Accountability Act] was brought in, there have been people from all sides of politics saying a five-year ban was too extreme,” said Greg MacEachern, a former Liberal staffer and now vice-president of government relations at Environics Communications. “It is time to look at it.”

The Federal Accountability Act (FAA) was introduced and passed in 2006, the first piece of legislation put forward by the then-newly elected Conservative government (64 days after being sworn-in). It had been a cornerstone campaign commitment and part of the party’s pledge to clean up Ottawa following the Liberal sponsorship scandal.

It’s a large legislative package, both creating and amending existing legislation, including the Conflict of Interest Act (in part, establishing the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner), and the Lobbying Registration Act.

Along with creating the federal lobbying commissioner, the amended Lobbying Act created by the FAA included a five-year ban on lobbying activities for “designated public office holders” after leaving their government jobs. The lobbying commissioner is able to grant exemptions to this ban in some instances.

Designated public office holders include: MPs; Senators; staff on the prime ministerial transition team; staff of cabinet ministers, ministers of state or parliamentary secretaries; governor-in-council appointees; and senior staff working for the leader of the official opposition in the House or Senate if appointed under the Public Service Employment Act.

The ban means that for five years after leaving government, a designated public office holder cannot work as a consultant lobbyist, though they can still be employed as an in-house lobbyist “if lobbying activities do not constitute a ‘significant part of their duties,’ ” as described on the lobbying commissioner’s website.

Discussion and debate over the FAA and its impact was recently reignited online, following a series on the act put together by the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) in its Policy Options magazine, including an April 20 piece by former Conservative staffer Michele Austin, now senior adviser at Summa Strategies in Ottawa.

She argued that the FAA has had “a very negative long-term impact on Canadian politics” and has “virtually eliminated the ability of elected officials to attract the best and the brightest to Ottawa.”

“If the FAA was intended to foster and encourage a new attitude in Ottawa, by the time it received royal assent, it had become a monstrous list of heavy-handed rules and directors,” Ms. Austin wrote.

“[Politically savvy individuals] understand now, after a decade under the FAA, that this ban would severely limit their ability to find a job after politics,” wrote Ms. Austin, meaning many who do opt to work on the Hill are “young partisans,” and that’s changed the dynamic between ministerial offices and the civil service.

“Over time, the principles espoused by the FAA limited the Harper government’s ability to reinvigorate its staff and bring new ideas on management practices to govern the country. Now it is up to the new government to decide if its principles are worth saving,” she wrote.

Speaking with The Hill Times last week, Ms. Austin, who left the Hill in 2013, said she was “very pleasantly surprised” that so many people were eager to discuss the merits of the five-year ban, and she hopes “the conservation continues.” She’s a former chief of staff to both Rona Ambrose (Sturgeon River-Parkland, Alta.) as public works minister and to then minister of state Maxime Bernier (Beauce, Que.).

“We didn’t really know what [the FAA] would bring. And clearly as time has marched on, it’s been a struggle to attract good people to the political class,” she said, adding when she was a chief of staff, at times it was hard to hire staff and that she was always asked about whether the ban would apply.

She said she’s seen the impact on people after they leave their public office jobs.

“I have seen that happen with a number of former staff, who are still struggling six months [after the 2015 election] now trying to find a job,” said Ms. Austin. “I think that’s worrisome.”

“The whole thing needs an overhaul,” she said of the FAA.

A number of former staffers retweeted links to Ms. Austin’s piece after it was published, many signalling their agreement in criticizing the impact of the FAA, though some others said they disagreed.

“Anyone who came in after the FAA was enacted [like me] knew the rules of the game. Made the choice to accept a POH job,” tweeted Matthew Conway, a former press secretary to Conservative MP Tony Clement (Parry Sound-Muskoka) as Treasury Board president, and now an assistant to Mr. Clement as an MP.

The Lobbying Act is slated for legislative review in 2017, and was last reviewed by the House Access to Information and Ethics Committee in 2012. While concerns over the five-year ban decreasing the “talent pool” for hiring on the Hill were raised at that time, the Conservative-dominated committee recommended maintaining the ban.

“The FAA issue was something that played politically well with the Conservative base. It may not have actually been solving a problem, and now Conservatives, as they are looking for work, may have had that made abundantly clear for them,” said Mr. MacEachern, adding he thinks the FAA takes the view “that lobbyists are bad.”

He pointed to the fact that a number of former Harper cabinet ministers are now working as consultants. While they “may not be making the direct contact … they’re advising a client on how to make that contact,” he said. Instead of a five-year ban, Mr. MacEachern said a two-year ban would be more appropriate.

“That’s two budgetary cycles probably as well, so a lot of the things that you would have worked on have gone, are either not going to happen, or have already happened,” he said.

André Albinati, a former Liberal staffer and now a principal at Earnscliffe Strategy, said he agrees that the five-year ban “is a problem” and something that should concern the new government.

“That should be of concern to a government that is more interested in having an activist public policy discussion and engagement with stakeholders,” he said, adding the Government Relations Institute of Canada, of which he is president, is currently surveying membership for opinions on the FAA.

The FAA is “a very heavy-handed document that creates obligations and registrations and so forth in a way that have only been creeping further and further out as interpretations and codes of conduct, etc., are additionally built on the original act,” said Mr. Albinati, adding there was already a one-year cooling off period for public office holders.

People put their lives on hold to work on the Hill, he said, and while there they develop skills and knowledge set around politics and government. Having to take on a role “completely separate from that,” post-Hill employment, “is a bit of a steep hill for many to climb.”

“They shouldn’t have to have those trade offs to the extent that it’s there,” he said.

The new Liberal government has seen a “great deal of interest” from people across the country and has been able to hire “individuals who have issue experience” from different policy sectors, thanks largely to the enthusiasm around a new majority Liberal government, said Mr. Albinati.

But “over the long term there is concern” over the FAA limits, he added.

He said he’s heard from a few staff hired by the new government who “weren’t aware of the provisions of the FAA specifically. … There were a few that were surprised after they had taken the position and then were in discussions about understanding what the rules are as they apply.”

Mr. Albinati said has “sympathy” for former Conservative staffers who are now covered by the ban.

Paul Wilson, a former director of policy for Stephen Harper, who left the Hill in 2011 and now teaches as part of Carleton University’s political management master’s program, said “unquestionably” the five-year ban “does deter some very qualified people” from working in politics. He said it should “be reconsidered” because it has closed “traditional off-ramps for political staff.”

“Just the weight of the requirements; there are people who may say it’s just not worth it for me to come and put myself under all of those rules,” Mr. Wilson said. “If I accept a coffee at a reception, is that going to get my name in a newspaper?”

He said he goes over the FAA with his students so they know what is and isn’t allowed.

“I think some of them are surprised about how tight the rules are. So, ‘I’m going to do an internship. Can I do an internship on the Hill? If I do, am I suddenly under the five-year ban if I do a 10-week internship? Can I not go and work for a GR company afterwards?’ And the answer is no,” he said, though he added that students can apply for exemptions, which they sometimes get.

Others disagree that the five-year ban is a problem.

Erik Waddell, a former staffer to Tony Clement as industry minister (and as president of the Treasury Board) and now a civil servant in the Treasury Board Secretariat, said he doesn’t agree with criticism of the FAA ban and said the rules were needed and staff should have known what they were getting into.

“The FAA does not limit employment except in certain, very specific capacities,” he said. “There’s a lot of jobs out there that are not [lobbying], and most political staffers have skill sets that go well beyond being able to have a fat rolodex full of contact numbers.”

He added that while he sympathizes with former Conservative and NDP staff struggling to find jobs now, “the FAA is not the obstacle here.”

Mr. Waddell said former staff and senior civil servants “not being able to sell their contacts and access to government for personal enrichment, that’s not an example of a democratic deficit,” and said he doesn’t think the FAA’s lobbying limits “needs to be modified.”

 

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