Lobbyists Act – Call to Action

Background

Thank you to those of you who have assisted us over the past number of months in our work related to the mandatory review of Alberta’s Lobbyists Act.

When the Alberta Lobbyists Act was proposed in 2007, Alberta’s nonprofit sector raised concerns about how it would be affected. This led to the current exemption for public benefit nonprofits. The Government of the day acknowledged there is a fundamental difference between lobbying government for a policy change that is aimed at reducing teen suicide rates (public benefit), and lobbying around a commercial interest (private benefit).

Recommendation to Remove the Exemption for Public Benefit Nonprofits

Since the October 2016 deadline for formal submissions to the Standing Policy Committee responsible for the review, there have been significant developments. In December, the Office of the Ethics Commissioner, who oversees the Lobbyists Registry, recommended significant changes to the Lobbyists Act. The recommendations call for removal of the exemption for public-benefit nonprofits. If the recommendations were adopted, the following rules would apply:

  • All nonprofit organizations (as well as charities employing five or more individuals), that participate in public policy advocacy activities that fit the definition of ‘lobbying’ outlined in the Act would be required to register unless the lobbying is undertaken by volunteers.
  • Charities employing four or fewer employees would only be exempt if time preparing for, traveling to, and participating in meetings or other communications that fit the definition of lobbying was less than 30 hours in a given year (regardless of location).
  • The definition of lobbying activity would be extended to include all interactions with public office holders (including elected officials and government employees), except for when an organization is responding to a written request from a public official. Currently, this exception applies more broadly, in any instance when a public office holder initiates contact, regardless of method of communication.
  • This change would require organizations to report as “lobbying” a wide range of routine interactions with government. Beyond the need for organizations to track and report on these interactions, it would create a barrier to the many types of non-written interactions between the government and nonprofit organizations that are intended, for example, to clarify communications, better understand the impact of a policy or program, or flag emerging issues.
  • Grassroots communications directed at organization members or the general public in an attempt to influence public policy would be included in the definition of lobbying.
  • Once registered, organizations would be required to:
    • File an annual return which specifies, among other things:
      • The names and titles of employees participating in lobbying activities
      • The names of Directors of the organization
      • Private funding for lobbying activities
      • Any government funding received in the past 12 months
      • Subject matter details of lobbying activity
      • Who is being lobbied
      • Details of lobbying to occur in the next six months
      • Communication techniques
    • Report any changes to government funding within 30 days of the change occurring.
    • Report meetings with any of the following within 30 days of the meeting occurring:
      • The Premier
      • A Minister
      • An MLA
      • A Deputy Minister
      • Any political staff in the Premier’s or a Minister’s office
      • A Senior Officer of a prescribed Provincial entity
      • A Chair of a board, commission or council established by Government
    • Organizations that are found to be in violation of the Act can be subject to a fine of up to $25,000 for a first offence and $100,000 for a second.

Call to Action:

CCVO, along with our colleagues at ECVO, Volunteer Alberta, and the Muttart Foundation, have serious concerns with the Ethics Commissioner’s recommendations.

The removal of the current exemption would layer an additional and completely unnecessary administrative burden on Alberta’s public benefit nonprofits, including charities, and would have a harmful chilling effect across the sector. The act of registering, in and of itself, is not a burden. It is the tracking requirements, as described above that are problematic.

We are not aware of any evidence that has been put before the Standing Policy Committee that Albertans find the current exemption for public benefit nonprofits to be a problem.

In the coming weeks, the Standing Policy Committee will be making its recommendations to Cabinet.  The Committee Members must fully understand the extent of the nonprofit sector’s concerns.

We ask you to contact your MLA, the Chair of the Standing Policy Committee on Resource Stewardship, and the Premier before February 21, and urge them to keep the current exemption for public benefit nonprofits intact.

Contact information:

The Premier (premier@gov.ab.ca)

The Chair of the Committee (MLA Rod Loyola edmonton.ellerslie@assembly.ab.ca)

Your MLA (https://www.assembly.ab.ca/net/index.aspx?p=mla_home)

Links:

Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations September 2016 Submission to Standing Policy Committee

Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations September 2016 Submission to Standing Policy Committee

CCVO, ECVO, Volunteer Alberta February 2017 Joint Submission to Standing Policy Committee

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