Conflict of interest and lobbying
Conflict of interest
Ministers and their staff are subject to the requirements of the Conflict of Interest Act. In their capacity as members of the House of Commons, Ministers are also subject to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons.
The Conflict of Interest Act requires that, once they are appointed, public office holders must arrange their private affairs so as to prevent conflicts of interest from arising. With limited exceptions, they must not solicit or accept money or gifts; assist individuals in their dealings with government in such a way as to compromise their own professional status; take advantage of information obtained because of their positions as insiders, or; after they leave public office, act by taking improper advantage of having held that office. Information relating to the spouses and dependent children of Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries is also considered relevant.
Bound by the Act are over 2,250 current and former public office holders, including not only current/former Prime Ministers, Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries and Ministers’ exempt staff, but also most full and part-time Governor in Council (GiC) appointees, including Deputy and Associate Deputy Ministers and heads of agencies, Crown corporations, boards, commissions and tribunals.
The Conflict of Interest Act makes a distinction between reporting and non-reporting public office holders. Reporting office holders include Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, Ministerial staff who work on average 15 hours or more a week, part-time GiC appointees who receive an annual salary and benefits, and full-time GiC appointees. The obligations imposed on reporting public office holders are, by and large, more stringent than those imposed on non-reporting public office holders.
The Conflict of Interest Act provides that, in order to reduce the risk of conflict of interest, public office holders should use such means as avoidance, a confidential report, a public declaration, divestment, or recusal, depending on the asset or interest in question. Divestment can include making an asset subject to a trust or management agreement. In relation to outside activities, a public office holder must not engage in the practice of a profession; actively manage or operate a business or commercial venture; retain or accept directorships or offices in a financial or commercial corporation; hold office in a union or professional association; or serve as a paid consultant.
The Conflict of Interest Act also deals with the conduct of public office holders after they leave office. The rules for post-employment are laid out in Part 3 of the Act (sections 33 to 42). These rules establish the general principle that former public office holders cannot act in such a manner as to take improper advantage of their previous public office.
They provide that former reporting public office holders cannot:
- enter into a contract of service with, or accept an appointment to a board of directors of, an entity with which they had direct and significant official dealings during the one‑year period immediately before their last day in office
- accept an offer of employment with one of these entities
- make representations, whether for remuneration or not, for or on behalf of any other person or entity, to any department, organization, board, commission or tribunal with which they had direct and significant official dealings during the one-year period immediately before their last day in office
The prohibitions for former Ministers apply for a period of two years following their last day in office. In addition, former public office holders who were Ministers cannot make representations to former colleagues who are still in Cabinet.
Ministers (as well as other members of the House of Commons and Senate and senior public servants) are prohibited under the Lobbying Act from engaging in paid lobbying of the federal government for five years after they leave office. These provisions, as well as the Act’s registration requirements for lobbyists, are administered by the Commissioner of Lobbying.
The Commissioner's mandate under the Act is threefold:
- Maintaining the Registry of Lobbyists, which contains and makes public the information disclosed by lobbyists
- Developing and implementing educational programs to foster public awareness of the requirements of the Act and the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct (Code)
- Conducting investigations to ensure compliance with the Act and the Code
The Registry of Lobbyists provides Canadians with information about who is communicating with government decision makers on specific topics. Information available in the Registry includes:
- Who is lobbying
- On whose behalf lobbying is done
- Which federal institutions are lobbied
- What lobbying is about (e.g., legislative proposals, bills, regulations, policies, programs, grants and contributions or contracts)
- The types of communication used (e.g., oral communications, written correspondence, and appeals to the public)
- The names of designated public office holders involved in oral communications
Consultant lobbyists, and the most senior paid officer of a corporation or organization who meets the significant part of duties threshold, must register and submit all required information directly into the online Registry.
The Commissioner of Lobbying may ask designated public office holders, including Ministers, to verify information about lobbying communications that has been registered by lobbyists.
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