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Lobbying Act's ban on lobbying by former ministers no hindrance if they're hired as presidents and CEOs

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Ted Menzies

Perhaps like me, you imagined the federal Lobbying Act's unequivocal five-year ban on lobbying by Designated Public Office Holders like former cabinet ministers would prevent such persons from becoming presidents and CEOs of lobbying organizations.

If that's what you thought, think again.

At least, the Lobbying Act has not prevented Ted Menzies, who until Nov. 6, 2013, was Member of Parliament for Macleod and Minister of State for Finance in the Harper Government from being hired as president and CEO of CropLife Canada, an organization that includes in its mandate "securing legislation, regulation and policy that encourage science and industry innovation."

In my book, this clearly makes CropLife Canada -- where Menzies took up his duties on New Year's Day -- a lobbying organization.

By the way, the Lobbying Act's definition of a Designated Public Office Holder, known in the bureaucratic shorthand of Ottawa as a DPOH, includes the words "a Minister of the Crown or a minister of state," so it is obviously fair to state that as the former Minister of State for Finance Menzies falls under the ambit of the act.

The federal Lobbying Commissioner's website states: "Under the Lobbying Act, former designed public office holders are subject to a five-year prohibition on lobbying. These individuals cannot: work as consultant lobbyists; work for an organization and carry out lobbying activities on behalf of that organization; or work for a corporation if lobbying constitutes a significant part of their work on behalf of the corporation."

The website notes that the Commissioner of Lobbying may grant such individuals an exemption from the five-year prohibition "if an exemption would not be contrary to the purposes of the Act." However, this section is aimed at minor officials who have not served in their positions for long. As a member of cabinet it is unlikely Menzies would have been granted an exemption had he sought one, which he seems not to have done.

I wrote Menzies earlier this week and inquired about this anomaly.

Menzies was not available, but Nadine Sisk, CropLife Canada's vice-president of communications and member services responded on his behalf:

"Both CropLife Canada and Mr. Menzies were fully aware of the restrictions that would be placed on Mr. Menzies in light of his previous position and, having fully explored the issue, do not believe the restrictions pose a challenge to him fulfilling the duties for which he has been hired," she wrote. "As our president and CEO, Mr. Menzies' main focus will be on providing leadership to our team, strategic direction for our organization and stakeholder relations." (Emphasis added.)

"You are right to note that CropLife Canada has a very clear mandate to lobby for regulations and we have a number of other people on staff who are actively involved in that work," she went on. "Specifically, we have a vice-president of government affairs located here in Ottawa who has responsibility for the majority of the work that we do with federally elected officials. From time to time both our vice-president of chemistry and our vice-president of plant biotechnology may also meet with federally elected officials as well."

In other words, if all you’re doing is supervising a team of lobbyists, that's not lobbying.

Sisk concluded reassuringly: "Mr. Menzies consulted extensively on the restrictions he would face before he accepted the position with CropLife Canada. Those restrictions are fully understood by our board of directors. Both our organization, generally, and Mr. Menzies, specifically, intend to fully comply with them."

The CBC reported soon after Menzies departed Parliament Hill for the metaphorically genetically modified greener grass at CropLife that the provisions of the federal Conflict of Interest Act also proved to be no barrier to his plans.

That act blocks former cabinet ministers from making representations to current ministers or ministers of state who were in cabinet at the same time for a period of two years, or to "any department, organization, board, commission or tribunal" with which the former minister "had direct and significant official dealing."

As noted in a recent post on this blog, the federal Lobbyists' Code also says "Lobbyists should conform fully with not only the letter but the spirit of the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct as well as all the relevant laws, including the Lobbying Act and its regulations." (Emphasis again irresistibly added.)

Surely Canadians need to be able to be confident the rationale of this legislation -- that having recently been in a key government position gives a politician-turned-lobbyist and his or her clients an unfair advantage, increasing public distrust of an already suspect activity -- is being taken seriously.

If this is to be the case, it would seem, the Lobbying Act is going to have to be amended to give former senior elected officials like Menzies a little less wiggle room.

Funny, but I don't think this is very likely to happen in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Ottawa. After all, that old Ontario city now seems to have wholeheartedly adopted the Alberta way of doing business, in which the rules are only for the rest of us.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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