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Plan to water down political lobbying rules provokes backlash



Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Belanger is photographed near her office in Ottawa on June 12, 2018. Belanger is proposing that current rules that prevent the lobbying of elected officials by people who have worked on their political campaigns for a four-year cooling-off period be reduced to one or two years.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

A coalition of lawyers and academics – including experts on ethics – is urging MPs to oppose plans to water down rules for lobbyists who have worked on political campaigns.

They warn that an imminent change to the lobbying code of conduct could allow people to fundraise for politicians and work on their campaigns, and then lobby them “soon afterwards.”

Current rules prevent the lobbying of elected officials by people who have worked on their political campaigns for a four-year cooling-off period. The proposed update to the code from Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger reduces this period to either one year or two years, depending on the significance of the role the lobbyist played.

High-profile campaign work would trigger a 24-month ban, while “other political work” would lead to a one-year wait. The commissioner would also have discretion to reduce the cooling-off period further in certain cases.


Ms. Bélanger told The Globe and Mail that she made the recommendations after receiving a legal opinion that the current four-year limit could breach Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She called the shorter cooling-off periods “reasonable and appropriate.”

She said the changes to the code should be read in conjunction with other rules, including a ban on lobbying if a personal or business relationship creates a sense of obligation.

More than 40 experts, including 15 lawyers and 26 law, politics and ethics professors from across Canada, wrote to the Commons ethics committee this week saying that a minimum four-year prohibition on lobbying after significant political activities or fundraising is compliant with the Charter, and necessary to protect integrity in government and policy-making.

The letter says the commissioner’s proposed “changes will allow lobbyists to do significant favours for MPs and party leaders through campaigning and fundraising, and give significant gifts and benefits to MPs and party leaders, and then lobby them right afterwards or soon afterwards.”

“This is clearly unethical and will undermine the integrity of all federal policy-making processes,” it adds.

The letter calls on the Commons committee “to reverse its position and reject the commissioner’s proposed changes.”

Bryan Evans, a professor of political science at Toronto Metropolitan University and who is among those who signed the letter, said he was concerned the rule changes would make the “already rather weak” regime on lobbying even weaker.

The four-year cooling off period helps slow down the “revolving door” between public servants and politicians and corporate interest groups, he explained.

“If it’s moved to one or even two years, it just becomes fuel for that revolving door.”

MPs on the Commons committee on privacy and ethics backed the commissioner’s proposal, with the exception of NDP member Matthew Green. They also recommended allowing sponsored travel and increasing to $200 the annual limit that a lobbyist can spend on gifts and hospitality.

Mr. Green said his fellow MPs had missed an opportunity to strengthen the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct, and to bolster public confidence and trust in politicians and political institutions.

“Those with rich corporate clients and the ability to raise money and work on campaigns ought not to have greater access to ministers, senior level bureaucrats and politicians than the average, everyday Canadian,” he told The Globe and Mail.

In a letter to the commissioner sent last month about her proposed changes, the ethics committee recommended greater clarity in the wording, including around the definition of “political work.” It suggested that significant political fundraising should be counted as political work and also lead to a cooling-off period.

John Brassard, the chair of the committee, said it had made its recommendations after listening to extensive and varied testimony. Witnesses included lobbying organizations, which expressed concerns about the proposed cooling-off periods and spending limits.

“It is the committee’s expectation that the commissioner will provide some further clarity in the code based on our comments and recommendations before it is published,” he said.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, warned that proposed changes to the cooling-off rules would allow “favour trading” between lobbyists and MPs.

He said 26 citizen groups, supported by more than 1.5 million Canadians, also oppose the commissioner’s “attempt to gut key ethical lobbying rules.”

The new rules “will allow lobbyists to lobby cabinet ministers and MPs soon after campaigning or fundraising for them,” Mr. Conacher said. He called on the ethics committee to reverse its position and reject the proposals.



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Mechanical podium, playfully dubbed ‘explodium,’ aims to even B.C.’s political field



VICTORIA — It was a sizable British Columbia political issue that called for a one-size-fits-all solution, says Premier David Eby, who at six-foot-seven is the province’s tallest leader.

The tall and the short needed evening out as matters of perception and fairness, he said.

Eby towers over most people at news conferences but is juxtaposed with Selina Robinson, minister of post-secondary education and future skills, who at four-foot-11 often needs to stand on boxes to reach the microphone.

The solution: a mechanical podium, which debuted shortly after Eby took office late last year. It can be moved up or down with the flick of a switch to suit the size of the person delivering remarks at a political event.


“You might describe me as an unusually tall person, or disturbingly tall person to some people,” Eby told reporters last week. “My colleague Selina Robinson is a much tinier person and we have a whole range of people in between, so the podium moves up and down to accommodate everybody’s ability to speak.”

The premier said people have expressed surprise — and thanks — as the podium lifts or lowers to accommodate their height.

One such person was Tracy Redies, chief executive officer at Vancouver’s Science World, who joined Eby for a news conference last month where the province announced $20 million to repair the iconic domed building’s leaky roof.

“This pulpit’s amazing,” she said. “The science, the technology.”

Eby said the podium, which has gained the nickname “explodium” at the legislature, is a functional success.

“It’s an important innovation in B.C. where we are never short of innovations or remarkable ways to solve problems,” he said with a chuckle. “When we go to events around the community, it does draw attention from speakers who aren’t used to it, especially when it moves unexpectedly. I think everybody enjoys it. It’s fun and it works.”

But, some concerns about the podium have been raised by the Opposition BC United and a communications expert who suggests the structure reinforces old-school political traditions.

BC United finance critic Peter Milobar said the Opposition has questions about the cost of the podium, but the government hasn’t provided answers.

“We all understand the premier is tall, but the fact we need these extra-wide, telescopic-type podiums just seems to be a potentially expensive thing for the taxpayer,” he said.

Milobar said it appears the podium is more of a political prop used to enhance Eby’s image.

“It’s fair to say I’m not an average-sized person, but I’m not too worried about which podium I’m standing behind to make important political announcements,” he said.

While Eby’s podium is not the biggest news story at the legislature, it symbolizes the stereotyped visual culture of politics, said David Black, a political communications expert at Victoria’s Royal Roads University.

“I think the podium, where you want to adjust for a tall person like David Eby or a shorter person like Selina Robinson, is all about just creating this necessary visual conformity so that no one is stepping on the message,” he said.

B.C.’s development of a podium that fits all sizes is a metaphor for a political culture that is resistant to change, Black said.

“When you break the visual code or political style or tamper with conservative visual culture when it comes to politics, you step on the message,” he said. “It becomes, fairly or not, read as a gaffe, sometimes a career-ending gaffe.”

Former Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day was widely criticized more than two decades ago for arriving at a B.C. lakeside news conference riding a Jet Ski, Black said.

Former U.S. president Barack Obama faced fierce criticism for wearing a tan-coloured suit, he said.

“He wore a tan-coloured suit and it was the end of American democracy,” Black said.

But federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s backyard neighbourhood video statements are signs of a politician looking to break visual codes, as was former Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s “everyman” appearance, said Black.

“My question is, in some sense, do we need to rethink the language of politics, the visual style of politics, because is it exhausted?” he said. “Is it obsolete? Has it exhausted its reassuring quality?”

Robinson said she’s pleased with the fairness of the podium, especially after years of standing on crates to raise her profile.

“Having a podium that actually fits me is great, and one that fits the premier is great,” she said.

“This is an accessibility piece of furniture and I think it works the way it’s supposed to. It’s recognizing we all come in different shapes and sizes and having furniture that fits us regardless of how tall or small we are is a good thing.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2023.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press


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Trump, DeSantis battle for Republican nomination



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Then-U.S. President Donald Trump introduces Florida Governor Ron DeSantis during a homecoming campaign rally at the BB&T Center on November 26, 2019, in Sunrise, Fla.Joe Raedle/Getty Images

It’s bombs away in the American presidential race.

There was no pause for mobilization, no early ceasefire, no “phony war,” in the struggle for the Republican campaign for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination. In only a few days’ time, the battle between former president Donald Trump and Governor Ron DeSantis has developed into total warfare.

For months, the two shadow-boxed with each other – Mr. Trump lobbing talking-point grenades into the DeSantis camp; the Florida chief executive ignoring them, as if the attacks lacked the potential to detonate.

That phase is over now, with – if you permit the expression – a bang.


The pins have been pulled, the two sides are engaged in explosive exchanges, and the political landscape of the Republican Party – as recently as two decades ago resembling nothing so much as the manicured green of the 13th hole at the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the fabled Masters Tournament – has been transformed into a battlefield.

It is well to recall that the Iowa caucuses, the first tests of the campaign, are seven months away.

And yet the campaign rapidly has assumed the character of trench warfare. Mr. Trump’s high command is accusing the DeSantis camp of political plagiarism, stealing the main themes of the 45th president. The DeSantis campaign is arguing that Mr. Trump’s time has passed and that, in any case, he failed to pass into law the principal elements of the new Republican agenda.

And like the fixed battle positions of the First World War, the two sides are settling into a situation where they may be engaged in an endless set of explosive exchanges. In terms of ideology, it resembles a race to the right. In terms of manners, it may be a race to the bottom.

Mr. DeSantis accused Mr. Trump – who, in three presidential campaigns and four years in the White House, has cultivated the Republican right – of abandoning his onetime political profile. “It seems like he’s running to the left, and I have always been somebody that’s just been moored in conservative principles,” he said.

A Trump spokesman, Steven Cheung, referred to Mr. DeSantis’s botched Twitter Space campaign debut, saying, “He can’t run away from his disastrous, embarrassing, and low-energy campaign announcement. Rookie mistakes and unforced errors – that’s who he is.”

And so it went in the first days of this new phase in the campaign.

Never in contemporary American politics has a nomination race devolved into so much bitterness so quickly.

Republican Senator Bob Dole of Kansas barked at Vice-President George H.W. Bush, demanding, “Stop lying about my record,” but that outburst occurred after the 1988 New Hampshire primary, not months before it.

Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, a navy veteran of the Vietnam War, once warned that the Democrats should not nominate Bill Clinton in 1992 because the Arkansas governor had manoeuvred to avoid the draft in those years; Mr. Kerrey said the Republicans would “open him up like a soft peanut” – a tough riposte, but it didn’t occur until the last week of February, not, like the Trump-DeSantis fray, in May the year before voters get into the act.

“You can thank social media for this atmosphere,” said David Carney, a veteran Republican strategist not affiliated with either campaign and with deep roots in New Hampshire, site of the first presidential primary. “It’s easy to do, it gets coverage and it fast-forwards a back-and-forth that in other times would take a few weeks to conduct. Candidates today think they will be rewarded for this, but undecided voters are not watching Twitter.”

All this raises two vital questions: Can these two keep up the passion and decibel level of their confrontation for several more months? And will the hostilities between them create an opening for another contender, or maybe two?

If, for example, the bombardment between the two candidates leaves one of them mortally wounded, nature (and the nature of American presidential politics) abhors a vacuum. One of the other candidates – perhaps one of the South Carolinians, former governor Nikki Haley or Senator Tim Scott, or perhaps one of the sitting governors who has not declared a candidacy, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire or Glenn Youngkin of Virginia – might emerge.

And a contest that is marked by bombast and explosions might welcome the entry of former governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, famous for his debilitating attack on Senator Marco Rubio eight years ago, when he accused the Florida lawmaker of being the practitioner of a “memorized 25-second speech” that was “exactly what his advisers gave him.”

Mr. Sununu has a touch of the caustic in him, as he once said of Mr. Trump, “I don’t think he’s so crazy that you could put him in a mental institution. But I think if he were in one, he ain’t getting out.” No one wonders whom former governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas was speaking of when he said the GOP needs “somebody that brings out the best of our country and doesn’t appeal to our worst instincts.”

And in a contest where the charges of plagiarism are being tossed around – charges that forced Joe Biden out of his 1988 presidential race before the first contests of the political season – Mr. Youngkin has the moral high ground. It was his 2021 gubernatorial campaign that pioneered the notion of “parental rights” in public schools that now is part of every candidate’s portfolio.



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LILLEY: Auto workers sweat as Trudeau plays political games



The Stellantis deal in Windsor is up in the air again and that could mean trouble for thousands of auto jobs in Brampton.

No one is speaking on the record but there’s plenty of background chatter about who is to blame and, once again, most are pointing to Ottawa.

Last weekend, it looked like a deal had been struck that saw the Ford government at Queen’s Park join the Trudeau government in Ottawa to sweeten the pot to secure the Stellantis deal.

Stellantis had stopped work on their electric vehicle battery plant earlier in the week, the reason given, the Trudeau government hadn’t lived up to promises made to the company. Instead of proceeding with work on the plant, the company said they were examining “contingencies,” which is another way of saying they were looking at moving production to the United States.


The Biden administration in Washington has been offering lucrative incentives in the form of the Advanced Manufacturing Production Credit, a tax break for companies building things like electric vehicle batteries.

That’s what led to the decision by Stellantis to stop construction. Why build here when the Americans will offer more, and why build here when the government promises one thing and then reneges on it?

Shortly after Stellantis stopped construction, the Trudeau government said the real problem was that Ontario wasn’t paying its fair share for the deal. That started a public relations war between Ottawa and Queen’s Park to get the Ford government to sweeten what they were offering to Stellantis.

The Ford government had offered Stellantis $500 million to secure the facilities, including money to upgrade infrastructure such as roads and ensuring adequate electrical supply. What they hadn’t done, and didn’t normally do, was match an American federal incentive, that’s normally what the Canadian government does.

Determined to get a deal, Ford agreed to Trudeau’s terms in exchange for other concessions such as the feds easing up on opposition to Ontario building Hwy. 413 and being supportive of the Ring of Fire plans to mine critical minerals in Northern Ontario.

According to sources close to Stellantis, the deal the federal government presented to the company was effectively the same deal as the previous one but now with Ontario bearing some of the federal burden.

The Biden administration is offering companies a production credit of $35 per kilowatt hour for battery cells and an additional $10 per kilowatt hour for battery modules. The Trudeau government is just offering the $35 for cells and not matching the additional $10 for modules, making the U.S. a more lucrative place to make the modules.

For Stellantis, that could be as simple as moving module production across the river to Detroit or perhaps going somewhere deeper inside the U.S. That would mean the loss of about 300 jobs at the Windsor plant once construction is complete, but the impact wouldn’t be limited to Southwestern Ontario.

There are worries by some in the auto sector that if Stellantis pulls the module plant they will also pull production from their auto assembly plant in Brampton, which employs just shy of 3,000 workers. That’s not a view shared by all the players involved but it is a concern.

Prior to the Stellantis announcement that they would expand in Windsor, there was widespread concern the Brampton plant would close for good. The plant has been producing the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger but was expected to switch over to an EV SUV of some sort in 2025 after undergoing a retooling in 2024.

Some auto industry types now believe that is up in the air as Stellantis looks at all contingencies.

Stellantis and Unifor, the union representing workers at all the plants involved, declined to comment when contacted Friday. Requests for comment by various representatives from the Ford and Trudeau government were ignored.

Meanwhile, workers in Windsor and Brampton worry about their future.

Political games are being played and, once again, it’s the people working the line who may pay the price.



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