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HomeBusinessConservative leader vows to strengthen lobbying laws

Conservative leader vows to strengthen lobbying laws

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Bob Mackin 

An 800-pound gorilla — of the inflated variety, promoting an East Vancouver vape store next to a marijuana retailer — loomed across the street from where Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre spoke May 16 about his promise to tame lobbyists.

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre on May 16 in Vancouver (Mackin)

Almost two weeks earlier, he penned a memo to CEOs in the National Post, telling them to fire their lobbyists and speak directly to Canadians. In a March speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade, he even called lobbyists useless and overpaid. This reporter asked Poilievre if he would back up those sentiments with new laws. 

He began to answer by citing the fledgling Stephen Harper government’s Accountability Act, “which forced lobbyists to register their interactions with politicians. So every time a lobbyist interacts with a politician or top bureaucrat, they have to register. It was a result of a law that I helped usher through the House of Commons in 2006, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury Board President.

“I do think we need even stronger and clearer laws to stop the excess influence of corporate lobbyists and other insiders,” Poilievre said from a lectern between Esso gas pumps and a 7-Eleven convenience store. “Justin Trudeau has found a number of loopholes in the Accountability Act. We need to close those loopholes to reduce the influence of lobbyists of insiders, and give Canadians back control of their government.”

Poilievre did not provide specifics. 

A contentious area of late revolves around the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct and the section that states a public office holder who benefits from political activities may have a sense of obligation to those who held a senior position in a party or had significant interaction with candidates. 

“If you engage in higher-risk political activities then you should not lobby any public office holder who benefited from them, nor their staff, for a period equivalent to a full election cycle,” said the federal code.

Civil society group DemocracyWatch appealed a 2023 Federal Court ruling after the Commissioner of Lobbying did not take action against Council of Canadian Innovators’ lobbyists Ben Bergen and Dana O’Born. The campaign co-managers of Deputy Prime Minister Chyrstia Freeland lobbied her after she won re-election.

DemocracyWatch also complained in April to the commissioner about Forecheck Strategies, which was established the day after Poilievre won the Conservative leadership, and its relationship to Poilievre advisor and veteran lobbyist Jenni Byrne. 

Meanwhile, Poilievre was asked about federal funding for the FIFA World Cup 26 in Vancouver and Toronto.

Last month, Sport Minister Carla Qualtrough announced an initial $116 million grant to the Vancouver organizers for capital and operations spending. In early May, she granted $104 million to Toronto. Federal departments, such as the RCMP and Customs and Border Services Agency, have yet to announce their budgets. The price tag for Toronto to host six matches has ballooned to $380 million, while Vancouver, site of seven, could reach $581 million according to the latest estimate.

“We need to protect taxpayers,” Poilievre said. “Every time the Trudeau government spends on anything, they go over budget, massively over budget, and then nobody is held accountable, the taxpayers pick up the tab. So  I’m very hesitant to spend taxpayers’ money on anything other than the core services of roads, bridges, police, military, border security, and a safety net for those who can’t provide for themselves.”

Poilievre visited East Vancouver to propose the federal government give drivers a fuel tax holiday between Victoria Day and Labour Day. He said waiving the carbon tax, excise tax and GST on fuel would help families save an average $780. He said the cost could be recovered by cutting back on consultants. Last year, the federal Liberals spent $21 billion on what was called “professional and special services.”

For the record, the prices at the pump at the Esso station ranged from $1.999 per litre for regular to $2.299 per litre for supreme. 

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