Lobbyists Commissioner wants more “teeth”

To get out of the darkness and to meet elected representatives and the public in order to propose a major reform is the mandate given to the new Quebec Lobbyists Commissioner.
In a rare interview he gave to The Canadian Press , Jean-François Routhier said he has increased meetings with MPs these days to press for long-awaited changes.

Very present, lobbying in Quebec – or the art of influencing public decision-makers – is governed by a quasi-archaic law, he laments.

The forty-year-old, who describes himself as a “sentinel of the state”, usually discreet people, first seeks to repatriate the register of lobbyists and manage it himself.

For now, the registry is the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice, which causes significant administrative complications.

“The registry is the transparency tool, the lobbyists work tool, the risk management tool for public office holders, and it’s really essential that we start working on the reform of that registry, “he said, urging the government to split Bill 56 immediately to repatriate by June 15.

“It should be as easy to start a draft mandate in the registry as to pay for parking with a mobile application on your smartphone. Today, we should be here, “he pleaded.

Aware of the vote count, Mr. Routhier is seeking the support of all parties in order to begin the great reform he so ardently wants from the beginning of the next legislature.

After the transfer of the register, he intends to lobby for the Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Act to be toughened.

The Commissioner himself admits to having “no teeth” because of “limited” means. There is very little legal action against delinquent lobbyists, he says, because the limitation period to prosecute is one year, not seven years as in the Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec (DGEQ).

His other irritation is that an employee is forced to register only if he spends a “significant portion” of his time lobbying.

At the federal level, employees spend more than 20 percent of their time meeting with decision makers. The federal lobby commissioner has called for this rule to be changed because it is difficult for her to enforce and enforce it.

“The limits that are provided by our law now are very important, denounces Mr. Routhier. There are several offenses that we can not prove … that could turn into accusations, that’s for sure. ”

The example of Airbnb

Commissioner Routhier has just completed one of his first surveys, which focuses on the popular Airbnb rental housing platform.

The investigation follows a complaint by MP Amir Khadir of Quebec Solidaire, alleging that the company had illegally lobbied two ministers of the Couillard government, in the midst of a parliamentary process.

The law under consideration provided that Airbnb landlords collect the tax on lodging and obtain an official attestation from Tourisme Québec. An agreement was subsequently reached to have the company collect the tax on lodging at 3.5 per cent per night.

On November 25, 2015, three Airbnb representatives, namely Aaron Zifkin, Valérie Mac-Seing and Martin Geoffroy, met the then Minister of Tourism, Dominique Vien. Only Mr. Geoffroy was registered at the time.

On April 6, 2016, a 45-minute interview was also held between four representatives of the company and the Minister of Tourism, Julie Boulet, at her Quebec City office. Two of the representatives were not registered as lobbyists, denounced Québec solidaire.

“All Airbnb employees were in full compliance with provincial lobbying laws,” Airbnb spokeswoman Lindsey Scully said in a written statement this week.

No sanction provided by law is applicable in the case of Airbnb, decided the Commissioner in a letter to Mr. Khadir on April 20.

“Our work has allowed us to see that lobbying activities have been carried out by certain Airbnb representatives without them being registered in the Quebec lobbyists’ register,” he wrote. However, because of the provisions of the law, […] particularly with respect to limitation periods, […] this case will not have any further consequences on our part. ”

Asked to justify his decision in an interview, he indicated that he did not have the “required proof” that people who have been lobbying for Airbnb without being on the register devote a “significant part” of their time to these activities.

Impossible, therefore, to impose disciplinary sanctions. Even less possible to file a statement of offense to the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP), because the one-year limitation period has in any case expired.

“What I remember is that the bigwigs unfortunately still fare,” responded Mr. Khadir in a telephone interview.

In addition, Mr. Routhier wants to bring greater responsibility to companies and ministerial offices. Currently, for example, it is not up to a minister to ensure that the company he meets complies with the rules.

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