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Bulletin | Federal Election 2019

Campaign Workers and their Employers Should Assess Lobbying Restrictions: Political Activity can Restrict Ability to Work as a Lobbyist

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Political Law Bulletin

As Canada's federal election campaign approaches, individuals who plan to volunteer or take leaves of absence to work on campaigns − and their employers − should remember that campaign activity might prevent the individuals from lobbying for four years following the election.

The federal Lobbyists' Code of Conduct prohibits a former campaign worker or former volunteer from lobbying an MP or Cabinet Minister if a reasonable person would perceive that the MP or Minister feels an obligation to the lobbyist. The prohibition period is one full election cycle (four years).

The nature and extent of the individual's campaign activity will determine whether a reasonable perception of obligation exists. This involves a case-by-case assessment. Typically, restrictions apply to the lobbying of some public office holders but not others. It is impossible to make broad statements that all campaign workers in a particular category (e.g., speechwriting or tour) will or will not face restrictions.

Former campaign workers and volunteers may also be prohibited from lobbying people with whom they work closely on the campaign. In other words, an individual may be restricted from lobbying a former campaign colleague who ends up working in the office of an MP or Minister. The test, under the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct, is whether the lobbyist and former campaign colleague share a relationship that could reasonably be seen to create a sense of obligation.

These implications should be considered before campaign activity commences. Once campaign work and campaign relationships create a sense of obligation, it will be too late to avoid the lobbying restrictions.

What Employers Should Do

Companies and organizations that employ lobbyists should seek advice, before the campaign, on how their employees' campaign activity could restrict federal lobbying.

Certain campaign activities are at higher risk of creating a sense of obligation (thus triggering the four-year lobbying restriction). However, each situation is unique and it is impossible to guarantee that someone will face no lobbying limitations after the election.

A legal expert in lobbying law can advise employers on what restrictions are likely to result from employees' campaign activities.

Employers should also note that campaign activity must be conducted on the employees' own time, without compensation from the employer and without using any employer resources. (Corporations are prohibited from making monetary or non-monetary contributions to candidates, political parties and campaigns.)

Political Parties and Candidates Cannot Grant Assurances

A lobbyist or employer should not rely on assurances from a candidate or political party about whether lobbying restrictions will result from campaign activity. Political parties and their candidates have no control over the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct and cannot exempt campaign workers from lobbying restrictions.

Political parties typically lack legal expertise in lobbying law compliance, in part because they are not subject to lobbyist registration.[1] They also lack standing to appear before the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying as representatives of the lobbyists who work or volunteer on their campaigns.

Next Steps

Employers and employees should obtain as much information as possible about proposed campaign roles, including: job descriptions, levels of responsibility, reporting relationships, interactions with other campaign workers, and frequency of contact with candidates.

A legal expert with experience in lobbying regulation will be able to provide advice on likely impacts under the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct, and how to modify campaign responsibilities to reduce risk.

[1]   Canada, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying, Advisory Opinion: Application of the Lobbying Act to Political Parties (April 2, 2014).