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Federal Crown Corporations exempt from Harper government's new lobbying rules 

[PoliticsWatch updated 4:55 p.m. April 2, 2007]

New lobbying regulations won't change Crown Corporations' ability to lobby government unfettered. 

OTTAWA  — Prime Minister Stephen Harper's election promise to clean up lobbying will maintain a large loophole that private sector firms say gives Crown Corporations an unfair advantage.   
 
Crown Corporations are allowed to communicate with government departments with in-house staff but they are not subject to the same rules on lobbying as in-house lobbyists at private firms and associations.  

Although the Accountability Act received Royal Assent late last year, regulations are still being drafted for the government's new rules that crack down on lobbying. 

Among the regulations being drafted are those regarding lobbyists having to report their meetings with public office holders to an independent registrar of lobbyists' office. 

Confusion about the new regulations and concerns about the additional burden of having to report meetings is creating complaints about how in-house government relations staff that work for Crown Corporations, such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canada Post and Via Rail are exempt from lobbying rules. 

These federal Crown Corporations often compete with private sector companies on a range of policy, regulation and contracting issues. 

When contacted by PoliticsWatch, one Crown Corporation, CBC, denied their in-house staff are lobbyists. 

"CBC/Radio-Canada does not have any lobbyists," a CBC spokesperson said in an email response. 

But private competitors disagree. 

"They're privileged lobbyists," said one Ottawa lobbyist about in-house staff at Crown Corporations. "They don't have to register anything."

"They call them Parliamentary liaison people or whatever. So they liase with officials. That's the same thing as lobbying."

A private broadcasting lobbyist told PoliticsWatch that having a competitor such as CBC not subject to the same rules as the private sector is "absolutely unfair."

"From a broadcasting point of view I mean CBC is lobbying every day," he said. "They have a full government relations operations and one would think that they should be subject to the same rules as other broadcasters."

"Sure they're a Crown Corporation, but still they lobby CRTC commissioners, they lobby Heritage for funding, they lobby Finance. Why would they be exempt?" the broadcast industry lobbyist asked. "They see the same people we do."

Another lobbyist told PoliticsWatch that maintaining this exemption "will tilt the playing field in favour of Crown Corporations over private Canadian businesses. This is fundamentally unfair from broadcasting to postal services."

Treasury Board referred PoliticsWatch's questions about whether new regulations would include in-house Crown Corporations government relations staff to the Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists. 

"As the regulations under the new act have not been developed yet, it is not possible for me to answer your question," a spokesman for the registrar said in a written response. 

A January response to a question issued by the registrar explained the Crown Corporation exemption. 

"The Registrar of Lobbyists is of the view that communications between employees of a Crown corporation and public office holders concerning official business are not registerable activities," the document explained. 

"In particular, the Registrar feels that communications between officials of a Crown corporation and representatives of its shareholder (public office holders), the Crown, do not fall within the definition of lobbying under the Lobbyists Registration Act. Therefore, Crown corporations are not required to register under the Act."

Under current interpretations Crown Corporations must do all such work from inside and are discouraged from hiring outside consultants or intermediaries such as lawyers to approach the government. 

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