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Lobby crackdown: Watchdog promises to plug lobbying loopholes 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 2:45 p.m. October 27, 2005]

OTTAWA  — The federal registrar of lobbyists, Michael Nelson, sent out signals to MPs on Thursday that he believes unregistered lobbyists and those who received contingency fees for government contracts can be sanctioned by him under the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct.  
   
The lobbying community has come under scrutiny this fall after revelations that an Industry Canada audit uncovered eleven firms had paid lobbyists contingency fees for grants from the Technology Partnerships Canada program. 

A number of companies have been asked to repay the government the amount they paid to lobbyists in contingency fees because such arrangements violate the terms of the TPC program. 

But the government has come under criticism because of what appears to be a loophole that punishes the companies but does nothing about the lobbyists. 

Nelson told the Commons access to information, privacy and ethics committee that he believes lobbyists who enter in such arrangements could be sanctioned by him under the Lobbyists Code of Conduct. 

"There may be a link to professional behaviour if someone knowingly enters into that kind of arrangement," Nelson said.

Nelson also confirmed to MPs that he is currently conducting eight investigations involving four lobbyists for breaches of the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct. 

But Nelson said he cannot discuss details of those investigations or whether the investigations are related to TPC because the code requires him to conduct the investigations in private. 

He said he will release his findings in reports to Parliament. He is also conducting four "administrative reviews" which could become investigations in the future and has referred one case regarding the Lobbyists' Registration Act to the RCMP. 

Nelson's investigations are the first ever under the code since it was enacted in 1997. 

A company that hired former Liberal cabinet minister David Dingwall to lobby for a TPC grant was recently asked to repay over $400,000 because it paid a contingency fee. 

Dingwall recently told MPs he did not receive a "success fee" from the firm, Bioniche, but his registration with the public registry has Yes checked off under contingency fees. 

Dingwall also worked as a lobbyist in 2001 and 2002 for a drug company but was not registered at the time, something one of his former staffers blamed on a clerical error. 

However, there is nothing that can be done to Dingwall under the Lobbyists' Registration Act because of a two-year statute of limitations. 

While careful not to specifically mention Dingwall, Nelson said that did not prevent him from sanctioning someone under the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct. 

"There's no statute of limitations on the Code of Conduct," he said. "My view is that to not register is a contravention of the Code of Conduct."

Bloc MP Odina Desrochers repeatedly pressed Nelson on whether or not he was investigating Dingwall, which Nelson would not confirm or deny. 

Nelson also said he wants Parliament to have a discussion about giving him the power to levy fines under the Act, instead of referring things to the RCMP. 

Liberal MP Paul Zed, a former lobbyist, told Nelson that his comments and views on the Code of Conduct will "put a chill in the lobbying community.". 

: Related Links

> Dingwall's spending in compliance, review says

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