Saturday, November 14, 2009

Government Relations Presentation at CPRS Vancouver event - Summary

Government Relations (aka Lobbying)

I attended a very fascinating CPRS (Canadian Public Relations Society) Vancouver’s lunch session this week. The topic was communicating with government aka lobbying. With lobbying having so many negative associations, the presenters did a good job dispelling misperceptions and positioning lobbying as an important mechanism of the public interacting with government.

Karen Shepherd, Commissioner of Lobbying, spoke first about the federal legislation and interpretations of lobbying, with the definition (long one – see below), types of lobbyists (consultant, in-house corporations, in-house organizations/non-profit) and designated public office holders.

Federal definiatoin of Lobbying: Lobbying is communicating with a public office holder, for payment in respect of:
• The development of any legislative proposal,
• Introduction, defeat or amendment of any Bill or resolution,
• Development or amendment of any policy or program,
• Awarding of any grant, contribution or other financial benefit,
• Awarding of any contract,
• Arranging a meeting between a public office holder and any other person.

Registration can now be done online and consultant lobbyists have 10 days from undertaking (agreeing) to carry out a lobbying activity while in-house lobbyists have two months. It was a bit confusing when Karen talked about monthly disclosures and when it is required. Many grey areas for interpretation for sure!

Mary Elizabeth Carlson, Executive Director, Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists, spoke about lobbying in BC and started with a slide that said “Lobbying is not a crime”. The provincial definition of lobbying is essentially “communicating with public office holder in an attempt to influence” (different and shorter than the federal definition). Right now there is a Bill before the house to pass a new Lobbying Act which should have positive changes in BC. The Ken Dobell incident seems to have prompted many of the proposed changes. It will be interesting to see what the outcome is. Another positive is that they are working on a new registration system that is expected to be live in April 2010. Here’s a link to the current registration system which by the way requires you to pay $150 per registration (that is going away with the new system)

Here’s a quote from a Vancouver Sun article about the negative associations with lobbying:

“It's a profession that often dares not speak its name. Or, at least, does so reluctantly. Just ask the embattled Ken Dobell, who told reporters recently that he was reluctant to register as a lobbyist because the job description has a connotation "that none of us particularly like."

There was a comment by an audience member “then many charities in this country are lobbying and not declaring it”. The response by Karen Shepherd is that her mandate is to educate across the country about lobbying and more non-profits are registering as lobbyists.

Perhaps what needs to happen is that we should get rid of the word lobbying and replace with government relations to help build up credibility and overcome the long-tail negative perceptions associated with lobbying?


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