The lobbyists commissioner wants more “teeth”

Le commissaire au lobbyisme veut plus de «dents»

Out of the darkness and go to the meeting of the elected officials and the population to provide them with a great reform, this is the mandate that has given the new lobbyists commissioner of Québec.

In a rare interview that he granted to The canadian Press, Jean-François Routhier said more meetings with mps these days, to press them to adopt changes long expected.

Very present, the lobbyists in Quebec – or the art of influencing the public decision-makers – is regulated by an act of quasi-archaic, he says.

The forty-something woman, who described himself as a “sentinel State”, people usually discreet, looking for in a first time to retrieve the registry of lobbyists and to manage it himself.

For the time, the registry is the responsibility of the ministry of Justice, which leads to some administrative complications important.

“The registry, it is the transparency tool, the working tool of the lobbyists, the risk management tool, public office holders, and it’s really critical that we can begin work on the reform of the register-there,” he said, urging the government to split its bill 56 immediately in order to proceed to the repatriation by June 15.

“It should be as easy as initiating a draft terms of reference in the register to pay for parking with a mobile application on their smart phone. Today, we should be there”, he pleaded.

Aware of the count, electoral, Me Routhier is seeking the support of all parties in order to start from the beginning of the next legislature the great reform that it so ardently desires.

Because, after the transfer of the registry, he intends to lobby for the Law on the transparency and ethics of lobbying is hardened.

The commissioner himself acknowledges to have “no teeth” because means “limited”. There are very few lawsuits against lobbyists offenders, he said, because the period of prescription for prosecution is one year, not seven years as the Director general of elections of Quebec (DGEQ).

His other irritation: an employee is obliged to register if it spends a “significant portion” of his time to lobbying.

At the federal level, the employee must spend more than 20 percent of his time to meet decision makers. The federal commissioner of lobbying has requested that this rule be changed, because it is difficult for her to apply it and enforce it.

“The limits that are made by our law presently are very important, denounces Me Routhier. There are several offences that one is not able to demonstrate […] that could turn into accusations, that’s for sure.”

The example of Airbnb

The commissioner Routhier has just completed one of its first investigations, which focuses on a popular platform of rental housing Airbnb.

The investigation follows the filing of a complaint by the deputy Amir Khadir of Québec solidaire, who alleged that the company had made lobbying illegal with two government ministers Couillard, in the parliamentary process.

The law in the study provided that the landlords of Airbnb collect the tax on lodging and get an official certificate from Tourisme Québec. An agreement had subsequently been reached for the company perceives itself, the lodging tax of 3.5 percent per night.

November 25, 2015, three representatives from Airbnb, namely Aaron Zifkin, Valérie Mac-Seing and Martin Geoffroy, met with the minister of Tourism of the time, Dominique Vien. Only Mr. Geoffroy was of record at that time.

The 6 April 2016, an interview of 45 minutes was also held between four representatives of the company and the Tourism minister, Julie Boulet, to its Quebec city office. Two of the representatives were not registered as lobbyists, has denounced Québec solidaire.

“All of the employees of Airbnb were in full compliance with the provincial laws on lobbying”, reaffirmed a spokesman for Airbnb, Lindsey Scully, in a written statement this week.

No sanction under the act is not applicable in the case of Airbnb, decided by the commissioner in a letter addressed to Mr. Khadir on 20 April last.

“Our work allowed us to note that lobbying activities were carried out by some representatives of Airbnb, and the latter are registered in the registry of lobbyists in Quebec, he wrote. However, because of the provisions of the act, […] in particular with respect to limitation periods, […] the present case will not have other suites on our part.”

Asked to give reasons for its decision in the interview, he indicated that it does not have the “required evidence” that people who have been lobbying for Airbnb without being registered in the register spend a “significant portion” of their time to these activities.

Impossible, therefore, to impose disciplinary sanctions. Still less is it possible to submit a statement of offence the Director of criminal and penal prosecutions (DPCP), because the period of limitation of one year is expired.

“What I remember is that the big shots unfortunately are still” responded Mr. Khadir in a telephone interview.

Also, Me Routhier wishes to bear a greater responsibility to companies and to the ministerial offices. Currently, for example, it is not up to a minister to see to it that the company that he meets complies with the rules.

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