More than a year later, Lobbying Commissioner still has not ruled on Facebook’s lobbying and favours for Liberal Cabinet

More than a year later, Lobbying Commissioner still has not ruled on Facebook’s lobbying and favours for Liberal Cabinet

Today, Democracy Watch sent a letter to federal Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger calling on her to ensure an independent ruling, before Parliament is shut down for the fall election, on the complaint letter it filed in late April 2018 about unregistered lobbying and doing favours for Cabinet and federal politicians by Facebook employees, and employees of its subsidiary Instagram.

“More than a year ago Democracy Watch filed a complaint calling for an investigation of Facebook’s unregistered lobbying and favours for Liberal Cabinet ministers and MPs, and the Lobbying Commissioner has negligently failed to issue a ruling on the complaint,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Voters have a right to know before they vote this fall if Facebook violated federal lobbying rules, and given that Democracy Watch’s April 2018 complaint provided detailed evidence to the Lobbying Commissioner, there is no justifiable reason for any further delay by the Commissioner in issuing a ruling.”

The federal Lobbying Act requires businesses to register if its employees spent more than 20% of their collective time lobbying during any 6-month period, including arranging meetings, and some communications are also required to be disclosed in monthly reports. The Professionalism principle in the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct requires that lobbyists follow the spirit of the registration requirements of the Act.

The Lobbyists’ Code prohibits anyone from lobbying a Cabinet minister or their officials for four years after doing favours for them (former Rule 8 and, since December 2015, Rules 6-9).

The question posed in Democracy Watch’s April 2018 complaint was whether Facebook’s employees had ever crossed the 20% line from 2010 to 2018 and violated the Act by failing to register, and whether any of Facebook’s employees violated the Code by doing favours for Cabinet ministers or MPs and then lobbying them afterwards.

As Maclean’s magazine first reported, Facebook was not registered as a company in the Registry of Lobbyists to lobby the federal government from 2010 on, until it announced in spring 2018 it would register (while still maintaining that it is not required to register). Facebook also has several consultant lobbyists on contract but they have reported only one communication with federal government politicians and officials since 2014.

In contrast, other social media companies such as Google have had several employees and consultant lobbyists registered, and many monthly communications reports.

As well, Facebook has provided cyber-threat training and services for free to federal politicians, and Facebook Canada’s head of public policy Kevin Chan provided advice for free to Finance Minister Morneau about how to do a Facebook Live event for his budget speech.

Democracy Watch also recently requested that the Lobbying Commissioner rule on another two-year-old complaint involving Liberal Cabinet ministers.

Democracy Watch requested in its April 2018 letter that Lobbying Commissioner Bélanger recuse herself from ruling on the situation because she was handpicked by Trudeau, and has also made statements that show a bias in favour of lobbyists.

Democracy Watch is challenging Commissioner Bélanger’s appointment in the Federal Court of Appeal as part of its Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign.